My View: Mayor Wolk’s Legacy

City Hall

This weekend Mayor Dan Wolk, now at the end of his tenure, offers a glimpse at his view of his legacy. He writes, “This is my final Mayor’s Corner column.  Naturally, this puts me in a reflective mood. I am very proud of everything we’ve accomplished together. There are way too many to highlight…”

But on the way, his list of accomplishments that he chose to highlight are quite thin and the column itself ends up being less than 350 words – a telling length indeed.  At the risk of being accused of piling on, there are some very important lessons to derive from this.

Here is his list:

  • Constructing our $270 million regional surface water project with the city of Woodland and UC Davis;
  • Restoring fiscal stability, including the adoption this week of a budget that addresses our long-term needs, from pensions to roads, while maintaining a healthy reserve;
  • Approving the Embassy Suites hotel and conference center project;
  • Building The Cannery, California’s first “farm-to-table” community and a national leader in universal design;
  • Implementing a citywide organics collection and composting program;
  • Initiating a Community Choice Energy program to source more of our energy from renewable sources;
  • Accomplishing the Healthy Families Initiative, from investing in safe routes to schools to banning smoking at public parks to eliminating soda from kids’ meals; and
  • Hiring an excellent city manager in Dirk Brazil, who has made significant strides in strengthening our city government.

I may have more thoughts on this list than there are items.  The first is to note that a number of his most important votes took place prior to his becoming mayor.  He cast the deciding vote, for instance, on the 2011 budget which ended up a 3-2 vote that started to set the stage for real budget reform.  And, while you could argue that this is a list of accomplishments while mayor, the key vote on Cannery also occurred when he was mayor pro tem, also a 3-2 vote.

He was also a deciding vote to bring Steve Pinkerton on as city manager, though his quasi-vote against Steve Pinkerton in the fall of 2013 set in motion the tide that would let him go.

Second, as several have noted, while he has a list of accomplishments, the only one of these that he really instigated himself was eliminating soda from kids’ meals as the de facto drink.

A number of these initiatives were launched by others and underway long before Mr. Wolk arrived on the scene. I will point out, though, that Dan Wolk was instrumental in the water project.  Ultimately, he brokered the settlement with Michael Harrington that allowed the project to go forward, but that came with a cost.

For instance, his bullet point on the approval of the Embassy Suites has been blocked by a lawsuit by the same Michael Harrington.

Third, he takes credit for the Cannery, on which he was a deciding vote in the fall of 2013.  That was a 3-2 vote, and I think many in the city question how much of an accomplishment that was.  He also does not mention he was also a deciding vote on the CFD (Community Facilities District), which many more people – even those who are inclined to give Dan Wolk a benefit of the doubt – question.

Fourth, I could probably write a book on the complexities of restoring fiscal stability.  Dan Wolk deserves credit here on several things.  As noted, he was the deciding vote on the 2011 budget – probably the most courageous decision of his entire tenure as he stared down 100 angry city employees in a hot room to cast a vote that Sue Greenwald and Stephen Souza refused to cast.

He was also part of a number of decisions in the next few years that brought about greater fiscal stability.

On the other hand, he was on the wrong side of some of the fire reform issues.  He voted against the reduction of fire personnel – a change which has led to improved response time.  He also flipped, under political pressure, on the shared management issue.  But he was part of a 5-0 vote to impose last, best, and final offer on Fire and DCEA (Davis City Employees Association).

Still, I think that while the budget is “technically” balanced, we face $655 million in shortfalls.  Dan Wolk was part of a council decision in the spring of 2014 to put a sales tax measure on the ballot, but the council failed to put an infrastructure measure on the ballot for November 2014 or June 2016.  A lot of that is not on Dan Wolk, as he actually pushed for the tax measure, but some of the problem in June was his push for a parks tax and a sports park – rather than dealing strictly with the roads, which might have had full support from the council.

