My View: Vanguard 10? Maybe Council Ought to Pay Attention

DV-Bike

Back when the MOUs were approved, without being pulling off consent, by the Davis City Council, there was pushback by some on the council against the notion that this was an issue of controversy. There were references to the Vanguard 10 – suggesting that the only people really up in arms were the ten people regularly posting on the Vanguard.

Another councilmember more delicately suggested that, if they weren’t reading the feedback on the Vanguard, they would never know this was an issue. Of course, as I’ve noted, the Vanguard was the only entity really raising the issue, so where else was the feedback going to be occurring?

But the bigger point is that the perception of the Vanguard appears to be wrong. It isn’t just ten people commenting – in fact it is much broader. And while yes, the Vanguard is not a complete representation of the community, we do have a very broad cross-section of it.

The legwork on this is from Don Shor. First of all, I’d like to thank Don, he has been our moderator since late 2009 and he spends hours of his time doing this with no compensation. Not everyone agrees with him or his decisions, but read the comments from late 2009 and compare them to now and you will see the benefit of his work.

Don Shor analyzed the data for the month of December. In total, there were 76 different people commenting the Vanguard. Right there is a substantial number. A lot of councilmembers seem to use the email they receive as a gauge – it was referenced a few times in the MOU discussion, but 76 would seem to be a substantial number of communications – perhaps higher than the number of letters to the local paper, higher than the number of public comments, and certainly higher than the number of emails the council generally receives on a given issue.

Don Shor then broke down the comments by frequency, making the arbitrary division at 100 comments. He found that the commenters were almost equally split, with 37 of the commenters having made less than 100 comments in total and 39 having made over 100 comments in total.

Most interesting is that, within the more frequent commenter groups, there are two levels. There are 15 commenters (14 if you don’t include myself) who have made over 1000 comments. There are another 34 people who are in the next tier, making between 100 and 999 comments. That group is varied with some making 700 to 800 comments and others making as low as 109 comments.

The point is that, while there are 14 people who are clearly commenting a lot more than most, there is another tier of active users who are frequent participants.

As Don Shor put it, “Knowing what I do about the range of professions, civic activities, and intellectual prowess of these 76 individuals who commented in December, I would say that any public official who minimizes the Vanguard as a source of community conversation does so at his or her own peril.”

He adds, “This is where conversations happen.”

And that’s really our theme for 2016, this is the place where the conversation is going to happen, whether it is on the website or out in the community. We are going to be sponsoring a monthly (in January, twice monthly) speaker series. On January 13, it will be on Mace Ranch Innovation Center, and then on January 30 on Nishi. Times and locations are pending for both events.

—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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49 Comments

  1. Barack Palin

    Possibly a group of local activists can approach the City Council and suggest a 5 cent per Vanguard comment tax.  We would have the street repairs paid for in no time.

    1. David Greenwald

      I’m afraid not. 276,000-plus comments on the Vanguard at five cents a comment wouldn’t even make a dent on roads. That’s how bad our roads are.

    2. Barack Palin

      Think about it, a 5 cent per comment tax could be pushed from a health standpoint.  Taxing comments will lead to less posts and less time sitting at the computer.  It will force people to do other things and get more exercise.  It would lead to lower healthcare and insurance costs.  The money could be set aside for parks and heart clinics.  We could be the first city to do this in the nation.  Change has to start somewhere. Let’s beat Berkeley to the punch.

      1. Barack Palin

        I could testify before the council that I’m a chronic commenter.  That by cutting my posts by 50% could lead me to lose 10 lbs. over the course of a year.  My heart would be healthier and it would lead to less diabetes. A win win for everyone.

        1. Tia Will

          BP

          What a wonderful idea !  But of course, you cannot do that unless it is true. What an opportunity for you to be a real leader in this field. If successful, I will be happy to join your effort to make this a city wide initiative.

           

  2. Jim Frame

    The CC may not pay attention to the Vanguard, but at least some of the business community does.  After posting a question about Nishi here, I got an email from the lead principal in response.

  3. Tia Will

    Jim

    From the comments that I have received from all 5 of the current CC members, I believe that all 5 pay at least some attention to the comments on the Vanguard. Whether or not that influences their decisions is another matter.

  4. Michelle Millet

     And while yes, the Vanguard is not a complete representation of the community, we do have a very broad cross-section of it.

