Sunday Commentary: With One Month Left, Nishi Battle Stands Out in Boring Election Cycle

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Usually the Davis City Council election has been the punctuation on a two year cycle – with contentious races in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 helping to shape the direction of the city.  This time, however, the race is boring.  First, there is almost no drama here – we know who is going to win, or, more to the point, which one of the four will find himself without a seat come midnight on June 8.

Second, they all sound alike anyway.  On paper you would expect some differences between the candidates – but perhaps it is the draw or the issues facing the city, but there really isn’t much.

Like the Sacramento Bee, the Davis Enterprise has endorsed the three likely winners – Brett Lee, Lucas Frerichs, and Will Arnold.  The Enterprise writes, “Each is young, enthusiastic and experienced, and will be a wise leader for the community we love.”

Some have pointed out that this was an unnecessary shot at Matt Williams – himself enthusiastic, energetic and experienced, but a senior.  Indeed, at least the Bee bothered to mention Matt Williams, while picking Will Arnold over him.

That said, the biggest question is why is this such a ho-hum race?  One of the candidates who happens to be an incumbent,

Matt Williams appears to be the odd man out
Matt Williams appears to be the odd man out

has a theory – it is boring because the council works together, with little drama, and is getting work done.

While a valid viewpoint, it is ultimately one that I disagree with.  As we see with the most contentious issue, the range of candidates does not capture the most pronounced difference in the community – the issue of Nishi, which is a proxy for the larger issue of growth, development, and city revenue.

What is missing is a pool of candidates that reflect the cleavages in the community.  There is no strong slow growth perspective.  Matt Williams and Brett Lee are probably slower growth advocates than Lucas Frerichs and Will Arnold.  But both of them are supporting Nishi.  Both of them supported the water project.  There is no Sue Greenwald or John Munn in this pool to represent the slower growth community.

The question of course turns to why.  Part of that answer is that the slower growth or no growth camp which dominated Davis politics for stretches of times is aging.  While there are still enough numbers to press the issue on growth measures and water, the loose coalition doesn’t have a pool of people in the 40-50 demographic who can run for office.  The next generation of progressives are more moderate on issues of growth.

There is another factor here – a large contingency of the community is not engaged on these issues.  They may vote against Nishi because of concerns about traffic and property values, but they are not mobilized, not putting candidates on the ballot.

My view is that the city faces serious challenges on many fronts – student housing, revenue, infrastructure – but the community is largely not engaged on that.  The group of people who are paying the most attention are aware of these problems and largely see similar solutions.  And so that produces a large fracture between the engaged portion of the population and the majority of residents.

That’s one theory anyway.

There is a third theory to throw out as well.  It is the Measure J factor.  Basically the public realized that, since the voters get the final say on peripheral development, it doesn’t matter who wins at the council level. It is worth noting that the last progressive majority council occurred in 2000 when Ken Wagstaff, Sue Greenwald and Michael Harrington formed a majority.  Since the passage of Measure J, there has not been a progressive majority but there also hasn’t been a new peripheral subdivision.

At this point we take Will Arnold, Lucas Frerichs and Brett Lee to win and in that order.

Nishi could go either way
Nishi could go either way

Nishi Is a Coin Flip at this Point

The most contentious election also has the deepest implications.  If Nishi passes, the city would add 1500 beds and space that could generate 1500 jobs.  Given the jobs and rental housing crises, this would be a boost but not a game changer.  On the other hand, a failure of Nishi, would signal that peripheral development is a non-starter for the population. Economic development would be internal and small scale and the city would likely have to look toward parcel taxes to pay for its huge unmet needs.

The opposition struck early with the lawsuit and allegations about unaffordable housing.  Nishi struck back with a big announcement on the R&D space and Sierra Energy and Rob White’s involvement, as well as the Richards Corridor Plan which has the potential with $23 million from developers to solve the long-term traffic problems.

So who has the advantage?  One of the No on A leaders feels that things are moving their way and they expect Measure A to go down 55-45.

But there are tricky reads here. For one thing, there is a clear enthusiasm gap with the No side seemingly angry and energized.  But how does that translate to votes?  That is critical.  Measure I was able to overcome an enthusiasm gap in 2013 thanks to superior organization, but we have no real sense for whether Measure A is organizing at the precinct level like Measure I did.

