Commentary: Count Me Off the Renewal Bus

ParksAt Dan Wolk’s State of the City Address in early January, and again in his most recent column on January 31, he called 2015, “A Year of ‘Renewal.’” While I agree that some things have improved for the city, a year of “renewal” is a bridge too far for me, and I can and have gone down my own list.

However, instead of merely hearing me recite my list of disagreements again, I like the column that John Minker wrote in the February 10 Enterprise, as it lists some items that we have listed in the past, as well as others that we have not touched upon.

One of the key backdrops to Mr. Minker’s piece is the fact that the council once again made the decision not to put an additional revenue measure on the ballot.

Mr. Minker suggests we “take a walk to Julie Partansky Pond,” only to note that “it is still closed due to arson.” The same problem remains with the “deck under the large tree near the Davis Farmers Market.” Mr. Minker notes that neither arson resulted in arrests and I note that some civic groups like Rotary Club have offered to rebuild that deck, apparently to no avail.

Then there is Rainbow City, something that Dan Wolk clearly had his eye on as he pushed for the parks tax expansion, which “is closed due to need for repair and issues of hazardous chemicals.”

Mr. Minker says about the budget, “The city not only had a balanced budget but a surplus. But that budget doesn’t resolve the long-term unfunded mandates for pension and health care.” Nor does it account for infrastructure needs, and Mr. Minker notes that, while “[t]here was increased funding and work on infrastructure needs” there is “still a substantial backlog due to deferred maintenance, and even budgeted additional funding will leave a backlog.”

Again, council failed to ask for that additional money. He writes that “due to scheduling and mistakes made in implementing contracts, there were periods in 2015 when it was impossible to avoid delays when traversing Davis, regardless whether you were in a car, on bicycle or on foot.”

John Minker continues, “Replacement of street-light and greenbelt fixtures to energy-efficient LED continues. But wait, complaints about the brightness of lights led to delays and cost overruns. This happened even though the test of three to six years ago had resulted in no complaints. Due to mistakes in the writing of contracts, implementation or both, the contractor was allowed to substitute with fixtures that caused the delays and cost overruns.”

He notes the “moratorium on new nightclubs after a murder downtown.” He adds that they extended that moratorium, which will delay “concrete action.” I do think we will be hearing about the concrete action soon, as the council wanted to address the more pressing revenue needs (which they again deferred on).

Mr. Minker is critical on the failure “to recognize the role of police staffing,” noting that “there are at least five vacancies in our police force.” Councilmember Brett Lee suggested we fund additional positions for police – although he got little immediate backing last week and the city is well aware of the problems with recruiting quality officers for the vacancies – but thus far that awareness has not translated into filling those positions.

Mr. Minker continues, saying that “the business tech parks are unlikely to be the saviors of the city budget,” adding parenthetically, “Nishi originally was a negative, may now be a positive, but will never yield enough city income to end one of our parcel taxes.”

I would suggest that Nishi is certainly not going to be a savior for the city, but it is moving in the right direction on revenue. Mace Ranch may be a better measure for how much of the city’s revenue needs can be filled via economic development.

Clearly, I don’t agree with every criticism that Mr. Minker makes, but he raises a lot of important issues. There are others he doesn’t raise.

For instance, Dan Wolk writes about progress “on economic development and job creation, from the approval of the Embassy Suites hotel and conference center project to the processing of the Nishi Gateway and Mace Ranch Innovation Center applications.”

I am concerned about our progress on economic development when we let go, for no apparent good reason, a highly respected Chief Innovation Officer, and our progress on Embassy Suites has been ground to a complete halt due to legal challenges that appear to have been highly avoidable (even if you disagree with the premise of the challenge in the first place).

The mayor wants to continue to trumpet the Healthy Families Initiative, but his only success there so far was on default beverages and he flipped on the soda tax, which he now claims was never part of that initiative.

The issues raised here are issues that the council candidates should be addressing.

This week Paul Boylan announced his candidacy for city council, noting that he brings the perspective of the average resident to bear – those who love Davis and generally are satisfied, but also have concerns.

The council campaign that will emerge in the coming weeks is still undefined. Some have suggested that people are relatively satisfied with their community. Perhaps some are not aware of the cracks in our infrastructure and our current inability to address those cracks.