    From what I can tell, EVERYONE who pays attention to local politics reads the Vanguard, even if they don’t comment or want to admit it.  This is still a pretty small segment of our population, and I think sometimes those playing “inner baseball” tend to forget that and thus get too wrapped up worrying about what maybe 500 people at most care about. (although some issues do generate more public concern).

    I would challenge our local leaders to remember they represent everyone in the community, not just the people that vote, not just the people who show up to council meetings and write letters, and not just the people that post on the Vanguard. Too often I’ve seen our leaders express concern and base their decisions on the opinions expressed by the very small percentage of our community that is represented on the Vanguard.

    1. SlowSoDaMa

      Exactly! I hardly ever post here, but I do read the Vanguard daily adnve sifting through the comments. I was appalled by the lack of discussion ethe recent city pay raises given so many other needs. Sounds like we still suffering from the huge fire fighters py raises from a few years ago.

    2. Alan Miller

      I would challenge our local leaders to remember they represent everyone in the community, not just the people that vote, not just the people who show up to council meetings and write letters, and not just the people that post on the Vanguard.

      Yeah, City Council, listen to those who don’t speak, call or write!

      Listen to them!  Listen  harder!  Can’t you hear what they aren’t saying?

      1. Michelle Millet

        Yeah, City Council, listen to those who don’t speak, call or write!
        Listen to them!  Listen  harder!  Can’t you hear what they aren’t saying?

        Are you saying that our council should not represent those who cannot call, speak, or write to them? In that case 2-year-olds, among others, are SOL.

        I find it troublesome when those that scream the loudest at council meetings feel more entitled to having their needs met, or feel like their opinions should be given more weight, than those who are unable or unwilling to do so.

        Everyone, regardless of how loud they scream, how often they email, how frequently they post on the Vanguard, or how much money they donate, deserves equal representation.

  5. Frankly

    With the recent CC decision to approve the 3% increase in city employee compensation, I learned a great deal about this town I have lived in for the last 40 years.   I learned that Davis is a stronger government employee town than I previously suspected.   Even with very rare near consensus against this increase from the typical well-informed and opinionated community of VG bloggers, the CC members ignored it.   They were obviously getting their ears bent from a majority of voters that either do not pay attention to the VG, or who read it and don’t post their honest opinions.

    And with this realization has come a shift in my opinion for who is responsible for our sorry fiscal state.  I used to blame previous city leaders.  But with this current five that have given every indication that at least three of them are true business-minded fiscal conservatives, and also some evidence based on what happened to the political career of Sue Greendwald – one of the few past CC members with a track record speaking the truth about city employee compensation practices and city overspending…. and lastly, with what happened more recently in City Manager musical chairs… I have come to the new conclusion that the root of the problem is that the majority of voters that are, have been or otherwise benefit from their relationship with, government employees.

    And this new opinion of mine is reinforced by the posts of certain regular VG participants that I know to be or have been government employees that routinely debate me in defense of city employee compensation.

    I get it.

    Everyone pursues their own self interest above and beyond the interests of others.  This is basic human nature.

    The more educated, left-leaning, public-sector employee person – in which Davis is over-represented – will tend to argue against this seeing themselves as more egalitarian, fair and less-needy in material possessions… but deserving in every penny they can get paid.   So they contact their CC members and tell them to vote to approve the increase.

    So the VG 10, or 15, or whatever are powerless in politics because of our local voter demographics.

    This voter demographic and their political demands are the reasons we currently lack the money to maintain our roads, maintain our parks and fix our pools… and why tax increases keep coming up as the remedy.

    And this voter demographic is also the same that rejects peripheral business park expansion knowing full well it represents a demographic shift that would tend to erode their political power to bend the CC to their demands for greater government employee pay.

    The good news here is that this demographic is reaching the bottom of the barrel of resources to keep them filled and vested with rich pay and benefits.   Tax increases are being rejected and beloved programs and services are being cut.  The day of reckoning is looming.

    1. Michelle Millet

      I’m going to disagree with you on this. Elected officials who are interested in maintaining the status quo, (aka keeping themselves in office), will take the path of least resistance. In this case, that was approving the 3% pay increase. This decision was given very little attention by the general public, most probably have no idea it happened. If our council members hadn’t taken this path, it could have lead to an employee strike, which would get a lot of attention, and would not reflect well on our leaders, and thus is something they probably wished to avoid, especially while running for re-election, which 3 out of the 4 of them who voted for the raises (Brett Lee, Lucas Frerichs, and Dan Wolk) are doing.

