Six Things I Would Like to See Locally This Year

Today the mayor and top city staff will discuss the challenges and goals facing the city.  Here are five things I would like to see the city take on this year.

Research Park/ World Food Center

In November it was announced that the end of Linda Katehi’s tenure as “chancellor of UC Davis effectively ended efforts to make the university’s World Food Center the centerpiece of a third campus, possibly in Sacramento’s downtown railyard.”

As we noted in November, this gives Davis an opening.  The railyard project of 244 acres is not much bigger than the 200-acre Davis Innovation Center or Mace Ranch Innovation Center projects that are on hold.  And UC Davis’ potential third campus would share space with a giant Kaiser building and an MLS soccer stadium.

With leadership and movement, perhaps the city of Davis could proactively clear the way for the potential billion dollar World Food Center going into one of its own sites – either in a new peripheral spot or in town.  While the city would not generate the revenue from the WFC, the spin-offs and companies working adjacent to the WFC could be a huge boon for the burgeoning ag-tech and food security sectors in this community.

Local leaders have put food security near the top of the list of goals, and ag tech would fit in nicely with the community’s commitment to agricultural land preservation and innovation.

The opportunity has reemerged, but the city has to be nimble enough to jump on it.

Our preliminary discussions with some key actors are encouraging.  While two of the proposed innovation center sites shut down over financing issues, the university funding the WFC at a spot – presumably Mace Ranch Innovation Center – would effectively nullify that concern and act as a magnet for other companies to come.

But this is going to take work, and preliminary indications are that the university is not going to have a new chancellor in place until the fall.  But that gives the city time to lay the groundwork.

Revenue Measure Commitment

We have laid out our concerns about the fiscal sustainability of this community.  Back in 2014, the city council put a sales tax measure on the ballot that helped eliminate a yearly structural deficit.  But the reality is that we have a balanced budget on paper only.  Unfunded liabilities and infrastructure needs are currently accounted for off-budget, but they are growing.

The council was unable to decide on a revenue measure in November 2014, in part due to concerns about polling that showed an uphill battle.  The council also rejected a $50 parcel tax proposed by Brett Lee as a half measure.

The council then in 2016 couldn’t agree on a June ballot measure and never brought forward a November one, perhaps in deference to the school board measure.

Robb Davis posted yesterday, “Two weeks ago after all the reporters went home  we agreed to bring forward a discussion of further tax measures during the first quarter of calendar year 2017.”

That is good.  In our view, make the decision early and then go to step three…

Public Education

In yesterday’s column we issued a call to action.  The first step is going to have to be a robust and intense educational campaign to the community.  Back in 2014, as Steve Pinkerton was leaving the city, he engaged civic groups on the issue of the budget.

What we need is a sustained media campaign where the council articulates the current level of challenges to the public.  The leadership needs to reach out to PTAs, service groups, non-profits, and even faith-based organizations to reach a far broader audience than the normal engaged members of the community.

The message should be simple, it should be fact-based, and it should be framed in terms of choices rather than ultimatums.  Does the public really understand the depths of the problems?  We need to articulate them.

In our view, the city cannot wait for the public to come to them.  They must go to the public.  The Vanguard stands ready to assist, whether it is outreach meetings, forums, or discussion.

The other thing we would suggest is monthly columns from councilmembers and city staff, laying the groundwork for the public engagement.  In our view, the previous mayor missed the opportunity to use his column as something more than a PR puff piece, but that structure could be brought back with more meat and opportunities for engagement.

The council and city have to figure out ways for these discussions to be two-directional.

Soda Tax

I put this separate from the other revenue measures.  The revenue for a soda tax should not go for ongoing city operations, but rather children’s health and education programs.

November finally saw success for several cities around the state and country on this front.

Robb Davis was one of the leaders last year when the measure was belatedly brought forward.

He has called this “the public health crisis of our time,” and in January warned that we have children “whose lives are starting to be taken away by fatty liver disease and the problem of over-consumption of sugary beverages.”

“These are lives lost, these are lives changed, these are families altered in ways that we can’t take back,” he continued.

“The challenge of sugar beverages is quite simple, they’re a delivery mechanism,” he explained. “They deliver fructose to the liver in probably the most efficient means of doing so. Quickly. And rather than being cleared by the liver, that sugar stays there and is turned into fat and that fat and the inhibition of fat burning that goes along with it, means that all the precursors of diabetes, heart disease and coronary artery disease – the genesis is occurring in that location.”

Last February, three members of the city council voted not to put the measure to a vote in Davis.  Councilmember Lucas Frerichs at the time said, “I’m not supportive of the underlying motion this evening.” He said that he is not opposed to the notion of a soda tax, but he was not prepared to support it that night.

