Assessing Our Strengths and Weaknesses As a Community

Council-2016-Swearin-15By Robb Davis

Organizational strategic planning exercises often include a “SWOT” analysis analyzing Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. I offer the following brief SWOT analysis as a start to goal setting for the coming two years. Contact me at with thoughts and reactions.


A great strength of our community is our vigilance and engagement.  We watch over processes and policies and offer recommendations. We respond to challenges by creating a variety of voluntary associations.  Many citizens volunteer their time to advise on a variety of topics including water, broadband, community energy options, transportation, finance, and others. We are privileged to benefit from local expertise on a wide variety of issue relevant to our community.

In addition to this wealth of “social infrastructure” we also benefit from state of the art physical water and wastewater infrastructure that will provide for our needs for 50 years and beyond. While many cities and regions in our state struggle to figure out how to provide water services, we enjoy a diversified and resilient supply.  Our new wastewater treatment plant positions us to meet all regulatory requirements and provides treated water that we can use for public benefit.

A third strength is the quality of our police and fire services.  There is much ferment, nationally, to redefine what a community-focused police force looks like. Our police department, in implementing a police auditor program, alternative dispute resolution, a restorative youth diversion program, body cameras, and crisis intervention training, is, arguably, a leader in the region.  And because of shared services and a boundary drop between the City and University, fire service response times and coverage have improved.

As I look across the state and nation, it is hard to find communities that benefit from all of these core strengths.


Our inability, given current revenue, to pay for the maintenance and replacement of critical city infrastructure is a weakness. Over the past 15 years, total General Fund revenue has grown (nominally) by 95% (median +4.2% per year) while General Fund expenditures have grown by 92% (median +3.9%).  Revenue appears to have kept pace with expenditures.  However, when we dig into the expenditures—or rather what is NOT in the expenditures—we see that the picture is not positive.

Recent studies indicate that we should be putting approximately $8 million per year into street and path resurfacing and maintenance. In the immediate post-recession period we spent essentially nothing, and we are still $3-4 million short every year.  Failing to spend today increases costs of maintenance for a given street.

Other recent analyses of city-owned buildings and parks estimate five-year funding needs of $33.5 million dollars.  Staff has identified one-time funds but not ongoing funding streams for these needs.  And according to a May 2016 report: Some specific areas not assessed: pools, buildings not directly administered by Parks staff, code compliance (ADA, County, State), structural integrity, and various environmental testing.  In other words, there are additional buildings and parks maintenance/replacement expenditures that have not yet been accounted for.

The final FY 16/17 budget will show the estimated unfunded annual maintenance needs over the next 5 years.

A second weakness is our inability to develop unified collaboration across many fronts with the University.  I want to be clear what I mean.  We are, essentially, twin cities with different needs but great potential for collaboration.  The weakness is failing to identify and work together to implement a strategic vision of collaboration.

Collaboration occurs but not in a purposeful way and it lacks acknowledgment of our shared interests and needs and where these diverge.

We lack a venue in which we can jointly discuss and plan for critical issues such as housing, infrastructure needs and improvements, joint public safety actions, caring for the needs of international visitors, providing practical learning experiences for students, and retaining university-inspired businesses in Davis.

Finally, a lack of a coherent plan to diversify our local economy to make it more resilient and increase the circulation of financial resources within the city and region is a weakness.  It is not that we do not have a thriving local economy, rather that we have not articulated a vision for what will help make it more resilient—and keep more resources circulating within the local economic ecosystem.

Space does not permit a full articulation of this weakness but because we have spent the better part of two years conflating the concept of economic development with peripheral land development, we have failed to articulate the ends we want to achieve within our local economy given its strengths and constraints.  It is not entirely up to the City Council to make this discussion happen.


Fifty years ago, bike lane installation and the Unitrans launch set the stage for important changes to our local transportation system. Today Davis is a US leader in the share of trips in the city by bike, walking and transit.  People of vision and leaders willing to make decisions with a long view took these opportunities and altered the future course of the city.

Today we face opportunities that in 50 years will be seen as critical to the city we will become.

The first is community choice energy (CCE). We live in a rapidly changing electricity generation environment and CCE offers an opportunity to purchase—and incentivize production of local—renewable energy, at prices that are competitive with PG&E.  CCE will also enable us to retrofit aging housing and commercial stock to make it more energy efficient.  We are finalizing the formation of a joint powers authority with the County to launch a CCE program within 12-15 months.