There is also an X-factor of UC Davis students.  The opposition doesn’t see any kind of wave of students and the fact that the Bernie Sanders campaign may be petering out plays against a large number of students voting.  But in a close election, it doesn’t take a lot to tip the scales.

This one could go either way.  We don’t see the massive backlash against Nishi like we did in 2009 with Wild Horse Ranch, but that one lost 3-1 at the ballot box – this one figures to be a lot closer.

This one is too close to call.

State Senate: Dodd’s to Lose

While the re-emergence of EdVoice in this race is troubling, unlike in 2008, we just don’t see it in the cards for Mariko Yamada to upset Bill Dodd.  While it is true that we did not see her upset victory

Bill Dodd figures to be the one celebrating victory in November
Bill Dodd figures to be the one celebrating victory in November

coming in 2008, there are some decidedly different variables here.

First, Bill Dodd is a sitting Assemblymember.  He has a solid track record.  And he is a formidable opponent with his $1 million war chest.

Second, between Christopher Cabaldon’s association with EdVoice and thus the motivated California Teachers Association effort to defeat him, and his deals with Walmart and the Central Labor Council’s strong opposition, there was a strong and motivated labor group in 2008 ready to dump money and people into the race to upset the dynamics.

That’s just not going to happen here.  Even with EdVoice, CTA is not going to get involved in this race because they don’t see Bill Dodd as a supporter of EdVoice’s agenda.  While Mariko Yamada has the nurses, AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), CFT (California Federation of Teachers) and the Davis firefighters, Bill Dodd has his share of labor – Central Labor Council, police, fire (except for Davis), etc.

The bottom line labor is split – they aren’t going to go all in to knock off Mr. Dodd and he holds a huge monetary advantage over the three-time Assemblymember.

On paper this looked like an interesting matchup, but at this point Bill Dodd has the clear advantage and it would be stunning if he were knocked off.  In a way, the odds are more heavily against Ms. Yamada than in 2008.  But, then again, she likely gets two bites at this apple.

Wolk Official Headshopt
Dan Wolk had a weak fundraising showing, but still is our frontrunner

State Assembly: Who Will Win a Weak Field?

This should be Dan Wolk’s race to lose.  He ran in 2014 so he is a familiar face.  His mother has represented most of the district for a long time.  He has resources that no one else should have.  And yet…

As we noted yesterday, looking at his money, we don’t see strength, we see continued weakness for the Davis mayor.  He has raised $223,000 in the entire race.  How is that even possible?  At this point in 2014, Bill Dodd had over $800,000.

Only the fact that this is a relatively weak field is keeping Dan Wolk as a favorite here.  Don Saylor, a two-term county supervisor, has basically matched Dan Wolk dollar for dollar.  Even discounting the previous money, the amount raised this calendar year is $118 to $102 in favor of the mayor.

Don Saylor can’t match Dan Wolk’s name, but he seems to be outworking the mayor.

Cecilia Aguiar-Curry is surprisingly struggling to raise money.  Fifty-six thousand dollars is a bad showing.  A real bad showing.  And yet, in a race of Davis liberal Democrats, with the half a million in IEs from conservative groups, she is poised to make some hay.

Charlie Shaupp, the Republican, has seen this game before.  In 2014, he was able to finish second, nosing out Dan Wolk, only to be blasted in the general election.

It sets up that way again, although Republicans might want to consider the more moderate Aguiar-Curry in the primary.  The Democrat is going to win regardless, but their choice is the more liberal Dan Wolk or Don Saylor versus the more rural and moderate Aguiar-Curry.

In the absence of a compelling case to the contrary, we’ll stick with pre-election conventional wisdom and predict a Dan Wolk – Charlie Schaupp general election, but really anything can happen in the last month of this election.

—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. Barack Palin

    Second, they all sound alike anyway.  On paper you would expect some differences between the candidates


    Yes they do all sound alike.  If any candidate had stood out as being against housing at MRIC or being against any social engineering taxes such as the soda tax I feel they would’ve won a seat as there’s a whole contingent of people out here that would’ve supported that candidate.  Too bad.