      If anything is to blame, it is voter apathy, and unless something really drastic happens that negatively impacts people’s day to day life, I don’t see that changing.

      1. Jim Frame

        Have, on good authority, that Ms Greenwald made damn sure she got every penny of the compensation and retiree medical that was ‘coming to her’

        Why shouldn’t she?  I certainly would have.  But accepting what’s handed to you is very different from refusing to say “no” when employee bargaining groups keep asking for more.  Especially when saying “yes” helps to advance your political career.

        Sue can be a hard person to work with, but she consistently acted out of principle and did her homework much more diligently than most.  I miss her clear if sometimes inarticulate voice on the Council.

    2. Jim Frame

      I have come to the new conclusion that the root of the problem is that the majority of voters that are, have been or otherwise benefit from their relationship with, government employees.

      I think Occam’s razor argues against this conclusion.  My view is similar to Michelle’s:  most voters aren’t aware of the city’s financial condition and won’t engage the issue unless and until it hits them hard enough to get their attention.

      1. Michelle Millet

        In the meantime, we have otherwise well-meaning politicians agendizing their re-election efforts above the best interests of the community. When our “independent” council members start caving to special interests and start making decisions based on how it will effect their election results,  it hard to believe that any change is possible, regardless of how many people post on the Vanguard.

      2. Barack Palin

        One thing for sure, one can learn a lot from other Vanguard posters.

        Occam’s razor

        Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.

        1. Frankly

          Occam’s razor always struck me as a way for scientists to take shortcuts for puzzles afflicted with many moving parts and also gives them cover for pushing complex theories that later become proven wrong with more data.
          No problem when the theories stay in the theoretical world, but not so when they are used to make policy.

          1. Don Shor

            There is nothing in the principle that leads to the notion that it “also gives them cover for pushing complex theories that later become proven wrong with more data.” Truly, only you could turn this into a veiled comment about scientific malpractice. You seem to have a deep and abiding hostility to science.

            In science, Occam’s razor is used as a heuristic technique (discovery tool) to guide scientists in the development of theoretical models, rather than as an arbiter between published models.[8][9] In the scientific method, Occam’s razor is not considered an irrefutable principle of logic or a scientific result; the preference for simplicity in the scientific method is based on the falsifiability criterion.

            — Wikipedia.

            I’m sure you have some pet “complex theories” that you believe have been proven wrong.

  6. Tia Will

    Frankly

    Everyone pursues their own self interest above and beyond the interests of others.  This is basic human nature.”

    This is demonstrably not true of “everyone”. If “everyone” pursued their own self interest above and beyond the interests of others, a lot of us would be a heck of a lot wealthier than we are. Others would never be taking on any social causes, or helping their neighbors to address issues that do not affect them directly since to do so would erode their own ability to pursue their own interests.

    There would also never be any stories like the 12 year old girl, Makenna Breading-Goodrich of Arizona who spends November and December going from house to house collecting coats and other warm clothing for the homeless. I understand that you only consider material well being  as humans highest value ( as you have said many times)….but please do not make the mistake of believing that everyone feels the same.

     

    1. Jim Frame

      This is demonstrably not true of “everyone”. If “everyone” pursued their own self interest above and beyond the interests of others, a lot of us would be a heck of a lot wealthier than we are.

      I think you’re taking too narrow a definition of “self interest” — it isn’t limited to monetary wealth.  Sometimes acting in our own self-interest costs us money but allows us to believe that we acted righteously, and there’s tremendous value in that.

      1. Tia Will

        Jim

        I agree with your point. I was addressing Frankly’s repeated statement that only material benefit or harm counts. I strongly agree that people have many definitions of “self interest” and believing that our actions make a difference is certainly part of that.

        1. Frankly

          The word “material” as I tend to use it means important, essential, relevant.  It is not monetary unless that is the important, essential or relevant pursuit.

          Jim is correct.  We all pursue our own self-interest.  Individual people may consider some pursuits more noble or more charitable than others, but both Mother Teresa and Gordon Gekko were pursuing their own self interests doing what they did.