A second opportunity is in community broadband. By controlling the backbone fiber infrastructure, we will be able to deliver faster and more reliant broadband to every home and business in the City.  Community broadband can reduce the digital divide and set the stage for a more diversified economy.

Both of the foregoing opportunities create greater revenue circulation within our city—a key to a more resilient local economy.

A third opportunity is in the concept of restorative justice (RJ). RJ is a way of thinking about crime that builds accountability, meets the needs of victims and has been shown to reduce recidivism—especially among young offenders.  In cooperation with the school district we are fundamentally remaking our youth discipline and crime diversion approaches.  RJ offers a way to make our community more socially resilient.


There are significant threats to our city both fiscally and socially.  The cost of pensions and medical care costs (for both current employees and retirees), continue to grow rapidly and, pension growth in particular, is largely outside our control. Notwithstanding a recent rollback in rates of growth for health care, the Congressional Budget Office expects rates of growth to increase over the coming decade.

In terms of pensions, we provide defined benefits to all city employees and these benefits cannot be reduced. Despite statewide pension reform in 2013, our pension costs continue to grow. CalPERS (the state pension fund) sets rates based on returns on its investments.  It has assumed it can achieve an annual rate of 7.5%.  In years when it does not meet this level, it requires agencies to pay greater amounts.  Over the past 20 years CalPERS’ average annualized returns were 7 percent. CalPERS is reducing its estimated rate of return to 6.5% but doing so over 20 years.  Last year CalPERS earned a mere 0.6% on its investments.

Pensions and health insurance costs explain, in part, how the median growth rate of total employee compensation over the past 15 years has been 2% per year, even as employee numbers have been reduced by over 25%.

A second external threat is the lack of funding for streets and roads from state and federal governments. Outdated revenue formulas, based on gas taxes, lead to severe underfunding of road repairs.  Across the nation cities and counties have been putting off maintenance. Last year Governor Brown proposed a special session of the legislature to address the challenges but, to date, no proposals have been approved.

A third threat is the human crisis of untreated mental health problems and frequent self-medication using alcohol, methamphetamines and opioids that can end in chronic homelessness.  Over half of Yolo County’s homeless population deal with substance abuse and a third have a severe mental illness. Recently the CDC declared an epidemic of opioid (including heroin) addiction.

Local government is about making decisions within constraints such as these. However, with clarity about our goals and with our rich community social capital, we will address our weaknesses, face the threats creatively and find a way of thriving in our home. In future articles I hope to dig into our goals for addressing the challenges.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. quielo

    Good article though can you show me where”restorative justice” is more than fad driven BS? I have seen the implementation at LAUSD where it was just an excuse to hire hundreds of useless losers as administrators and trainers of the new program  without any clear benefit at all. I know teachers there and they are uniformly negative about this program. If I have time after the farmers market I will dig out some numbers on the cost.

    1. Robb Davis

      The definition of a fad is:

      an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object’s qualities; a craze.

      RJ has been in existence for over 40 years in this country primarily in youth-focused diversion programs that bring victims and offenders together in a “conference.”  The program we are launching in Davis is being built upon the practice of an award winning (League of California Cities Putnam award) program in Reedley, CA.

      For many years evidence-based research was lacking in this field.  Two recent studies I could recommend looking at are here (summary) and here (full report). The focus is both on satisfaction of victims and reduced recidivism among offenders.

      There is a growing body of evidence around various RJ practices emerging because it has spread more quickly in recent years.

  2. Tia Will


    I want to thank you for an excellent and balanced overview of the strengths and weaknesses of our city. Because I tend to see the positives more readily than negatives, I would like to add ( or at least be more specific) about some of our strengths. For me it is all about individual people, a brief and non comprehensive view of what truly makes our community great.

    1. Our leadership – I truly believe that our current city council is comprised of individuals who are committed to the well being of our city rather than the well being of limited groups of well connected individuals. One might not realize this based on some of my more caustically expressed differences of opinion. But I do not doubt the good intentions of all 5.

    2. The leaders of our police and fire departments. Both Chief Pytel and Chief Trauernicht are thoughtful innovators who are willing to truly listen to the concerns of those they serve and make evidence based changes when those will improve the performance of their departments.

    3. Knowledgeable and engaged citizens who serve on our city’s commissions.

    4. An innovative private business sector. I know that I frequently butt heads with members of this group due to philosophic differences about the role of the public and private sector in the overall well being of our society. However, I have a great deal of admiration for those who step up and form the basis for such community innovations as Davis Roots, JumpStart, Pollinate….sorry for any one I missed since this is off the top of my head.