      1. Marina Kalugin

        Do you, David, recall Julie Partansky, John Munn and some others…who WON due to the fact that they were NOT beholden to the special interests.

        MOST of the ones with the BIG warchests get them by BUYING ads in newspapers and schmoozing with the media…..people in the media and developers are the ones who have a VESTED interest in many of the things that you personally support… they then give MONEY to those who will repay their investments….

        And, that is also, my theory, that that is WHY they get so much FREE press time…in the Davis Vanguard, the DAVIS ENTERPRISE>>.and etc…





  2. Marina Kalugin

    I find this commentary so fascinating… is anything but ho-hum….  The Vanguard is TRYING to make it ho-hum..

    For one thing, NONE of the folks he is dismissing or thinks are a shoe-in ARE…

    Of course, this is another AD disguised as a commentary…  BY the OWNER of the VANGUARD>…who is NOT giving equal time to ANYONE he is not supporting…

    By watching the MASSIVE amounts of FREE  ads, in the form of commentaries, and the PAID ads all for DoDD, one doesn’t have to guess WHY and WHY…

    Of course, he fails to bring up some VERY pertinent info.

    One sees the TYPICAL LIBERAL slant, while Dave Greenwald DISMISSES the REPUBLICAN Schaup,  for BEiNG a Republican….

    and his FAILURE to bring up that DODD was a REPUBLICAN for most of HIS career and when he could NOT win against Mariko Yamada, he CHANGED parties….and then went up against Dan Wolk and Don Saylor…..

    That SPLIT The difference for the Davis/Yolo folks and DODD won by default..

    I may have even voted for him…..DUMB>>>>>  at THAT time I did NOT know HIS sleazy tactics and push polls…

    Sometimes it takes me a while to get through the sleazy tactics and so forth…

    This AD disguised as COMMENTARY is no better.

    The FACT that you mention above that you did NOT see the upset, and were not AWARE of the upset, and that YOU still didn’t BOTHER to find out and SHARE the upset……well, my old friend, that does NOT bode well for you either in your deceit here either…  If it was in the favor of the one YOU take money from, you WOULD have been all over it…

    Happy Mothers Day to All..

    Vote for the Nurturing WoMAN who truly cares and who HAS a proven RECORD>…and who should NOT be dismissed…

    Mariko Yamada has a PROVEN record for 6 years….. in the Assembly…..and before that 42 years in local government, and so forth..

    She was and IS the champion for EVERYONE>..and that is why SHE is the true frontrunner.








    1. David Greenwald

      “Of course, this is another AD disguised as a commentary… BY the OWNER of the VANGUARD>…who is NOT giving equal time to ANYONE he is not supporting…”

      I don’t agree. First of all, I think you have no idea who I’m supporting. Second, how is this an ad? It’s an analysis who is likely to win.

      Schaupp is dismissed because it’s a 65% Democratic district and he can’t win in the regular election.

      1. Marina Kalugin

        Yes, but if DoDo is a REPUBLICAN in a FAKE Democratic personae and still acting, walking, talking and GETTING BIG BUCKs from his crony republican friends, why do YOU not bring THAT up…..

        ps… NOT That there is anything WRONG with it… I have been one much of my life….for various reasons….

        And, where is Mariko’s equal time??????

  3. South of Davis

    David wrote:

    > At this point in 2014, Bill Dodd had over $800,000.

    Don’t forget that as a “former” Republican Bill was able to pull in cash from his rich GOP donors who knew from experience he would “work” for them…

  4. davisite4

    On what basis do you think Will Arnold will get the most votes?  He has the most money?  The backers with the deepest pockets?

    Personally, I find it baffling.  All of the answers I have seen him give (here or in the newspaper) have been vague or restatements of the problem.  His main claims to fame seems to be that his family is connected, he’s a nice guy, and he is the most pro-business of the bunch.

    1. David Greenwald

      He has lived in the community essentially all his life. He comes from family that is well connected. He has been very involved in a number of non-political things like Blue and White Foundation. When he announced he packed the house with a huge number of people who are not normally involved in politics. That’s the basis of my prediction. Could I be wrong? Of course.

