My View: Another Doozy Bee Council Endorsement

Candidates Forum on March 12/ Photo by Eunah Cho of Davis Media Access
Candidates Forum on March 12/ Photo by Eunah Cho of Davis Media Access

Each year I criticize the Sacramento Bee for their endorsements on the Davis City Council candidates race, and each time they seem to get worse. Unless there is a murder or another weird happening in Davis, the Bee is not going to cover it.  So while the Bee may cover a murder at KetMoRee, it’s not likely to slog through the budget or CFD (Community Facilities District) debates, which are the meat and potatoes of local politics.

Some of the Bee reporters have pointed out to me the actual high number of Davis residents who serve on their editorial board – a fair point, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that the bottom line endorsement is not well considered or reasoned.

To be clear, this is one election where I think you really can’t go wrong, whomever you vote for.  This is not a case where the Bee dissed my favorite son and therefore I’m smacking them back.

The Bee writes, “In recent years, the Davis City Council has made major strides on long-delayed projects from roads and surface water to smart development and fiscal stability. Compared to the acrimonious Davis councils of yore, this is real progress. We’d hope the productivity continues.”

This is really a 30,000 foot view of the city of Davis – which makes sense, since the Bee is really not covering Davis city governance in any degree.  While I get the point that the Bee likes the more collegial atmosphere of the council, I disagree to the extent that the city has been productive.

The last two years have been probably the least productive period of time in my ten years of doing this. While I think the incumbents get credit for the surface water project and fiscal stability, the lack of real insight makes a mockery of the editorial.

They talk about smart development, and yet, the two incumbents were on opposite sides of the issue of Cannery, with Lucas Frerichs supporting the project as well as the contentious CFD battle, and Brett Lee opposing it.

And while the council has voted to put Nishi on the ballot, there is no assurance it will pass.  Other projects have fizzled.

The fiscal stability issue remains a central question and the roads are only half-funded.

That’s not to say that the incumbents don’t deserve to be reelected, but rather that the Bee glossed over a whole bunch of details and differentiation between the two incumbents.

The editorial notes some of this, “Four good candidates are running for three seats on the June ballot. All know Davis and its issues. But because the next few years could bring significant development – and change – to the city, whoever is elected must keep up the good work, seamlessly.”

They add, “Incumbents Lucas Frerichs and Brett Lee don’t always agree, but both have stressed collegiality in their pursuit of affordable housing, improved infrastructure and a more diverse economy. Both deserve another term.”

Without a lot of scrutiny, the editorial accepts the two incumbents as a given and the rest of the editorial comes down to Matt Williams versus Will Arnold.

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Their case for Matt Williams: “Retiree Matt Williams has deployed valuable fiscal and technical expertise for many years on local commissions, and would be a thoughtful and diligent council presence. But he has lived in Davis proper for little more than a year, having moved from the unincorporated community of El Macero, and his detailed policy approach – he was deeply involved the city’s long, complex debate over water rates, for instance – seems better suited to advisory positions.”

Their  case for Will Arnold: “A clearer choice for the third seat is Will Arnold, who carries the authority of Davis roots that go back generations and whose political work, volunteerism and job as a district representative for Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, have given him the connections and nuts-and-bolts knowledge of governance needed to hit the ground running.”

Their case for Will Arnold seems to come down to his long roots in the community and his work for Senator Wolk which “have given him the connections and nuts-and-bolts knowledge of governance needed to hit the ground running.”

First of all, this is ludicrous.  It short-changes the work that Will Arnold has done in our community with the Blue and White Foundation, on the parks commission, with Rotary, and with our schools to boil him down to having connections.  To sum up Will Arnold as simply someone who is the son of a prominent realtor and district representative for Senator Wolk is to sell this man way short.

Will Arnold brings a lot of great things to the table, including some great stories of perseverance and an ability to bring people together.

Second, it notes the work that Matt Williams has done on key projects in our community and then dismissively states that he “seems better suited to advisory positions.”  Never mind that he has served in the last four years on the Water Advisory Committee (WAC), the Natural Resources Commission, and now the Finance and Budget commission.  In other words, he has already served his time in advisory positions.

Given the city’s budget issues, which the Bee doesn’t mention – the unfunded needs that are running into the $655 million range and the lack of student housing – don’t we need someone with more than good connections?  Someone who can offer an evidence-based approach?

I find it ironic that, while Will Arnold was running the water campaign in 2013, it was Matt Williams who had created a lot of policy while serving on the WAC. But somehow, that gives Will Arnold the “knowledge of governance needed to hit the ground running.”

Since 2008 I have heard that we need to hit the ground running, but part of the problem has been that, up until 2014, we were hitting the ground running and no one stopped to attempt to figure out which direction we might want to go.

Until recently we really didn’t know the magnitude of the challenges facing the community.  We have propped up our budget in the short term on taxes, but the long term is a challenge since the numbers are not getting better and no one has laid the foundation for the community to get outside its no-growth box.

I wish the Bee would have actually evaluated the last four years and put a bit more of a spotlight on what the two incumbents have done and have not done in their tenure so that the voters can make an honest assessment as to whether they deserve to be returned to the council.

