Monday Morning Thoughts: Is Council Opening the Can of Charter City Worms Again?

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Charter_City

In the fall of 2008, the city put Measure N on the ballot, a charter city measure that would be soundly defeated 54.3 percent to 45.7 percent, about a 2200-vote spread.  The chief reason for the measure was to pursue at a later stage a choice voting initiative that had been passed as an advisory vote back in 2006.

Why are we discussing this now?  That is actually unclear.  There is an information-only item on the consent agenda that provides background and information on a charter city without explaining its purpose or goal.

The item simply states, “The City Council has requested background information on Charter cities, to help inform the upcoming Council goals setting session.”

In 2008, I opposed the charter city.  The problem was not the charter city in principle as I recall, but rather that the charter written by the council and city at that time was so vague that it could have allowed good things to be put into the charter, but there was no guarantee.  In fact, the council intentionally left out the point of having the charter in the first place – choice voting.

What is a charter city?  The staff report explains that there are two types of cities in California – charter and general law – and that Davis is a general law city.

The staff report describes the following: “Charter cities follow the laws set forth in the state’s constitution along with their own adopted ‘charter’ document. General law cities follow the laws set forth by the state legislature.”

It continues, “Charter cities still follow the laws of the state’s constitution, which include constitutional amendments like Proposition 13 (cap on property taxes) and Proposition 218 (the right to vote on taxes), but a charter gives a city more local authority over municipal affairs in areas not considered to be statewide matters.”

It notes that, of California’s 478 cities, 121 are charter cities.  Among the list of charter cities include: Berkeley, Chico, Eureka, Grass Valley, Irvine, Merced, Modesto, Napa, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, San Diego and Stockton, among many others.

As one commenter noted yesterday, “This Charter City issue has been discussed in the past and is it was made quite clear by the community on what a bad idea it was and not a good ‘fit’ for Davis.”

That conclusion is, I think, overly broad.  What was made clear by the community in 2008, which, by the way, is nearly a decade ago, was that that particular vague and ill-defined charter was not a good fit for Davis.  However, as the list of cities indicates, there is no reason why a charter would of necessity be a poor fit for Davis – there is a combination of regional cities that are charter and college towns across the state, from Chico to Berkeley and Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and Palo Alto to San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara.

There are progressive communities on this list and very conservative communities.  From our standpoint then, the first question would be why would we want a charter city – what are we not able to do now that we want to be able to do?

That question is not well-explained in the staff report.

We get a vague explanation of that here: “A charter city has more ability to customize operations to meet the unique needs of the community, while a general law city is dependent on the state legislature for its power. This increase in the ability for a local community to exercise home rule is the greatest benefit of a charter.

“By establishing a charter, the members of a community are agreeing to a set of standards about how they are going to govern themselves. The charter may be broad or it may be very detailed but it should reflect the community it represents.

“Most communities that have successfully implemented charters within the past 10 to 15 years have had a specific issue that spurred their interest in a charter. Reasons have included increasing a city’s ability to enact rules and regulations related to public works projects and contracts, changing the number of Council members and/or the way that Council members are elected and simply increasing the ability of home rule.”

This last part, a specific issue that spurred their interest – in 2008 it was choice voting.  Again, part of the flaw was that the council did not put choice voting into the initial charter that went before the voters.  We had no single issue that jumped out at us.

The article that was cited from 2008, co-written by Pam Nieberg, Nancy Price, Don Shor and Rick Entrikin, was a very effective argument against the charter.

That charter gave “power to the City Council to adopt or abolish ordinances and regulations with no restrictions, as none are included in the Charter. Future amendments to the Charter itself would require a vote of the people. However, the Charter gives future councils the power to adopt ordinances without a vote of the people in certain instances where it is not currently allowed.”

The authors were concerned about a property transfer tax which “is not permitted under state law, but has been adopted by some Charter Cities.”

They concluded, “The Council acted hastily in placing this on the ballot. Such a fundamental change in how we are governed requires a thorough public discussion on whether or not we want a Charter and what we want it to address. The proponents argue that once the Charter passes we could then have this public discussion.”