A year later, it is time to revisit the issue, especially in light of both electoral and policy successes elsewhere.

Open Government Ordinance

In January 2013 the Vanguard proposed an Open Government Ordinance for Davis.  The Vanguard, now for ten years, has believed that Davis needs to both extend and codify its open government provisions.  However, the city four years ago was not ready to act.

In California, public bodies are primarily subject to two laws.  First, the Brown Act requires provisions for holding open meetings, including noticing of those meetings and providing materials on a timely basis, as well as precluding a majority of the body from conferring in private to make decisions outside of the public light.

On the other hand, the California Public Records Act, weak as it may be, provides that public agencies are required to disclose their documents and inner workings to the public upon specific request.

While these laws set the floor for conduct of the public agency, in most cases they represent only the minimum requirements.  Where exemptions are not specifically exclusive, the agency is entitled to go well above and beyond the requirements of both laws.  This ordinance seeks to, in many cases, maximize transparency and public process.

In the era of digital communications devices, it seems necessary to specify policies and procedures, particularly during council meetings.

Here was the 2013 proposal fleshed out.

Since that time, we have seen the inception of police body worn cameras.  Presently there is no provision in the city’s rules for allowing the public to view these videos.  The current policies would permit their release only in criminal or civil court cases.

At present, the Vanguard is waiting for the next critical incident and then will take the matter to court and allow the courts to grant the direction of transparency.


Last week I wrote the column: On Civility in Dark Times.  As I noted last week, the Vanguard had two previous efforts on the subject: The first is from April 2007 and the second is from August 1 of this year.

The first demonstrates a level of irritation for what was seen as a hypocritical gesture – someone calling for civility when they themselves were seen as part of the problem.  The second is a more reflective piece that noted the improvement of the political tone over the course of ten years on the Vanguard.

The first piece was concerned that civility was used to paper over policy differences – a concern that I think very much remains valid today.  The second noted that there was a turning point in the affairs of Davis – an incident that occurred in January 2010 between then-Councilmember Sue Greenwald and Mayor Ruth Asmundson.

At the city level, the first years of the Vanguard – 2006 to 2010 – saw a number of angry exchanges on the council (with Lamar Heystek staying above the fray as a rule).  That eventually culminated in the public exchange between then-Mayor Ruth Asmundson and Councilmember Sue Greenwald (as captured on the infamous YouTube video by the Vanguard).

The exchange left Ms. Asmundson badly shaken.  While many have seen the YouTube video, few will remember what happened behind the scenes in the lobby when the cameras were off.  I captured that moment in this article, where I was holding my one-month-old daughter in her baby carrier in one hand while I physically had to separate then-City Manager Bill Emlen with my other hand from attacking Sue Greenwald.

The lack of civility that night was in a way far worse than portrayed in the press – because, at that time, I was the only one who saw just how bad it was.

In August I argued that it marked a turning point for our community – but I wonder if it did so in a real way.

I have often lamented that Davis has become ungovernable.  We have planning by exception but, even more so, we have planning by litigation.

At some point, I have argued that Davis will have difficulty maintaining its level of services and infrastructure.  And I argued that a good part of it is due to the culture of incivility where threats, accusations, innuendo and then lawsuits have become part of the daily norm.

I think this is a critical question that we should strongly consider for 2017.

—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. Mark West

    Research Park/ World Food Center – We should be working to minimize the amount of commercial space that the University uses in town, not expanding it. The WFC should be built on University land unless there is a ‘make whole’ provision allowing the City to recover the property taxes for both secured and unsecured property.

    Revenue Measure Commitment – Realistic cost containment needs to come first. If the City is unwilling to control compensation costs any new tax measures will be insufficient and just push off the inevitable insolvency on the next generation. Address the costs issues before attempting to increase taxes again.

    Public Education – Good luck with that. It won’t happen until we have a City Council majority and a City Manager who understand the extent and depth of our fiscal challenges. Clearly, that is not the current situation.

    Soda Tax – A stupid sideshow distraction that should be entitled ‘the public health professional’s full employment act (and ‘feel good’ measure).’

    Open Government Ordinance – If you believe that the Brown Act has improved governance you will love this idea.

    Civility – This is a pendulum problem, with the effort to be ‘civil’ and find ‘consensus’ among all the interested parties resulting in a lack of leadership and nothing getting accomplished. In Davis, it seems that we have forgotten that the goal is to make decisions that address our problems, not simply talk about them (yet again). Sometimes leaders need to be uncivil to get things done.


    1. Richard C

      …Realistic cost containment needs to come first. If the City is unwilling to control compensation costs any new tax measures will be insufficient and just push off the inevitable insolvency on the next generation. Address the costs issues before attempting to increase taxes again.

