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