Monday Morning Thoughts: Mayor vs Mayor Pro Tem, Renaissance vs Fiscal Peril

Mayor Dan Wolk (left) and Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis (right)
Mayor Dan Wolk (left) and Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis (right)

On Tuesday, Mayor Dan Wolk will deliver his version of the State of the City at the Chamber Luncheon, but, based on his column on December 27, we already know his perspective. He is calling it a “Davis Renaissance.” He wrote, “I’ve never felt more optimistic about the direction of our town.”

However, Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis, in a column published in both the Enterprise and the Vanguard on Sunday, challenges that perspective.

One of our readers questioned this, writing, “Seems like a glass half full or half empty argument. Dan says we are currently balanced but need to raise revenue for infrastructure. Robb says we have unfunded liabilities so we shouldn’t say we are out of the woods and need to increase revenue. How different are these views? Not much really.”

The Vanguard disagrees with the view that this is really just a half full/half empty argument. Here is “the tale of the tape”:

Dan Wolk: “Our budget is balanced and resilient. Due to improved revenues and cost-cutting efforts, our budget is balanced with a healthy 15-percent reserve. Better yet, it is a fiscally resilient one in that we are paying what we need to be for our pension and retiree health obligations and are making substantial investments in our infrastructure… Yes, there are still long-term challenges. But we are doing very well.”

Robb Davis: “Dan is correct: we are paying what we need to on retiree medical and pensions, but the costs of these continue to grow more quickly than revenue growth. He is also right that there ARE long-term challenges. But they are not just long-term. They are here now.”

Vanguard: The budget may be balanced on paper, but, as Robb Davis quickly points out, we owe $10 million on infrastructure out of a $50 million general fund. We may be paying what we need to on pensions and OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits), but those costs continue to escalate. We can debate what “balanced” means, but the budget is not resilient at all.

Dan Wolk: “Reinvesting in our infrastructure. If there’s one thing that has marked ‘Renew Davis,’ it’s been the sight of so much construction. This includes our $230 million regional water project, a $90 million wastewater treatment plant, and a $12 million, two-year effort to improve our roads. And the city is exploring ways in which to fund more, particularly parks and recreation facilities.”

Robb Davis: “In a December 15 report to Council, City staff demonstrated that we are under spending on critical infrastructure and programs by over $10 million on an annual (ongoing) basis. That is $10 million every year. This is for things we already have (not new things), including bike paths, streets, sidewalks, park structures, pools, tennis courts, traffic signals, our urban forest, playgrounds, irrigation systems and city building maintenance.”

Robb Davis: “In addition to paying for the necessary maintenance of things we already have, staff also presented a list of ‘one time’ expenses to do ‘new’ things such as upgrade city buildings, update financial systems, build new pools, renovate City Hall and fire stations, improve street conditions around the Richards interchange and Anderson Road, and pay for a much needed update to our General Plan. In addition to the $10 million per year, the one-time price tag on all these ‘new’ items is just under $95 million.”

Vanguard: The good news is that the city finally was able to plug $12 million into a two-year effort to improve our roads. The bad news is that is $12 million out of at least a $100 million hole. And, as Robb Davis shows, we have a huge and growing deficit with $10 million a year of underfunding on critical infrastructure. This isn’t something that can necessarily wait as the costs of deferring maintenance continue to drive that cost up. This isn’t a half full/half empty approach – Dan Wolk is ignoring the elephant in the room while focusing on the roses the elephant is about to trample beneath its enormous feet. The worst part is that Mayor Wolk lays no ground work for a fiscal measure to produce revenue here – and the prospects for a revenue measure have dropped precipitously since December 15.

Dan Wolk: “Our budget is balanced and resilient.”

Robb Davis: “Employee compensation is a large part of these operating expenses. In relation to staffing and compensation we must deal with a situation in which all the following are true: Staff numbers have been cut by over 100 in the past decade (453 to 352); The cost of compensating staff has increased from just over $100,000 to over $150,000 per employee in the same decade; But…The vast majority of staff in the city has seen the amount of their take-home check decrease over the past five years, principally due to increased employee contributions for healthcare insurance and pensions.

“In sum: total and per employee costs to the City have increased even while employees take home less AND we have 100 fewer employees. And because we have cut staff in a non-strategic way (via attrition), it is not even clear whether we are staffed appropriately to provide city services.”

Vanguard: This reminds of me of the 2008 City Council elections. In May 2008, Don Saylor and Stephen Souza during a candidate’s forum ran on the notion that the budget was balanced with a 15-percent reserve. Dan Wolk wrote last week that “our budget is balanced with a healthy 15-percent reserve.”  In 2008, opponents of the council majority pointed out the pension crisis, the $60 million in unfunded liabilities for OPEB, and the large and growing unmet needs, including road repairs. They argued that the city finances were unsustainable. Don Saylor and Stephen Souza finished first and second in the election, but in September, we found out just how unsustainable the finances were. Robb Davis is pointing out that part of how the city was able to stay afloat was through attrition, and, while individual employees have had their take-home pay and benefits cut (one justification for the MOU increase), the cost to the city is increasing even as city services have been diminished.