In short, while Dan Wolk touts the adoption of a budget that he says addresses long-term needs from pensions to roads, I disagree.  We don’t have near the amount of revenue to deal with that, and that stems directly from the lack of an infrastructure tax as well as the complete failure of economic development under his watch.

When Dan Wolk took over as mayor, we had three proposals come forward through RFEIs (Request for Expressions of Interest).  We had a regionally respected chief innovation officer.  And a chance to address our economic development needs.

While it would be quite unfair to put all of this on Dan Wolk, at least some of it fits.  In 2015, we have lost both peripheral innovation park projects.  The city manager he touts basically fired the respected chief innovation officer.  While council did approve the Embassy Suites, the hotel conference center project, it is now bogged down in litigation that might have been avoided – had the staff put in place by Mr. Wolk and his city manager recognized the need to avoid a negative declaration route. And Nishi just lost a narrow vote at the polls.

I don’t put the latter on Mr. Wolk, but the legacy here is quite poor.

So the legacy overall of Dan Wolk overall seems thin.  We are left with several of the same serious long-term challenges that we arrived with and really, with the exception of the water project, none of the major issues have been put to rest.

—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. Biddlin

    “…While it would be quite unfair to put all of this on Dan Wolk,…” That won’t stop David. Another hit piece.  The Vanguard has become everyone’s personal soapbox.

      1. nameless

        What purpose is served by dissecting Dan’s tenure as mayor at this point?  Dan lost the election for CA Assembly, will no longer be on the Davis City Council, will be a private citizen come July 1.  At what point does the Vanguard give it a rest already?

        And believe it or not I could easily defend Dan, even tho most of the time I disagreed with his positions.  Many of the points the Vanguard raised are debatable issues that not everyone agrees with the Vanguard on, as hard as that is to believe (tongue in cheek!)…

        1. The Pugilist

          Perplexing answer.  Won’t every newspaper in the country explore Obama’s legacy come January.  That’s what we do when people leave and the Vanguard covers Davis politics.  If you disagree with the Vanguard, then we should discuss it.  I happen to mostly agree.

        2. sisterhood

          I’d rather a politician pick a few issues and really do something substantial,  than pick a bunch of issues and do very little.

          Thank you, Dan, for your commitment to Davis’ long term health. Thank you for promoting and supporting the Healthy Families initiative.


    1. nameless

      I’m with you Biddlin.

      Vanguard: “At the risk of being accused of piling on, there are some very important lessons to derive from this.”

      A very important lesson the Vanguard seems to have missed, as it assumes its views are the only correct ones and continues to pile on with continual criticism:

      From the Urban Dictionary:
      kick a man when he’s down
      (v.) To kick a man when he’s down is to attack at the persons weakest moment. It defies the gentlemanly code of ethics, and does detract from reputation…
      I never kick a man when he’s down; stamping on his head is easier!

      by Kung-Fu Jesus May 03, 2004″

      Why not allow Dan a gracious exit?  What purpose does it serve to continue bashing him?  He will be out of office come July 1, and a private citizen…

  2. nameless

    Pugilist: “If you disagree with the Vanguard, then we should discuss it.  I happen to mostly agree.”

    1. Cannery was a poor project; CFD was wrong.  Disagree on both points, and apparently so does the National Association of Home Builders disagree with the Vanguard, as well as a majority on the City Council.

    2. Steve Pinkerton – IMO was an excellent city manager, who marshaled this city through some tough times and left the city in much better fiscal shape than when he found it.  He took on a number of tough issues and resolved them successfully, e.g. surface water project, instituted tougher negotiations with labor groups, started setting aside funds for infrastructure repairs.

    3. Fire reform – there were a block of well respected Davis citizens that did not agree with the Vanguard’s view on this issue.  I on the other hand, sided with the Vanguard.

    4. Eliminating soda from kids meals supported by the Vanguard – IMO was wrongheaded and did nothing to address the problem of childhood obesity.

