Monday Morning Thoughts: Davis Remains Less Than Progressive

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I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised by the blowback against the Social Services Tax proposal by Mayor Robb Davis, but given Davis’ reputation as a progressive community, you would think the community would be more embracing of a modest-sized tax to fund affordable housing and additional homeless services.

There was also the comment I received during my text messaging exchange on the opposition to the tax proposal: “And Robb’s 50 to fund bringing more non clean non sober addicts to our downtown ?? Crazy  ‘Fund them, they will come’. A veritable field of dreams….”

There is of course also the possibility that what we are hearing from the community represents a vocal minority, and that at the same time a more silent contingent in the community is fully willing to back such a forward-thinking initiative.

Still, I am left to ponder: Is the mayor and by extension the Vanguard out of step with the community on the topics of housing, homeless services, economic development and other issues, or is the community simply fractured and fragmented with a number of voices speaking loudly that perhaps are not representative of the community at large?

This is actually an existential question that the Vanguard has wrestled with since forming.

When I founded the Vanguard, I truly believed that there was a “dark underbelly in Davis” and that if you scratch below the veneer of progressive Davis you end up with something that’s much more reactionary. We have seen this over time play out on a number of issues.

As it turns out, this is nothing new.  In the 1980s, UC Davis sociology professors John and Lyn Lofland called this “lime politics.”  Here in a 1987 publication of political sociology, they argued that the politics in Davis has never been “that” progressive.

In their article they divide progressive thought into “color vocabulary” of red, green and blue.  Red refers to the goals of civil rights, personal freedom, and economic justice.  Green stands for concerns for peace and the environment.  Meanwhile, blue is used (these days probably a little counter-intuitively) to “denote the opposing tendency toward ideological conservatism.”

Davis’s reputation as a progressive city, they argue, “grows out of a more than a dozen years of well-publicized municipal activities.”

In this 1987 publication they consider the 1984 council and district attorney elections (interestingly enough, given the races about to emerge in 2018) and what they find is “a distinctive and distinctively selective variety of local progressivism” that they term “lime politics,” which they contrast with more tradition liberal concerns (they call red) and a newly emerging “green” perspective.

Indeed, in 1984 we saw a battle for DA between longtime Davis activist and former mayor and supervisor Bob Black and David Henderson – the latter would become a longtime district attorney until he was replaced by his deputy Jeff Reisig.

Professors Lofland note that not only did Mr. Black run behind Mr. Henderson, a deputy DA in the rest of Yolo County which was more conservative, he “did not even carry Davis, losing to Henderson 49 to 51 percent.”

With respect to the 1984 city council race, they find: “The revealing facts of the 1984 city council election were the failure of the quintessentially green candidates to win and the widespread appeal of the two candidates who watered down the green ideology into lime.”

The professors therefore conclude that “the political life of the city of Davis, California, progressive political culture is composed almost exclusively of a green orientation.”

They note, as we have using different terminology, that “red” issues like “civil rights and economic justice may find expression in the electorate’s voting patterns at the state and national level, but in terms of local politics, such concerns are muted.”

Twenty years later when I emerged on the scene in 2006, I found a similar breakdown.  The community was very willing to back the first black president of the United States, Barack Obama in 2008, and it remains at the forefront on national issues and recently in opposition to the Trump administration.  For the most part, it has a fairly strong environmental record.

But its record on local civil rights and economic justice on the home front has often been lagging, and at times at odds with its white and upper middle class tilt.  I first noticed this in 2006 when the community largely failed to back people of color pressing for more police oversight, turning a request for civilian review at that time into a quagmire that ended up with the police chief resigning and the Human Relations Commission being disbanded.

The question as of right now is whether things are changing.  The string of national police incidents starting with Ferguson in 2014 and continuing today seem to have shifted the center of gravity on that issue.  The city council seems amenable to civilian review and, while the Picnic Day incident itself has been controversial, the remedy sought at the city level and the discourse around it have been markedly different from 2006.

But there is still a current of opposition to student housing, new affordable housing, and of course to helping the homeless, which seems to bolster the lime politics thesis created 30 years ago.

The question going forward is whether we are seeing more of the same, or the beginning of a new progressive era.

In 1972, Professors Lofland describe the “coalition of university-oriented and self-consciously ‘progressive’ political amateurs (who) wrested control of the city council” from more traditional interests.  They note that in retrospect the shift was not a surprise, as it matched the changing demographics of campus and the town.

But, at the time, they write, “it felt revolutionary.”