Tale of the tape: This is not a half full/half empty argument. Robb Davis is pointing out that our budget is only balanced on paper – we are actually at least $10 million in the hole on what we need to spend just to keep going. He is pointing out that we are now paying more for employees even as employees take home less pay and we receive less in city services. This isn’t a renaissance, this is a looming crisis and the mayor is too busy running for election to deal with this.

Coming out of the revenue discussion, we have no proposal on the table that would deal with the $10 million shortfall in infrastructure. The mayor has only put forward a half-measure that would fund parks at $50 to $75 in a parcel tax which does not deal with the bulk of the city’s infrastructure needs.

Robb Davis concludes his piece by asking, “Is this an over gloomy picture of our local fiscal situation? I don’t think so. Very few if any California cities—Davis included—can claim to be fiscally ‘sustainable’ at this point in time.”

He adds, “Is our budget balanced? Not if our budget accounts for all our costs (which it should). Are we fiscally resilient? Not without greater diversification of revenues. Is our local fiscal situation doing very well? I am simply not ready to say that.”

We are left to conclude, is there any justification for the declarations by Dan Wolk about a “Davis Renaissance”? Not by a large margin.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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88 Comments

  1. Tia Will
    (o
    Definition of “resilience”
    f (( of a substance or object) able to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching, or being compressed.
    • (of a person or animal) able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.”
      Frequently how words are interpreted depends upon the meanings that we are using. It is very easy to make false assumptions, or worse yet, ascribe error or nefarious intent simply by assuming that the author is using a different meaning of the term than they intended. We saw this recently between two posters on a recent thread. Add to this that tense is very important, and you may have another cause for difference in interpretation. So let’s see one scenario in which both the Mayor and the Mayor Pro Tem could both be providing their assessment of the situation openly and honestly.
      Su
      Suppose for the moment that the Mayor was using the present tense to describe the present situation, and using the meaning “able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions”. From this perspective, his statement is true. Most of us would agree that the recession could be described as “difficult conditions”. Most of us would agree that Davis was affected by these “difficult conditions” although perhaps not as much as many other communities. And most of us would likely agree that Davis is in better condition today than it was during the recession. Now using this definition and speaking in the present tense, the Mayor’s statement could be seen as accurate as far as it goes. Now bear in mind he did say that we have future challenges, but did not state when he deems the “future” as beginning. Does he see the future as any moment that has not yet occurred  ( an accurate definition) …… or is he defining the future as any moment after which he will no longer be held responsible ( the “kicking the can down the road” that so many of his critics seem to love). Since we don’t know, being unable to look into his head, we will all simply choose our favored meaning and either attack or defend him based on our series of assumptions. Maybe a better approach would be to simply ask him to clarify.
      Tje
      No
    • Not The Mayor Pro Tem on the other hand is clearly not issuing a descriptive of the present, but is focused on the future and likely future shortfalls to be avoided. I think to be fair to both in individuals, present assessments and statements of future needs are both valid means of expression. While I do not share the very rosy interpretation put forth by the Mayor, I also do not share the “doom and gloom” viewpoint to which the Vanguard seem prone. My own position is probably closest to that of the Mayor Pro Temp, but I dislike painting these as polar opposite positions, but rather see them as the same issue seen from different perspectives. I know that doesn’t make for articles that are dramatic or for rousing discussion on the Vanguard, but I cannot help that think that it may provide a more accurate reflection of the situation.
      Ag
    1. David Greenwald

      Tia – we have current $10 million short falls as identified by Robb. We also have employee compensation issues combined with decrease in services that is an immediate problem.

      1. CalAg

        “as identified by Robb” David Greenwald

        DG: This is the second time today that you’ve used this peculiar turn of phrase.

        “In a December 15 report to Council, City staff demonstrated that we are under spending on critical infrastructure and programs by over $10 million on an annual (ongoing) basis.” Robb Davis

        Is the $10M shortfall claim coming from Staff, or was it deduced by Robb Davis based on the Staff’s report to Council?

      2. j. moore

        According to The Stanford Institute For Economic Policy, as of June 30, 2013, Davis’ unfunded pension liability based on the market rate of return on investments was $267,591,759, including pension bonds. A funded ratio of 41.7.%

  2. Misanthrop

    So what is your solution? Both Dan and Robb recognize we need additional revenue. Neither seems to argue for cuts in services. Neither Dan nor Robb are responsible for the situation they inherited from prior councils. Dan has actually done more than most of the councils that came before him to get the budget under control. On his watch new contracts were negotiated that reduced total compensation and he also voted to impose contracts on units that refused to settle. You may not like Dan’s take on things but you can’t disagree that things would be worse without these actions.