    5. Those who choose to inform us. The Enterprise with its focus on local political and social events and the Vanguard with its focus on political and social justice issues in Davis and at the county level with CourtWatch. These combined with the Patch, KDRT, and KDVS provide us with a number of perspectives on our community.

    6. Our volunteers. Wherever there is a need in our community, in our schools, our library, rehabilitating/replanting public outdoor spaces …..we have a wealth of people willing to invest their time, knowledge, and energy into improving our community for the benefit of all.

    I have lived in many communities over the past 64 years and I can honestly say that I believe Davis to have the strongest breadth and depth of willing contributors to our community given our relatively small population of any community in which I have lived.

    1. Alan Miller

      I can honestly say that I believe Davis to have the strongest breadth and depth of willing contributors to our community given our relatively small population of any community in which I have lived.

      Too bad it’s so bloody racist . . .

  3. SODA

    Thanks Robb for an excellent article and a meaningful way to assess and express community health….and Hi Tia and thanks for adding to the strengths. What a good way to start the year and I trust you will refer to the SWOT frequently as it proceeds.

    I would like to emphasize the integration with UCD. I agree this is a largely untapped strength for both UCD and the city.  I hope the city can lead by example and a parade of non profits and members of the community can follow. The ?new city/UCD 2:2 is a good start.

    As a member of a non profit we asked the design dept to help us develop a new logo. A group of students worked with us and it gave us a great logo and them real life experience with ‘clients’. Recently I had occasion to ask for help to photograph some hand dyed fabric and reached out to UCD for help. I think involving more UCD faculty, staff and students in city government (why are so few CC members from UCD?) and city projects is a win win and win!

    1. Bill Habicht

      Yes and… Students from the UCD Design Department also volunteered time to develop amazing design plans for Mosaic Tea and Coffee. I agree there are untapped partnerships. I’d like us to expand that area further.

  4. Don Shor

    Outstanding outline, and I would love to see followup articles about each of the topics raised. I am curious, with respect to the university, about this comment:

    We lack a venue in which we can jointly discuss and plan for critical issues

    Why is there no venue? Is there really no formal system or schedule for meeting with university planners? That seems odd.

  5. Topcat

    In terms of pensions, we provide defined benefits to all city employees and these benefits cannot be reduced.

    I wonder if a shift to defined contributions might be a partial solution for the unpredictability of future costs?  Perhaps this change could be made for future employees?

  6. Alan Pryor

    In addition to the increasing  pension and medical benefits costs, is an even larger problem (i.e. a major drain on City resources) the huge escalation of employee salaries?

    I have been told that we are paying more in total employee compensation and benefits now with 350 +/-  people on Staff than at the beginning of the recession in 2009 when we had over 500 employees. I was also told that the bulk of the increase was not increased pension or medical costs nor COLA increases but rather merit increases and employee promotions and that the average salary paid to an employee of equivalent rank has increased by over 30% since the recession began. I have no way of knowing if these numbers are true but knowing what huge salary increases a few employees are now being paid and what new hirees are being paid, I suspect the truth is not far off.

    It would go a long way to settling citizen distrust of City Government if the Finance and Budget Commission actually did their long-awaited examination of the efficiency of City expenses (an “audit”) and these results were made public.

  7. Frankly

    Well done.  This is what real leadership looks like.  Giving the truth and nothing but the truth.

    On the city employee pension problem truth thing…

    Effective immediately, all new employees will be converted to a defined contribution retirement plan (e.g., 401k-style plans).

    Next step, establishing new city employee performance expectations that raise the bar commensurate with the value of compensation including the million dollar defined benefit retirement plans in place for those previous hired.

    1. Alan Miller

      Well done.  This is what real leadership looks like.  Giving the truth and nothing but the truth.

      What, you don’t the flowers and prancing sheep approach?

    2. Marina Kalugin

      yep….that is what the Napo has forced on UC and so on….that is what is going to make it much harder for UC to compete for and retain the best faculty….that is one of the reasons the Academic Senate came out in full force against the Napo…..

      And, because of how it is being done, it will also crash the defined pension part of UCRP for the many who are grandfathered in under the older tiers….

      There was a document issued by the Napo’s pals that was supposed to support the idea that this new plan will not have an adverse affect on the “viability” of the UCRP.    Any one  with a modicum of financial sensibilities, like our Chancellor Emeritus, Esteemed National Academy of Engineering member, and of other international honors….spoke out against these lies..