We have already seen signs of possible change in Davis. But this revolution would have to happen at the level of the citizens, not the city council itself – which has been far more progressive in the red sense than the voting populace as a whole.

We will see where this community goes on issues like student housing, affordable housing and the like.

I believe there might be a more silent majority that is much more progressive and which simply does not speak out on this stuff.

But those voices need to come out because, far too often, leadership reacts to the loudest voices in the room regardless of whether they are representative of the community as a whole.  And, even if that doesn’t happen, the voters themselves have the capacity to thwart progressive change.

—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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57 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: Davis Remains Less Than Progressive”

  1. Roberta Millstein

    Let’s see.  This article first generalizes one unnamed texter to all of the progressive movement (admitting that such a generalization might be problematic, but it makes it nonetheless).  Then it proceeds to define what progressive “really” is.  Then it proceeds to utterly oversimplify and thus misrepresent recent points of disagreement — who, exactly, is raising  “a current of opposition to student housing, new affordable housing, and of course to helping the homeless”?  No one that I have heard.

    Vanguard, you are not starting off 2018 well.

      1. Roberta Millstein

        It’s a generalization if you are trying to draw a conclusion about today’s views from it: “Davis Remains Less Than Progressive.”  Otherwise you’re just writing an article about how one texter fits in with a supposed trend.

      1. Keith O

        Is it a “dark underbelly in Davis” if people decide that they already pay federal, state and county taxes for homeless services and don’t also want to be one of the few cities in America that have extra parcel taxes for such services especially when we’re being told our homeless problem isn’t as bad as many other surrounding communities.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          The dark underbelly is the notion that beneath the veneer of progressivism, that Davis is beneath the surface on the local level, quite reactionary.

        2. Ron

          Is “reactionary” necessarily the opposite of “progressive”?

          Really, these types of labels are meaningless.  (Except perhaps for folks who incorporate its as part of their identity.)

        3. David Greenwald

          Then forget labels, the question is why the community acts in ways you wouldn’t expect given their expressed political views at a national level

        4. Ron

          O.K. – maybe a better question.  But, not sure that your underlying assumptions are correct.

          For one thing, discussing specific proposals is different than discussing overall values.

  2. Jeff M

    I doubt that anyone can find another small town community in California that is proposing a local tax on existing residents to fund homeless services.  If not being done elsewhere, it is generally a very good bit of evidence that it is not a good idea.

    The other problem here is that Davis has some of the highest-cost city employees in the nation, and hence any program delivered by or managed by the city will suck away a high percentage of the new tax revenue as operating costs.

    In other communities the local businesses collaborate and contribute to help fund services of private non-profits.

    Instead of thinking of yet another tax hit to local residents that will end up just going down the rat-hole of city employee compensation expense, city politicians should be spending their efforts bringing more business to the city.

    1. Tia Will

      Jeff

      If not being done elsewhere, it is generally a very good bit of evidence that it is not a good idea.”

      Surely your contention is not that if something is not being done elsewhere, then it is not a good idea. If this idea held, there would never been any social change, or any engineering, or medical, or legal, or any other kind of change. I would postulate that a small city like Davis is exactly the right type of venue in which to try an idea that is not in widespread usage.

      1. Jeff M

        I think, despite what progressive Davisites believe, not only are they not more knowledgeable on these topics, they are materially much less so.

        Many of these other cities are much more experienced and capable… And so if they are doing something different, it means that Davis is probably doing it wrong.

  3. Ron

    Regarding the proposed social services tax, the goal/specifics of the program must be defined.  For example, is it to fund a new development, specifically aimed at homeless folks?  If so, where would that development be located?  Would funds be sufficient to ensure that any resulting problems within the facility and surrounding neighborhoods are addressed?  Would other services be provided, to help folks achieve independence?

    Is $50/year sufficient to achieve these goals, or might it simply create other problems?

    Providing housing without sufficient support/monitoring is a recipe for failure (and reminds me of federal affordable housing developments, which were by and large – a miserable failure).

    Ironically, we once had a site/facility that might have worked well to provide housing and comprehensive services.  (I’ll refrain from reminding everyone where that was located, and the decision that was made to demolish it.)

     

    1. Ron

      Actually, the “demolished” facility also provides an example of things that can go wrong even when programs appear to be sufficiently funded. (Yes, I realize that it was a different population who occupied that site.)

    2. David Greenwald Post author

      “Regarding the proposed social services tax, the goal/specifics of the program must be defined. ”

      This is the silliness that is going on. People are so eager to attack any proposal that they make statements like this. A parcel tax by law has to be completely defined when it is put on the ballot. So why is this even a point to make?