    If you want further cuts how do you get from here to there and what does that mean for services. Davis police compensation is barely competitive now and how you will howl if they fail to put in a top notch performance. While you may not like the recent cola its hardly the budget buster that 3% at 50 that Harrington voted for or the 36% raises that Saylor voted for. I would grow the local economy and then capture money from that growth to fund our needs. The good news is if Davis ever gets out of its own way it can start to deal with these issues. The bad news is that if our community listens to the Vanguard and most of its commenters we are unlikely to grow our way to the vibrant infrastructure we envision for ourselves.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “The bad news is that if our community listens to the Vanguard and most of its commenters we are unlikely to grow our way to the vibrant infrastructure we envision for ourselves.”

      it seems like you are in a time warp here.  the majority of posters support some form of economic development as a longer term strategy.  a good number of posters would support some form of a revenue measure.  where we seem to differ with you is that at the very least we need to hold the line on new spending, $1.3 million may not be a budget buster, but it does push us into the red pretty quickly.

      my problem is that dan is talking renaissance, the reality is we are barely scraping by and not acknowledging the depth of the challenges doesn’t help us get to the point where we have made a case for a revenue measure.

      no wonder people won’t support a parcel tax for roads – dan’s not making the case that we need it.

      1. CalAg

        In a short six months, Robb Davis will take over and we will get to see how Mayor Davis performs on these issues. Hopefully, the Vanguard will hold him just as accountable as Mayor Wolk and the past City Councils.

        1. Robb Davis

          In a short six months, Robb Davis will take over and we will get to see how Mayor Davis performs on these issues. Hopefully, the Vanguard will hold him just as accountable as Mayor Wolk and the past City Councils.

          I really do not like the tone of the VG comments on this matter (not just the one above but I am using it to make a point).  This is NOT about “Robb vs Dan.” I did not personalize my column yesterday, I merely pointed out where I agreed and where I disagreed with Dan and provided some further information to consider.  There is a long (by now) history of City Councils not fully engaging the community around fiscal challenges.  I am attempting to rectify that and will continue to do so.

          But there is a deeper problem with the above quote.  Dan, as Mayor, is NOT responsible alone for fixing the fiscal situation in this City.  We have a weak mayor/strong city manager system.  The fiscal challenges belong to all five City Council members and we must, together, find a way forward.

          And because I did not have space in my column to note it I will here, it is absolutely true that the previous City Council took very big steps to deal with compensation issues.  They reduced the cafeteria cash out, changed cost sharing on future medical care increases and required all employees to pay their share of pension costs (many employees had not been paying this share).  This is why I noted that “take home” pay had been reduced–because the previous Council took action.  Dan was part of that.  That group is to be thanked for taking these steps.  The fact that we still have some way to go should NOT detract from this reality.

          Again, the Mayor of Davis has no power to effect change on his/her own.  Dan cannot and, if  I become Mayor, I will not.  I suggest we stop making this about personalities and engage in the next conversation about what additional things we need to do–together–to deal with the very real challenges I laid out yesterday.  I promise you that these issues will not be solved by any quick fixes and will take discipline and steady hand for years to come.

        2. Misanthrop

          It seems  David has been running negative stories about the Mayor on an almost daily basis. Then the Vanguard has the audacity to put up a self serving piece about how our local leaders should pay more attention to the Vanguard and its echo chamber of fiscally conservative commenters with their sky is falling predictions. The Vanguard has been predicting economic collapse for ten years. Hasn’t happened yet so why would any elected leader then look to the Vanguard for advice?

        3. CalAg

          “Mayor vs Mayor Pro Tem” David Greenwald

          If this is not about “Robb vs Dan” then perhaps you should make your point by addressing your comments to Greenwald and all the people that are using his article as an excuse to take cheap shots at the Mayor.

           

        4. Davis Progressive

          ” the Vanguard has the audacity to put up a self serving piece about how our local leaders should pay more attention to the Vanguard”

          Isn’t that called marketing?

        5. CalAg

          “But there is a deeper problem with the above quote.” Robb Davis

          For the record, the Pro Tem is misrepresenting my post. I did not say or imply that the Mayor has the power to effect change on his/her own. This is, of course, complete nonsense. To reiterate ,,, In a short six months, Robb Davis will take over and we will get to see how Mayor Davis performs on these issues.

          I’m hoping we have a unified and collegial CC. But in my personal opinion, calling out a colleague in the Enterprise is a bad sign.

        6. Alan Miller

          the vanguard pretty consistently criticizes public officials when they err and supports them when they do the right thing.

          Who are you, the Vanguard’s official “Defender & Ass Coverer”?

        7. hpierce

          Re: this and the other posts by CalAg on this thread… think CalAg has a pretty good “read” of the “staging” of this piece (liked his/her ‘cage-fight’ reference), and believe CalAg was pretty straight forward on the other posts as well…

          Robb’s comment made me glad I voted for him.

          I think Robb is doing exactly hat he SHOULD be doing… Dan is a “lame duck”, and can’t do much between now and June unless he has at least two/three other votes.

