Sunday Commentary: Trust Issues and, Once Again, How Do We Fix Them?

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The first major undertaking for the new council, the general plan update, got off to a slightly bumpy start this week when the initial input period was scheduled for three weeks during a mid-August to early September period.

The councilmembers I have spoken to were quick to tell me that they would look to correct this either by extending the period until after UC Davis starts and more people are around, or by changing the period altogether.

I don’t want to turn this particular issue into a bigger issue than it is, but it does boggle my mind that staff makes the same mistakes over and over again – even experienced staff who should know how this community rolls and be sensitive to such procedural matters.

At the same time, I think critics have a point that often it is the initial input that sets a particular project or policy into motion, and so they want to be sure that the community as a whole is engaged from the start.

This is interestingly the third column I have written, since the beginning of June, on trust.  I think it’s a critical issue that underlies our governance of this city.  At the same time, there is another aspect of the trust issue – manufactured dissent.

There are some legitimate trust issues here and some of them go back decades.  Others are more recent – for example, many, myself included, do not believe that the council got the community the best deal with Cannery in the first place, which was compounded when The New Home Company was granted a CFD (Community Facilities District) on a 3-2 vote that gave a huge amount of benefit to the developers and little to the community.

That certainly undermined my belief that that particular council was going to drive the hard deal on development issues.

We also see the trust issue playing itself out on the affordable housing deal for Nishi, where many saw the city giving away millions in city and community benefits by allowing for the exemption to the affordable housing policies of the city.

I’ve been critical of that deal, arguing that the optics looked bad – the city had an affordable housing ordinance, exempted the project from the ordinance, and then cut a deal to restore about $1 million in benefits.

I think the council honestly thought they were getting a benefit to the community they otherwise wouldn’t have had, I think the issue kind of snuck up on everyone, and no one was really thinking in terms of $11 million in actual value of the affordable housing agreement.

The bottom line here is that some mistakes have been made by current councils that have helped to continue to lead some groups of people to be skeptical about the city and the city council.

At the same time, the trust issue may simply be more a manifestation of political dissent than a real trust void.

There has been a gap between the views of growth held by those elected to council versus the views held by the broader community.  We saw that where a 4-1 vote to put Covell Village on the ballot translated into a 60-40 vote against the project.  A 3-2 vote on Wildhorse Ranch translated into a 75-25 vote against the project.  And a 5-0 vote on Nishi turned into a 52-48 vote against the project.

In past columns we have speculated on the cause of that gap, from the aging population cohort opposing growth to the fact that people, with Measure R in place, may feel free to vote for people based on personalities rather than their adherence to land use principles.

I do find it odd that there was no anti-growth or even slow-growth candidate on the council ballot this time.  All four candidates supported Nishi.  So a group of citizens opposing Nishi never really attempted to put someone on council that shared their concerns.  That seems odd.  At least in 2014, the water opposition had a candidate in John Munn who very nearly was elected to council.

I raise this point because the issue of trust may simply be an issue of political disagreement in disguise.  A group of people who oppose growth are naturally going to be skeptical of a council that votes 5-0 to put a given project on the ballot.

Therefore, any action taken by the council is viewed with a grain of salt, an air of skepticism, a belief that the fix was in.

There are times when complaints are simply excuses rather than reasons. For instance, many opponents countered the decision to put Nishi on the June ballot with a complaint about why the rush to put the matter on the ballot.

From their perspective, there were a lot of problems with the project that might have been resolved by waiting until November.

As I argued in June, there are certainly times when it is hard to separate legitimate reasons for delay from excuses to oppose a given project. Many of the speed complaints were simply dismissed as stall tactics.

On the other hand, in retrospect, one of the failures of Measure A was that we proceeded faster than the speed of trust and left too many things to the opposition to exploit. In a narrow election, it appears there was just enough uncertainty and legitimate lack of trust to make the project fail.

It is hard to know if November would have permitted the city to better tidy up traffic flow on Richards, gain a firmer stance from the university on a grade-separated crossing, firm up sustainability features, etc.  On the other hand, the air quality issue would not have been resolved in November, nor would the affordable housing issue.

There are trust issues going both ways, with opponents of projects distrusting the council, believing that the council was trying to cook the process, while council distrusted opponents, believing that complaints were based on stall tactics rather than legitimate concerns.

The question comes to whether we can restore trust in a world where the community is divided on core issues, but the council appears relatively on the same page.  It was noted to me that the council is largely in sync on the need for a new general plan, whereas I believe the citizenry itself is far more divided.