They add, “There is no compelling reason to change how we are governed in Davis. There has been no public movement to become a Charter City.”

I tend to fall to the same conclusion now – until it is explained what the purpose of a charter would be, I see no reason to propose a charter.  At the same time, while I sound a cautionary note here, the form of the agenda item suggests that any movement toward a charter city is far off and hopefully the council will learn from 2008 and have lengthy community outreach and a well-defined charter and purpose for having such a charter.

—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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58 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: Is Council Opening the Can of Charter City Worms Again?”

  1. Barack Palin

    Gee David, really?   You didn’t receive an email from your little birdie tipping you off that this was being considered?

    If becoming a charter city makes it easier for a city council to implement taxation then I for one don’t want to give them that power.  As citizens we have to stay ever vigilant.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “Charter cities still follow the laws of the state’s constitution, which include constitutional amendments like Proposition 13(cap on property taxes) and Proposition 218 (the right to vote on taxes), but a charter gives a city more local authority over municipal affairs in areas not considered to be statewide matters.”

      1. Barack Palin

        The authors were concerned about a property transfer tax which “s not permitted under state law, but has been adopted by some Charter Cities.”

        As discussed last night, some CA charter cities are hitting homeowners with transfer taxes of up to 1.5%. So if you take an average home in Davis of @ $600,000 that would amount to an extra $9000 in local transfer taxes at time of sale on top of any other taxes and fees already in place.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          That is true. However, there are the same safeguards against that tax as any other tax. The charter gives the city more flexibility in the type of taxes they can bring but it doesn’t change the mechanism by which they are approved by the voters.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            If people vote for a parcel tax, there’s no safeguard there either, right?

        2. Barack Palin

          Everyone that owns a home or a business in Davis had better be on top of this because this has the ability to be another money grab.  Seniors who might be looking at their homes as their retirement investment had better keep an eye on this and stop it in its tracks.  If you bought a home recently you’re also looking at a potential extra 1.5% loss on whatever you paid for your home.  If the money was to go to the general fund it would only have to pass by a 50% +1 vote.  Is thas the plan, to fund future public employee raises and fund their retirements from more taxation like this?  We’re already paying a county transfer tax that the city gets a cut of.

        3. Barack Palin

          We’re already paying one of the highest sales tax rates in CA, do we also want to jump on board to pay some of the highest transfer taxes too?

           

           

           

        4. Barack Palin

          The thing too about the sales tax was it was supposed to go to other things than employee raises.  We sure got fooled on that.  The city is always trying to come up with schemes to extract more money from its citizens and imo the charter city designation is all about that.

  2. Misanthrop

    I agree the proposal 2008 was not well defined and the proponents didn’t do a good job explaining why it was needed. If this council wants another bite at that apple they need to spell it out for the voters in plain language and make a good case.

    One thing in looking over the list of those opposed in 2008 they seem like longtime residents or property owners. I wonder in hindsight if any of them has engaged in a property transfer that would have been caught by a property transfer tax had one been enacted over the last eight years. I don’t really want to pry into their personal affairs but I think its an interesting question about their resistance to taxes in general. The list looks like a group that generally opposes taxes. They probably identify as progressives but are better described as anti-tax conservatives. Funny thing is that many are pensioners themselves, a common contradiction here in Davis, where people who have had public sector careers don’t see themselves as beneficiaries of the tax system that supports them. Perhaps much of their net worth is tied up in their homes or real estate as is the case for many Davis residents and the threat of a transfer tax worries them when they think about what will happen should they no longer be able to age in place.

    1. Don Shor

      I don’t really want to pry into their personal affairs

      But then you proceed to make a bunch of speculation about their personal affairs. From your anonymous pseudonym, of course.

