People are frustrated in this community – at least the people who understand the challenges this community faces down the line. So I thought, rather than cursing the darkness, we would illuminate a way forward to lightness.
While I focus this column on the Davis Chamber, frankly this model could work for any group wishing to organize for change. We tend to forget that Davis is still a small enough community that small but determined groups of people can make significant change. All you need to do is look at the firefighters as an example of a group of 40 people who were able to have their preferred candidates win seven or nine council seats over a four-year period.
The first step is to create a series of small, concrete but achievable goals. This is a difficult task for any group, especially a group as large and diverse as the Davis Chamber. In his recent column, for instance, Chamber President Jason Taormino notes, “To sustain the amenities such as our parks, pools, community services and other infrastructure, we need 10,000 new high-paying jobs in Davis. We need to increase our commercial space from 1.75 million square feet to 4 million in order to achieve this goal.”
Those are broad and long-term goals. But a smaller and more achievable goal may be this one: “We need a 400-space parking structure on the city-owned lot at Third, Fourth, E and F streets and to increase surface parking just to stem the tide.”
There are a number of models here. The city has a goal-setting session. Other entities use strategic planning sessions. Whatever model the Chamber decides to use, it should be short-term, with concrete and achievable goals. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have longer range goals, but at the outset you want something that you can get done.
Second, the Chamber itself cannot do much of the next four steps. But fortunately the Davis Chamber already has a body that can – the ChamberPAC. The ChamberPAC is going to be the arm that helps push the plan from paper to actualization.
The first of these steps is that the ChamberPAC should actively recruit business-friendly council candidates. Now it may be that an existing candidate is a strong advocate for the Chamber positions and, if that is the case, they can make that determination. But the Chamber wants to have at least one Chamber-backed candidate on the ballot each cycle.
Second, it is not enough to recruit and back candidates with a $100 donation. The firefighters were extremely successful by taking the $100 campaign limitation and using their number to their advantage by bundling 40 $100 donations together to make a de facto $4000 donation.
Of course, the firefighters used this technique to line their own pockets, but other groups can utilize the technique to get good government. The former is unseemly, the latter is just smart politics. The ChamberPAC could easily get $100 donations from 40 to 100 people to back their preferred candidate(s).
Third, like the firefighters, the Chamber could also run their own Independent Expenditure (IE) – put out a flier that has their candidates and preferred positions and have their membership walk the community. This pushes not only their candidates but their positions.
Finally and most importantly, the Chamber needs to have a lobbying program. That means every time one of their issues come up, they need to have a core group of members meet with each councilmember individually.
They also need to have an email campaign. Whether the councilmembers admit it or not, email communications have an impact. When they get a lot of emails on an issue, that signals to them it is an issue that the community cares about. When they get a lot of emails on one side of the issue, that might be an indicator as to which way the community swings on a given issue.
That is not to say they are going to vote based on emails, but it definitely has an impact on their thinking.
Finally, the Chamber needs to show up at key council meetings. Not just a few leaders or designated spokespeople, but 20, 30, 40, 50 live bodies that say this is an issue we care about, please take notice. The firefighters did as well as anyone, they would sit in the chambers in their union uniforms (which resembled their official uniforms) and their presence would remind the councilmembers of their commitment.
Now you’re probably saying, that sounds fine on actions that the council can take, but the heavy lifting is on Measure R projects, not council votes.
Two responses to that – first, most of what we are going to do in this community is not going to involve a Measure R vote. Most of the goals that Jason Taormino laid out in his September column had nothing to do with peripheral development. That is a matter of council goals and perhaps the Chamber working with the city to find investors and resources to make things happen.
Second, when it comes down to a Measure R or other vote, the Chamber will be organized and ready to be a counterweight to groups opposing new projects.
Again, I use the Chamber as an example, but really any group of citizens can do the same thing. By way of example, the No on Measure A group came together to oppose Nishi. But imagine that group organizing more permanently. They could recruit candidates which would oppose a Nishi project. They could lobby council when projects come up. And have resources to back favorable candidates and oppose Measure R votes.
Davis is at a critical juncture and the next group to organize effectively will have the capacity to bring the kinds of changes this community needs.
—David M. Greenwald reporting