      1. davisite4

        David, ok, thanks.  I can see that reasoning.  I guess I’m just expressing my own bafflement.  Brett Lee is a third generation Davisite.  Lucas Frerichs moved here when he was in high school.  Both were very involved before serving on the City Council and have, in my opinion, served it very well, with thoughtful, nuanced judgments.  That’s not to say that I always agree with them, but they have proven track records.  So then you have Will Arnold who has no political track record but who is very well connected.  I find it very disturbing to think that voters in this town base their votes on who is best connected rather than on known and successful quantities.

          1. Don Shor

            Parks and Rec Commission; Blue and White Foundation, Summer House. Also active on the Measure I campaign (water) and Rochelle and Dan’s campaigns for council.

      2. davisite4

        I’ve been thinking about this some more since I wrote the above comment, and the more I think about it the angrier I get.  So before I start to rant let me be clear this is not about Will, who I don’t know but who is from all accounts a nice person.  This is about the state of politics in Davis.

        <rant on>

        I am really, really tired of familial political dynasties.  We’ve seen them nationally (Bushes, Clintons) and locally (Wolks).  For a country that prides itself as a democracy of people who earn their way through hard work, we do a pretty crappy job of it.  Arnold should not get a free pass because his family is connected and because people like him.  He should have to work just as hard as the other candidates have (Lee, Frerichs, Williams) on commissions and other political entities (e.g., school board) to gain relevant experience and a track record.  He should not be allowed to get away with vague platitudes about what’s wrong with Davis and what he’d do to fix it.  He should be pushed on those answers (Vanguard, Enterprise?) to be more specific; it’s not enough just to let candidates answer questions without having pointed followups.  If we elect someone because everyone knows him and his family and thinks he’s a good guy, if he’s just anointed without having to pay his dues and genuinely make his case to the community – well, that’s just appalling, and we should be ashamed of ourselves.  Or are there some sort of nudge-nudge wink-wink expectations for what Arnold would do as a member of Council that those who are “in the know” are privy to?  Because that too is appalling.

        <rant off>

        1. Tia Will


          Or are there some sort of nudge-nudge wink-wink expectations for what Arnold would do as a member of Council that those who are “in the know” are privy to?”

          I do not think that there is any nudge-nudge going on here. I believe that Will Arnold has been quite clear about his pro growth stance. Also, I do not believe that it is difficult to obtain more information about any of our candidates. Will Arnold has a presence at the Farmer’s Market and is very approachable. Last Saturday we shared a laugh about our obviously different views on one the proposed projects in town. He is quite amenable to discussing his opinions and I am sure would address any specific questions in a one  on one or at any of the likely planned small meetings or coffees that are the mainstay of many campaigns in Davis.

          Also, he is not a political neophyte and has worked closely with Lois Wolk for years and was instrumental in the campaigns of Rochelle Swanson and Dan Wolk, which might give at least an inkling of what his perspective is likely to be.

          As for “political dynasties”, at least on the local level, we will not break that pattern until there are more of us who are willing to volunteer for what many would see as a virtually thankless act of public service. When we only have four applicants for three positions two of which are incumbents, it is clear that the pros of the position do not outweigh the cons for the majority.

  5. Tia Will


    First, Happy Mother’s Day !

    “…who is not giving equal time to anyone he is not supporting…”

    I am a little confused by your post. First, do you know who David is supporting ?  I talk with him on a regular basis as a member of the Vanguard Editorial Board and I don’t know who he supports.

    How is that you feel that he is not “giving equal time to anyone he is not supporting” ?

    He has run a series of articles which give all the candidates equal space to explain their answers and state their positions. All of the candidates were given equal time and opportunity to speak at a Vanguard sponsored candidates’ forum. All of the candidates have the same opportunity to buy advertising on the Vanguard if they choose to do so.

    Perhaps there is a bit of history that you are unaware of. Prior to his decision to run for City Council, Matt Williams was a member of the Vanguard Editorial Board and as such certainly has a working knowledge of site and how most effectively to participate in discussions here. I do not see his posts being limited in any way.

    Can you explain your comment ?


  6. Marina Kalugin

    Thank you…. you too….

    I was out of the loop, if you will, on many things over recent years….so I TRULY do NOT know….