          Don’t know if it is his intention, but I think Robb is doing the equivalent of ‘stretching exercise’ and pre-race warm-up run, so come June, he can ‘hit the ground running’… I think it’s great he’s giving a preview of how he’d like to “lead”.  Better to have ‘transition’ now, than after June… (hope Tia picks up on my ‘transition’ metaphor)… we’ll have at least one new CC member, and as Robb will be “first among equals” in June, I think it’s great he is “stretching out” now…

    2. Don Shor

      If you’re going to be going to the community to argue on behalf of economic development and revenue increases, you undercut your rationale when you over-emphasize or exaggerate positive budget news.
      Why would we need to develop on the edge of town, with all that traffic and pollution and added demand for housing, if the budget is balanced? Show a graphic that shows it balanced five years out, and don’t show what happens if the sales tax (temporary) isn’t renewed. Keep talking about ‘good news’ and being ‘fiscally responsible’. And then tell people: oh, by the way, we are $10 million short on the roads. And we need to fix the pool. And we need a sports park. And….
      This is a strategy of short-term political gain actually harming the long-term fiscal political realities. Those 2/3 votes require a unified message, and excessive optimism doesn’t help with that.

      1. Davis Progressive

        exactly.  wolk is making a revenue measure very difficult to pass.  that either means he’s more concerned with his electoral prospects or he’s trying to kill the measure.

      2. Frankly

        Bingo.

        So, either Dan’s supporters are anti-growth or he is throwing the economic development need partially under the bus for the positive messaging that tends to help get people elected by the ignorant need-to-feel-good voter.

        Or both.

        I think probably both.

  3. Frankly

    Dan Wolk is ignoring the elephant in the room while focusing on the roses the elephant is about to trample beneath its enormous feet.

    Thanks for the visuals.  This is a step forward demonstrating creative writing talent.

  4. Frankly

    We are $10 million short.  I think the study on MRIC was too conservative on expected net revenue to the city, but using that $2.5MM per year, we need 1000 acres of commercial development to get to $10MM additional revenue per year just to cover our necessary expenses.

    But here is an idea for the immediate term.  Municipal bond rates are increasing, but are still at historic lows.  Basically money is still cheap.  If the city would approve MRIC, we could potentially back a 20-year $20MM bond with the expected tax revenue increase.  Then we would have at least $20MM to catch up on our road repair.  The interest expense will likely be less than would be the accumulating additional cost of repair as we continue to defer due to lack of funds.

      1. Frankly

        Yes, but this is where I think the CC just shot themselves in the foot.  Good luck getting any new tax increases, parcel or sales tax, for taking care of our existing expenses and budget imbalances when the CC just gave away the last one to city employee compensation increases.

        And we have those precious schools parcel taxes that need to be renewed and maybe some new ones in the works.  Do we want to put those in jeopardy after piling on for other reasons?

        1. Barack Palin

          And don’t forget the stupid soda tax is getting a lot of attention.  I know some of our council feel the soda tax isn’t a big deal but from talking to some of my neighbors they’re highly pissed off about it.  I think it just adds to the thinking that people feel they’re getting hit from all sides by taxation.  They’ve had enough and are getting to the point where any tax will get voted down.

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      Excellent idea, Frankly, … but what are the odds some of it will be spent on ancillary items, frittered away, or give some the idea that all is well, and time for a new Olympic Pool and other spendy plans with only a small portion of the real work done?

      I’d negotiate hard with the $20 Million, too… I’d make sure to get a big bang for the buck.

  5. CalAg

    “… the declarations by Dan Wolk about a “Davis Renaissance”” David Greenwald

     

    “… what my colleague Rochelle Swanson calls a “Davis Renaissance.”” Dan Wolk

    It’s not even the Mayor’s rhetoric. Another misleading attribution.

    So in the RD/DG-world the Mayor’s holiday message to the community should have been “we look good on paper, but actually everything is s**t”??? It was just a feel-good holiday message in the Enterprise. Everybody needs to take a giant chill pill.

    1. Don Shor

      It was just a feel-good holiday message in the Enterprise

      Jan 7 2015:
      Mayor Wolk Calls State of the City “Very Strong”
      http://www.davisvanguard.org › Breaking News

      July 21 2015
      Davis Mayor Dan Wolk announces run for Assembly
      Press release
      Wolk has been on the Davis City Council since 2011. In that time, his statement reads, he has “led efforts to construct a regional surface water project, pushed for greater investment in streets, parks and other vital infrastructure, promoted renewable energy initiatives and has passed fiscally responsible city budgets, while restoring the city’s rainy day reserves.

      Nov 30 2014
      The Mayor’s Corner: Give thanks for better budget news
      http://www.davisenterprise.com/…/the-mayors-corner-give-tha...

    2. Matt Williams

      CalAg’s “feel-good holiday message” assessment rings true for this reader, which is why I said in a prior comment:

      The Mayor ended his column by saying, “I can’t wait to see what this upcoming year has in store. But for now, relax and enjoy this holiday season.”

      The Mayor Pro-Tem in his column above has effectively said “The holiday season is over, and it is time to get to work.”

      I admire the Mayor’s optimism, but my tenure on the Finance and Budget Commission tells me that addressing challenges laid out by the Mayor Pro-Tem is the fiscally responsible thing to do if we want Davis to continue to be the Davis we have come to know and love.

      As Tia said in her comment above, there is room for both the Mayor’s and the Mayor Pro-Tem’s perspectives.