          My point is/was that the spending madness will probably only stop when the voters of this town start to see clear negative impacts to other pursuits of self-interests and be forced to make value judgments.

          You can see this type of thing with the teachers.  They advocate for teachers being underpaid and underappreciated,  but when the cuts happen the more senior teachers will protect their own self-interest at the expense of the less senior teachers.

    2. hpierce

      Well, I think a guy named Samuel Clemens nailed it in one of his essays… “people will do what causes them the least pain”… he posited that there is no such thing as altruism.  Due to ‘guilt’, etc., people will do what appears to be altruistic, but in reality, not to do so would ‘pain’ them… much truth to that…

  7. Robb Davis

    Some interesting comments here…  A few reflections:

    1. Not a single person (not one) wrote me a personal email requesting I vote for compensation increases.  I recall two to three emails requesting I not vote for compensation increases.

    2. I receive very few “policy” concern emails.  Since I have been on the CC the majority of policy-related emails concern environmental issues related to development (not surprising given the focus on the peripheral development options).

    3. In contrast to number 2, the vast majority of emails I receive concern specific “project” issues or specific neighborhood or issues.  Among these are emails related to proposed housing projects (Paso Fino, Trackside, Hackberry, Grande, Families First site, etc.); broad issues of concern (downtown night scene, animal control, cyclists or motorists who break the law, speed limits, homelessness, etc.); neighborhood issues unrelated to housing (street light issues, dangerous intersections; water usage).

    4. I receive a surprising number of “angry” letters from folks outside Davis on issues like the MRAP, default beverage, and sanctuary status.  Some of these are unbelievably hostile.

    5. There is a small group of 10-15 people who write me regularly about a variety of City issues/concerns: Measure O, land use, innovation centers and transportation are among the most common issues this small group raises.

    I am not sure about my colleagues but I try to take in specific comments as well as general concerns in a way that will help inform my decision making, help clarify my own thinking, or provide alternative views.  However, my understanding when I ran for office was that Davis is a representative democracy and that people would elect me to make decisions based on my experience and judgment, understanding of the needs of the City and what seems best for the City, consistency with law, consistency with stated goals–all balanced by a spirit of open mindedness.  I do not use comments on the VG or emails as some form of “poll” to determine what the majority “wants”.  I think that would be ludicrous.  I appreciate the VG as a place where ideas get aired and enjoy the back and forth with posters (except for Frankly…

     

    that’s a joke Mr Ly).

    1. Matt Williams

      Robb, in reading your point 2. there is one additional area of “policy concerns” where I suspect you receive quite a few e-mails . . . fiscal policy.

      A lot of those e-mails involve your role as the Council Liaison to the FBC, and are from FBC members, but they are nonetheless “policy concerns.”  Thank you for all your consistently hard work in engaging those fiscal policy concerns, as well as all the other non-fiscal “policy concerns” too.

  8. Michelle Millet

    Another councilmember more delicately suggested that, if they weren’t reading the feedback on the Vanguard, they would never know this was an issue.

    Is this council member suggesting that something is only an “issue” when constituents express feedback? I find this a troublesome way to approach leadership and decision making. I imagine some of the most important and impactful decisions our council members make are on issues that garner the least amount of public attention.

    1. hpierce

      Well, my experience with  R Davis and B Lee, is they actually think on matters, whether they are getting feedback or not.  Don’t always agree with them, but feel confident that they think… think Rochelle usually does too… Lucas and Dan… usually agree, but concerned that that they have a wet finger up, to see where the political winds are blowing… yet, I believe all are genuinely concerned about the community, they have personal investments (far beyond monetary) in the community, so will cut all of them ‘slack’.   The current CC is not perfect, but on the whole, they’re damn good.

  9. TrueBlueDevil

    Our nation is $20 Trillion in debt, with another $100+ Trillion promised in unfunded mandates. Our State is swamped in debt. Obama paid lip service to tacking the problem, and then pushed the peddle on more social spending and Keynesian economics.

    On top of this all, we – the Feds and the State – import / allow in tens of millions of low-educated illegal workers who are and will be a drain on the system, paying few taxes yet taxing our social services.

    So the fact that Davis city leaders don’t plan for the future, or want to defy basic math, shouldn’t be surprising. We perpetually kick the can down the street.

