By Rob White
First, let me declare that I am writing this article as a single person, and not as a representative of any company or organization I may be associated with.
Over the last 36 hours, perhaps some of you came to the same conclusion I did when reviewing hearing of the City’s resolution to declare Davis a “TPP Free Zone”? Questions like ‘where did this come from?’, ‘why didn’t the business community know about this?’, ‘why weren’t any of the businesses included in the discussion?’, and ‘how can the City have turned a blind eye to process and transparency?’ all came to mind.
Ironically, both the City Council’s Legislative Subcommittee report/resolution dated May 24, 2016, and then Nancy’s follow on comments on the Vanguard have statements about lack of transparency. Specifically, they state:
“…numerous groups have raised concerns about various aspects of the agreement, from transparency concerns…” – City Council staff report, written by Robb Davis and Lucas Frerichs, as reported in the Vanguard on May 26, 2016.
“TiSA is being secretly negotiated…” – Nancy Price, comment on Vanguard from May 26, 2016.
What is troubling about these statements, is that the whole process by which the TPP discussion wound up on the Council Consent Agenda was anything but transparent, and appears to have been done in relative secrecy. I pay reasonably good attention to City dealings and the Council actions, and I didn’t learn about the item until the next day, 24 hours after it was discussed and voted on! And that was because someone who had been at the Council meeting told me about the action.
When I shared what had happened with other businesses and the Chamber, none of them was aware of the discussions that the City Council’s Legislative Subcommittee had apparently been having with a small, special-interest citizens’ group. And the same question came up… Why wasn’t the business community even invited to the discussion?
So as not to get distracted, my major complaint isn’t whether or not the TPP (or any of the other trade deals) is good or bad for Davis. My point is that the very same people that are complaining about the lack of transparency are perpetrating secret discussions and rushed something onto the Council Agenda, without any outreach or discussions with a major portion of the Davis community. And not just the agenda, but the “Consent Agenda”, making it seem even more suspicious and like something was amiss.
To bolster the view that businesses (and their local owners, in many cases) are a significant part of the community, it should be noted that business pay or collect over 60%+ of the fees and taxes that make up the general fund revenues for Davis. This includes property taxes (usually higher than that of residential on a per square foot basis), unsecured property tax on equipment, business license tax, and significantly higher permit fees for everything from moving an interior wall to renovating an entire building. And this doesn’t even account for the sales tax that is collected on behalf of the city and State, at no cost to the taxpayer, but a significant burden on the retailer.
What is even more interesting in this effort to declare Davis a ‘TPP Free Zone’ is that when the action was challenged by Council Member Rochelle Swanson, and she noted that the resolution could have a serious impact on Davis businesses, that no one on the rest of the Council took an action to suspend the discussion and have the item brought back after staff sought additional community input. Why the rush to pass this resolution?
If you are of the opinion that this action by Council to make Davis a ‘TPP Free Zone’ has no ‘real’ impact, let me make this connection for you. UC Davis has for a number of years hosted a program called Seed Central, where a significant number of global seed companies meet monthly to work collaboratively on common objectives. And the City of Davis is a participating member.
According to Seed Central’s website, “some 100 seed and seed-related companies are located near UC Davis and benefit greatly from its proximity, but the influence of UC Davis extends throughout the USA and far beyond.”
Many of these same companies are also members of ASTA — the American Seed Trade Association. And ASTA’s website indicates that the organization has been actively working on passage of the TPP as an agreement that supports the seed and agricultural industries.
Even more to the point would be that agricultural researchers at UC Davis released a study in November 2015 that supported TPP. Daniel Sumner, an ag economist and Director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center (part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, which are located on 2nd Street in Davis), with the help of UC ANR researchers Hyunok Lee and William A. Matthews, released a study for the university’s Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics that stated “the proposed 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact could be significant for California, lowering import barriers and enabling more of the state’s agricultural products to be sent to Japan and other nations.” Sumner also observed that “better access to imports from TPP countries would give U.S. consumers more spending power, and thus could increase domestic demand for California farm products.”
So not only didn’t the City Council check in with businesses, they seem to have completely forgotten that agricultural partners and UC researchers right in Davis are also part of this conversation. And unlike the small, special-interest group that seems to have gotten the ear of the two-person City Council Legislative Subcommittee in some private conversations that didn’t include any community partnering or outreach, the real faux pas appears to be that this action actually alienates some of the very businesses and researchers in the most sacred of sectors for Davis – agriculture.
Of course, this issue could have been avoided by adhering to the spirit of the ‘Davis core values’ of transparency and openness. I am not saying that the outcome would have been different – no one will know for sure – but I can tell you that the conversation would have been different and that the action would have been informed and at least we could say that it was inclusive of all of the Davis community, residents and businesses alike.
Though I realize the bandaid has been ripped off on this one, I would still encourage the City Council to take this action up again, ask staff to conduct the appropriate outreach to the business and research communities, and then hear it again when all of the facts are in evidence… there was absolutely no reason to rush this item to a vote.