      1. Ron

        My apologies.  I had mistakenly thought that the Vanguard was a place to discuss such proposals, and perhaps without assumptions being made that a position/opinion was being put forth, other than what was stated.

        And, perhaps without being thrown out of the “Progressive” club (whatever that is), or making assumptions about the color of one’s underbelly.

        Also, not sure of the level of detail that would appear, on the actual ballot.

        1. Ron

          I can assure you that there’s nothing “interesting” about the perceived lack of acknowledgement.

          I don’t exactly recall the level of detail that would be included on a ballot, but I suspect that it’s less than what might be uncovered (in advance) on a blog such as the Vanguard.  (Assuming that one is willing to discuss it, without resorting to defensiveness, name-calling, labeling, etc.)

           

        2. David Greenwald

          “I don’t exactly recall the level of detail that would be included on a ballot”

          Maybe that’s something you should educate yourself on.  Everyone becomes a critic the second a proposal comes forward, what I have found is many of the things people are critical about take care of themselves through the normal process.

        3. Ron

          O.K. – I see that you’re not interested in discussing the specifics, here.  (Or, perhaps they haven’t actually been established, at this point.)

          I guess there’s no point in continuing this thread. I can read ballot information when it’s available, myself. Thanks for the tip.

  4. Ron

    Just wondering – if someone is a “conservative” (or thinks of himself/herself in that manner), does that mean he/she is a “bad person”, in the Vanguard’s view? Perhaps someone who “doesn’t care about others”, is “selfish”, or just an “all-around a-hole”, in the Vanguard’s view?

    Also, what if an otherwise “Progressive” person occasionally sees the value of a more “conservative” point of view? Are they then slipping into the “dark side”?

    Does the Vanguard think that all of the conservative folks (primarily elsewhere in this country) are simply ill-informed, uncaring souls?

    No – I’m not referring to myself with this label.  (Somehow, I feel the “need” to state this, up-front.)  🙂

    1. Ron

      I ask this partly because I’ve occasionally met folks who I suspect are “conservative”, yet sometimes seem kinder and more compassionate than folks who label themselves as “liberals” or “progressives”.  (Sometimes even more open-minded, as well.)

      I guess there’s different types of conservative/liberal views, as well.

      It can be quite harmful and limiting to think of oneself as belonging exclusively to one “tribe”, or another. (Yeah, that goes for how I think of myself, as well.)

    2. David Greenwald

      “– if someone is a “conservative” (or thinks of himself/herself in that manner), does that mean he/she is a “bad person”, in the Vanguard’s view?”

      You’ve missed the point, the target here aren’t conservatives, it’s people ostensibly on the left who doesn’t act that way on local politics.

      1. Tia Will

        Ron and David

        the target here aren’t conservatives, it’s people ostensibly on the left who doesn’t act that way on local politics.”

        I am not sure why the need to identify a “target” population. It is entirely possible for people to hold what are  considered more “conservative” views on some issues and “liberal” views on others. We all acknowledge this when we talk about fiscal conservatives vs social liberals or vice versa. There is nothing strange or baffling about this and to me this view of national vs local “conservative” vs “liberal” is nothing but a subset of what we have always known, people’s ideas don’t always fall into a preordained mold. No surprise there.

        1. Ron

          Tia:  “I am not sure why the need to identify a “target” population.”

          I don’t, either.

          I guess that Davis is referring to “hypocrisy”, but not sure that I see it, here.

        2. Howard P

          “David”, ‘typo’, or “Davis” (5:29 post)… if the latter, the “Municipal Corporation”, the ‘community’, or Robb?

          Just looking for clarity… typos happen… raelly!

        3. Ron

          Yeah – “David”.  Yikes!

          Since David apparently “speaks” for (all?) of the Davis(es), perhaps it was a Freudian slip.  🙂

          Hope that comment doesn’t get me in trouble.

    3. Jeff M

      Since I travel back and forth between red states and blue states, I view it like this.

      The red state neighbor will be directly and consistently critical of your life choices and worldview, but then when you are down sick, will mow your grass and clear the snow off your driveway without you even having to ask for help.

      The blue state neighbor would less likely directly criticize your life choices, but unless you comply with the blue-state worldview they will hold you in contempt… and in any case expect the government to mow your grass and clear your snow when you are down sick.

