Paul Boylan, a local attorney who finished runner-up to Dan Wolk for the 2011 City Council appointment, announced to the Vanguard that he will now run for the Davis City Council. Mr. Boylan, perhaps best known for helping the Vanguard to force the long-buried Davis Fire Report into the open, becomes the fifth candidate for city council this year.
Paul Boylan told the Vanguard it is his love for Davis that has pushed him to run for city council. Mr. Boylan said, “I love living here, I’ve lived here for 30 years.” He moved to Davis to go to law school at King Hall in 1985.
“I had every intention of going to law school here and going back to Los Angeles, but part of the reason I stayed here is I felt that Davis would be great place to settle down and raise a family,” he explained. He said he has enjoyed his time here, watching the city grow. “I believe I have what it takes to help maintain that quality of life.”
Mr. Boylan said, “I think it’s time for me to give a little bit back and to throw my hat into the ring.”
For Paul Boylan there was one issue that really convinced him that he needed to run. It was the vote on the soda tax.
He explained this through his view of government and what “government is supposed to do.” The first question, he explained, is “who’s it going to help?” He said, “The more people that it’s going to help, the more likely it is that he will support it.” Then you ask, “Who’s it going to hurt?” And “you have weigh who’s it going to help against who’s it going to hurt.” Finally, “you have to ask yourself how much is it going to cost?”
He said, “Everybody who’s elected has to answer those three questions.” But he added, “I also believe that their primary focus has to be on the commonwealth – what is good for the group? What is good for everyone?”
With regard to the soda tax he noted, “There is no question in anyone’s mind, in any rational mind, that soft drinks are bad for you. We’ve been convinced to drink them through a $1 billion multiyear campaign to persuade us to pay money and drink something and become virtually addicted to something that we don’t need, we don’t really want and ultimately is bad for our health.”
He added, “To me soft drinks are the same as cigarettes.” He said, “I have no problem at all on a tax on something like that, that would end up discouraging the use of that – improving people’s health in the process.”
Paul Boylan explained that he doesn’t understand why the council would vote not to approve what he saw as a “no-brainer.”
For Paul Boylan this issue becomes a microcosm, indicating that “there is room for a new perspective in dealing with the public’s business. I believe that I have the training and perspective allowing me to do that well.”
Paul Boylan studied at UC Davis Law School in the 1980s, where he met his wife. He explained, “The aspect of law that I still like best is that it gives you access to amazing amounts of information that the average individual can’t get for whatever reason.”
“It was my love for access of information,” he continued, “that ultimately led me into the area of law that I do now.” He said his practice is extremely broad, however. “In the last ten years or so, it has focused very sharply on government transparency and advocating on behalf of the public to gain access to government records – for the purpose of scrutinizing government and holding government officials accountable.”
On a number of occasions, Mr. Boylan has represented individuals who have sought records from the city of Davis or the local school district. That includes the Vanguard itself.
“One time that the city decided not to provide me with information required a lawsuit to get it,” he explained. “Ultimately my client prevailed, which was the Davis Vanguard. The information that we were looking for was released.”
In that case, he argued, there is one basic premise of government and that “truth is that transparency is good. Information wants to be free. The free flow of information is something that strengthens democracy.”
He argued that one thing that both the left and the right agree on is “freedom of speech.” But unless people “have the right to know” the freedom of speech is useless, since they don’t know what they’re talking about. Mr. Boylan says, “People have the right to know what their government does, why they do it, and how they do it.”
In 2008, complaints were made to the Yolo County Grand Jury about the Davis Fire Department. “The Grand Jury came out with a report that was critical of the Davis Fire Department and, in particular, the relationship between management and the union,” he explained. As a follow up, the City of Davis commissioned their own investigation, headed by Police Ombudsman Bob Aaronson, to look into it.
The city paid around $30,000 for that investigation, but the city manager “persuaded three members of the city council to not release the report,” he said. Instead, they released a summary of the report that the city manager had prepared – a summary that either omitted or glossed over the most critical aspects of the report.
“The argument was that there was confidential material within the report,” he said. The most important part of this story “was the city council was persuaded to keep the report itself secret even from themselves.” They actually voted “that no member of the city council could receive a copy of it.”
“When I heard this, it just didn’t sound right. Something was wrong,” Paul Boylan explained.
As a result of the lawsuit, the report was finally released and it revealed to the public a lot of information that was very important and of interest to the public about the performance of our public officials.