      1. Misanthrop

        Of course from my pseudonym but I didn’t look up if they have done any property transfers that represent the concern David raised that transfer taxes would have been imposed. My point is that opposing a tax that might get enacted and hit you somewhere at  the end of the rainbow seems more about ideology than reality. At least Frankly below is honest about it. I did point out the irony of those on public pensions opposing taxes but qualified that, aside from those annuities, many such people have most of their equity in their homes. Of course my post was speculative. By not delving into much detail of their personal lives, something I said I didn’t want to do, how could it be anything more?

        1. hpierce

          According to the cart provided, there already is a transfer tax that applies to Davis sellers…

          Charter status would also allow for a local income tax… if the first 50k of income was exempt, and the rate(s) [you could tax 50-100 k at a low rate, and ramp it up for those making 200k+] reasonably, that would be actually be more fair than the parcel taxes.  We might even be able to eliminate those…

          And for certain posters, you might even be able to partially exempt those in the private sector, so you could ‘sock it to’ government workers and retirees!

        2. Barack Palin

          There’s a county transfer tax that as I understand is split with the city.  The city isn’t allowed to institute its own transfer tax unless it becomes a charter city.

        3. hpierce

          You are correct, BP… that is not one iota different from what I posted…

          So, using your example… if someone has a $600k house they sold, just can’t see how $9k would jeopardize their retirement…  if $9k (say, in an annuity) matters, they are already in a world of hurt… weird, if they own a $600k property… compare that 1.5% to the capital gains (15% +) if they don’t acquire a property of similar value.  Pittance.

        4. Barack Palin

          compare that 1.5% to the capital gains (15% +) if they don’t acquire a property of similar value.  

          Only if they have lived in the house for less than 2 years or a couple realizes more than $500,000 in gains.  Glad to know that an additional $9000 in sales costs is just pittance to you.  Where do/did you work, it must pay/of payed well?

          How about a couple that bought during the last bubble and have just recently hit the break even mark?  If they have to sell for whatever reason they could be looking at going another $9000 in the hole.  It’s funny how people think that everyone who owns a home is just rolling in the money or has tons of equity in place.  Not the case.

        5. hpierce

          Not necessarily, Don… many (but probably not a majority) of self-styled “progressives” are in favor of things that they know others will have to pay for, not them… many others are willing to contribute to things, as long as they can force everyone else to do the same… there is nothing that is stopping folk from contributing $2000 per year (or more) to the City and/or DJUSD… a “progressive” probably hesitates to do so, but expects everyone else should pony up $600 per year, and that makes them feel better… ‘human’ nature… and if they are a senior and/or low income, they can vote for the taxes/assessments for others and not have to pay at all… call it ‘progressive Nirvana’…

        6. South of Davis

          Don wrote:

          > That statement is laughably ridiculous.

          Most (but not all) “progressives” are in favor of taxes that they don’t have to pay.  They tend to support taxes on soda, SUVs and bullets because they don’t drink soda, drive SUVs or own guns.

          Can Don name a tax on expensive coffee & tea, Hybrid cars or yoga mats that has been supported by a large number of “progressives”?

          1. Don Shor

            The statement that the four individuals cited are “better described as anti-tax conservatives” was laughably ridiculous.
            I disagree with your premise, so I won’t bother to play your game.

      1. Eileen Samitz

        Don,

        I agree with you completely on this and particularly regarding the land use issues and what could potentially happen without public input. Thanks much for providing the article and history about this issue because it has been a decade since it was discussed and posting the details is very helpful. With so many other issues on other City’s plate, I can’t believe that this one has been resurrected when it was so soundly defeated years ago. It was not only because the choice voting was not included in the language but all the other reasons that Don has mentioned as well. Hopefully the Council will see that we need to not spend any more time on this issue and focus on the other major issues that the City is facing.

        1. Mark West

          “I can’t believe that this one has been resurrected when it was so soundly defeated years ago.”

          So in your view, we should reject the idea today because we chose to reject it previously under different circumstances? How does that logic work? Should we similarly reject any idea that we previously considered simply because we rejected it before? Seems to me that we will quickly run out of feasible options for the future with that approach.