      Yes, I think that cost containment needs to be at the top of the priority list.  I doubt that the voters will approve more revenue measures unless the Council shows that they can act responsibly in spending city revenues.

      1. David Greenwald

        Agreed – They need to build it into the revenue measure. I think that was a mistake that occurred with the sales tax that led to the employee pay raises.

      2. Tia Will


        unless the Council shows that they can act responsibly in spending city revenues.”

        What specific actions would you consider to be adequate demonstration of responsibility ?  The current council has not done anything to date that I would not have considered “irresponsible” although past councils have certainly done so.


    2. David Greenwald

      Mark –

      Addressing the WFC. I understand your concern here, but the WFC is itself relatively small – observe that the plan was to put it with potentially a Kaiser and MLS stadium at the railyards. While the city would not get the revenue from it – it’s not itself a revenue generator anyway. But it is a way to secure financing for the project and it is a way to be an anchor-tenant that attracts other businesses that will be revenue generators. Realistic tax sharing agreements must be worked out of course, but it shouldn’t be insurmountable.

      1. Mark West

        “the WFC is itself relatively small” 

        Are we looking to solve our fiscal problem, or just keep things relatively functional so we can enjoy the benefits while putting the costs on some future someone’s shoulders? If the former, then we should not accept the University taking up any more of our commercial space.

        “but it is a way to secure financing for the project  ”

        The financing for MRIC would have been available had we approved a mixed-use development, all of which would have been tax paying (and would have helped address the housing problem as well).

        1. David Greenwald

          But if allowing some of the space to go to the WFC makes project viable and passable, then that’s a small tradeoff. The housing issue was a death knell for some.

        2. Howard P

          Actually Mark, I’d go further… pressure UC to vacate the CURRENT commercial and MF properties they own or lease… those are quite extensive…. free it up for other uses…

          I agree that, at a minimum, it should be “thus far, and no farther”…

          I suspect the WFC, if as small as David suggests, could be accommodated with the existing facilities in the City that UCD owns or leases… easily… and the housing could be accommodated within their MF ‘properties’ within the City…

        3. Mark West

          “pressure UC to vacate the CURRENT commercial and MF properties they own or lease… those are quite extensive….”

          I completely agree. Reversing the loss of commercial space (and the resulting loss of property taxes) should be the major focus of any discussions between the City and the University. Just one more example of how the CC’s and CM’s over the past several years have failed to properly manage the City’s resources.


        4. Mark West

          “But if allowing some of the space to go to the WFC makes project viable and passable, then that’s a small tradeoff. The housing issue was a death knell for some.”

          Two bad decisions don’t make one good one (Three if you count the City’s stupid decision to insist on commercial only proposals in the first place).
          We won’t get anywhere if we continue with the attempts to appease those who oppose change. We need more commercial space and we need more housing. A mixed-use project is the ‘smart development’ approach to the problem. What you are proposing is a continuation of the policies that helped get us into this mess in the first place. Again, are you looking for solutions or just a continuation of the status quo?

      2. Jaroslaw Waszczuk


        How  could state  that the WFC is itself relatively small knowing that it was  a two billion dollars projects . Maybe you should make some effort as a journalist to find out what was the reason that this project which was initiated  in 2013 was suddenly killed by UCOP. Do you think that Napolitano did not want Katehi name on  the WFC and killed she killed the project ?

  2. wdf1

    Vanguard:  “Public Education”

    I would use a different title for that section.  A slightly less engaged reader will think you might be talking about Davis public schools.  You’re really talking about the city dialoguing with the public.

  3. Tia Will

    I think that my idea probably belongs under the public education or outreach category as opposed to being a discrete 7th New Year’s wish.

    I would like to see the council members rotate writing a monthly article for publication perhaps in both the Enterprise and the Vanguard on a current issue of their choice. For example, two city council meetings ago, Rochelle Swanson spoke quite eloquently about the importance of public health when she raised the issue of opioid overdose and made a side comment about sugary beverages. Since these issues are of enough importance to her to raise them from the dais, I would encourage her to use her public position to put forth her ideas on how they might be addressed in print. For Robb Davis, the cities economic challenges provide an ongoing issue that he has been addressing over time. Perhaps a quarterly update would present a good forum for public outreach.  Other council members might like to take on environmental or transportation issues.

  4. Alan Miller

    Six things I would really like to see locally this year:

    1. A toad at the east end of the toad tunnel.

    2. DWR remove that mattress that’s been on 2nd Street between K and L for the last half-year.

    3. The Union Pacific Israel-grade railroad fence removed and replaced with a white picket fence.

    4. People in Davis finally letting go of the idea that all bicyclists are going to — someday! — have lights at night.

    5. Nishi back on the ballot – as it was.

    6. Delta of Venus again open for weekend brunch.

    7. Trackside submitting a project that conforms to the Downtown and Traditional Neighborhood Design Guidelines.

    8. A monument erected on the Quad to remind everyone, forever *never again* on the use of violence against non-violent protest.