Perhaps some buy into the mayor’s optimism. Perhaps some are concerned that that optimism hides more serious concerns, both long and short term.

Whatever the answers are, we need a full and open discussion – the willingness to be both introspective and critical when it calls for it.

No matter which candidates emerge as winners, my hope is that we can have an open and honest dialogue about our strengths and shortcomings.

—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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24 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    The Council campaign that will emerge in the coming weeks is still undefined. Some have suggested that people are relatively satisfied with their community. Perhaps some are not aware of the cracks in our infrastructure and our current inability to address those cracks.”

    When returning to Davis from Sacramento a couple of weeks ago, my mind went to the reasons that many in the community do not participate in civic events, forums, CC meetings and the like. Perception of lack of time is certainly one factor. Another may be that people who have always lived in Davis tend to love it. People who have lived elsewhere know just how great a community this can be. Yes, we have potholes and infrastructure issues and a crowded downtown and traffic delays. And we have a relatively safe, peaceful, caring community. We have a CC with which we may often disagree on issues, but who apparently all care about our community deeply.

    One additional group that you left out are those who are keenly aware of the cracks in our infrastructure and the current inability to address them, and also feel that these are not amongst our highest priorities. Personally I would place the filling of open positions on our police department and both the short and long terms health and safety of our community well above our roads ( although perhaps not above our green belts and side walks).

    1. darelldd

      >> personally I would place … both the short and long terms health and safety of our community well above our roads <<

      Indeed. A relatively simple list of priorities is what I’d like to see. When we have some money, what should we spend it on? What is more important to take care of first? If we truly knew what we needed money for, and how that money will be prioritized, maybe then we can pass a proper tax to raise the money we need to do what we need to do. As things stand now, we need a lot of money to do a lot of things. But I see no cohesive effort to spend money on the important things first.

      Let’s improve health, safety and convenience for the *people* of Davis before we dump everything we have into making intra-city driving in our small town more comfortable.

      1. Matt Williams

        darelldd said . . . “If we truly knew what we needed money for, and how that money will be prioritized, maybe then we can pass a proper tax to raise the money we need to do what we need to do. As things stand now, we need a lot of money to do a lot of things. But I see no cohesive effort to spend money on the important things first.”

        The December recommendation to Council quoted below should be music to your ears darell.  It is a proactive step toward achieving what you are calling for in your comment above.

        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.

        1. Napoleon Pig IV

          Matt

          Thanks for posting that. Maybe there’s hope for government after all. Of course, whether such hope is real or false depends on both the competence of staff and the responsiveness of politicians to their recommendations. I’ll hope (I hope not falsely) that our local staff and politicians are more competent than those we tolerate at the state and federal levels.

        2. Miwok

          One of the things I cannot get my head around is the complaining about lack of Rental housing, or housing, then two projects that try to eliminate it? Nishi has some so called residential, but those will be student apartments, not family or anything livable.

          MIRC makes a point of eliminating any housing in the Project, but the CC claims to have the best interest of the City in Mind? They are really just looking for the best cash cow. I mean Pig!.

          Maybe Matt and some other new thinking can get this changed. As for writing stupid contracts that always have a cost overrun and are poorly written, maybe they could also have performance clauses built in?

        3. ruralknight

          Miwok…totally agree. I really want to hear how each candidate will address the housing crisis here in town. It’s unsustainable. We need more affordable HOMES for the young professionals, the workforce (baristas, nursing assistance, waiters, janitors…). A home can be a rental property or a single family residence. An affordable one can allow people an opportunity to spend more money to meet their daily needs (like buy school supllies for their kids or buy fresh, healthy food, pay their expensive utility bills).

          The time is ripe for a healthy conversation on how we as a city are going to build more homes in this town. I hope the speakers at the Vanguards event on the 17th address this issue as well.

          Mr. Williams -I hope you take a minute and respond with how you plan on addressing our City’s housing crisis.

    2. Frankly

      Tia – most people tend to love where they live.  That is generally why they live where they do.  People that live in places that they don’t like will eventually move to a place that they do like.  The statement “people who have always lived in Davis tend to love it” is really kinda’ meaningless.  People that live in Folsom love it.  People that live in Vacaville love it.  However, none of them are perfect.  Utopia does not exist except in our fanciful thinking.  Utopia does not exist because there are always competing interests and differing opinions for what makes a “perfect” community.