          There are sound reasons to consider changing the City to Charter status, with increased flexibility for addressing our fiscal problems being one of the most obvious. We should all recognize that we will need to raise taxes in the near term to address our fiscal shortfalls. As is, we are functionally restricted to using sales and parcel taxes, but we already have the highest sales tax for the region, so we really are only looking at parcel taxes. With Charter status, we could consider other forms of taxation that might more equitably distribute the added burden to the population and the business community. This is just one example of things that  could be considered with a Charter City.

          Instead of rejecting the idea out of hand, we should be discussing the potential benefits and the proper safeguards that would need to be included in order to create the best charter possible. Instead of pronouncing that we don’t trust the City to make the right decisions, we should engage in the process to ensure that we have the Charter that helps create a better City. Change is an opportunity for improvement and should not be rejected simply out of fear or a lack of perceived trust.

        2. Barack Palin

          With Charter status, we could consider other forms of taxation that might more equitably distribute the added burden to the population and the business community. 

          Do you really think that will happen?  The evidence shows that other charter cities went after the homeowner.  Homeowners are already carrying the brunt of city finances in the form of parcel taxes and it sounds too convenient for the city to once again come to that trough for more taxation.  I say we nip this charter city crap in the bud before it gets any legs.

        3. Mark West

          BP: “Homeowners are already carrying the brunt of city finances in the form of parcel taxes”

          “I say we nip this charter city crap in the bud”

          Your approach guarantees that property owners will continue to carry the brunt because all we have left to address our deficits are more parcel taxes. We have other options with Charter City status. Don’t allow a fear of what might happen, preclude us from considering a better future.

        4. Barack Palin

          Have you seen the chart I posted that showed how many CA charter cities have imposed a local transfer tax on home sales?  I’m just going with the facts of what has happened so far.  Why would Davis be any different?

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Davis is likely going to pass some sort of tax next time, so why does the form of the tax matter all that much?

        5. Mark West

          “Why would Davis be any different?”

          Why is Davis different now?  Why do we have a lower rate of sales tax collection per capita than other cities? Why do we have fewer jobs? Fewer businesses? etc. Because we have an engaged citizenry that made choices in the past that created those situations.  We are now having to deal with the consequences of those past decisions and I am confident that we can come up with solutions that do not replicate what was done before just because it was once popular. We cannot ‘sit tight,’ repeating what we have done before, and expect a different outcome.

        6. hpierce

          Soundly?

          Barry Goldwater was soundly defeated in 1964… McGovern was soundly defeated (at least electorally) in 1972.

          If 5% of the then, and/or current voters (and trust me, since the previous measure was proposed, there is at least 5% of the voters now that were not here then), changed their vote, it would have passed.

          Have not decided how I would vote, but to say it should not be considered is preposterous, at best!

          1. Don Shor

            From Fremont’s reconsideration of charter status in 2008:
            http://www.eastbaytimes.com/argus/ci_8583683

            Citizens, the council and interest groups, such as public employee unions, can propose amendments that would go before voters.
            City leaders fear that if a charter is adopted, unions might seek an amendment to win binding arbitration for contract disputes, which as a general law city, Fremont can’t offer.

            That should take care of any Frankly move toward support.

          2. Don Shor

            By the way, some will note that the voters can change the charter. In fact, they can and in some cases they have to vote on changes. So if you don’t think Davis voters already weigh in enough on topics, you can just look at Berkeley’s changes over the years. This is as of 2008….
            http://davismerchants.org/vanguard/Berkeley%20city%20charter%20revisions.png

        7. Barack Palin

          Can we find out whose idea this is?  We just recently got a new mayor and seated a new council, did it come from one of them?  Or is this coming from the City manager?

           

  3. Don Shor

    Post copied from 2008 discussion:

    Things a charter city may do that a general law city cannot:

    Government and elections

    A charter city may change the form of government; e.g., strong mayor.

    May establish any election rules and procedures by city council majority vote; e.g. choice voting. district elections.

    May establish criteria for office; e.g., residency requirement.

