Mayor Robb Davis presided over a time that will be remembered in part for its turbulence in the wake of the election of Donald Trump and the multitude of protests, the hate incident, the Iman incident, the Gandhi statue controversy, and, of course, the Picnic Day incident.
On the other hand, his council will likely be remembered for tackling a number of big issues, from the passage of Nishi to addressing student housing shortages to starting Community Choice Energy to approving a new police oversight process.
The Vanguard asked Mayor Davis to weigh in on his term as he heads out the door, and he pulled no punches, per his norm on council.
What was your greatest accomplishment while on council?
Robb Davis: No one CC member can claim individual accomplishments since we make decisions together. Few if any of our actions could be called “great.” But, in the past four years we have focused on the nuts and bolts of making the City more fiscally and socially healthy. We have worked to solve longstanding problems related to infrastructure backlogs, housing shortages, and homelessness. In these we have, arguably, made modest progress.
What do you see as the biggest missed opportunity?
Robb Davis: There were many. One could take any of the issues I named in response to question one and point out how we missed opportunities to do more in relation to each one. Others may wish to opine, but I leave with a sense of many things left to do.
How has the council and community changed since you’ve been on the council?
Robb Davis: We seem to be growing older as a community, more change averse, angrier, and more cynical. There is very little celebration of what is good in Davis. I find that sad. Litigation on nearly every project we approve is the norm. It does not feel healthy to me.
Accusations of wrongdoing and that we lack concern for citizens’ needs are an almost daily experience for a council member. We are frequently told that we caused harm to community members. I can’t count the number of times people have accused us of lying or hiding the truth.
Matt Williams publicly accused us of a Brown Act violation and of dishonesty in what we put forward about Nishi. Alan Pryor has stated more than once in public comments and in the Vanguard that we have misled on City fiscal issues (Alan also told me, in front of the entire CC, that I had “sold out the city”). Roberta Millstein referred to the new IPM [Integrated Pest Management] policy process as a “shitshow” on my public FB account (we passed the new policy). Alan, Roberta, and Matt are not just random people—they are sitting commission members. Their accusations and statements have weight. These three examples represent the public voice of what we read in emails and letters from others. It is discouraging because we feel we have been honest, forthcoming, and transparent; that we have paid attention to process.
At a certain point one begins to question whether any effort can suffice.
Despite these things, the CC has managed to work well together to address challenges. Arguably, in our representative democracy, we have done what we were elected to do: try to represent Davis’ citizens to make decisions (collectively) in the long-term interests of the City.
What do you see as the biggest challenge going forward?
Robb Davis: I think the challenges when I arrived on the CC are largely unchanged; proof that change is slow and incremental. I am most concerned about crumbling social capital and increased ideological tribalism that divides not only Republicans and Democrats, but also divides natural allies along smaller, and ever less meaningful, fracture lines. I had hoped to use my skills to bring people in conflict together to solve problems. Sadly, I have witnessed more division, not less. I often wonder what I might have done differently.
What piece of advice would you give to Gloria Partida and Dan Carson as they come on the council?
Robb Davis: Best wishes. In these days of increasingly angry rhetoric, remain calm and civil. Be decent to your colleagues, staff, and community members. Apologize when you need to. Respond truthfully, directly, and with patience. Study the issues and solutions to problems so that your decisions will be informed, and so everyone will know why you voted the way you did.
Most importantly, have hope. Hope is never a fully formed plan, but rather a commitment to walking forward to face challenges directly; believing that in a community like Davis, with our wealth of human, physical, and social resources, we can find solutions to our problems.