This week a new mayor, a new councilmember and a new mayor pro tem were sworn into office – as I have suggested before, the changing of the guard has a more profound impact on how council will do its business than we tend to anticipate.
The exiting Dan Wolk earned glowing praise from his colleagues that was genuine and sincere, and also from his mother the California State Senator – who herself is on her way out of political life – that, while genuine, seemed at least a little awkward.
Dan Wolk’s tenure as mayor will always seem a bit of a political oddity. Sandwiched between two Assembly campaigns, it was the tenure of a man who literally did not want to be there. And at times, while he ran good meetings, it felt like he had checked out on policy matters, leaving most of the work to his colleagues.
Every policy decision, every action, seemed to have a political campaign component and motivation. That made progress on a lot of fronts difficult. And, in fairness, it was not just Dan Wolk, as Lucas Frerichs and Brett Lee were also running for reelection, which meant that the majority of the council was looking toward June in some way as a backdrop for their decisions.
Robb Davis comes into the mayorship looking to make changes in the way the position, which in many ways is more ceremonial than official, is conducted. He made it clear in his comments on Tuesday that he “serves at the pleasure of the council.” That he is there to bring the entire city council together to set their approaches, goals and policies.
That differs markedly from the “restore Davis” agenda that Dan Wolk introduced, that was somewhat apart from the goals established by council during their retreat and always seemed oriented toward the 2016 Assembly race rather than the 2014-16 city council matters.
Robb Davis believes that the procedures which will be established must be the procedures of the council rather than his procedures. This is how he wants to lead.
Part of what will drive this difference is that the last council seemed very political – though really not contentious as it had in the past. This council may become the least political council in history. Or at least in recent memory.
Rochelle Swanson and Robb Davis have at least signaled that they won’t run for reelection. And, while Mayor Davis will get pressure to change his mind from a lot of his supporters, it seems likely that both he and Councilmember Swanson, the longest tenured member now, will at least govern as though they are not running.
Meanwhile, Lucas Frerichs, Will Arnold and Brett Lee have four years before they would have to face the voters again.
Some will suggest that this may be a council that gets a ton done – they work well together and have little motive to play politics, at least not yet.
I certainly get that thinking, but I also see a political landscape that is going to require some pretty heavy lifting – some of which will be outside the control of council.
Look no further than Tuesday. The first major undertaking will be a hugely major undertaking – a General Plan update. Someone noted to me yesterday that there is actually five person support on council for this – but what is clear to me from the comment is this is going to be a big challenge.
I see a divided community, both in terms of whether to do this and in terms of direction of the city. Recently I suggested council name a diverse team of people, to bring in as many different voices as possible and to try to facilitate some sort of visioning process.
In my view, we face an interesting split on the future of the town. While there are those who are opposed to a lot (or any) new growth, there are those strongly in support of pretty much all new growth. However, there is a larger group in the middle, who are not engaged, and the challenge will be how to bring them into the fold.
As I have opined many times this spring and summer, I see two looming challenges that I have at times called “crises” facing this community. The growth of UC Davis, the 6000 new students in the next decade, and the lack of housing on campus and in this community are pushing more students into town and driving more families out of town.
While I support the council working with UC Davis to identify more student housing options on campus, I do not for a second believe that UC Davis is going to build enough housing to accommodate 5400 (90 percent of the 6000 new students) students by 2026. And if they do, great, but I would like to see us accommodate a lot of them in the city.
Second, on the revenue front, I worry that we lack revenue to do things like fix our roads, our parks, our swimming pools, our greenbelts, our city buildings, our unfunded liabilities for employee compensation, etc.
Once again there will be no revenue measure. In good times, we are using one-time monies to fill these gaps. However, there needs to be a long-term strategy, and that will not just involve the council but also the voters.
After a contentious Measure R vote involving Nishi, the questions will be when and if Nishi comes back, what happens with MRIC, and can we find common ground to move forward and address these challenges.
As much as I would understand council wanting to avoid another Measure R vote, it is not as though we have a lot of internal options for large-scale student housing or economic development and, even if we did, it is not as though those projects come without their own set of challenges.
While I acknowledge there are likely to be disagreements on land use issues, I think this will be a good council as a whole for the community – but I worry that a lot of the core challenges are out of their control.
—David M. Greenwald reporting