On Monday at the press conference, the comment that rang most true was made by former Davis Mayor Ann Evans, who stated, “In my day, my council, this would have been on the ballot.” That was a comment that rang true, not only to myself but to a number of people who have lived in this community far longer than me.
If that statement is true, why is this council different from one 30 years ago when Ann Evans was mayor? Some have suggested that this is no longer a big “D” Democratic town, but if you look at the vote on this issue, the two Democrats on council – Lucas Frerichs and Mayor Dan Wolk – were among the no votes on council.
Some argued yesterday that this vote was a show of strength as the council stood up to the pressure by a small group of activists. The problem with that argument is, for the most part, those people were not in the council chambers. The council chambers were full, but not with activists. The room was full with a group of small business owners who were arguing that this tax wouldn’t do any good and would hurt their bottom line.
Of course, one of them explained that their diabetes in India did not come from soda, but from heredity. The problem is that they appeared to misunderstand the difference between Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes.
The people who came and spoke at the chambers were not an organized group of activists, and the chambers were not packed with them. It was just a bunch of normal people, including myself, who felt strongly on this issue.
The council, in my view, didn’t stand up to a bunch of activists, they caved to a combination of professional lobbyists from the beverage industry and the grocers’ association, and some local small business owners – and council was willing to figure out a way to exempt them.
As I noted yesterday in my article, as a graduate student in political science at UC Davis, I often was a teaching assistant for a professor in American Government who would argue that, when the going got tough and a President wanted to kill an idea, they would assign it to a task force.
The council did not kill the initiative last night, rather they punted on it. They kicked it to a task force where the mayor won’t have to deal with the volatile issue during his Assembly Election bid.
While Rochelle Swanson was probably most sincere in her vote, her rationale was troubling. “I was very inspired by the Raise the Wage conversations earlier.” She cited the conversation that will emerge and go forward and argued, “Frankly, that is more the Davis way, we don’t have someone at public comment two weeks ago and suddenly we have it on the ballot.”
She continued, “Twenty-three years for Nishi, 36 years for the water project. We did half of what we wanted for parks tax because we wanted it to be a success.”
Comparing a soda tax and the public health crisis – not a misplaced use of “crisis” when one in four kids in our community is obese and that represents a far better number than surrounding communities – to land use decisions on Nishi or fiscal decisions on the water project is ludicrous.
Had Rochelle Swanson been at the rally on Monday, perhaps she would have heard what former Mayor Ann Evans had to say. Ann Evans on Monday said that Davis was the first to disinvest in South Africa, to provide regulations for solar and so on, and “now is the time for disinvesting in the kinds of sugary beverages that children are drinking by educating them about the importance of not drinking and giving them equal access to education and lifelong learning.”
“We have a chance to add, to our revenue stream in Davis, a soda tax. But the council has to have the vision as well as the courage to allow us to decide and this would not be the first time Davis took a step that was unlike steps other cities are willing to take,” she said. “We have been a leader throughout my entire time in this city.”
Former Mayor Maynard Skinner was in the audience on Tuesday as well. He could have told the tale of how the city became first in the nation to pass a smoking ordinance.
But to me the most telling story that Ann Evans related was, when they located the Davis Farmer’s Market at Central Park, “the city council was flooded with businesses that didn’t want it to go there because it was unfair competition and would take customers away from them in the morning.” She said they were wrong about that, and that it is the right thing to have a farmer’s market in town.
The council didn’t kick the Farmer’s Market decision to a study group. They didn’t delay the decision for 23 years. They acted and the community was better for it. Those who feared that the Farmer’s Market would undermine their business were wrong.
Back in December, Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis made much the same case.
“Each generation has its public health challenges,” Robb Davis stated. “My generation, it was cigarettes and a tax on cigarettes was going to destroy small businesses,” he said, pointing to the audience. “And it hasn’t and we’re healthier.”
With all due respect to Rochelle Swanson – and I have a lot of respect for her as a leader in this community – the Davis Way is not to delay and push things to a task force. The Davis Way is to be bold innovators. To act on injustice. To act to protect the weak and the vulnerable.
In the 1980s, not only was Davis among the first to divest from South Africa, Davis became a sanctuary city to take in refugees from El Salvador and the brutal human rights crisis of the day. They didn’t push that decision to a task force or wait to study its impacts – they saw a crisis and they met it head on.
That is the Davis Way and the Davis I am proud to call my home. What I saw on Tuesday night did not fill me with pride, it left me wondering why people I otherwise respect would turn their backs on the public health crisis of today.
—David M. Greenwald reporting