Can we bridge that gap?  Somewhat, if we have really good process.  As I suggested a week or so ago, we need to have some sort of visioning process where we have people from across the spectrum participating.

I really believe that the community is divided in three ways instead of two.  There are those who generally favor development, those who generally oppose it, and those in the middle who are not paying attention to the process until a matter comes to a vote.

If the council wants to fix the trust issue, the key may rest in bringing in that middle group in the early stages.  That is a tough task and a tall order.

In the meantime, the city and council should do everything possible to be above board.  Be sensitive to process concerns and do not schedule community meetings in August.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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26 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: Trust Issues and, Once Again, How Do We Fix Them?”

  1. ryankelly

    The same voices that opposed Nishi, are sewing the seeds of discontent with the general plan amendment, the UCD LRDP, and City planning in general.  They would have us believe that City staff are, at worst, malicious or, at least, incompetent.  I feel that this will never change and we will hear the same ugly rhetoric in response to every action that the City takes.

    I  have trust in the current City Council.   I think we’ve elected a great group of people, who are engaged in the community and care about the City.  I view City staff in the same light.  I believe the relentless outrage regarding their actions is unwarranted and really counter-productive.

  2. Matt Williams

    David Greenwald said . . . “At the same time, there is another aspect of the trust issue – manufactured dissent.”

    With one notable exception, yesterday’s “dissent” presented not only the concern about the proposed timeline, but also possible solutions.  As such, I personally don’t believe this particular issue falls into the manufactured dissent category.

    Manufactured dissent is pretty easy to identify when it takes the form of complaints provided (often repeatedly) without any possible solutions proposed.

  3. Matt Williams

    hpierce commented yesterday about the “other side” of community involvement when he/she said,

    The reality is that”community involvement” is generally code for “activist/extremist involvement” . . .  the people in our community who are active, ‘self-select’ themselves (and their allies) for involvement, and then say they ‘represent the community’ . . . even though they are un-nominated and unelected.

     

    hpierce went on to propose the following solution to his/her belief that self-selection can (and likely will) produce community involvement that covers some of the General Plan “elements” in exhaustive depth while overlooking other “elements”

    I’d like to see the citizen participation be by random “draft.”  Climate change concerns, etc., can and should be “goals and policies” within the existing elements… lest we end up with a GP with internal inconsistencies/conflicting goals and policies… that would be disasterous…

      1. ryankelly

        Any appointed committe just automatically becomes untrustworthy.  Unless an advisory committee is formed with all the naysayers – it would be interesting to hear what they suggest or if they suggest anything other than referendums and public votes, which they need to carry out their form of governance.

        1. hpierce

          Unlike say 30-40 years ago, more recent (1-30 years ago)  it seems that CC members tend to be “political” rather than “public service”… they wet their finger, check to see where the vocal, activist “wind” is blowing [i.e., votes], and determine how to respond… we have had some who actually didn’t care, but wanted it “their way”… (she wasn’t re-elected awhile back)

          Am encouraged that it seems the Mayor, and at least two others (not sure about the ‘newbie’) are trending back to the “public service” model… who listen, think, evaluate, and judge on the basis of what they believe is “right or wrong” for the community, rather than counting cheers or jeers in chambers…

          We’ll see… this GP update process might well be a good ‘litmus test’…

  4. Edison

    I don’t know if I entirely agree that there is a lack of trust regarding the Council.  For example, I totally disagree with Governor Brown’s proposed High Speed Rail project and his Bay Delta Plan, but I trust him and think he is an honest elected official–one for whom I’ve voted twice.  I think our Council has struggled with how to facilitate much needed tax revenue generating economic development, which led to the decision to put Nishi on the ballot.  It’s my opinion that Measure A might have passed if a number of items had been addressed–namely provisions for affordable housing, a completed agricultural mitigation plan, and a tax sharing agreement with Yolo County.  And, in my case, I was offended by the constant phone calls and door knocking by students urging me to vote for Measure A.  When I engaged them in a conversation, they finally had to admit that the proposed student housing at Nishi would not be necessary if UCD had done its job by housing the students that it supposedly cares about so much.

    And I believe most Davis residents neither trust or mistrust the Council and City staff.  Most of the people I know in Davis are too busy working long hours, commuting to their jobs, raising children, exercising and devoting time to the other demands of daily life.  They simply don’t have time or energy to study and get involved in local public policy  issues.  As David suggested, they only pay attention to such issues when it’s time to vote.  And, thankfully, in Davis we have the ability to decide, as an entire community, whether proposals such as Nishi and Covell Village are desirable.  If it were not for Measures J/R, Davis could quite possibly end up looking like most other towns in California and the U.S.–endless and monotonous suburban sprawl and strip malls radiating outward in a disjointed leapfrog fashion.