    General law cities have minimum qualifications established by state law. Nothing in this charter or the present municipal code sets minimum qualifications.

    May enact public financing of election campaigns.

    Management

    May decide how to enact ordinances.
    General law cities have requirements for open reading of ordinances and a minimum of five days after they are introduced.

    May set council quorum. General law cities require a majority.

    Council members may set their own salaries. General law cities have state limits.

    Competitive bidding is not required for contracts.

    Do not have to pay prevailing wage on public works projects.

    Taxes and zoning

    Taxation for both charter and general law cities is governed by Prop 218, but:
    Charter cities may impose a tax on the transfer of property;
    May impose business license taxes and fees for any purpose.

    In Fremont, Mayor Bob Wasserman … “requested that Fremont once again consider becoming a charter city primarily to see if doing so would provide more options to boost revenue.” – Oakland Tribune, March 15, 2008.

    Zoning changes are not required to be consistent with the general plan unless such a requirement is in the charter (it isn’t).

    Source: California League of Cities (www.cacities.org)
    Search: Chart: General Law – Charter City comparison (.doc)

  4. Tia Will

    David

    I have a couple of additional questions for you.

    1. Are there examples of cities that have recently gone from general law to charter, say within the past 20 or so years ? If so, what was the stated reason for the change and what have the outcomes been ?

    2. If Davis were to change from a general law to a charter city, what would the mechanisms and time frames be for it to change back if indeed the majority felt it was not a “good fit” ?

     

  5. Frankly

    Becoming a Charter City has some benefits, but there is something scary in there for every NIMBY.  Including the tax increase NIMBY which I am.  Not gonna happen.  Next topic.

  6. DTDavisite

    I have a question for those of you who would like to have the  city consider changing forms of government to be a Charter City. How much $ are you willing to spend on this consideration? Its not just free for the city to toy around with this idea.

    1. hpierce

      Twice the amount the City would pay to investigate new internet cabling options.

      The latter would be so expensive that you could kiss other infrastructure needs “bye-bye”…

      1. Jim Frame

        A city-owned utility is only one of the options to be explored by the consultant.  There are many different ways of executing municipal broadband, and all have advantages and disadvantages.  But Davis will further diminish its economic development capability if it doesn’t move forward with one of them.

        1. hpierce

          “City owned” is not tenable, in my opinion… too many new employees to deal with that… design, installation, and maintenance.  [or overseeing the effort, unless the private provider covers all City costs…]

          I agree that the benefits could be very substantial… to some… those who “need” the improvements should pay for it… those who don’t should not subsidize the improvements, unless there is an off-setting, real benefit, proportional to the cost…

          As a resident, not dependent on upgrades, am absolutely satisfied with my current situation… perhaps, if the City pursues this, it should be put up to a vote by the public at large, with all costs fully disclosed… more significant as to risk/benefit than Nishi…

          For “core” (not necessarily Core Area) businesses, that NEED the improvements, I support the concept, if they pony up the bulk of the costs…

          BTW, those ‘improvements’ will most likely cut into the streets… street cuts are the entryway (moisture/water) to pavement degradation… where will the ‘mitigation’ be? or just another ‘unfunded liability’?

           

        2. Barack Palin

          As a resident, not dependent on upgrades, am absolutely satisfied with my current situation 
          those who “need” the improvements should pay for it… those who don’t should not subsidize the improvements

          Oh comeon Hpierce, if you see $9000 as just a pittance I’m sure you can afford a few extra bucks for good Internet.

           

        3. Jim Frame

          I agree that the benefits could be very substantial… to some

          They could be very substantial to every homeowner.  As I recall, the estimated increase in home value due to the presence of city-wide gigabit connectivity is on the order of $5k.  That and and the fact that technology-dependent companies (which is just about all of them these days) put a lot of weight on the presence of high-speed connectivity when choosing a location.  Not just in their business location, but everywhere in the community, because it’s harder to attract employees otherwise.  It’s an economic development thing that we can’t afford to ignore.