The incumbents didn’t have to answer for their vote on the MOU last fall.  They did not have to answer for their votes on Cannery and Nishi.  They didn’t have to answer for their votes on the CFD for Cannery.

None of this means that voters shouldn’t vote for Will Arnold over Matt Williams, or both Will Arnold and Matt Williams over one of the incumbents, it simply demonstrates the flawed approach and lack of understanding that the Bee had in weighing its decision.

—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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  1. Misanthrop

    Both You and the Bee left out that Matt Williams was on your advisory board.

    Also left out by both of you is that he was one of the authors of the Loge-Williams water rates that got voted out because even the well educated voters of Davis couldn’t figure them out. Perhaps it is Loge-Williams that makes the Bee think Matt is a better wonk than decision maker. Yesterday’s discussion of Nishi is another good example. Matt seems to be against it before he was for it. Yes there are subtleties to the questions and each one needs to be addressed on its merits but voters need to know where a candidate stands. Matt seems to stand for an evidence based process, all well and good, but voters want to know where he stands on the issues they care about. The issue many seem to care about the most right now is the shortage of housing and Matt gave the muddled answer yesterday of a wonk instead of the clear answer of a leader. I think the Bee got it right and tried to be polite about it because Matt is a well meaning person.

    1. David Greenwald

      My point is not whether the Bee got their endorsement right, it’s that they don’t have enough apparent knowledge of city policy issues to make a reasonable one.

    2. Ron

      Misanthrop:  “Matt seems to stand for an evidence based process, all well and good, but voters want to know where he stands on the issues they care about.”

      It seems that I don’t often agree with Misanthrop, but I have had the same reaction regarding Matt, in the past.  (That’s why I pressed him so hard, to define where he stands.)  Matt’s more recent answers have provided more clarity.  He also acknowledged that he’s not a “slow-growth” candidate (at least by Davis’ standards).

      I have found Matt to be very polite to everyone, even when I was “grilling” him regarding where he stands.  However, in general, politeness is probably not a deciding factor (for an elected official), for me.

      I’m actually not quite as familiar with some of the other candidates. (For one thing, they don’t post as often on the Vanguard. Perhaps a wise thing to avoid?)

  2. Tia Will


    This is just a question. Your second point is I think well presented. I am unclear of what relevance it might be that Matt Williams was on the editorial board of the Vanguard ? Was this just informational, or do you think it might have some impact on the decision making of a candidate ?

  3. Bob Fung

    Endorsements are an important tool to help voters make good decisions.  Some voters use endorsements as their only information source,  but what if the endorsements they are using are flawed (I happen to agree with David’s analysis of this particular endorsement).  And how can organizations like the Vanguard help voters combine endorsements with other sources of information (news articles, candidate forums, talks with friends etc.)  to make an informed decision?


    1. Miwok

      May I “endorse” some people you might find helpful? 🙂

      I look at WHO does the endorsing and what they get out of it. The BEE has never been on anyone’s side except their own. Even the VG may have an unknown agenda.

      This nation right now is seeing the consequences of unbiased reporters who contribute to certain candidates while deriding the other candidates. We call that “Journalism” for some odd reason, but it smacks of  the Yellow  Journalism from long ago.

  4. Michelle Millet

    That’s not to say that the incumbents don’t deserve to be reelected, but rather that the Bee glossed over a whole bunch of details and differentiation between the two incumbents.

    The two incumbents are endorsing each other, if they don’t think their differences of opinion on some of theses issues are all that significant why should the Sacramento Bee?

    1. Matt Williams

      wdf1, I agree with you wholeheartedly that it is incumbent on all the candidates to make their best case, and given the Bee’s statements about me, I believe they heard me well.  They just didn’t value “valuable fiscal and technical expertise” as much as “collegiality,” or contribution to the broader Davis Community as much as contribution to the specific City of Davis, or a “detailed policy approach” as much as “the authority of Davis roots that go back generations.”  Regarding collegiality, it is worth noting that their editorial contains a link to the eleven minute YouTube video of the Sue Greenwald vs. Ruth Asmundsen.

      Each and every one of us has the right to make those value determinations, and the Bee Editorial Board is no different.  In their interview with me, and from their other homework (the interviewer told me that she had watched the video of the Vanguard Candidates Forum) they saw a very honest, candid, up-front view of me as a candidate, and of my candidacy.  I wouldn’t change a thing.

      Regarding the process, I received the following e-mail,


      I’m an editorial writer and member of the editorial board at the Sacramento Bee. We’re endorsing in the Davis council race and I wonder if you would have a few minutes to chat tomorrow or early Friday, by phone? We don’t have time for a full editorial board, but as a representative of the board, I’d like to hear about your vision for the city and your priorities.

      Thanks so much for your consideration.

      and when I called the member of the editorial board back, the interview was conducted right then and there.

  5. Miwok

    If the incumbents had anything to do with the decisions that contributed to the unfunded liability of the City, they do not “deserve” anything except to be voted out. And an endorsement of the Bee’s magnitude, however much that influences people, is not very fair to people who do not have the seniority in the residence department.

    Since I am a renter, who used to live there, would I be disqualified to run or serve just because I didn’t “own” something? Now how about only Property owners get to vote?

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