    There have been many other issues I have disagreed with the Vanguard on, as do many other citizens.  IMO the Vanguard does not have a lock on “all things right and relevant”.  I find the back and forth debate interesting, and at times I comment to counter MISINFORMATION put out by either the Vanguard or commenters.  But to think that the views of the Vanguard somehow represent the majority in this town is not grounded in reality…

    1. Barack Palin

      But to think that the views of the Vanguard somehow represent the majority in this town is not grounded in reality…

      I second that.

      But I must say that the views of the Vanguard do seem to represent those of The Pugilist.

    2. Tia Will


      IMO was wrongheaded and did nothing to address the problem of childhood obesity.”

      And your view of this is seen as wrongheaded by the vast majority of the medical community who see no benefit in the consumption of sweetened beverages. Please site even one doctor’s visit ever at which you or your children were encouraged to drink sweetened beverages. No one was making the case that the soda tax alone was a solution. Many in the public health and individual provider communities believe that it would be a small piece of a more comprehensive policy that could have profound long term effects just as increased taxes on cigarettes did. But then, it would seem that you are making the claim that your opinion on this matter trumps that of the health professionals.

      1. hpierce

        Although I believe you are correct, Tia, that no physician has encouraged/”prescribed” sugary drinks (except when that ‘sugary drink’ is mothers’ milk), but the tax would certainly apply also to unsweetened ice tea… if you order a drink from a fast food place, you’ll pay the tax the same as if it was any sugary drink… long ago ff restaurants went to a ‘drink bar’ concept… few if any, keep tabs (pun intended) on how many times you refill your ‘small’ soft drink, sugary or otherwise…

        The tax proposed was ill-advised as best…

        Hamburgers, cheese, french fries probably have worse effects on kids, as to leading to obesity… as does lack of active play, lack of exercising, etc.  Guess all should be taxed, to really make a dent…

        1. Tia Will


          You show me the child that consumes as many hamburgers and french fries in the same time it takes to down a soda, and I will likely agree with you. Since I don’t believe that such a child exists and since I know that sodas ( and are sweetened beverages ) are far more efficient delivery systems for sugar, I do not think this other unhealthful food products are comparable.

    3. Alan Miller

      But to think that the views of the Vanguard somehow represent the majority in this town is not grounded in reality…

      Which views are you speaking of?

  3. aaahirsch8

    1.  Leadership Advocacy vs Facilitation for Development Issues. I have attended a number of council meetings to following new develops and growth issue in town.  I thought it very notable that in the discussion about those projects, Dan Wolk typically spoke the least of any council person, but seemed to always find words of praise for the developer in the few words he did say.

    I also sensed the quantity and quality of Dan’s comment on issues I followed left me with the feeling he had not read or a least thought deeply about the issues at hand.  His valued-added in these discussion contrast sharply with other on council, most notably Rochelle, Robb and Joe Krovosa, and also Lucas and Brett who were not on the subcommittee.

    I remember, one council meeting after 30 minutes of back and forth from other members of council (on NISHI, I think it was), Dan’s input was “I have nothing to add what others have said”.

    And when it came to final J/R campaign for Nishi, Dan was AWOL in helping the local campaign beyond lending his name.   Robb  and Rochelle did the heavy lifting.

    But saying little  and remaining an objective referee on issues is a form of leadership.   I do note the difference in “chairmanship” style from when Joe Krovosa was Mayor–Joe seemed to weight in even while controlling the debate as mayor (meeting chairman), but Dan could act differently, with Robb offsetting Rochelle in interplay of ideas, so Dan could play a different role…NET: were the outcomes better?

    2. Leadership: Reduced Public Comment  = Better Public process?   Dan reduced the amount of comment time member of the public by 50% . (From 3 minutes to 2 minutes).  Maybe this is appropriate, but this decision did mark’s Dan’s regime..i..e his style of leadership.   I wonder what DaveG, a long time council watcher thought of this move and how it reflected on Dan’s regime?  Was the time saved turned into progress by “more tightly run” council meetings…or did lack of input compromise decision making process and lead to less trust of council decisions (e.g. failure of Nishi). I hope DaveG as a long time council watcher weight in and stimulates a discussion.

