Two years ago, Joe Krovoza ended his lengthy tenure as mayor, where he had served from January 2011 until June 2014. For some observers, the expectation was that there would not be a tremendous amount of change on the city council – after all, while the mayor would change, the membership on council only had one shift – from Joe Krovoza to Robb Davis.
While the two would not be the same, they were good friends and allies. With a weak mayor system, the top vote getter becomes mayor and, for the city manager, management of city employees falls to the city manager, not the mayor or city council.
Nevertheless, most observers saw a far larger shift on council than the on-paper changes might imply. We may have a similar shift now with Dan Wolk giving way to Robb Davis as mayor. On paper, Will Arnold, the former campaign manager and close friend of Dan Wolk, would seem to be a small shift rather than a large change. However, Will Arnold in person insists that, on a number of key issues, he will in fact be very different from his predecessor.
For his part, Robb Davis, as he heads towards the mayorship, wants to downplay any huge changes.
In agreeing to answer the Vanguard’s questions, he noted, “I would like to note that we have a ‘weak mayor’ form of government. The mayor has no particular prerogative to lay out tasks to accomplish.”
He explains, “Indeed, we decide together the goals and priorities, and we set the agenda in a collaborative way. This is why paying attention to our discussions of the long range calendar is important. It is during this exercise that we actually put forward the specific items we, together, want to take up. It is then up to the mayor and the city manager to program these items into a workable agenda, in a timely way.”
He adds, “Our biennial goal setting (which will take place in September if all goes well), will be our chance to define broader goals and objectives that will guide our agenda setting over the coming two years. The long-range calendar is then our chance to focus on specific items to accomplish the goals and deal with unanticipated issues that arise.”
But, in a way, his caveat emphasizes some of the changes he may bring to the city council as he looks toward a more process-oriented and collaborative-based approach than in the past.
The Vanguard asked the incoming mayor what first five things he would like to do as mayor.
First, Robb Davis explained that he would like to “task staff and the Finance and Budget Commission with developing options for a comprehensive and strategic cost containment approach.” He explained, “I have offered options in this regard previously but would like a broad approach to consider highest impact options. “
There seems to be a push to have an update to the General Plan. For Robb Davis that means, “Put into place a clear process that we will use to update to the General Plan. This will include defining the scope of the General Plan update (parameters/areas that will be covered/areas that will not be covered), a clear time-frame and guidelines for community engagement.”
This does not have to be and should not be a major undertaking, he explained. The push will be for infill and efficiency of space as well as climate change.
He explained, “I do not believe a multi-year process is feasible or needed and I would argue that the focus should be on how we can accomplish more efficient use of space in the city first and foremost.”
He added, “Secondarily, it should focus on updating our climate action efforts as they relate to housing and transportation.”
One of the big issues in the last year has been the relationship between the city and university, especially on the issue of housing and their LRDP process.
Robb Davis wants to “formally engage the university, via a city council sub-committee, on their Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) process.”
He explained, “This engagement should focus on defining a set of jointly-agreed principles and lay out key community concerns (e.g. campus student housing, campus-city transportation issues, broadband, and campus growth impacts on city infrastructure).”
Robb Davis also wants to re-evaluate the city’s economic development goals. He wants to “review the May 2014 economic development goals/objectives and relevant prior studies to re-launch a comprehensive economic development strategy for the City. This strategy must build on the large amount of work that has already been done, be informed by recent efforts to develop innovation centers, consider how to better use city land assets, and evaluate the changes occurring in and around the downtown (i.e recent property sales).”
Finally, he wants to “fully implement a local restorative justice-focused diversion program via a collaborative citizen/police/DJUSD process to assure broad application of restorative principles and practices to juvenile discipline and crime issues in the city. “
The list actually goes on from there. He explained that other items in need of attention include “implementation of a CCE (Community Choice Energy) JPA (Joint Powers Agency) and visioning concerning the CCE; evaluation of options concerning the Nishi project; MOU negotiations with two bargaining units; preparing the community for the large number of road/bike path projects on tap for this year; decisions related to student-oriented housing; decisions related to hotel projects; determining the scope of a broadband technical feasibility study RFA; decisions concerning a renters’ ordinance; begin to envision a new approach to dealing with affordable housing; defining a concise social services strategy for the city.”
The Vanguard has been critical of the lack of progress on a number of fronts in the last few years, but from Robb Davis’ answers, it appears that council will have a very aggressive and meaty agenda over the next two years.
The Vanguard asked the incoming mayor what regrets he has had over his first two years on council.
On top of the list, Robb Davis explained, was “not making a better case to the community and my colleagues for a sugary beverage tax.”
The councilmember may be overly self-critical. The issue only came to council in early December. The beverage industry immediately threw its weight and muscle to defeating it and Robb Davis was probably its most eloquent advocate, calling it “the public health crisis of our time.” And he warned that sugary beverages are, quite simply, “a delivery mechanism” which brings “fructose to the liver in probably the most efficient means of doing so.”
The council and community were not ready for fast action on this item, but this will not be the last chance. The issue has been introduced and framed.
Robb Davis said he also regretted not writing more op-eds in the Vanguard “to inform people about the many things we are doing to increase transparency and deal with city challenges.”
He further regrets, “Not spending more time on youth addiction issues.” He also said, he regrets, “Not yet being able to find a way to move beyond our approach to affordable housing which appears stuck in the RDA (Redevelopment Agency) logic of funding to a new way that acknowledges that we are, in fact, in a post-RDA world.”
Finally, a big push will be on finding new ways to deal with homelessness, and he said he regrets, “Not yet finding a way to really articulate a syndromic approach to dealing with homelessness: mental health, addiction, trauma.”
In a weak mayoral system, a single change on council can shift the emphasis and direction and, if anything, the list of regrets and priorities suggests there will be a major shift there. The question is whether he can get his colleagues to agree – but many of these goals seem aligned with those of his colleagues.
—David M. Greenwald reporting