           

        4. Matt Williams

          I concur with Jim’s comments about immediate value and impact on the economic sustainability of our community.

          I would add one more important positive . . . the educational opportunities for the youth of Davis.  More and more high value educational (and vocational) programs are making themselves available electronically.  Collaborations between groups of young people who are dispersed geographically are becoming more and more commonplace.  Speed/Robustness of internet connection is essential to those virtual collaborations.  Having antiquated telecommunications connectivity is a barrier to getting the most from a DJUSD education.

          1. Don Shor

            I recently had an employee who got her master’s degree from San Jose State while working for me. I think she actually went physically to the campus once. The rest of it was online, including all discussion sections.

  7. Barack Palin

    I can see where renters would be all for the city going charter and instituting a city transfer sale tax because someone else has to pay it!

    And I can see where current city employees would be all for the tax because that’s where their increased compensation comes from.

    I can also see why retired city employees will be all for the tax because it will shore up their retirement and medical benefits.

     

  8. Barack Palin

    There are two types of cities in California – General Law Cities, which are bound by state law, and Charter Cities, which do not have to comply with many state laws. Because Charter Cities do not have to follow the same rules as everyone else, Charter Cities have greater authority to raise local taxes and fees, and local politicians in Charter Cities can increase their take-home pay, impose unlimited penalties on residents and business and can give out jobs and city contracts to whomever they choose.
    Because Charter Cities do not automatically gain the benefits of certain state laws more costly elections are often required in order to address these issues. Charter Cities are also prone to more costly litigation than General Law cities (especially where state and local laws conflict).
    Not all Charter Cities are bad, and not all charters are bad. But many are hastily crafted, poorly thought out, and can invite a range of destructive, unintended consequences on local communities.

    Local politicians frequently think becoming a Charter City will make their lives easier because they won’t have to comply with state law – claiming that Charters will “free them from the yoke of Sacramento.” But in the end, Charters have not been shown to save cities any real amount of money. Instead, they have been shown to invite corruption, like in the City of Bell, and sometimes lead to bankruptcy, like in Stockton and San Bernardino because of the latitude local politicians have when they write their own rules.

    http://www.charterwarning.com/facts-and-resources/

    1. Barack Palin

      Charter Cities are also prone to more costly litigation than General Law cities (especially where state and local laws conflict).

      Boy does that sentence really stand out in this town.

  9. Tia Will

    MW

     I am confident that we can come up with solutions that do not replicate what was done before just because it was once popular. We cannot ‘sit tight,’ repeating what we have done before, and expect a different outcome.”

    I actually believe that Mark has this right. I would expand his comment to include not replicating what other communities have done with consequences such as paving over prime farm land in favor of strip malls ( Orange County), a proliferation of big box stores and fast food chains effectively destroying any local personality or charm that the individual communities may once have possessed, an absence of any sense of historic preservation or continuity of character in favor of homogenization for profit. I think it is very important not to repeat our own mistakes. It is equally important not to repeat the mistakes of others.

  10. Jon Li

    Dear Vanguard

    David wrote: “In the fall of 2008, the city put Measure N on the ballot, a charter city measure that would be soundly defeated 54.3 percent to 45.7 percent, about a 2200-vote spread. The chief reason for the measure was to pursue at a later stage a choice voting initiative that had been passed as an advisory vote back in 2006.
    Why are we discussing this now? That is actually unclear. There is an information-only item on the consent agenda that provides background and information on a charter city without explaining its purpose or goal.
    The item simply states, “The City Council has requested background information on Charter cities, to help inform the upcoming Council goals setting session.”

    What is different between 2008 and now, and where did this come from?

    1. I was on the 1st and 2nd City of Davis Governance Task Forces. The 1st one (1996) accomplished one thing, when Kevin Wolf joined me in advocating neighborhood associations was the only time City Manager John Meyer actually took notes, and when given the chance, said, “And I know just the person,” Anne Burnett. Davis Neighbors Night Out this coming October 16th is a direct result of that decision. I studied Santa Rosa’s charter (where I did politics for six months).

