My View: State of the City?

I was looking forward to hearing Robb Davis deliver the State of the City this year – after the last two years of sugar-coating, it seemed time to hear the cold hard truth.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be in order for the Davis Chamber’s January 3 State of the City Luncheon.

Instead, we will get a panel discussion by Mayor Robb Davis, City Manager Dirk Brazil, and Assistant City Managers Kelly Stachowicz and Mike Webb.

As one reader put it: “Again this year I’m put off that city staff – Robb Davis (mayor) and Brazil and Webb and Kelly Stachowicz – will be discussing the State of City, only for taxpayers willing and able to pay $25 to $30  to the Chamber, during the afternoon hours when most people are at work.”

They added, “It doesn’t seem quite right that our taxpayer paid people raise money for this particular group.”

A couple of years ago, the Vanguard asked Mayor Joe Krovoza to deliver a free state of the city to the public at Community Chambers.

I’m less put off and more disappointed that the community is not going to get the unvarnished truth delivered where a majority can hear from the mayor just how bad things actually are.

Nothing against these city staffers who do a fine job, but they are not going to get up there and do what Robb Davis will do – give us the unvarnished truth.

Earlier this month, Mayor Robb Davis told the Vanguard: “The most updated analysis by the City-contracted actuary indicates that even if employee salaries do not grow at all over the next five years, our required pension contributions across all employee groups (police, fire and miscellaneous) will grow by over $4.8 million per year compared to today.”

However, city staff, in an article in the Enterprise, actually downplayed the situation, acknowledging the urgency, but pointing to things like “lump sum” payments which have helped the city keep up with required annual payments into the pension and health benefit funds.

The Enterprise reported, “City staffers, however, remain optimistic in the face of these challenging numbers.”

“Yes, it’s urgent, but we have a plan that’s going to fund what we can … we’re comfortable,” said assistant city manager Kelly Stachowicz.

The paper reports, “As it currently stands, the city is not only keeping up with its annual required payments into the pension and health benefit funds, but was actually able pay an extra $2 million towards retiree healthcare costs in the 2016-2017 budget.”

“That lump sum helps mitigate some of what we might see,” said city budget manager Kelly Fletcher, comparing it to paying a larger-than-usual mortgage payment.

Mayor Davis had a different view, telling the Vanguard “while it is true that we are ‘keeping up’ as things stand currently, the cost of ‘keeping up’ continues to grow and that crowds out funding for other projects our community needs to maintain the level of service citizens expect.

“Something must give,” he said.  “Thus, I am less sanguine than our City staff.  In fact, it is not clear to me at this point how we are going to cover everything over the next five years, given that we are not even covering critical infrastructure backlogs now.”

He concluded, “I believe we must discuss cost containment—broadly writ—and put a revenue measure before the population in the next two years.”

My problem here is that right now what we need is someone to stand up there and deliver the unpleasant truth without sugar-coating it.

For two years, I would argue – and I know some on council disagree with this assessment – we have had a mayor stand up there and tell us that things are getting better and that we are having a Davis renaissance.

The reality is that we have had two years where we have only been able to address infrastructure needs at the margins.  We have failed in two election cycles to get an infrastructure measure on the ballot.  We have lost opportunities on economic development.  And the pension situation is getting worse.

Even where the council has acted – such as the hotel conference center – community voices and lawsuits have delayed and maybe ended the chance for new revenue to come forward.

As such, we are going into a very uncertain future nationally and probably internationally, and we have huge holes in our city revenue structure.

Is that the message that the city manager and assistant city manager will deliver, or are we going to leave this on the shoulders of Mayor Davis to deliver this message?

While the issue of pension cost escalation and the converse – revenue and the need for cost-containment measures – is probably the single biggest issue facing our community from a governance standpoint, it is far from the only challenge.

We have spent over a year now talking about the university’s obligations on housing, but the city of Davis also has obligations to provide housing – particularly rental housing.

One of the priorities that council articulated in its objectives was, “City to continue to pursue consideration of all infill and apartment housing proposals within the City (with emphasis on student oriented housing proposals within 2 miles of campus in order to facilitate ease of access).”

The lack of student housing on campus has put pressure on the city – pushing students into single-family housing units, and thereby pushing other residents aside.

The council, in their letter to Acting Chancellor Ralph Hexter, said that “the City must evaluate it in the context of our commitment to provide for the full range of community housing needs. With the City’s continuous consideration of proposals to meet the wide range of community housing needs.”

The give and take with the university once again illustrates the need for closer collaboration with UCD on a number of issues: housing, transit, use of commercial spaces in the city.  The Vanguard has been pushing for a city-university collaboration on economic development, but that is just one issue.

The city, like many communities, needs to deal more conscientiously with drug and alcohol abuse, and mental illness as root causes of chronic homelessness.

Finally, while some will look to issues like community broadband, I would also point back to the need for local environmental measures and a general strategy to push back against the national political climate, including addressing civility at a local level.

We are putting a lot on the plate of our local leaders – but there is not much choice here.  We must address these issues or be overwhelmed by them.

—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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  1. Nancy Price

    In my opinion, the Mayor’s State of the City address should be given in the evening in the City Council Chambers for the community to attend (for free) and also televised just as city council meetings are.

    Whether or not the City Manager  and other staff should be on a panel, report and/or be available for questions and answers is, I suppose, a matter for discussion. I would prefer to have other members of the council present and, perhaps the chair of the Finance and Budget Commission.

    Materials should be available to the public before such an address and on the city website that clearly represent the issues being reported on, including spread sheets, pie charts, departmental and line item income and expense analysis and projections, the amount of interest paid annually on bonds or other financing and projections of future such funding and interest amounts,  and so forth.

    I would in particular like to have a list of the banks the city does business with and has accounts.



    1. Don Shor

      I think this is a great proposal for a broader budget discussion in a public format. But it doesn’t have to replace the mayor’s approach. What you’re proposing would be incredibly useful, but would probably take a lot longer to provide meaningful information. I would think it would take more than one session.

  2. Don Shor

    I think this is a brilliant format. There has been apparent divergence between the mayor and the staff as to the severity of the city’s condition. Well, they’ll both be right there, and the audience can seek clarification.

    I’d guess this will be taped for broadcast on DCTV.

      1. Alan Miller

        Why, yes!

        I’m currently working on a 30-scene opera, to be played out in 3-minute segments throughout 2017, starting with the January 10th City Council meeting.  I will be playing the fat lady, and when I sing — it is OVER.

        1. Howard P

          Ah… like the times I played Santa Claus… 145 lbs. 6′ 1″… can’t wait to see your “padding” [I needed a LOT!]… a New Year’s treat!

          Best to you, Alan, and yours in 2017… truly…

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