    What happens to our national and state economies if the interest rate increases to 7% (the historical average?), or even 10%? I can recall rates of 17% under Jimmy Carter. It is possible.

    I don’t think the CC take a wide pulse of the electorate. I think most voters are preoccupied with their own lives, but something like the cratering of the roads could eventually make them wake up. I predict the CC will continue to offer piecemeal, incremental tax measures, hoping the electorate comes along.

    If Barack Obama, our Congress, and Jerry Brown kick the can down the road, why should we expect the City Council to be any more adult?

    1. Dave Hart

      The national debt issue has little or nothing to do with our economy.  Astounding from the “common sense”, common understanding that our economy is like a household and we must balance income with expenses. It is a foreign concept that in fact there is absolutely no relationship to the “expense-income” model of household finance to how a sovereign currency works.  The $20-trillion “debt” means almost nothing except as a stalking horse.  It’s a great excuse to do nothing or defund what you don’t like as long as you can get enough people to believe it is a legitimate issue.  The truth of any economy is that we get to consume what we produce and that is why our economic leaders should focus on building future productive capacity through investment in all levels of education as well as infrastructure.  As far as the “debt” goes, that can be zeroed out with an electronic “transfer of funds” in the same way that a spread sheet gets a big number typed into a cell.  And in our current economic circumstance of under employment that translates into weak demand with excess industrial capacity and high inventories there is a very low risk of inflation (in case you thought that is a legitimate concern).  Quite literally, the federal government could bail out every city and state government (who do have to balance their budgets) and still spend enough on infrastructure projects and put students through school with no debt without creating a bit of inflation.  But our priority is to spend mind-boggling amounts of money on armaments without a second thought:  because it’s “important”.  Really?!?!?

    2. Dave Hart

      Oh, and by the way, if you disagree with the basics of what I posted here, I’d be glad to hear about it AFTER you’ve read Warren Mosler’s book on “The Seven Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy” or Randall Wray’s book on Modern Money Theory.  Mosler’s Seven Deadly Frauds can actually be had for free as a .pdf if you’re too cheap (too much of an economist?) to buy it in the conventional way.

      1. Barack Palin

        if you disagree with the basics of what I posted here, I’d be glad to hear about it AFTER you’ve read Warren Mosler’s book on “The Seven Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy” or Randall Wray’s book on Modern Money Theory.

        So we can just wipe away our national debt with the stroke of a few computer keys and there won’t be any consequences?  I disagree and I’m not going to read your handpicked books from these two authors, especially Randall Wray who quoted “Do I “want to start jailing people”? Heck yes. If you want to reduce inequality, you’ve got to incarcerate the top 1%. – See more at: http://www.economonitor.com/lrwray/2014/05/19/forget-taxes-for-redistribution/#sthash.fiXWflZ0.dpuf

         

        1. Dave Hart

          The consequences can certainly be managed but it isn’t even necessary to wipe it out.  It can largely be ignored.  You should seriously consider reading Warren Mosler’s book.  He is, or was, a 1%er hedge fund manager and is probably ideologically more acceptable to you.  He isn’t a communist so you don’t need to worry about being infiltrated.

  10. Misanthrop

    “Maybe  Council ought to pay attention” (to the Vanguard) said the Vanguard.

    Without shameless self promotion there would be no self promotion at all.

  11. Tia Will

    “Maybe  Council ought to pay attention” (to the Vanguard) said the Vanguard.”

    Whether this is self promotional or not depends on how you are defining the Vanguard. Is the CC being advised to listen to the points of view expressed by David in his articles, by the guest authors ( whose philosophies are all across the political and social spectrum), to the commenters who also represent a full spectrum of beliefs ? I was in a conversation yesterday in which one person stated that they often read the comments first and then maybe read the article.

    While I think that there is room for many more spaces for ongoing conversation about public matters, for now, I  know of only the Vanguard providing this forum in Davis. It is the existence of a forum that is the point, not that it happens to be the Vanguard ( speaking only for myself, of course).

  12. Misanthrop

    It doesn’t really matter if David is saying that our civic leaders should read the articles or the comments. Either way its money in the bank for David. The more hits his site has the greater its financial value. Its just like the diabetes industry not caring what David says just as long as the local politicians know that the sugar pushers are willing to spend heavily to defeat anyone that interferes with their market.

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