    3. Sports Complex Taskforce- visionary or eye candy? Dan also was a champion of the City studying…yet again…the idea of adding a new large Sports Park/Complex.   As I recall when this Sports Park study was first floated, many questioned about visability of just the idea of a new large capital project to the city at a time when it was in question if the could even maintain its current parks and other infrastructure. And then there was the poll in mid-2014 of city residents that showed no support for raising taxes for other infrastructure when existing stuff was deteriorating.   Was Dan support of this restudy of Sport Complex “Visionary leadership”, i.e.  proceeding in the face of contra-evidence, or was forming this task force to show the sport-parent in the community her cared, just “political eye candy” he was leveraging to advance his political career?    I’m surprised David did not weight in here as this is part of Dan’s legacy too.

    4.  Leadership on Sugar Tax as Public Health Issue : Bailing  on a hard issue or Pick your Battle wisdom?   I personally was most struck by Dan handling of his “show case” Public Health issue, reducing the consumption of sugar drinks by children. He advocated the largely meaningless change in restaurant menu’s not to “default” to sugary beverage… but he bailed on the Sugary Beverage issue almost once real real opposition surfaced, aka State Beverage Lobby and a number of convenience store/gas station operators.  Yes, putting a sugar tax on the June Ballot would have meant REAL funded opposition, a real fight to impose the tax…and would have required Dan to at least take a figurehead leadership role in support of this tax…make speachs,   write op eds, But leading a fight for “the good” is what Leaders do– they don’t wimp out.     More than a few folks have conjecture Dan bailed as he was more concern his run for assembly and how these big-money sugary beverage interests would have effected his chances for higher office by funding opposition candidates.

    5. Leadership on hard/Controversial Issues vs funding a Political Career   The problem of funding a political career is one all politician with higher aspirations have, and compromises must be made…no one with higher aspirations remains un-compromised (that reflect more on the  system we set up for politician’s navigate than on character of politicians who volunteer to do this heavy lifting for the community). BUT, we CAN a judge a politician by and when he hold true,,,and when he compromises…..retreat so he can “live to fight another day”.    Dan is not unique in facing this calculus, but Dan’s trade-offs uniquely reflect his character.    DavidG has watched Dan (and all our local politicos!) much longer than I have, and “followed the money” in a much more thorough manner than me…..

    So, I wonder why the above piece does not mention the sugar beverage issue, or that Dan receive money from developers for his assembly campaign and then was voting while on council on issues that benefited those same developers.   (David Greenwald thought this last linkage was so significant he raised it in public comment and asked Dan to recluse himself. ) Maybe there were other issue when campaign money and city-policy intersect? Too? Or maybe I’ve misunderstood and mis-characterized this stuff…

    I would hope Dave Greenwald will write a another piece addressing how money and careerism effected Dan’s tenure on city council, his leadership and his legacy as a case-in-point.

    I will stay tuned to the Vanguard……

  4. Biddlin

    If I were Dan, I’d “recluse” myself, indeed. (Coughed up most of my Bloody Mary on that one.) So many valued members, so off topic. Deflection, thy name is Davis. Lol. I will say again, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to try and represent such an ungracious and ungrateful constituency.

    1. David Greenwald

      If they do, they should probably show up to meetings prepared and actually do some work on behalf if the ungracious and unreasonable constituency that actually expects some sort of product and record from five years on the council.

  5. Marina Kalugin

    Dan’s legacy:  The young buck who is willing to sell out to try to get ahead way too quickly.  Not having paid his dues enough, he went up against those others in Davis/Yolo, who, without the familial connections and name and family “fundraising” skills, to ensure that the Davis candidate did not get to the final 2.

    Thank goodness he is not able to be back on the council for at least the next 2 years, right?

    Hopefully he has learned his lesson, and will allow Don Saylor to move ahead, should Don want to try again next time  🙂

    In the meantime, I will be voting for Schaup over Aguilar.

    That is also part of Dan’s legacy.

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