      That was only one of the things our brilliant chancellor spoke out against….unfortunately for those many of us in the management and faculty ranks who understood better than the mininions of why certain things happened and continue to happen.

      And, here I see the same folks who have little clue coming out on the side of no pensions for city workers either….of course, these sames folks think that is the way to balance the budget…..





  8. Tia Will


    And the comments all seem to be building upon it constructively. We’ll done!”

    This is what I envision for the Vanguard to be at its best. This is what keeps me on the editorial board and commenting frequently. Also I really appreciate the appropriateness of your typo….I like ‘We’ll done” for the obviously intended “well done”. Now we just have to work on your tense congruence with “we’ll do “as the operative words.

  9. Barack Palin

    Effective immediately, all new employees will be converted to a defined contribution retirement plan (e.g., 401k-style plans).

    I agree.  I’ll add, discontinue and freeze all current pension plans and replace with defined contribution plans for every employee going forward (401k’s)

    Frankly, would something like that be possible?

    1. hpierce

      Recent court case indicates it is possible, with some caveats… it could not affect what has been “earned” to date; it has to be subject to meet and confer; it can apply to current employees, moving forward…

      To apply it to current employees would just be malevolent… without the defined benefit pension, employees would be subject to SS.  For those vested with PERS, when they retire, their SS benefits would be reduced, dollar for dollar, by what they get from the PERS pension they get… so, they would be paying for their SS contribution, and will get nada.  Nice.

      For a 401(k) plan, many private employers contribute what the employee contributes (match), up to a “cap” (usually, 3%, max)… many others contribute nothing.  I’ll assume that most of those in favor of moving to defined contribution vs. defined benefit would like to see the employer contribution to be 0% (saves the most money).

      For those who glibly advocate for defined contribution for current employees (and/or those who previously vested in PERS), please explain how you propose employer and employee contributions for:  Social Security; 401(k) [assuming no continued participation in PERS].

      For new employees, not vested in PERS, what, if any, contribution from the City would you propose?  Should the employee also pick up the employer share of SS and/or Medicare?

  10. MikeNDavis


    Thank you for your thoughtful presentation, and for engaging the public in this discussion. With regard to the problems of future pension and medical costs, I feel that it is important to work with city employees directly and explore cooperative ways to pursue a solution. It has to be made clear that without a collaborative and creative approach, the public support for these employees diminishes and the possibility of those employees dealing with draconian cuts goes up, which would be bad for them and the city. I disagree with others here that defined benefit pensions are the problem, and I think that they are a much fairer and secure way to provide for retirement. The benefits do need to be kept to a level that the city can sustain in light of longer expected life spans, and we might want to consider capping them. The workers with the highest compensations could contribute additional monies to expand their retirement if they wish. Most importantly this has to be a topic that we face openly and soon, as it just gets worse with time. I hope it can be solved in a way that all the burden need not fall on the newest employees.

    1. Odin

      “if they wish.”

      The difficulty here is that this is a statewide problem with too many city officials comparing their pay and benefits with what others get paid in other cities.


    2. quielo



      My question is why should people who do not have the security of defined pensions, who do not get retire at 50, be forced to pay for the mandarin class to have what we do not? That, to me, is the main question.


    3. Jim Frame

      the possibility of those employees dealing with draconian cuts goes up, which would be bad for them and the city.

      I’m wondering if that possibility has any real effect.  I have a hazy recollection that there’s a seniority system in place that insulates senior staff from general cuts, and which allows them to bump down in the event their position is eliminated.  Perhaps hpierce can clarify.


      1. hpierce

        You are correct, Jim… depending on “tenure” and qualifications (if you previously held, or meet the qualifications for the position you “bump down” into).

        Yet, a previous HR director appears to have presided over a promotion of someone who had less tenure in their class series, apparently to spare them from a RIF (reduction in force).  Another wise move sanctioned by St Pinkerton [happened on his watch]…


    4. Jim Frame

      I think that they are a much fairer and secure way to provide for retirement.

      Secure for the employee, but hardly fair to the taxpayers who have to foot the bill with its unlimited ceiling.  Count me among those who believe that it’s past time for defined benefit pensions to be phased out of the public sector, just like they were phased out (sometimes in some really, really short phases) from the private sector.


      1. hpierce

        Private sector pension systems, when they were abandoned (GM, Chrysler, etc.), got bailed out, at least in major part by the US gov’t [taxpayers].  The shareholders were happy… the employees and taxpayers got screwed.

