It was a packed house on Sunday afternoon to get the first big chance to see all nine of the council candidates in action. The forum at Davis Community Church was hosted by CivEnergy and moderated by former Davis Mayor Ann Evans.
Each candidate was allowed to give an opening and closing comment and then was asked three two-minute questions. The Vanguard will break up those answers into three separate articles.
The second question was: “Share an instance of a city decision-making process that you are familiar with and your evaluation of the effectiveness of that process.”
Larry Guenther went first and responded, “There have been a lot of decisions made in the city since I’ve been here. I think a good process that came up recently was in fact the Lincoln40 project. Whether or not it’s a project you like or don’t like… I think the commissions and their input were well heard.”
He said, “I think also the community input was listened to and was heard. But this took a huge step from the applicant. The applicant had to engage. They had to want to hear the input and they had to want to incorporate that input into the final project.
“Collaborative, community-based project is what I like to see,” Mr. Guenther stated. I think they did a good job and rewarding the good actors, not rewarding the bad actors is a big part of what we can do going forward.”
She responded that “community input is really important in any policy that the city puts forward. I think that the community should be reflected in any decision-making that we do.”
Ms. Partida pointed to the parcel tax decision. “Tax decisions are difficult and they’re difficult for any community – nobody likes to pay taxes but everybody loves the things that are going to come from them,” she said.
She said, “Asking for consultation on the amount that the tax needed to be and also thinking down the road.” Ms. Partida noted that it’s important that the “decisions that we’re making today are not going to be put on the generations that are going to come afterwards.
“I do think that the process was good. I think that they thought carefully about whether or not they were going to pass one or two taxes. I think that decision was really difficult those types of decisions are unpopular. It’s important for the city council to be brave going forward in making those decisions.”
Luis Rios discussed the issue of homelessness. He said, “I think city council needs to be more intentional, more proactive as far as city decision-making goes, we need to do better on certain people who sleep on the street. It doesn’t matter what their issues are – medical treatments, food, shelter, the Davis community really needs to get together on this and have public support so that councilmembers can move forward on this issue.”
He said, “That’s what I want to see… helping our folks that don’t have much.”
Mark West said he wants to talk about “how we create new businesses in town.” He focused on the discussions involving the new hotels that have been approved over the last few years.
What he saw was a process set forward by city staff, “attempting to pick winners and losers.” Mr. West said, “Rather than evaluating a project for its appropriateness for the site, they were comparing different projects to see which one was better and also trying to protect existing properties.”
He said, “We need to move away from this protectionist mindset in picking winners and losers and instead just allow businesses to develop.” He said, “Hotels, we need more of them in this town, we are losing revenue on a daily basis because we don’t have them. The university is this massive generator of desire for hotels and if we don’t have the space, we can put the people all around the region instead of in town and we love the tax money.”
Mr. West explained that in the case of the Hyatt House, “It was a challenging position because – although it was zoned as a commercial property – it was a different kind of business than what was designed to go into the site. That said, the developers were very good at trying to get engagement in the community – their immediate neighbors. And the neighbors for the most part refused to engage. That’s an obstructionists attitude.”
He said the goal was to “prevent projects rather than to be involved in discussing the projects.”
Mr. West concluded: “I want the city to be better and quicker at making decisions. Two years to make a hotel decision is far too long.”
Ezra Beeman discussed the city’s decision to join together with Yolo County and Woodland to launch the Community Choice Energy known as Valley Clean Energy.
He was supportive of this process that “is that one of the first things that was done was to get together a group of experts – of which Davis inordinately blessed (and) some of the people are exceptionally well qualified to advise the city as to the appropriate form and nature of what that program might look like.”
He said, “Another thing that I thought was exemplary was that the city looked to solve a regional opportunity on a regional basis. From the beginning, really looked to craft an organization that was going to be larger than Davis.”
Mr. Beeman explained, “I see this as a potentially excellent source of future revenue and also an instrument to bring energy to the ideals of the Davis community and to drive more sustainable energy in our midst.”
Mary Jo Bryan
Mary Jo Bryan discussed the Sterling project. She said, “That actually brought my attention so much to what Davis needed to center its attention on, and that was planning, planning for the future.”
She said, “The Sterling project came up all of a sudden and we realized that those of us that lived at Rancho Yolo that we had something that we had to deal with across the street from us. I think the main things it brought up was that we weren’t notified properly and learned about it after the fact when it was first coming to the city council.
“That put us behind the eight ball to really start acting aggressively to see what was going on. As the project developed, we were solicited by the developers to support the project. We could not at that moment, it was way out of sorts with the general plan.”
She described five-story buildings with a six-story parking garage. “We didn’t quite know how to react to it,” she said. By the end of the process though, they were asked to work with them to figure out what they could do to make them supportive of the project. “That was going to be a very difficult decision for me, particularly, because it meant the demolition of the Family First campus.”
Finally they did negotiate with the applicants and settled the matter.
Dan Carson also talked about the recent city actions putting the street and parks parcel taxes on the ballot. He said it shows “both the strengths and advantages of the city commission system and the limitations of that system.
“The strengths were our Finance and Budget Commission had passed a series of motions over the last couple of years urging greater accountability over any new tax measures. We got some important provisions,” he explained.
If money gets diverted to other purposes, “the tax rate automatically goes down to zero.” He noted that three commissions can review expenditures before they happen as well as accountability after the fact.
“There’s a limitation to what we were able to achieve,” he said. He said the Commission wanted “a balanced and comprehensive plan for solving the full $8 million fiscal problem the city had.”
He said, “You need someone on that city council with the fiscal expertise – and I have someone in mind – who everyday can be on that dais and make the motions and the change happen.”
Linda Deos explained that she has been in Davis for ten years. She looks at it as a question of how does Davis make its decisions. How does Davis decide how it is going to do development?
She said, “There seems like there’s a lot to it. It seems like there is a lot of public participation. People vote on everything.”
She said about attending the commission meetings and other meetings, “talk about a robust public participation, boy do people show up.”
But she said, “Certain voices are not being heard.”
A plan that goes through commissions, she said, will “oftentimes show up to them as an idea.” She said that often developers ask for ideas about affordable housing or other issues. She said, “Hey developer, how about you come to us with a more fleshed out project so we know exactly what we’re looking at. Because we need to know – we have very expert commissions here.. They want to know.”
Eric Gudz discussed work that he had done while on the Bike Transportation and Street Safety Commission. “One issue that we recently tackled is what we can do as a city to help with the Unitrans budget shortfalls.”
He explained that Unitrans is “running out of funding” and he said “I led the efforts to start up a subcommittee within my commission. We took on the task of trying to provide recommendations that will come forward as specific policy recommendations to our city council.
“This involved conducting research,” he said. This involved doing interviews and talking with folks using the system. “What we ended up doing is producing a report that ended up having specific recommendations calling for granularity on an audit that has being conducted by the university on the Unitrans system to be sure that we weren’t going to be missing that piece.”
It proposed a bunch of pilot projects and recommendations to council.
“All of that together, we were able to tackle that problem to find a more effective way to move the policy down the field. I feel it went very well,” said Mr. Gudz.
—David M. Greenwald reporting