    9. Connecting the east and west segments of the Putah Creek bikeway through the Rust property just east of I-80.

    10. Redrum Burger go back to Murder Burger, as God intended.

    11. Blondie’s Pizza replaced with Old Soul Coffee, or just bring back the Blue Mango.

    12. The death penalty on the table for anyone who seriously discusses the Woodland-Davis portion of Yolo County Rail Relocation as happening in our lifetimes.

    13. World peace.

    That was six, wasn’t it?

  5. Jaroslaw Waszczuk


    I like No.8

    Katehi and Pike with the pepper spray can in one hand and  hugging each other with the pepper spray can in one hand would looks good on the Quad

  6. Alan Miller

    All painted pepper-spray orange, I’m sure.

    While that might be funny, I am speaking of something that won’t offend, but be a reminder and a lasting link to the real of the history.  I have wanted to start the process on this for years, but had to wait until the Her Majesty was finally forced out.

    1. Jaroslaw Waszczuk

      For sure you will eventually open  the new can with worms. It  would be very difficult to it because the legal settlement-agreement  the protesters signed with the UC administration.  The settlement was approved by  the US Court.  Her Majesty is  covered by the settlement . Write article to DV and let see what kind  echo you will get .

  7. Tia Will

    With regard to #8, we already have a model within our own police department for the civil and appropriate management of peaceful protestors in the form of now Chief Pytel. Somehow memorializing the best practices instead of dwelling on the worst practices of the past would seem appropriate to me.

    1. Alan Miller

      Tia, what are you talking about?  From all accounts, the City police involved as supplemental were reasonable or at least relatively reasonable, and I believe I read somewhere Pytel was exemplary in his actions that day (don’t quote me on that, I can’t remember where I heard it).  It was the campus police, and there, too, Matt Carmichael did a fine job turning the image of the UC police around.

      That isn’t the point.  Let me ask:  would you have believed the pepper spraying would have happened 24 hours before it did?  Of course not.  And the current era of decent relations with UC police is only current.  The point is to remember what went wrong, so it doesn’t happen again.  Memories are short, especially for students.  Someone really ridiculous, potentially lethal, and absolutely wrong happened that day, and that should be memorialized, so we don’t forget.

      Or would you rather we shut down the Holocaust museum and instead support a good German leader and good practices in the German government?  No need to dwell on the past.

  8. Tia Will


    I think that you may have misread my post of 7:25 am. I further believe that where you heard about now Chief Pytel’s actions may have been from me since I have posted about it several times on the Vanguard. The superlative actions of then Officer Pytel on the day of the pepper spraying is exactly what I was alluding to. He is on tape moving peacefully but purposefully through a group of protestors without any use of violence at nearly the same time as then Sgt Pike was pepper spraying the seated peaceful protestors.

    My suggestion is that a memorial focusing on the good that can be achieved when peaceful men ( such as Chief Pytel )demonstrate that violent force is not the equivalent of strength and that strength is often most effective when it is applied gently and calmly as he demonstrated that day.

    I have no idea where the rest of your “questions’ about the Holocaust museum came from as I said nothing at all about the Holocaust or any issue related to it. I rarely comment on anything related to the Holocaust as I am hardly able to wrap my mind around such all encompassing evil and thus have a hard time to even express my horror of that event.

    1. Jaroslaw Waszczuk

       He is on tape moving peacefully but purposefully through a group of protesters without any use of violence at nearly the same time as then Sgt Pike was pepper spraying the seated peaceful protesters.


      He was smart to no get involved into  UC turmoil which was going on since 2009.  Most likely it would cost him  his job or demotion if he would  help Lt. Pike and others .  Pytel is  a Davis local boy . Pike was former Marine defending the UC regime .

  9. Tia Will


    I believe you about the differences in background and perspective that informed their actions that day. I think that this is an excellent example of why would should not be militarizing our domestic police forces.


    1. Jaroslaw Waszczuk


      I agree with you about militarizing the domestic police forces. However , if you take into consideration our discussion about the  prosecutors misconducts in relation to 24 millions felons or about  violence in Chicago than I have a mix feeling whether police shouldn’t be armed from head to toe . So many  guns in the bad guys hands . Theoretically  anybody could be armed while apprehended by police .

  10. Tia Will


    I hear your point. I think that we must be responsive to the actual situations faced by our police. For one extreme comparison, Davis is not Chicago. While it might be reasonable for police in Chicago to go out dressed in body armor daily, I do not believe that the same could be said for Davis.  Most of the country is not “at war” and our police should be addressing the actual local situation, not their worst fears.

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