      The perspective of many that live elsewhere is that Davis has charm but is Podunk… and growing grayer and broken down and losing vitality.

      1. David Greenwald

        “most people tend to love where they live.”

        I think you’re thinking of middle class citizens. Most people probably don’t love where they live. A lot of people live in substandard conditions. A lot of people live in slums and ghettos. They live there because they can afford it (maybe) and perhaps it is close to work. I don’t know what percentage, but your comment is clearly biased toward a subset of people that I don’t know are in the majority.

        1. Frankly

          We are talking about Davis and other comparable communities not the favela of Brazil.  Last I checked Davis was lacking slums and ghettos.

          But I watched an interesting program a few weeks ago about the Brazilian favela.   Interesting that they are up the mountain-side with the best views.  Many of the people that live there are proud of their neighborhoods and are working to revitalize them.  Of course it has helped that in advance of the Olympics they have cracked down on the crime there… something I am guessing you would see as unreasonable and unfair.

          And that gets me to a point that even the ghetto can be a place that people like if there wasn’t crime.  People get used to home and where home is.  As long as it is safe, they will generally like it.

          But yes, if they lack financial means to move, then they might end up having to stay where they don’t like it.  Who’s fault is that?

          1. David Greenwald

            Davis perhaps, but not other communities (and wasn’t that Tia’s original point). And even in Davis there are people in living situations that are suboptimal.

        2. Frankly

          And even in Davis there are people in living situations that are suboptimal.

          Well of course, but that does not mean that they don’t like living here.  Their personal situation is not a reflection on the city.  I would venture a guess that their living situation would be sub-optimal in another city too.  If not, then why stay here?

          One thing for sure, if we fail to approve new revenue measures and fail to cut city labor costs, there will be growing number of residents feeling that the situation is sub-optimal.

          1. David Greenwald

            That’s likely true for people who live in Davis, but the original comment suggested Davis was unique in that respect and you argued against that notion.

      2. Tia Will

        Frankly

        most people tend to love where they live.  That is generally why they live where they do”

        Well, that is certainly true for those of us who are affluent enough to live where we choose. I would state that that may not be true for “most people”.

        People that live in Folsom love it.  People that live in Vacaville love it.  However, none of them are perfect.”

        Some do and some do not. I know because I know people in both Vacaville and Folsom, as well as Woodland, West Sac and Sac, although not Winters to be fair, who would choose to live in Davis if they perceived that they could afford it.

        I don’t know why the word “utopia” seems to creep into many posts that you address to me. I am not a utopian since I do not believe that this condition does or can ever exist. I am a pragmatist and built with a lot of effort and a lot of luck, and a governmental hand up, a very comfortable life for myself. I would like for everyone to have the same opportunity that I had. There is nothing Utopian about that. But then shadow boxing is much easier than discussing real issues.

        1. Frankly

          I am a pragmatist

          From what I have learned about you and your views over the years, I don’t think this is accurate.

          There is of course a gray area that represents what does not exist currently but is possible.  I like to live in that area.  I am an entrepreneur.  I am a risk-taker.  I have always been and I will always be.  I am 56 and working on starting a new business… one that is one of the most challenging to start.  I know this gray area well.

          A pragmatist would tend to stay away from the gray area… instead opining for what is known and what can be done without great risks.  They like to stay in the black zone.

          I see a lot of your ideas being outside the gray area an into the red zone.  They are fanciful ideas either already proven hazardous and fatal to the whole (but you think they will be different this time for reasons you cannot explain), or there has not been enough accomplished yet to support a determination of feasibility (and hence, means high in risk).

          Wanting the world to be a better place is noble… put pushing your ideas of what you think is a better place when there is no feasible path of success in implementing and adopting those ideas (including the consideration of consequences)… is in fact the definition of Utopian thinking.

          One great example is your idea that everyone should be paid the same or similar based on some committee determination of the social value of their labor.

          That is not the idea of a pragmatist.

          And, like many people with left-leaning political views, you seem to lose track of what is good and positive and fixate on the next thing that causes you negative emotional turmoil.