In 2010, Don Saylor ran unopposed for the Yolo County Board of Supervisors. As a result, he served just six months of his term as Mayor of Davis before vacating his seat. The four remaining councilmembers created an appointment process that ultimately resulted in Dan Wolk being appointed to the Davis City Council.
The runner up to Dan Wolk was Paul Boylan.
Boylan called it a beauty contest, where they met with individual councilmembers, there was a public forum, but ultimately the city council “did a series of votes to basically reduce the field.” Ultimately, “It was down to two, Dan Wolk and myself.”
However, while he found that process “fun” and very “informative,” he believes that this will be a very different experience, as “running is different from being selected.” He explained, “The only people I had to appeal to, to sit on the city council and do the work that I had to do, were the four city councilmembers. Those were the people I had to persuade.”
For Paul Boylan, he believes “the perspective I bring to the city council is not the traditional one.” He is not the kind of person who goes to city council and speaks. He is not a self-described policy wonk. He has not been deeply involved in city politics.
“What I represent is the average individual in Davis who likes living here and is pleased with the way things are going, more or less,” he said. He just “wants to ensure that our quality of life is maintained.”
“The issues that are important to me, the problems I can see are all related to the Davis quality of life,” he said. On issues like walking downtown, safety in Davis, he says, “I feel the most pressing issue in Davis right now is the consequences of our success.”
“Davis has gotten very big, very fast,” he said. Not in the traditional sense of size of the city, “but Davis has become an economic destination. The streets of Davis are more crowded than they’ve ever been, starting Thursday night all the way through Sunday.”
Davis has more bars, restaurants and night clubs “and the most vibrant street life of any small town I’ve ever been in,” he said, noting he has been all over the world. “That is success but it also makes us a destination. People come here to go to Davis. They come from all around to visit Davis.”
He noted that this causes a lot of problems – “traffic, parking, law enforcement, and just the difficulties of handling large groups of human beings.”
Paul Boylan noted, with regard to the downtown, that he likes small businesses, “mom and pop operations.” That doesn’t mean he wants to kick out national chains, but “what I really like are the small businesses that are associated with no one else that provide something that you can only get in Davis.”
He said it’s very important to promote downtown business “to create the most favorable environment for them to conduct business.”
Paul Boylan said, “What I’m concerned about is what everybody is concerned about, which is ‘how safe is it downtown during our peak business hours in our times of night – how safe is it?’” He said, “I’m getting the feeling that it’s becoming less safe – for whatever reason.”
He believes that the city council should invest in our police department. He believes we need “more police officers on the streets.” At the same time, he said, “I’m not someone who likes increased law enforcement for its own sake.” He specifically said that he likes the Davis Police Department and how they operate, their response to hate crimes, and their relationship with the community.
The key question is not whether we should add police, but whether and how we can afford it.
Another key issue he sees related to the downtown scene is the need for more public bathrooms downtown. “One of the biggest complaints that I receive from average people” when he talks to them “is that on a Friday night that people come out of bars and restaurants” and end up without adequate restroom facilities in the downtown, which results in increased incidents of public urination.
He said if we are going to have Davis as a destination, which means lots of people in the downtown, “we need to have the facilities that will be able to deal with the human consequence of lots of people being around – that means that we need public bathrooms.”
He suggested that other places in the world deal with these problems very well. “No reason why we can’t too,” he said.
Paul Boylan said he will look at issues like growth on a case by case basis. That means he will ask, “Does the growth proposal that comes up – who does it benefit? Who does it hurt? How much does it cost the city? How much does it benefit the city?”
He said, “If those questions are answered positively for me… including the environment (which he said is something we all share), then I would be in favor of that proposal.”
He continued, “I can’t say that I am pro-development or anti-development just as a general statement, because that would be ridiculous because you have to look at each proposal on its own merits.”
Paul Boylan was involved in the Paso Fino project. He said, “I watched how the proposal for that project changed and shifted to address the concerns of people around the project.” He called it “a healthy exchange of information.” However, he noted that if he were asked his opinion of the project during this process, his answer would have changed at various points of time, depending on the information and the state of the proposal.
Mr. Boylan stated, “That’s the approach I want to take to almost any issue in Davis.” He acknowledges potential “frustration by people that it means I don’t have a lot positions on issues that are important to them.” However, he believes that he doesn’t know enough information up front to make an informed decision and the issues are often fluid – shifting and changing over time.
Paul Boylan, as stated, is the fifth announced Davis City Council candidate. He joins Lucas Frerichs, Will Arnold, Matt Williams and Brett Lee. The filing period opens next Tuesday, February 16, and the election will be Tuesday, June 7.
—David M. Greenwald reporting