       

        1. Matt Williams

          CalAg, I believe we agree on much, much more than we disagree on; however, our discussions rarely are about what we agree on.

          I also believe that even when you perceive we are in disagreement, we more often than not agree on the facts.  Where our paths appear to diverge is in how we respectively weigh those facts against all the other relevant facts associated with a particular issue.

        2. Frankly

          CalAg – Seems you are strongly supportive of Dan… maybe working on his campaign?

          I can’t see any benefit to the community from talking about the roses only and not even mention the weeds and the elephant trampling the garden.

        3. Davis Progressive

          CalAg- so you believe his monthly column is the time to improve his electoral chances running overly rosy and highly questionable propaganda pieces?

        4. CalAg

          Seriously? The Mayor’s Corner will have zero impact on the outcome of the election. You are just using this made-up controversy as a pretense to take cheap shots at Wolk, who you clearly dislike.

        5. Alan Miller

          The Mayor’s Corner will have zero impact on the outcome of the election.

          That’s right, politicians running for higher office write newspaper columns to make people feel better.  Has nothing to do with their upcoming election.

      1. CalAg

        Frankly: Did you really just go there? You’re smarter than that.

        I’m very critical of Wolk on several issues, foremost being his central role in politically appointing a terribly unqualified City Manager at a time when we need to bring our A-game.

        I’m not working on Dan’s or anyone else’s campaign, and there is no scenario where that changes.

        1. CalAg

          It just rubs me the wrong way.

          This little pissing match has that old familiar smell of political calculation. In my opinion, it’s more about the upcoming election than public policy.

        2. Miwok

          Everything Mr Wolk is doing right now is coloured by the upcoming election. Truth is constantly infused with him taking credit for things before and after his tenure.

          Davis: our budget is balanced with a healthy 15-percent reserve.

          Wolk: This includes our $230 million regional water project, a $90 million wastewater treatment plant, and a $12 million, two-year effort to improve our roads

          Davis : The vast majority of staff in the city has seen the amount of their take-home check decrease over the past five years, principally due to increased employee contributions for healthcare insurance and pensions.

          I know from working all the years at  UCD the last statement is the truest. The first two by Mr Wolk only tells me he has a penchant for taking credit, and like Obama, projecting figures so far out in the ionosphere they do not make sense. HE spent $320 Mil on water projects? I doubt that, and the yearly amount, while still substantial, is not as impressive sounding.

        3. Frankly

          Sorry CalAg – I wasn’t understanding where your heat was coming from.  You explained it to DP.   Just a general dislike of the mudslinging.

          I have a perspective of politicians being servants of the population, not the population being servants of the politician.  So as my servants, I want them to be straight up honest and direct.  I don’t want them sugar coating anything, and I don’t want them to be a “Debbie Downer” either.  I think Robb Davis struck the right balance in his piece.  I think he will do the same as Mayor.

          The state of the city, state or union should be one that is factual and optimistic about past accomplishments and future progress, but not glossing over important challenges that exist and will happen down the road.

          One of the most aggravating things we adults keep doing is sweeping our challenging problems under the rug and kicking the fiscal can down the road.  Are we really so all so psychologically weak that we cannot face up to the mess we have made?

        4. CalAg

          Frankly: Maybe the title of this piece should have been “Monday Morning Cage Fight: Pollyanna Wolk vs Debbie Downer Davis, Swanson’s Renaissance vs Greenwald’s Fiscal Peril”

          I thought Wolk’s tone was entirely appropriate under the circumstances. It was just an end-of-the-year feel-good piece – not his State of the City address. Hopefully, he will address the City’s fiscal sustainability challenges tomorrow.

           

  6. Paul Thober

    OK, it seems like everyone’s motive has been impugned and defended so what is the way forward? For now the our city’s budget is balanced if not generating a modest surplus; however, that does not account for a tremendous  amount of deferred maintenance on streets and buildings. $10,000,000.00 per year for a decade or more is the figure mentioned for streets alone. $95,000,000.00 total has been mentioned for other infrastructure maintenance and construction. Personnel costs are going to increase by at least 3% this year alone. To me this all represents an ongoing need for $15,000,000.00 to $20,000,000.00 per year of additional tax revenue and/or personnel and service cuts. We need a workable solution for this and soon as delay will only exacerbate the problem.  Thoughts?

    1. Tia Will

      Paul

      Since I believe in incremental steps, I will stick my neck out and put forth my initial thoughts on a path forward. Please note the term path…..not to be confused with panacea.

      1. Assess all of the current job positions in the city for appropriate distribution of duties and responsibilities. Make sure that all jobs are being done by the lowest person on the compensation totem pole with the appropriate experience and skill to do the job. This avoids overpaying managers for doing work that could be done by a lower level employee and might result in the need for less managerial staff.

      2. Stop asserting that pay should be based on what a similarly skilled worker would make in the private sector. This is nothing but a distraction. There is nothing that says that the private sector and the public sector are equal or should be considered as such. Instead, I would consider where our pay scale and compensation packages fall in terms of like cities in close geographic proximity and use this for the standard going forward within what is possible legally.