    I also think the Council has sincerely struggled with how to provide more housing in Davis; hence decisions to approve the Cannery and to put developments such as Nishi and Covell Village on the ballot.  There may have been less impetus to place these measures on the ballot if the “Big Gorilla” in the room had been doing its part–that being UC Davis and its misplaced priorities. Instead of constructing on-campus student apartments to accommodate students all the way through senior year, the emphasis has been on “flashy” facilities like the Mondavi Center and Shrem.  As a result, students end up living in apartments and rental housing that might otherwise be available to UC employees and other workforce families.   UCD will continue to push its students out into the community after freshman year for as long as the City of Davis continues to enable such behavior.  It’s time for the City to confront UCD and say “Stop, enough is enough.  It’s not our job to solve the problem you’ve created.”

    UCD is actually the entity I don’t trust. How many people noticed that “Campus Tomorrow” dispatched a news release in mid-May (May 16, I believe) announcing that a community forum on the LRDP would be held that very same evening?  That’s less than 24 hours notice!  I spent 16 years working for two public agencies that held frequent community forums, meetings and hearings.  If those agencies had ever tried to convene a public forum with anything less than at least a 2-week notice, both the public and the elected officials to whom we reported would  have literally had our heads on a platter. But, UCD gets away with such actions because it has no accountability.  So, again, I trust our City Council. They’re doing the best they can and are in an unenviable position. At least they listen before decisions, which is a lot more than can be said for UCD.  I know that myself and others sent letters to Campus Tomorrow more than 3 months ago, suggesting specific sites where on-campus housing should be considered.   So far, no response from UCD.

     

     

    1. ryankelly

      I think you would get the same response if you tried to contact Woodland with your suggestions about where and how they should plan their city.  I think that the City of Davis would give a cold shoulder to UCD planners if they tried to suggest where to place development.

  5. hpierce

    Part of the “lack of trust” is that the vocal, strongly opinionated folk are not ‘running the show’ so much lately… that increases my level of “trust”…

  6. Ron

    In reference to the new “Council Meeting Procedures” proposed by our new mayor, which will be considered during the upcoming council meeting:
    http://documents.cityofdavis.org/Media/Default/Documents/PDF/CityCouncil/CouncilMeetings/Agendas/20160719/09-Council-Meeting-Procedures.pdf

    If the City Council really wants to help improve the “trust” issue, it can start by not suppressing public input.  As far back as I can remember, the comment period (for members of the public) was 3 minutes.  However, when Dan Wolk became mayor, that seemed to all change with a reduced time allowance to 2 minutes.

    To his credit, the new mayor is recommending 2.5 minutes, but is also making it clear that he will then shut it down immediately.  Why not restore this public time to 3 minutes, as it has been for decades/historically?  If the Council want to make the meetings more efficient, it can start with Council members getting to their point expeditiously.  It seems rather unfair that the new mayor (who has often used more time than any other Council member to speak, thereby extending the length of meetings), is now the one suggesting that public comment should be limited.

    the new mayor wants to gain trust from the community, he can start by restoring the 3-minute limit for public comment, and by withdrawing his other suggestion (in the attachment) to provide himself with the ability to limit the “overall amount of time” for public comment (and presumably without requiring a majority vote of the council).

    1. ryankelly

      They could make this change, but I don’t think it will do as you say – increase trust.  Council meetings are the only time that Council members can discuss City issues and make decisions.  I think they should be given as long as they feel that they need, even if it gets late.  A minute for one speaker doesn’t seem like much, but one minute for 20 people is 20 additional minutes.  20 people speaking for 3 minutes each is an hour.  Citizens can write letters, make phone calls, send emails to make their wishes and concerns known. Council members cannot do that outside the meetings.  So do you believe that we increase public comment and reduce Council member discussion as a way to build trust?

      1. Ron

        ryankelly:  “Council meetings are the only time that Council members can discuss City issues and make decisions.”

        I understand that council meetings are the only place that (3) or more council members can discuss such issues and make decisions.  However, one of the primary purposes of council meetings is to ensure a fair, transparent, and open process in a public forum/facility that is paid for (and serves) residents.  Council meetings are the only time that members of the public can make their thoughts publicly known, for all to witness and record.

        ryankelly:  So do you believe that we increase public comment and reduce Council member discussion as a way to build trust?