    The 2nd Governance Task Force was captured by the ASUCD students who packed the conference room, pressuring the task force to support choice voting. I was the only member who voted repeatedly against choice voting. The city would have had to become a charter city, and they said, “Just for choice voting.” I said, if you are going to do a charter, then do it right.

    2. Last Autumn, I studied charter and decided that it was the best and only way to accomplish some of the ideas I gained working in the legislature 41 years ago on health, mental health, public assistance and human services. In January, I made a brief presentation to the city council during public comments, and delivered Test of Time volume 10, number 1, about doing a positive plan based on policy governance, and a city charter. Not only did I deliver a copy to David at the press table, but he walked past me right after I spoke, so it is disingenuous for David to PRETEND that I haven’t made a written presentation to the city council every month since January.

    The most disingenuous part of what David wrote is that he mis-informed Vanguard’s readers so much that you are not talking about ANYTHING I am proposing; you are re-fighting the choice voting battle.

    The larger issue for most Vanguard readers is the question of the current General Plan.
    When the new city council met on July 19th, a regular agenda item was evaluating the General Plan. Over Eileen Samitz and Sue Greenwald’s objections, several members of the council said the plan is out of date. I spoke for a charter. When it was appropriate, Will Arnold spoke for charter, Rochelle Swanson spoke for charter, and Robb Davis spoke for charter. Neither the Enterprise nor the Vanguard reported that. Staff noted, and on August 1, I met with Deputy City Manager Kelly Stachowicz, Deputy City Manager Mike Webb and Senior Planner Katherine Hess for an hour about my ideas.

    The staff report is excellent. This was my response:
    Hi Kelly

    The staff report on the Charter is excellent. Thorough, researched, thought out.
    [I wasn’t paying any attention to Don and Steve in 2008 putting charter on the ballot.]

    It does such a good job that it begs the question that the council would even need a study session beyond what is in the report.
    The answer to the question is almost invariably: yes, the state constitution does give the city the right to consider…., and then be subject to judicial evaluation. And, like with a church or any other institution, the city in court would say, Your Honor, this was our intention, and then the court will determine if it is within the state constitution AND the city’s charter.

    This is as close to tabular rosa as you can get.

    The point is, this is not about what other cities have done with charter, it is about what we should do, given NOW’s realities, especially universal real time communication.

    Either we live entirely within the general plan, or anything, everything else, leads to consideration about charter.

    Broadband, community energy, are just examples of things that a charter city can respond to more easily than a general law city.
    I think we can do a lot better than CEQA.

    Kelly’s husband Jay has an office next to Ken Watt, the evolutionary ecologist that I have been debating (positively) about systems science for 30 years. Jay is the kind of person I would like to see talking about better ideas for the city of Davis. I love you folks, but if only the same 30 no-growthers are involved like in 1995-2001, when the rest of us had finished our work in 1994, then it will be a very boring status quo document, leaving Davis bankrupt because the plan is so anti-business. I believe that the ecological challenges facing us are grave, and Davis is ideally suited to create the 21st century municipal metaphor, the New Athens.

  11. Jon Li

    Part 2: Why a Charter?

    –> Out of Date Current Plan (2001 really 1974): The current plan was completed in 2001, and state law requires a new plan every 10 years, and it has now been sixteen.  The city staff and activists put great effort into producing a new housing element, but it has now passed its statutory limit as well.

    –> Private Sector lacks support: the current Plan (2001 really 1974) is anti-business, only in part because of the rigid structure imposed by the growth control fanatics who completely dominated the 8 year process they prolonged until they got their way, at the expense of the rest of the 300 people who spent over a year, and anybody looking for a job.

    –> Fund the Government: OK, Eileen, who are you going to tax to pay for the government? Davis sales tax per capita is HALF the state average.  If we had a healthy economy, we could afford the quality of life amenities that most college graduates expect.  Most cities have a job for every house, Davis has HALF that, a job for every other house.  Davis is dependent on government checks.  The only other way to finance the government besides sales tax generated by successful businesses is to tax the homeowners.