      3. Realize that in the very short term, let’s say the next five years, we are going to need increased money from taxes. I would happily support any of those that have been recently suggested. You all know that I favor some over others but would be willing to support any of the proposals for the short term since we are clearly in need of a short term boost.

      4. For the mid range, the Embassy Suites project has already been approved and there will be some gain on that basis. I would encourage the effort to get another opinion about whether more hotel space would indeed generate sufficient funds through a TOT to make this a worthwhile mid range consideration.

      5. For the longer term, I am favor of moving forward with Nishi since it is a dual goal project with some revenue for the city as well as the goal of providing more student housing.

      I  am not going to address here the issue of a large peripheral “innovation park” for the simple reason that I do not think, being a long term project that my preferences are really relevant to the current discussion.

      1. CalAg

        TW: You lost me at #5. Nishi won’t provide meaningful revenue to the City. The project is revenue negative. They are trying to patch it up with band aids to get to revenue neutral. But even if they do reach revenue neutral, there’s that inconvenient issue of the $13,6M CFD.

        http://documents.cityofdavis.org/Media/Default/Documents/PDF/Finance/A.%20Davis_Nishi_Property_PPT_DRAFT_12_11_2015.pdf

        That’s money that comes from the tenants and end users – and, as a consequence, money that comes right out of the local economy.

      2. Frankly

        1. Easier said than done.  Tia, meet the unions and labor contracts.  And I can almost guaranty you that no city mangers are doing any work that can be pushed down to lower paid staff.   I would guess that the City is top heavy… with too many chiefs and not enough decision-empowered Indians.

        2. You just shot #1 in the foot.  Let’s take this logic out and give the same benefit to CEOs.  Let’s not compare their pay and benefits to any outside that exclusive group.  That would be nothing but a distraction, right?  We should only consider their pay scales without what other companies are paying their CEOs.  Sometimes you astound me how clearly partisan your arguments are.

        3. Can’t continue to tax your way out of this problem of over-compensating city employees and under-developing the local economy.   I’m sure you would prefer tax increase since you have stated it over and over again… that demand for everyone and join in to fund Tia’s desire to keep things from changing.

        4. So where do you suggest these hotels be built if not in the innovation parks?  Do you know of suitable commercial land that I don’t?

        5. Nishi is a net revenue drain.  That has already been established.

        I  am not going to address here the issue of a large peripheral “innovation park” for the simple reason that I do not think, being a long term project that my preferences are really relevant to the current discussion.

        Huh?

      3. Jim Frame

        2. Stop asserting that pay should be based on what a similarly skilled worker would make in the private sector. This is nothing but a distraction. There is nothing that says that the private sector and the public sector are equal or should be considered as such.

        I strongly disagree with this.  While it can be difficult to draw exact correlation between private-sector job descriptions and those of a public agency, using only nearby public agency pay scales as a reference results in a ratchet effect:  compensation goes up but never comes down.  (And it generally goes up with every comparison, because one local agency or another has always agreed to an increase, often for political reasons unrelated to value.)  And the insular nature of public agency employment comparisons breaks any relation to value on the larger market, producing things like Firefighter IIs making over $200k per year with Cadillac pension and retiree medical at age 50.

        1. Frankly

          I completely agree with you.  There are really very few jobs in the public sector that are some exclusive experience domain.  Certainly at the senior management ranks you would need some solid experience in your function.  For example, a police captain and chief would need years of experience in the funtion of law enforcement to be effective at the job.  But at a staff or functionary level, either good people can be trained, or else they require standard professional certification similar to the private sector (engineer, etc.).

          I have a good friend a couple years older than me at 58 who is a retired fire captain.  He has been retired for 8 years.  Now with his fat pension, he is a consultant that goes around the country to develop plans for firefighter training facilities.  I am guessing that his annual income with his pension and the value of his healthcare coverage must be close to $400k per year if not more.

          Even though he is a conservative dude, he is smart enough to not engage with me on the topic of public sector pay and benefits.  But he did tell me at one point that for most cities in CA, firefighters are grossly overpaid.

          Because I am an entrepreneur I asked him if with what he knows about the job and the training, why don’t the two of us go into business together providing an outsourced staffing alternative to the city employee firefighter.  He quickly said that the unions where the problem… that it would take years of challenges with no assurance that the unions would not defeat it.

          Which confirmed where I always end up.  We have met the enemy, it is public sector unions.  They need to be abolished.

        2. TrueBlueDevil

          I have a few friends who are fire fighters, so I see both sides. Here are a few items.

          1. They argue for early retirement b/c of wear and tear on the body, but they could easily become an inspector, trainer, etc., or go get a job at Home Depot until a pension kicks in at 60 or 65.

          2. The rigged tests in Sacramento were no surprise to me. Try complicated rigged bids.

          3. Does every training program have to be specific? Why can’t local municipalities have multiple training guides they can download for FREE from the State or Feds?

          4. Frankly, decades ago didn’t we have volunteer fire fighters?

          5. In San Francisco one day I passed a fire house with numerous female fire fighters. I asked a former SF fire fighter what was going on. “If you want to fight fires, there are two stations you go to, and that location isn’t one of them.”

