For those paying attention to local politics for the last decade, Matt Williams is a familiar face, even though for much of that time he did not live in the city limits. He served on the Water Advisory Committee, the Natural Resources Commission and now the Finance and Budget Commission.
Now he is running for city council, explaining, “One of the first things I learned when I came to Davis is that people in Davis are very quick to complain about things – it’s a very actively involved community. But my feeling is that if you’re going to be willing to complain, you’ve got to be willing to contribute.”
He said he’s spent a long time volunteering and contributing, “but quite frankly the Cannery CFD approval by council without a good fiscal assessment was something that put me over the edge.” He said, “There was an attempt by some of the city councilmembers to gather the evidence of what was the value that was being received for the value that was being given and that was cut off and the analysis was not done.”
“I believe we need more evidenced-based decision making, less political calculation,” he said. “It’s one thing to try to make an impact from the public comment podium in two minutes, it’s another thing to try to make policy for the whole city.”
Matt Williams, for much of the time he has been involved in community affairs, has lived in El Macero, a neighborhood just outside of the city. While they pride themselves on not being part of the city, Matt Williams explained, “To me that’s part of the Davis community and, in fact, there was a rule at the time for most of my years that nobody could serve on a commission or committee that lived outside the city limits of Davis.”
However, he said, “the council actually changed the rule so that people like myself who lived outside the city could actually contribute to the community.”
It was a year ago, however, upon getting a divorce from his wife, that Matt Williams moved into the city proper, enabling him to run for the city council.
Matt Williams says he is running on the planks of fiscal responsibility, being an independent voice for all of the citizens of Davis, making sure that our community is sustainable, “and most importantly using my most important body parts, my two ears, to listen to the citizens in order to be that independent voice representing them all.”
His approach is to “objectively and dispassionately look at issues.” Rather than look at the “political connections,” he would examine the facts and processes to look at the challenges we face and to work within them to not play people politics, but find positive outcomes to challenges.
On fiscal responsibility, he noted that all citizens have to pay their bills. They cannot simply take their credit card bill and throw it to bottom of the drawer. And yet, he says, “Davis for the longest period of time has been not honest with itself about its bills.”
“The cracks we are seeing in the streets are real, they are also representative of the cracks that we have in the whole fiscal foundation of the city,” he explained. “We need to start by being honest with ourselves about our bills. We need to be paying the bills and we need to be transparent about it with the citizens.”
The solution to that, he says, comes from the work of the Finance and Budget Commission, whose advice in a unanimous recommendation to Council in December was that the city needs to specify what tax revenues are going to be spent on, define the success measures of what it means to spend the money effectively, and, as part of the annual budget, create an assessment of how well did we do in the past year of delivering valuable services.
He stated, “We can’t just raise taxes to raise more revenue, we need to be more efficient and effective within the costs we incur.”
The Finance and Budget Commission passed a motion “not to move forward any tax measure to the voters until we know what our obligations are,” “what the tax measure is going to be spent on,” and “what are the metrics going to be used to judge whether it was spent wisely.”
He said, at this point, we have not satisfied the first criteria, “so I cannot support any tax measure until we have that accounting on the table.” Matt Williams said he also wants all taxes to be special taxes with two-thirds requirements so that they can specify exactly what the monies will be spent on. “No more general taxes,” he said.
The interview with Mr. Williams occurred before the council opted not to act on most of the proposed tax measures, but he believes this process that he and the FBC laid out could take place in about sixty days. He said that the roads portion of this is in place, but buildings, facilities and parks have not been finalized.
Matt Williams pointed out that the city has reduced the total number of employees by over 100 since 2008, “and yet the total amount of compensation that the city is spending – salaries and benefits – actually increased. We went down from 450 to 350 employees and yet we’re spending more.”
He said that suggests the manner in which this was accomplished was less than efficient, and suggested “we really need to do a business process re-engineering in order to figure out how to run the system more efficiently and effectively.”
Matt Williams suggested that process has begun with the John Meyer study, but “we haven’t taken that momentum that John Meyer started and moved forward.”
On economic development, “We do not have enough jobs in the city to be able to keep the intellectual capital that comes out of UC Davis here in town and have that contribute to the sustainability of our local economy.”
So far, he says, we have done the right thing, but “the devil is in the details.” “Economic development is not a silver bullet, it doesn’t guarantee us increased revenues,” he said.
On Nishi, he said, “it’s a very good project, no project is perfect.” In terms of finances, “there are places where the content and the accuracy of the fiscal analysis was lacking. The council and the developer are doing everything they can to address those issues.” The Finance and Budget Commission meets tonight at 7:00 in Council Chambers to hear the most recent additions to the completeness and accuracy of the fiscal analysis. At the Vanguard workshop on Nishi last weekend, Williams encouraged everyone in the audience to come and attend tonight’s FBC meeting.
Matt Williams said, “If we, in fact, get information that tells us that this truly is a fiscally sustainable project that is going to be a net positive for the community, I think that Nishi is ready to go to the voters.”
He explained that aspects of this proposal are controversial. For instance, there are people who oppose the housing at Nishi. For Matt Williams, “I strongly believe that the second biggest problem that Davis has is the student housing problem. The 650 units that are proposed for Nishi mean that there are going to be 650 bedrooms of single-family homes in Davis that are not likely to be converted from housing to mini-dorms. That’s an important issue that I think that Nishi addresses to a certain extent.”
He called it a “tidal wave” or “tsunami” “that is coming out of UC Davis in terms of additional students without housing, it is going to overwhelm anything that we do – we can’t just sit back and watch it destroy our community.”
On Mace Ranch Innovation Center, he strongly believes it will be severely challenged in getting companies “if there is not housing for the employees of those companies.”
“I believe that housing at the Mace Ranch Innovation Center property needs to be seriously explored,” he said. “I will adamantly oppose it if it’s a neighborhood. If it is like any other subdivision in Davis. That will not be targeted and will not stay as housing for the employees.”
“It needs to be live-work housing, if there is going to be any housing, it needs to be targeted to the employees of the new companies that come to Davis,” he said.
He pointed out that we are not at the stage where we are making a decision on MRIC, but, if “we were making a decision today, it would be a political calculation. It would not be an evidence-based decision.”
He noted, “We’re not going to please all of the people, all the time. Ultimately, because it’s a Measure R project, it’s going to go to the voters and if the voters feel that the project that is put before (them) is not a good one, they will vote it down. That’s one of the real beauties of Measure R.”
Ultimately, he says, Davis has to be sustainable. In the last ten to fifteen years, Davis has only grown by about 5000 people. But within that you have seen huge spikes in UC Davis students, as well as significant spikes in seniors over 55, and a decrease of 25-54 age brackets as well as a decline in the number of kids in DJUSD.
“That’s not sustainable,” he said. “If we are going to grow, it needs to be because we are growing a more sustainable community.”
Davis is a place where people move to and want to stay. “What we need to do is grow jobs and housing so that people in the 25- to 54-year-old age bracket will keep Davis as a sustainable community,” he stated. “Otherwise it will turn into a food court and a service mall.”
Right now there are four candidates for three spots. Incumbents Lucas Frerichs and Brett Lee have announced they will seek reelection. Mayor Dan Wolk is running for State Assembly and not seeking reelection. Will Arnold and Matt Williams have announced they will seek the city council for the first time.
The filing period will open on February 16 (since the 15th is a holiday), and we expect more candidates to announce in the coming weeks.
—David M. Greenwald reporting