        I’m not advocating for less discussion among council members (although I think they’re sometimes as prone to “wasting time” as anyone else, and do not have 2.5 minute limits on doing so).  However, it is important for council members to hear directly from the public (including, and perhaps especially from those that they may not agree with).  And, it’s important for the public (at large) to hear and see other opinions, publicly-expressed and recorded.

        Efforts to limit “dissenting voices” in a public forum does not breed trust. Restoration of the full/standard 3 minutes (an “extra” 30 seconds/speaker) is in the interest of public trust.

        I’d encourage everyone to read the entire 5-page memo regarding the “new procedures” (from our new mayor):

        http://documents.cityofdavis.org/Media/Default/Documents/PDF/CityCouncil/CouncilMeetings/Agendas/20160719/09-Council-Meeting-Procedures.pdf

        1. Ron

          Couldn’t get to this in time to edit.  But, the “extra” 30 seconds per speaker (for a full 3 minutes) has historically been the standard.  (So, it’s not accurate to describe it as “extra”.)

  7. Frankly

    Trust has a big brother: respect.  I lost respect for many people in this community as a result of the Measure A result.  I have no interest to cooperate with people I don’t respect.  I fully see the city of Davis has being populated with too many foolish people undeserving of respect.

    I suggest that we don’t spend any time or any more dimes on plans and instead focus on making the case for overturning Measure J/R so the fools don’t continue to call the shots.  And then we can work on a general plan that incorporates community involvement in a true representative model of governance.

  8. Jim Frame

    I suggest that we don’t spend any time or any more dimes on plans and instead focus on making the case for overturning Measure J/R

    Who’s “we,” sucka?

    I wouldn’t want to see any public funds spent trying to overturn J/R, as I think it’d be a colossal waste.

     

    1. Frankly

      You have it backwards, everything else related to planning and development is a colossal waste while Measure J/R exists.  Look at all the time, resources and money wasted over the last 3 years.

      At the very least we should exclude commercial development from the measure.  The anti-housing crowd tends to include a mixture of fools and informed and thus can barely pass the smell test.  But those that vote against commercial development at this point in time are proven fools undeserving of a voice in the topic.  Our elected officials need to make the final decisions on commercial.  If the fools want to influence that direction they should get their head fools elected to the CC.

      1. Jim Frame

        At the very least we should exclude commercial development from the measure.

        One man’s “we should” is another man’s “don’t.”

        I’m clearly a J/R partisan, but I think that any efforts to weaken it are doomed to failure.  A request to cede more power to elected officials isn’t likely to be well-received by the electorate.

  9. Mark West

    Over the past couple of decades, Davis has developed a community characteristic of ‘glorifying’ the noisiest complainers. For many in town, those who most stridently oppose change are viewed as the community’s heroes;  the protectors of the Davis way of life.  There have recently been discussions here about the so-called ‘no on everything’ crowd, and whether or not a specific person should be burdened with that descriptor.  ‘No on everything’ is a community characteristic, not an individual one. No one individual is opposed to every change, but collectively we do, at least initially, oppose change. We are what I would call, a ‘no, first’ community.

    Our overwhelming community response to a proposed project or change is that the net impact will be negative, so we demand that the developers and civic leaders prove that our initial assumption is false. We make lists of specific requirements that either must be or must not be, included in order to garner our support, with our most vocal complainers controlling the conversation. Our so-called ‘trust’ problem is just another manifestation of this community characteristic, with the ‘lack of trust’ being a justification for more opposition and complaining.

    What would happen if we instead we became a ‘yes, first’ (or at least a ‘maybe, first’) community?  If we looked at new proposals as opportunities to improve our lives with an initial response of ‘yes’ (or maybe) until proven otherwise? If we analyzed projects from a perspective of maximizing the net benefit to the community and not simply by listing specific components that we either like or don’t.  ‘Yes, first’ does not mean ‘yes, always.’  If we do not believe the net benefits are sufficient, then the proposal should be rejected. The difference is that instead of glorifying complainers and those who block change, we will be glorifying the mediators and collaborators and those working to improve all of our lives. Yes, first, means being open to new ideas and changes, until we prove to ourselves that the benefits are not worth the costs.