    –> Organize the government: since John Meyer left in 2000, Davis has had 8 more city managers, and each one changed the bureaucracy in ways that we don’t know any more.  There is no similarity between the government of John Meyer (survey: 90%+ excellent/good in most categories) to substandard in too many.  The city council needs to do a thorough program audit, to compare what Davis actually does, with what state law and city ordinances require.

    –> Daily monitoring: create 12 major indicators (with 10 defined subcategories for each one for a total of 120 daily indicators), like 98.6 everybody knows is healthy, and if it is 100, who cares; but if it 102, you are looking at serious trouble.  30 on the economy, 20 on quality of life, 5 on transportation, 8 on what the county is supposed to be serving Davis citizens, and 2 on county city relations, 5 on UCD, 5 on the State of California, 10 on the Davis school district.  That’s 85.  The charter lays out the process and the general plan establishes the current definitions of the criteria of the indicators.  You negotiate over the indicators and how the data is to be turned into a statistic.  Then when the daily report shifts from good, to not acceptable, everybody argues about what should be done to bring the numbers back into conformity with expectations, and some people start complaining that the statistic we are currently using does not do a good enough job of measuring what we mean.

    –> Sustainability means reconceiving the general plan: the separate fragmentary elements (land use, transportation, safety) are components that are supposed to add up to the whole city, but they only represent about 10% of what the government has to pay attention to.  I am proposing that we propose, all the way to the state Supreme Court, that the California Environmental Quality Act is so out of date that it doesn’t work any more.  We need a plan that is ecologically sound first, and socially sound second, based on a cognitive science positive model of human nature developed since World War II, rather than the negative Freudian-Lutheran guilt model that dominates Republican and Democrat Party rhetoric about criminal justice and too much of our attitudes about public policy. 

    In 1972, everybody in America thought that energy was free, and that was reflected in the city’s general plan.  All of that changed in 1973 with the Arab oil embargo, which the Davis general plan committee had some remarkable new ways to conserve energy.  We (Jon Hammond) made Vic Fazio the star of local energy conservation in the US Congress. 

    We are at that pre-breakthrough point with sustainability.

    How do we organize our resources sustainably?  If we keep going the way we are headed, we are not going to last many more decades.  65 million years ago, the whole ecosystem changed, the dinosaurs and their ecologies disappeared, and the biggest surviving mammal was a small mouse like rodent that is our common ancestor.  The last century was so ecologically irresponsible that the paleontologists call this the Anthropocene Era, the era dominated by human aggregate destruction of the quality of land, air and water.  Globally, taking advantage of the earth’s natural resources in every way we can imagine. 

    The 20th century was a global failure in every way, beginning with the much vaunted American conspicuous consumption LIFESTYLE post-World War II.  The U.S. economic machine was built on a series of ideas, a sequence predicated on accepted truths about the power of money and the benefits of growth, and the value of an oil/fossil fuel based business machine.  Four months before the assault on the World Trade Center in New York City, Dick Cheney said that “conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound comprehensive energy policy”.  But the dominant economic model that Cheney defends does not bode well for the future.  With a global population of 7 billion and continued growth expected, the greed-based economy has turned the planet into a cesspool.

    The 20th century American bureaucracy is a waste of resources.  Most of what government bureaucrats do is talk and argue with each other about turf.  Most of it is so ineffective that they only can try to keep it from getting even worse.
     This is 21st century thinking.  Look at the calendar: the century is 1/6th over and we are still dominated by Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, JP Morgan, and Henry Ford.  This Davis charter proposal is to create a grassroots information system built around communities.  To build a viable future around Peter Drucker’s ideas of Management by Objectives.  Drucker: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”  The whole point of the plan is to decide what to do next, act, and abort the plan with a new more up to date plan based on what has happened since the last time you met, evaluated the then-current plan, decided based on best current information to act, acted, and aborted the plan….The purpose of the plan is action now, as opposed to locking the past into concrete and driving with your eyes locked on the rear view mirror.

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