On Saturday, the Vanguard column noted that the frustration over the state of the AIM program has once again brought the whispers back about mounting an opposition to the parcel tax. Many have pushed back against this idea, arguing that cutting or eliminating the parcel tax would mean slashing core programs in Davis.
One group sees opposition to the parcel tax as the only leverage they have over a district they see as unresponsive to the public. “Voting against the parcel tax is a signal that the public does not support the board’s performance. Voting for the parcel tax sends the message that the public supports the board’s decisions and is willing to entrust them with properly allocating this tax revenue.”
But others pushed back, “While voting against a parcel tax will indeed ‘send a signal’ regarding disapproval of the current board, it will also send a much more impactful signal that the voters are willing to do measurable harm to the current students of Davis in order to send their primary signal. This might be a reasonable action if there were no alternative method for indicating dissatisfaction with board members. Fortunately there is such a mechanism. It is to vote the offending board members out of their position.”
As Sunday’s column suggests, simply voting out “the offending board members” is not as simple as it might seem. The city experience with Measure J shows that it is far easier to vote against projects than find members to run for office who will support community values.
In the current election, Nishi is in a fight to see if voters will pass it. And yet, all four announced candidates have come out in favor of Measure A (Nishi).
We can trace this phenomenon back to the early days of Measure J. In 2005, the Davis City Council put Covell Village on the ballot with a 4-1 vote. The voters of Davis promptly voted down that project with an overwhelming 60-40 vote.
However, the voters apparently saw no problem with that vote to put the matter on the ballot. While Ted Puntillo decided not to seek a second term on the council and was replaced with a slower-growth official, Lamar Heystek, the other three were reelected in their next term overwhelmingly.
In fact, Ruth Asmundson (2006) and Don Saylor (2008) were top vote-getters while Stephen Souza, in 2008, finished a strong second.
In other words, despite being misaligned with the voters on Measure X, all three candidates who chose to seek reelection did as well as they possibly could.
Assuming that both Alan Fernandes and Susan Lovenburg run for reelection in November, getting one or both out of office will take a huge and monumental effort for those who support the AIM program.
On the other hand, by our projections it doesn’t take a lot of votes switching sides to change the outcome.
From 2008 until 2012, the district was able to get five parcel tax votes to exceed the 2/3rds threshold. However, they had a real close call in 2011 with Measure A. Measure A passed by just 89 votes due to a series of stumbles by the district.
In September, our analysis shows the last three elections had alarmingly thin margins. Aside from Measure A, Measure C, in spring 2012, had a 972-vote margin while Measure E, in November 2012, had a 710-vote margin.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of people to switch their vote to change the dynamics. It bears noting that none of those campaigns had anything resembling organized activities. There were no precinct walks against the parcel tax. There were no paid mailers. The token opposition was a group of anti-tax people who have opposed every tax and whose arguments were not going to resonate in the population.
For those who argue this is simply cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face, there is a third possibility. Voters, angry with the district over AIM or other issues, can vote down the parcel tax in November. That will force a crisis and the threat of deep cuts. But the district would still have time to act on another parcel tax before the damage is done.
The district would obviously have to change things very quickly to get the public back on board, and it is a risky strategy.
As we noted with regards to Measure J and now the school board, one of the strange oddities in Davis is that the people who end up getting elected to office often do not match the views of many who end up voting for them. For reasons that are not altogether clear, it may be viewed as easier to oppose and defeat the parcel tax to send a message than it would be to find a candidate that could get elected to change the policy on the board level.
There are a number of theories at play here – one is that people tend to vote for people they like and may not know the policy positions offered by the individual candidates. As another pointed out, people simply are not paying close attention to the elections and as a result as not really knowledgeable about the issues and the candidates.
However, a Measure R vote for a project is black and white, as is the up or down vote for the parcel tax.
Until people have to go to the voting booth, all of this is speculation, threats and a bit of bravado. Will people actually vote down funding over their anger for specific policies? That remains to be seen.
—David M. Greenwald reporting