    I was mostly talking about Dodd versus Yamada….  as soon as I have some time I will find and post some more about the push polls.

    And, this commentary LOOKED like an Ad,….. mea culpa if I was wrong on this as people tell me lately to stop being so impulsive…..well, this is what happens…

    And, also I MISSED much of a lot of things I don’t doubt…it just looked like the same stuff from the local rag….

    Was there an opportunity for Yamada versus Dodd to answer questions?

    I am MUCH more interested in THAT race, as I know all the players on that and the Assembly race…and the local guys due to various interactions before I got too busy to even scan the Enterprise for some months…

    If I should just do some more research on THIS site,   then please tell me….

    where is the search box…..cannot find it on the site….

    Thank you!




  7. davisite4

    Thanks to everyone who responded to my comments above and fleshed out Will Arnold’s background a bit.  That make me feel better about the process.

  8. tj

    Matt Williams’ potential contributions to improving the city are not getting much attention.

    He’s got good ideas, he’s very bright and perceptive about city issues.

    Perhaps he hasn’t pandered to the “well connected” folks who often dominate local politics for their own personal gain.

    1. Matt Williams

      The Sacramento Bee introduced the term “collegiality” into this campaign and in the candidate forums the two incumbents have hammered home that “we get along with one another” theme at every opportunity.  The incumbents have also reinforced Mayor Wolk’s Davis Renaissance theme at every opportunity, which makes sense if you want to get reelected … emphasize the positives and downplay the negatives.

      Talking realistically about the serious challenges we face isn’t sexy.  Many of my strongest supporters and closest advisors have cautioned me about being too candid about fiscal responsibility, saying “that is too Republican a message in this Democratic town.”

      Circling back to tj’s final paragraph above, I don’t think it is a question of pandering or not pandering, I think it is more a question of whether people value “kumbaya” over an honest message about the City’s fiscal realities that lurks underneath the veneer of collegiality.

      My campaign isn’t about veneer. It is about whether you believe doing the same thing over and over again will produce a different result. Unfortunately I don’t.

      To address the challenges our community faces, we must change the way our government makes decisions. We have to honestly address our issues.

      1. Barack Palin

        Matt, you should’ve hammered home the budget theme.  Many of us out here get that. You could’ve gone after Lee and Frerichs for giving away much of the last sales tax increase to public employees.  You also could’ve come out against the soda tax and MRIC housing which believe me would’ve garnered you a huge following but unfortunately you seem to be for them.  You needed to separate yourself from the other three candidates because right now all four candidates are on the same page.

        1. Mark West

          Lee and Frerichs both voted to hire and overpay an underqualified City Manager.

          Lee and Frerichs both voted to increase employee compensation in the face of millions in unfunded obligations.

          Frerichs helped negotiate the Development Agreement for Cannery, leaving out the grade-separated crossing (among other things).

          Frerichs voted for the Cannery CFD, resulting in a multimillion dollar gift of City funds to the developer.

          I have every reason to believe that Arnold will make an excellent Council member, and just as many reasons to believe that Frerichs will continue to be a fiscally irresponsible one. Replacing Frerichs with Williams would result in a huge upgrade to the Council and for the City’s future.

        2. Barack Palin

          I agree with Mark West, I will not be voting for Frerichs.  He’s just a Dan Wolk clone and in addition to the points that Mark West pointed out Frerichs also looked bad in fumbling the firefighter issues.

        3. Matt Williams

          BP, I have hammered home the budget theme.  Look at the question I submitted at the Vanguard forum.  it was all about budget.

          The challenge has been that the two incumbents have been very effective in touting the veneer.  Both tout the surface water plant, for example, as an accomplishment, and Lucas goes as far as to say “It is $60 million under budget,” which shows how disconnected he is from fiscal reality.  The very nature of the kind of DBO contract that the JPA signed means the contractor is 100% responsible for an exact budget amount.  If, as Lucas asserts, the project is $60 million under budget, all of that $60 million goes into the pockets of the DBO contractor.  None of it flows to the City coffers.

          The challenge is that most people really don’t want to talk about our highly compromised fiscal situation. They want someone to do something about it … make it go away.


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