        1. Barack Palin

          Not all abandoned private pension systems get bailed out by the government and the two cases you cite GM and Chrysler ticked me off that the feds did step in.  I felt it  unfair that they got bailed out when others are allowed to fail.  I didn’t like what Obama did to their bondholders either.  It was basically a giveaway to the union.  Now some pensions will get taken over by the PBGC if their employers were paying for the pension insurance.

        2. Adam Smith

          Employees got more than they should have, as did shareholders.  Companies should have been forced to file BK.    Bondholders and taxpayers were screwed.


  11. Marina Kalugin

    One of the biggest strengths in this town is due to the very high percentage of persons with post graduate degrees and/or postgraduate units.

    One of the biggest weaknesses in this town is due to the very high percentage of persons with post graduate degrees and/or postgraduate units.

    All of “us” and many others who could have gotten their degrees and chose not to are so passionate about whatever side of what ever topic they are on…

    each knows it all

    each considers their own viewpoint must be correct and their degree(s) must prove it…

    because of that, many cannot see the forest for the trees nor understand an opposing viewpoint…

    that is why many do not have the capability to learn something which may shake up their status quo…and whatever side that might be….

    PS>   since the state and UC doesn’t match the industry payrolls and cannot, the retirement benefits are all that one has to compete……in the meantime, there are union forced “seniority” rules which allow those who have seniority to take some decades of “vacation” on the public dime.

    and it is nearly impossible to force some of those folks to work ever, much less an 8 hour day….

    there are many things that need fixing but the retirement for the vast majority of truly hard working and underpaid UC employees is not what needs cutting …and same with the remaining city employees…who are also cut to the bone…



    1. quielo

      Since I have a Ge.D. I feel qualified to make pronouncements here. “the remaining city employees…who are also cut to the bone” Let’s see shall we:


      Paul Sears SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS COORD Davis, 2015 $107,705.83 $162,258.80


      That’s pretty harsh for a coordinator, only making $162 Total comp


      Douglas Caluya PARK MAINTENANCE WORKER II Davis, 2015 $49,033.44 $69,132.59

      A junior park worker struggling to make ends meet with $70K total comp.

      It’s a tough life in Davis city government.

      1. MikeNDavis

        Total compensation is deceptive if you are saying that this is what is available to the person to spend – one doesn’t have the enormous cost of their health care available to spend unless one has the excellent fortune to be ill or injured.  I have to say that after taxes $49k is not a huge amount of money in Davis.

        It seems that the general sentiment is that we should all settle for the lowest common denominator of wage and retirement security, except of course for the few at the top who accumulate more and more wealth.

        1. Biddlin

          “Yeah but $49000 with full benies plus vacation and a multitude of holidays off isn’t bad for a gardener.” It sucks in Davis, unless the gardener is single and an Ascetic.

        1. hpierce

          Two very weird responses… I corrected an error of a poster, and now being asked about teachers’ salaries and the definition of engineering?  Not worth my time nor effort to respond, except to point out the weirdness.

        2. Biddlin

          Correct. They are expected to have a high level of skill and knowledge and be able to direct and supervise other maintenance personnel and work out of class in a supervisory position if needed.

  12. Biddlin

    “So Biddlin, how much do you feel a gardener should make?  $100,000 plus benies?”

    I think cities should pay their employees a salary that allows them to live in that city.

    In the cities I’ve seen where almost all of the public workers are from outside, I find the work force lacks motivation and delivers a much less than stellar performance. Especially for parks and gardens, a sense of ownership is the best and sometimes only motivation for the sometimes extraordinary efforts and acts necessary to work with a living system in all weather conditions.

    City of Sacramento Park Maintenance worker in the McKinley Park Rose Garden 1987-89 and PMW II 1989-92.


    1. Barack Palin

      $50,000/year should afford anyone to live in Davis.  My kids rent a nice duplex in Davis for $1250/month.  At around $3200 take home (give or take) that should leave more than enough to get by.

      Greenskeeper for two years while laid off from airline job….$10/hour, no benies….  1980-1982

        1. Barack Palin

          You live where you can afford to live.  There’s no rule that anyone has to pay you enough that you can live in any city of your choice.   If you wanted to work and live in Hillsborough or Beverly Hills CA should those cities be obligated to find you affordable housing or a very high paying job?  Not how it works.

          Don Shor, if like these guys are inferring that a $50k plus benies job isn’t enough to live in Davis do you think that you should have to pay your staff at least that much so they can live in Davis?

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