    Our ‘no, first’ approach has created the mindset that brought us the fiscal shortfalls and critical shortages that the community faces today. A ‘yes, first’ approach will change that mindset and provide us with the tools necessary to create a vibrant community capable of evolving to meet the challenges of the world around us (while also paying our bills)? It is not something that will change overnight as it requires that we all alter our approach. Instead of looking for reasons to oppose,  something that is remarkably easy, we have to work together to create something better, which is messy and requires a willingness to compromise even our most strident positions.  If you want to live in a ‘no on everything’ community, stay just as you are, but if you want to build something better for tomorrow, try saying ‘yes’, first.

     

  10. Marina Kalugin

    if we didn’t have a council majority who were either in bed with developers, or  were not family of developers, or not dumb enough to understand that much of the developer driven projects proposed in decades were not for the benefit of the citizens, but rather for the developers, we would not have needed J/R in the first place.

    J/R was as a result of what happened on the Ricci farm  aka Woodbridge…one would have to go back to the early 90s to start getting a clue…

    It has been a very long time since we had a more trustworthy council…. who actually understood the issues in the depth needed and who could sift through the developer’s BS….

    the 5 YES votes in favor of Nishi  –   yes on A illustrates my point very well.

    We no longer have the sell-out Wolk, instead we now have Arnold – family of developer Doug Arnold (RIP) , whose family business and nearly all family members make their livelihood on development and on real estate sales…and have for the decades I have lived in this town…since 1970 as a matter of fact and earlier I would bet…

    I would hope that Mr. Arnold will recuse himself from most projects that are a conflict of interest…that will be ALL projects of development proposed for the Davis community…

    will he do that?  not likely….

     

     

  11. Marina Kalugin

    PS>   We lack the representation of the silent majority on the council these days…..  the silent majority is full of the “fools” some here are claiming exist

    and that the town would be so much better off, if the “fools” who would trust the council to ever actually do things in the interest of the majority of Davisites had their power taken away……

    those same people, who here are claiming the majority are fools, are the true fools…

    if they ever believed that time was wasted for 3 years on the Nishi

    had nothing to do with the fact that the council was being used to rubber stamp a truly unnecessary and truly idiotic proposal…

    and that it’s defeat proved anything other than the majority of Davisites are smarter than the average 5th grader…while the council majorities obviously are not…

     

     

  12. Marina Kalugin

    and finally,  Trust?  it will take a lot of work on the current council majority to prove their trustworthiness,

    in the meantime…

    don’t bother to bring forward any more pigs in green lipstick…and perhaps one could start discussing “trust” as a topic….

  13. ryankelly

    Marina, what you just wrote is pretty much hogwash – angry drivel that is the type of communication that is infecting the political process in Davis and driving people away from participation. It has no basis in fact and is an clearly an attack on Arnold and the new Council without cause.  The Council has gone out of their way to be as transparent as possible.

    The Council spent 3 years on Nishi, because that’s their job and what Measure R required them to do. Nishi failed by a few percentage points, so I wouldn’t say that Nishi proves any of your points at all.

     

  14. Marina Kalugin

    Dear ryankelly,   your angry drivel for way too long is what helped the Napo do what she did to the Chancellor.

    your angry drivel, is why the number one female candidate for dean of CBS declined to accept the UCD offer after seeing what the likes of you was doing to the chancellor.

    Yes, I am angry…

    I am angry at the likes of you…and I am angry because you still have little clue…

    For more than three years I was in and out of  hospitals, first with my life and death health conditions, then last year trying to keep my uncle alive, who was a victim of elder abuse which finally killed him.

    If I was around to participate on the Nishi earlier, trust me, it would have been much more than a few percentage points difference…..

    and, you still have NO clue who I am or what I have done in this town in so many decades on so many causes…

    and why I still do what I do….

    why I still work 24/7 at the UCD and also on my many activist causes…

    I am angry that the current city council has people with little clue doing the developers bidding…

    I am angry that the current school board has little clue.

    I used to work on campaigns and we would have more than 1 person of some clue on each…

    I am stretched WAY too thin…and almost died due to what I was taking on…

    My responses to people like you, who spew such drivel, yet in a “kinder and gentler manner”  are now being removed….and yet, the message is very clear…

    I would rather die than have the likes of you think you run things in this town, this campus, etc…and I have the power and, now the means, to truly silence your drivel….

    I just couldn’t be more involved in recent years due to the above…and I almost did die in the process…

    Mark my words, what I have been posting on here since the day that the Chancellor was subjected to the illegal abuse by the Napo…is just the beginning…hopefully you and your little pals will leave this town before it gets too hot for your little sensibilities get your knickers in a twit……..

    have a good night, a good morning or whatever….

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