At 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