      It is ironic to me because the media and political narrative is that the red state people are less-tolerant and mean, when I find it to be exactly the opposite.   The red-state people seem much more able to compartmentalize their disagreements while still demonstrating care for the individual living in their community.  The blue-state people are more likely to put people in “good people” vs. “bad people” categories and cause it affect how they treat individuals by their membership in these groups.  They are also less neighborly and more passively-aggressive… and frankly seem to walk around with a chip on their shoulder and an axe to grind.  You won’t find many red-state people protesting, rioting and screaming at the top of their lungs because they are unhappy with the election.

      I have often wondered if higher/lower community population density causes some of this difference, or if people attracted to urban life are already more wired this way.

      With respect to housing shortages and development/land-use restrictions, it is highly attributable to more liberal areas of the country.

      But liberals in these communities that block change are aided by conservatives.  It is more general change-aversion, or voting to keep property values high.  Virginia Postrel wrote the book “The Future and Its Enemies” and she does a good job breaking it down into two general groups of people… one that are dynamists and see more positive in growth and change… and those that more connected to stasism… seeing more negative outcomes for growth and change.

      Of course this is an over generalization because few people are 100% supportive of every proposal for growth and change, and there are also few that are against all growth and change.  But the term dynamism as used by Postrel isn’t so much an opposite of stasism, nor is it any argument against the risks inherent in change… in fact, people more connected with dynamism could completely agree with those connected to stasism as to the level of risk for a certain change… dynamism is more a mindset of wanting to create and nurture opportunities though growth and change.  A dynamist is more comfortable in a system of change that might otherwise seem to too chaotic and too uncontrolled to someone with a stasism mindset.  A dymanist would be happy with a broad framework of guidelines to support change decision.  A stasis would want all the details nailed down, and then probably still balk at supporting the change.  A dynamist would see a too detailed and too slow decision process as mistakes that eliminate opportunities.  A stasis would be happy that change decisions are delayed and stalled seeing it as a win preventing negative outcomes.

      Davis is filled with liberals and many of them demonstrate a mindset of stasism.  But there are conservatives too in that mix of stasis people.

      Where I like to poke stasis folk is to remind them that a decision to do nothing is still a decision fraught with risk.  And missing out on opportunities is just another negative outcome.

      1. Howard P

        Although generalized,

        The red state neighbor will be directly and consistently critical of your life choices and worldview, but then when you are down sick, will mow your grass and clear the snow off your driveway without you even having to ask for help.

        that resonates with my experiences as well… not universal, by any means, but if one substitutes the words “conservative” for ‘red state’, and “liberal” for ‘blue state’, it fits with my life experiences… a “conservative” will tend to not wish to pay one cent for ‘charity’, but will ‘give their all’ for a neighbor in need… many “liberals” tends to want to have society fully fund their neighbor’s problems by others, but not lift one finger to directly help their neighbor, personally.

        Those of us who are neither conservative nor liberal, tend to act on behalf of their ‘neighbor’, and support contributions, themselves, to others’ neighbors… and we care little about life choices, except to steer those who made poor ones, to potentially better ones…  but we don’t show up for CC or “citizen committee” meetings… too busy ‘taking care of business’… and tending to ours and our ‘neighbors’.

      2. Dave Hart

        I think what we are discussing here is the phenomena of people who are labelled conservative more often see a solution or a problem in personal terms.  They may be willing to help a neighbor on a personal level, but unwilling to grant government the authority to do the same thing.  “I don’t know who all these homeless people are.  They probably brought their misfortune upon themselves.  My neighbor, however, who I know and interact with is basically a “good guy” and just needs whatever help I can manage.”  There is also truth in the generalization that politically liberal people find government assistance preferable to taking a direct role.  “Whether or not I know these people who are destitute, it doesn’t really matter because their predicament is structural and therefore can only be remedied by public policy, not individual charity.”

        Both points of view can be seen as simultaneously uncaring and neighborly under different circumstances.  Conservatives help their individual neighbors, liberals provide public assistance to anyone who comes along.  It seems the only point that unites these points of view is fear.  Fear of the forces that keep generating ever larger numbers of homeless and destitute.  Fear that this is the future for us all after we’re taxed out of our homes.  And of course, we’re both right and both wrong as can be.

        I think there is a general sense that a local tax amounts to an elevated form of personal charity that will prove to be ineffective long term.  Larger municipalities and counties can get away with it due to relative size because there is a belief that it might be at least partially effective.  The economy of scale leaves many in smaller towns feeling that this is the same as pissing into the wind.  So the proposal would have to be highly targeted and highly specific to create the momentum of success.  If people think it will be successful, they will support it.  I don’t know if that is progressive or conservative, but it does make common sense.

  5. Alan Miller

    There is of course also the possibility that what we are hearing from the community represents a vocal minority, and that at the same time a more silent contingent in the community is fully willing to back such a forward-thinking initiative.

