Commentary: Five Things the Chamber Could Do to Change the City



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


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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16 thoughts on “Commentary: Five Things the Chamber Could Do to Change the City”

  1. Tia Will

    I completely agree with David’s statement about the benefits of community organization in helping to shape the future of Davis. I take exception to his presentation of the Chamber’s views as represented in the comments of Mr. Taormino as the “correct” or even a particularly positive vision for Davis due to some very important omissions.

    “To sustain the amenities such as our parks, pools, community services and other infrastructure, we need 10,000 new high-paying jobs in Davis.”

    1. This statement completely neglects to mention the housing and other support needs such as transportation of these 10,000 new individuals and their families and assumes that all of us consider the growth to upwards of 80,000 population at the same time that the university is growing rapidly as desirable.

    2. It completely ignores the triad of judicious use of revenues, taxation to support the amenities that we are choosing, and gradual rather than precipitous growth that many have given at least lip service to as being needed.

    3. The underlying assumption being touted here is that more is necessarily better. Some of us believe that balance and equilibrium are as important as is growth, especially growth in the hopes of “growing out way out of trouble”which as can be seen in many, many communities carries a different set of “troubles” of its own.


    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “I take exception to his presentation of the Chamber’s views as represented in the comments of Mr. Taormino as the “correct” or even a particularly positive vision for Davis due to some very important omissions.”

      That was not my intention

  2. Tia Will

    Sorry for the misrepresentation. I saw the juxtaposition of this quote, “So I thought, rather than cursing the darkness, we would illuminate a way forward to lightness” and the quote from Mr. Taormino as a form of affirmation. 


    1. Grok

      The No on Measure A campaign spent about $20,000

      The Yes on measure A campaign spent about $1/2 Million

      No one should claim the Yes on A campaign lacked the resources to get their message out.

      Measure A was also endorsed by every sitting member of City Council and every City Council Candidate. No one can claim A lacked credible spokespeople.

      The fact is Davis voters did not want the Nishi project. I doubt a better organized Chamber PAC would have made a difference on that election.

      1. Chamber Fan

        They had a paid staff made up of people who were largely students unfamiliar with the community.  The suggestion here would be a community-based group would be more effective than throwing money around on people who could articulate basic concepts like Measure R.

        1. Grok

          While I personally believe the paid Spafford and Lincoln staff was a disaster for the Yes on Measure A side, I don’t think it is fair to say Measure A only had paid staff. I pointed out in my post above they had all of the city council and all of the council candidates backing it. there were letters to the editor and people waiving signs on election day. Measure A had both community members and money. What Measure A lacked was the actual opinion of the majority of Davis voters.

          Another way to put this is you can have a group of organized individuals  trying to influence an election and they may have some effect, but in the end, voters will weigh both sides and decide for themselves.

          The Chamber already tries to influence local politics and decisions so the question is what difference would an incremental increase in Chamber activity have? I think the answer is probably it depends on the issue.


  3. Edison

    David makes some good points, but here’s some other thoughts.  Earlier in my career I worked in government and community for two very active Chambers in large cities.  In both instances, we had active and involved committees comprised of people very committed to the economic health and vitality of both their companies and the cities in which they operated.  They heavily relied, however, on the expertise of the Chamber staff to carry out the time-consuming task of writing position papers. Moreover, they depended on staff to attend and make statements at city commission meetings, city council subcommittee sessions and meetings of the full city councils. We, as staff members, also constantly met one-on-one with council members. Occasionally we’d take a committee chair with us, but for the most part they had businesses to run.

    Many of those meetings entailed sitting in meeting rooms for long hours, sometimes until late at night.  The chamber members simply could not take the necessary time away from their businesses to attend that many meetings. And, in some cases, they did not want the public exposure. Their companies paid dues to the Chamber to represent them at such meetings. In that way, their message was delivered without their individual company being noticed and perhaps being subject to criticism in the media and by the public.

    These experiences may not necessarily equate to the situation of the Davis Chamber, but perhaps may provide some insights as to why the members are not involved to the degree David envisions.

  4. Marina Kalugin

    didn’t have time to read the article, but I would suggest

    1)stop making decisions that adversely affect the downtown.

    2) start actually supporting the old time and better quality businesses in disputes with landlords

    and stop being on the side of only developers and realtors ….oops…that may be hard as likely the majority of the members, and especially the ones who would have time to show up to meetings and vote, are guess who?    developers and realtors, right?

    Is the membership listed somewhere?   along with their job titles?

    The real small business owners cannot afford to spend that much time away from work….it is really 24/7 when you have your own business


    1. Chamber Fan

      Maybe you should read the article, because given the amount of posts you have made, you would have had time to do so and it might have led you to a different comment.

  5. Topcat

    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.”

    I completely disagree with this “need”.  The downtown grid is already facing near gridlock during the day.  Just try driving through downtown during midday to early evening and you’ll have a very slow trip with too many vehicles, lots of bikes and pedestrians at every corner.

    Instead of encouraging more automobile use by building more parking, let’s look at encouraging people to walk, bike, or use transit to visit the downtown.

  6. JosephBiello

    I know that the health of downtown is an issue that is far bigger than a parking structure, but I’m just going to comment on that.

    However, what about a 4 story parking structure at on the south side of 1st at F (where the parking lot is).  What about connecting it to parking south of the tracks with an overpass (can one find a way to incorporate that property on Olive drive)?  This would take cars out of the downtown core – especially those coming into Davis from Richards.  We could also put a parking advisory for downtown with smart meters and the like.  “10 spaces at F st Lot, 20 at 4th St. Lot, parking on E st is full”.      Either post it at the entry to downtown or use a smart phone app.

    Everyone says that “parking downtown is bad” and I disagree.  On Saturdays it IS a pain, but it is not impossible and it is only really on Saturdays (or maybe Friday nights).  The reason people don’t like it is because we are USED to being able to park within 1 block of the business we are frequenting.  However, downtown is small and dense – which means we have to look to a more urban model.   Moreover, if we want to keep it walk/bikeable we have to put the parking on the periphery of downtown.

    When I go downtown on a Saturday I park east of the tracks – it is never a problem and walking the extra block or two is really not a big deal.

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