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,
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 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
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.
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