          And this all leads to that pursuit of perfection (e.g. utopia) that is the enemy of the good.

          Humans are imperfect because they are not logical… they are primarily emotional… and pursuing things that make them feel better even when those things might not be good for them or society as a whole.  So we should drop the expectation of perfection. We should honor, support and value a system that is good enough.   But when it is not good enough… basically when it is clearly unsustainable in its trajectory, we need to decisively alter our course.

  2. Don Shor

    The Chronicle used to have a ‘shame’ list where they would post pictures of problems and then a running tally of the days since the problem was highlighted.
    http://davismerchants.org/vanguard/5thstreetpavement.png

  3. Tia Will

    Don

    On the sidewalk or the street ?  Bike lane or car lane ? Location matters. Cracks like these are an imminent threat to those walking, rollerblading, skateboarding …… a discomfort and maybe increased car maintenance cost to motorists. A somewhat different take on “needs” vs. “nice to haves.”

    1. hpierce

      Have not yet personally gone out to the site, but based on the pictures, I assume the following… these are “distress” cracks… in asphalt concrete, probably in the travel lanes… no, those cracks are not “imminent threats”… that said, if they are not addressed (which could be done with appropriate ‘local’, relatively inexpensive measures), water intrusion could compound the distress… I plan to go out and look at these more with Don this weekend… an opportunity to educate him on pavement condition/management, which is appropriate, given all the education he and his staff have given me and my spouse, over many years…

  4. Topcat

    …I note that some civic groups like Rotary Club have offered to rebuild that deck, apparently to no avail.

    Why would the City government reject an offer from civic groups to rebuild these things?  Perhaps someone can shed some light on this issue?

    1. Miwok

      Why would the City government reject an offer from civic groups to rebuild these things?

      Possibly because they need to do an EIR, permit the clearance of the old objects, then study the problem a few years?

      Just guessing

  5. Tia Will

    Frankly

    There is of course a gray area that represents what does not exist currently but is possible.  I like to live in that area.  I am an entrepreneur.  I am a risk-taker.  I have always been and I will always be.  I am 56 and working on starting a new business… one that is one of the most challenging to start.  I know this gray area well.

    A pragmatist would tend to stay away from the gray area… instead opining for what is known and what can be done without great risks.  They like to stay in the black zone.”

    And that may serve an entrepreneurial pragmatist very well. But that is not what I chose as my life’s calling. I am a doctor who firmly believes that we make the world that we live in with our individual choices. Like you, I am a risk taker, always have been and always will be.  So change may be slow, but it is inevitable. What is not inevitable for a doctor, or scientist is to “stay in the black zone”. If those of us within these professions stayed within “the black zone” we would still be without antibiotics, vaccinations, radiation for diagnostic or treatment purposes, we would be doing surgeries without general anesthesia or possibly even without gloves. I do not believe that there is any such thing as “utopia” but I do believe in change and progress. At least in my field that means that one has to enter the gray zone….I would say that to be optimally effective we have to live there as long as we first “do no harm”.  It should be a difference of perspective that we both respect Frankly. Not a platform for lobbying insults an demeaning comments about each others perspectives.

    “when there is no feasible path of success in implementing and adopting those ideas “

    I believe that there is a feasible path of success. I believe that because other countries have achieved it, especially in my area of expertise. Virtually every other first world country had devised some system of universal coverage and we are still arguing over the baby step now called Obamacare. The problem is not the lack of a feasible path, it is a problem of lack of will to find or build one by those such as yourself who perceive themselves to benefit from the status quo.

    One great example is your idea that everyone should be paid the same or similar based on some committee determination of the social value of their labor.

    That is not the idea of a pragmatist.”

    I completely disagree. I do not favor the UBI out of pity, or charity, or altruism ( ok, maybe a little of the latter). Pragmatism is the core of my advocacy. If we had an entire populace who did not have to spend their time in multiple menial jobs just to feed themselves and their families, we would have that many individuals who could pursue their interests, dreams and capabilities and thus make far greater contributions to our society than they can now achieve. What could be more pragmatic than that ?

  6. The Pugilist

    I agree with the author of the Enterprise piece.  It seems like this town has really declined in recent years and it seems like there is not a lot of leadership from council to reverse that.

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