    2. Matt Williams

      Paul, the answer I gave you yesterday, when you asked essentially the same question, still stands.

      The first step is coming up with a comprehensive assessment of what the necessary maintenance of things we already have is going to cost.  Both Council and the Finance & Budget Commission have been working throughout 2015 with staff to put together that clear and honest assessment.

      The streets and roads portion of that assessment has been presented by staff, and then revised and updated based on the questions staff got from both Council and the FBC.  Staff has been preparing with the help of a facilities consultant a separate comprehensive report that covers City Hall, city buildings, fire stations, pools, parks, and other public works buildings and facilities.  That comprehensive facilities maintenance/repair/replacement report has been a work-in-process since the Budget was approved in mid-2015.  Updates from staff indicate it should be ready for review by the Council and the FBC in January.  FBC has suggested that focused attention on facilities groupings through its existing liaison relationship with other city commissions will ensure that this is not just a fiscal analysis, but also a functional analysis as well.

      That process describes how to get a clear picture of what we owe for facilities maintenance/repair/replacement; however, FBC has also been strongly advising the Council and staff that the city needs to undertake a comprehensive Business Process Re-engineering.  As Robb Davis says in his article,

      because we have cut staff in a non-strategic way (via attrition), it is not even clear whether we are staffed appropriately to provide city services. We have a highly professional and responsive workforce—with workers taking on many new tasks due to cuts—but because employee costs represent the majority of General Fund expenses we must find ways to contain compensation.

      We need business processes and human systems that are structured to efficiently and effectively deliver the services our city and its residents need.  We need to make the most of the highly professional and responsive workforce we have, and ensure that we are proactively dealing with change that we have prepared ourselves for, rather than reactively dealing with change that is being imposed on us.

      The pro-bono engagement that John Meyer completed shortly after City Manager Dirk Brazil’s hiring, was a good first step, but there hasn’t been any follow-up engagement to keep that positive momentum going.  A Business Process Re-engineering assessment of the city would build on what was learned from John Meyer’s efforts, and cause us to use our money more wisely.

      If we do that, any additional taxes can be very specifically targeted for the parts of the city’s business processes that need the additional spending . . . and the city can clearly and transparently report back to the taxpayers how their money has been efficiently and effectively spent.

      All of the above is the substance behind the FBC’s December 15th advice to Council:

      That the F& B C is recommending that the Davis City Council not approve any new tax measures or utility rate increases for placement on a ballot measure until such time that:

      1.     The staff provides a detailed scope of proposed and/or deferred capital infrastructure projects, as well as proposed new services.

      —       Said scope document shall include specific measurable success metrics for the proposed new services and projects, along with an inventory of the specific costs that will be incurred to provide said proposed services or complete said projects.

      —       Each deferred capital infrastructure project shall include its expected success metrics, as well as an anticipated budget.

      —       The scope document will be updated each year as part of the Budget adoption process.

      2.     The staff provides detailed report/s in conjunction with or as a part of the annual Budget adoption process documents submitted to City Council that reports the specific work done (accomplishments) the prior Fiscal Year on staff proposed services and project/s associated with item #1.

      3.     The staff provides detailed report/s in conjunction with or as a part of the annual Budget adoption process documents submitted to City Council that defines where the revenues collected from any new tax/increased tax measure(s) spent on services and/or projects other than the services and/or projects associated with item #1.

  7. Tia Will

    Frankly

    One of the most aggravating things we adults keep doing is sweeping our challenging problems under the rug”

    Kind of like with the obesity problem which we want to pretend only affects others and could not possibly be a problem here in Davis. So we have yet another point of agreement, we just don’t agree on what our challenges really are.

    1. hpierce

      At least according to the Sac Bee, (today’s edition), Davis is regionally, at the lowest cohort of risk/occurrence of childhood obesity… but I also understand “no child with a big behind”… I’m thinking proportionality as to problems and resources… and focus…

      1. Tia Will

        hpierce

        At least according to the Sac Bee, (today’s edition), Davis is regionally, at the lowest cohort of risk/occurrence of childhood obesity”

        And I do not doubt the truth of that statement. However, that does not mean that we should not be addressing the issue. A serious issue should not be put on hold because it is not yet catastrophic.

        1. TrueBlueDevil

          I agree with Tia, though I think that BMI is not a perfect measure … I think the BMI system would label Arnold Schwarzenegger as obese. My conclusion is it doesn’t account for those who have lifting a lot of weights, but it might work perfectly in Europe.

    2. Frankly

      I think all those obese people in Davis must be hiding with those other people with a lot of tooth decay.  They are really, really hard to find.  Maybe having powers of invisibility!

      1. Tia Will

        Frankly

        They are really, really hard to find”

        They are not difficult to find at all if you happen to work at the Davis Medical Office Building. David has posted numbers, and I have posted numbers which you choose to ignore in favor of the where ?  I don’t see any…..at least not here in the mirror.

  8. TrueBlueDevil

    Can we conclude that our city leaders have abandoned their fiduciary responsibilities? Keeping a $50 Million backlog on road repair and such “off the books” doesn’t really wash as responsible financial planning.