    It’s also possible that what we are hearing from a local blog author represents a vocal minority, and that at the same time a more silent contingent in the community . . .

  6. Tia Will

    Jeff M

    Having lived in both “red” and “blue” states, I have a very different perspective.  I have known “liberals” and “conservatives” who would bend over backwards to help an individual in need and others in both groups who would not “give you the time of day”. What I see as perhaps a greater differentiating factor is familiarity. To paraphrase JD Vance in Hillbilly Elegy, describing the small rural community in which he was raised, “we don’t like people who don’t look like us, don’t think like us, and most of all, don’t talk like us”. I have found this to be an apt description of people in the four states I have lived in and both rural and urban settings. But it only seems to last until one is “known” at which time people tend to warm up and extend themselves. I honestly do not believe it has anything to do with political stereotyping, but much more to do with insider vs outsider status.

    1. Howard P

      Different words, but good points…

       I have known “liberals” and “conservatives” who would bend over backwards to help an individual in need and others in both groups who would not “give you the time of day”.

      Truly spoken/written… labels are a form of stereotyping.  People are people.  Some very good, some not so much so…

  7. Robert Canning

    Whatever happened to using one’s full name on the Vanguard? Seems like the policy was changed but nobody except a few folks use their full names.

    1. Alan Miller

      Whatever happened to using one’s full name on the Vanguard? Seems like the policy was changed but nobody except a few folks use their full names.

      So true RC.  The Vanguard pre-the-change had a so-much-more-interesting comments section.  I was looking at some old comments sections from long ago, and the current comments section is so much less interesting, and there really weren’t any less anonymous people, with all the single letter last names as at current.  Sometimes the solution is worse then the problem it was set out to cure.

        1. Alan Miller

          Wow, everyone takes everything so personally around here.

          Point was about the V policy, not about you.

          I’m advocating for things as they were.

          You were there.

          And you were there. And you were there.

          It wasn’t a dream, Auntie M

      1. John Hobbs

        “Whatever happened to using one’s full name on the Vanguard? Seems like the policy was changed but nobody except a few folks use their full names.”

        “and there really weren’t any less anonymous people, with all the single letter last names as at current.  Sometimes the solution is worse then the problem it was set out to cure.”

        The immoderate moderation makes the Vanguard comments section the Ron, Don, Howard and David show most days. While we have David’s word that Ron is a real person and not just a sock puppet or shill and Howard is pretty much the same guy as always, the moderators deference to the anonymous is glaring. Anonymity is apparently granted based on some arcane criteria and imbues the recipient with immunity from the moderator’s wrath.

        I frequently don’t comment on an article because I know the moderator will censor the relevant or humorous parts.

        I have considered creating a sock puppet account and posing as a semi-literate fugitive from justice, just so my comments are posted.

        The old Vanguard was more interesting and the pool of commenters vastly more diverse, but a number of us predicted the results of “improving” the comment section.

        Moderator: Feel free to justify your existence and chide us for questioning your practices.

        Personally, instead of a moderator, I think I’d hire an editor who was familiar with modern usage and grammar, maybe even  owned an AP style book.

        1. Howard P

          For whatever it’s worth (which would not be much, coming from me) the primary moderator, (Don as I understand it) also fully knows my identity and background.  So, since I cannot comfortably post under my full name, will take that as another vote for me to exit.  Acknowledged…

          Don, David, and I sometimes check in “off-line”, as it were…we are very different in ‘bents’ and opinions…

        2. Howard P

          BTW, suspect Keith will be offended if you don’t acknowledge him as a “frequent flyer”… semi-anonymously… but will leave it to him to challenge, if he wishes to…

    1. Howard P

      Sharla, and others…

      I have reasons that I either need to never post, or use one of my names and initial… has to do with employment.  David had the reasons explained to him, and allowed it.  If he chooses to require full given names, fine.  I’ll just watch from the sidelines.

      Haven’t tried to take advantage of semi-anonymity, nor intend to… there are at least six regulars who know exactly who I am, and my background.  Don and David are two of those who know exactly who I am… they know my ‘associations’, and I speak from my gut (right or wrong), and am not a ‘surrogate’ for any other … not all in my ‘status’ can credibly say that…

      I’ll leave it to David.

      [and one of the rules is I am held to a higher/stricter standard than full name posters… been reminded of that a few times…

    2. Dave Hart

      It may be true that the comments are more “boring” these days, just as dialogue or conversations between adults seems boring to 13-year-old boys who like to punch each other in the arm.

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