    But we’ve spent even more on the Federal and State level. Have Obama, Congress, or Gov. Brown done any better?

    Does Wolk have larger political ambitions?

    1. CalAg

      Somebody correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe we are currently spending $6M per year on roads. That’s not the $10M that staff claims we need, but I personally would like to see some better vetting of this number before us taxpayers write the check. Keeping the unfunded maintenance backlog off the books pre-dates Wolk.

        1. hpierce

          So, you believe the shortfall is $14 million?  Per year?  Somebody is lying/misinformed… 40%  is not usually judged as a ‘clerical error’… fish or cut bait, David.

          1. David Greenwald

            No, I don’t believe the shortfall is $14 million, they have $4 million that has been allocated from the general fund.

        2. Matt Williams

          David, per the December 1st Staff report your $4 million figure is correct, but the shortfall is only $6 million.

          results in an average annual total project budget need of approximately $10M. This is two and half times more than the $4M currently being budgeted.

          1. David Greenwald

            But isn’t that $10 million just roads, whereas Robb is talking about total infrastructure.

        3. Matt Williams

          Yes that is indeed roads.  There currently isn’t any number for the non-roads portion of the city’s capital infrastructure; however, staff has provided some component numbers as follows:

          General Rehab/renovation of existing Parks $400,000 annually $150,000 of which is unfunded

          ADA upgrades of existing Parks $100,000 annually $100,000 of which is unfunded

          Urban Forestry Maintenance $800,000 annually $100,000 of which is unfunded

          Wildlife Habitat Maintenance $250,000 annually $250,000 of which is unfunded

          Playground Equipment Repair/Replacement (2 out of 65 each year) $100,000 annually $100,000 of which is unfunded

          Tennis Court Resurfacing $150,000 annually $150,000 of which is unfunded

          Urban Forestry Maintenance $800,000 annually $100,000 of which is unfunded

          City Building Maintenance & Replacement $4,000,000 annually $1,200,000 of which is unfunded

          The full report on all the City’s facilities being prepared by an outside consultant and vetted with City staff is due to be available this month.  It has been a 6-month endeavor thus far.  FBC is looking forward to receiving it and discussing it at our February 8th public meeting.

      1. Matt Williams

        CalAg, the following passage from the December 1st Staff Report should answer your question.

         

        “… results in an average annual total project budget need of approximately $10M. This is two and half times more than the $4M currently being budgeted.”

         

  9. Mark West

    Robb Davis:  “We have a weak mayor/strong city manager system.”

    “The fiscal challenges belong to all five City Council members and we must, together, find a way forward.”

    “the Mayor of Davis has no power to effect change on his/her own.”

     

    These statements of Robb’s are absolutely true.  A single council member (Mayor or no) cannot effect change on their own, and the challenges belong to the five members together.  What the comments leave out though is that while the Mayor cannot effect change alone, he certainly can affect it significantly through the use of the ‘bully pulpit.’    

    For better or worse, when the Mayor speaks, the public listens.

    In addition, this Mayor had the opportunity to lead the selection process for our current ‘strong’ City Manager, providing an additional opportunity to further affect change in the City’s future. As an aside, does anyone believe we would have ended up with the same final candidate for CM had Dan and Robb’s roles been reversed?

    The biggest ‘challenge’ that the City currently faces is the fiscal situation, and one of the most important aspects of that challenge is simply convincing the public to pay attention. The public is slow to respond, and often takes years to come to grips with the breadth and depth of a problem, especially one based on boring discussions of deferred maintenance and unfunded pension obligations (“I know, let’s have a party and talk about OPEB. That will be fun!” – said no one).

    What we have needed for the past decade or so (and especially the last year or two), is a consistent message from the Mayor, City Council and City Manager to ‘wake up’ the public about the extent of our fiscal problems, and to lead the discussions on our options for addressing them.  Dan did not do that (nor the Mayors before him) and while some may admire the optimism of his recent comments,  I believe those comments (and many of his previous ones) have simply made the Council’s task just that much harder.

    Come July, the City’s fiscal problems will no longer be Dan’s responsibility. He had a choice as Mayor to use his bully pulpit to help the City move forward addressing our fiscal problems or instead, to put it to use elsewhere. His choice was clear.  Robb’s comments give me hope that the next Mayor will make a better choice.

    1. hpierce

      Come late June (not July) there will be Robb as mayor, and four other CC members, one guaranteed to be new, and possibly 3…  get a clue, folks…

      Rochelle and Robb (absent a recall) will be on the CC, at the end of June… the rest will depend…

    2. Jim Frame

      Doesn’t the mayor also work directly with the CM to set the agenda for each CC meeting?  Control of the agenda can only be overcome if 3 other CC members decide it’s worth a fight.  Inertia is a potent force.

  10. TrueBlueDevil

    Will the DV ever give us an update on the work Diane Parro – new Chief Innovation Officer – is doing?

    And we don’t have to worry about rising medical costs per the city, the Affordable Care Act took care of those issues. (Tongue firmly planted in cheek.)

     

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