Monday Morning Thoughts: Davis Will Have to Go Back to the Drawing Board on Roads

Overall, when we evaluate the last council and the past four years, I think this council deserves a lot of credit for tackling and “solving” some of the big issues before it.  Whether it was transitioning to Community Choice Energy and legalized cannabis dispensaries, putting in place a new fiscal model to help them identify long-term budget shortcomings, addressing the issue of police oversight in the wake of the Picnic Day incident, or finally getting the approval of Nishi to really alleviate the student housing crisis, this council has a very good track record of success in a relatively short period of time.

Two areas where I think it falls short is addressing the needs of the roads and economic development.  That is not to say that the council is to “blame” for these shortcomings, as some of it was clearly beyond their control, but in the end, we judge based on what gets done and what doesn’t – and there remains some need in both areas.

For the purposes of this analysis, I am going to assume that the results for both Measures H and I will hold up – and, frankly, it is hard to imagine that voting patterns will shift enough to change the outcome measurably.

The voters in Davis overwhelmingly voted to renew the parks tax by a 72.5 to 27.5 margin.  That is not surprising, as Measure H really was a plain renewal of the $49 a year tax that funds a portion of our parks.  The two new features, a 20-year time horizon and a CPI (Consumer Price Index) inflator, are not seen as huge deal breakers or changes, and so nearly three-quarters of the voters were willing to renew it.

However, the roads tax, while it received a majority vote, fell well shy of the required two-thirds vote needed.  To put that into perspective, to get two-thirds of the vote, it needed 7221 votes but received 6106 votes.  That left it, at current count, 1115 votes shy of the two-thirds vote.  That’s not a close call, even though by most measures, 56.7 percent of the vote is solid.

That puts the city in a further bind.

As Brett Lee explained during the public forum, the city has a robust financial model which recognizes we have an ongoing shortfall.  “The financial experts have told us that we are short on an ongoing basis by about $8 million a year,” he said.  This is projected out over 20 years.  The city has made some expenditures, “but nowhere near what is needed.”

The council discussed options for addressing that, “and what we arrived at is that it would be reasonable for the public to help the city cut that gap in half.”

The council asked the voters to come up with $4 million in revenue as “the council looks for about $4 million in savings per year or enhanced revenue to equal that four million dollars per year.”

Dan Carson on election day explained, “The street and roads tax would have solved $3 million of that $8 million problem.  So if it fails, as it now seems to be doing, we still have an $8 million a year problem to deal with.  It’s still doable, but we’ll have our work cut out for us.”

That will clearly be a job for the new council to tackle.

From my perspective, there were several mistakes made here with this tax.

First, the council decided to put two measures on the ballot at once.  That almost invited people to pick one rather than both.  They naturally voted for the less expensive parks tax, which was a renewal, rather than the new $99 roads tax.

Second, had the council put a Utility User Tax or another majority tax on the ballot, we might not be having the discussion.  A clear majority supported Measure I, but it was just well short of the supermajority needed for passage.

Instead, the council appears to have missed the window for a general tax – which can only come during a council election.

The next chance for a parcel tax would be this fall, but the school district is likely to have at least a facilities bond if not a voter-inspired parcel tax.  Moreover, they would have to vote in the next month or so to put it on for November and that doesn’t seem to be in the works.

Finally, I would argue that the city ran a very low key campaign when they needed to run a much more robust campaign.  This might work for the parks, but the council needed to actually sell the voters on a tax.  They needed to run a campaign like they did in 2013 for the water project, with a professional consultant and plan of attack.  Instead, it was an almost invisible effort and the result was predictable.

I think it is important for folks to remember that the cost of roads goes up each time we fail to address the backlog.  And it goes up fairly rapidly.  Right now we are addressing, at most, half of our annual road repair needs each year, which means that the costs for the other half go up precipitously.

It would be valuable for the city to do those calculations and lay out the cost.  They probably should have done this for the last election as well.

We indeed have our work cut out for us here.  We’ll see what the next council decides to do.

—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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  1. Howard P

    Well, you have expressed one theory, about having two measures, and the new one failed… overheard some voters commenting that they were going to vote against I, to make it more likely that a school measure wouldn’t fail in November.  No idea how prevalent that sentiment was…

      1. Howard P

        True.   Not my opinion, but one held by many, including some ‘frequent flyers’ here…

        That point does not bode well for a DJUSD measure…

          1. David Greenwald

            That’s not completely true. Polling before hand will determine the course of action taken by a given body.

        1. David Greenwald

          You’re leaving out the fact that there are multiple decisions to be made during the course of this.  The first question is whether to put something on the ballot.  The second is how much it should be.  The third is the one made by the voters – approve or disapprove.  You comment only addresses part three, but ignores parts one and two which are also important.

        2. Howard P

          And, yes, David, the only poll that matters comes on election day… completely, totally true... unless you mean that polls govern “sheep” or “lemming” voters… if either are true, we’re in deep”trouble”… if folk vote to “be winners” in the guess (or ‘the line’ as they say in Vegas) on outcomes, I’d advocate to kiss democracy goodbye…

        1. Jim Hoch

          Brett has proposed a utility tax and there was some messaging about the clean energy alliance and not confusing people. I’m not sure how much of that was true or how much was a cover for not wanting to do it anyway. Your thoughts?

    1. Alan Miller

      > overheard some voters commenting that they were going to vote against I, to make it more likely that a school measure wouldn’t fail in November.

      So kids bicycling to their shiny new school will be sucked into crevasses in the road.  Oh, yeah, kids don’t bike to school anymore, they are driven in SVUs, so you’re alright, kids.

  2. Matt Williams

    The first step in that “back to the drawing board” process will happen tonight at the Finance and Budget Commission discussion of the Proposed Budget.  The packet (see ) contains the following information, which is focused on creating a community dialogue about our community priorities and the tradeoffs that we need to face in order to have the money needed to fix the roads.

    Fiscal Stability is a three-legged stool, with Economic Development as one leg, Taxes as a second leg, and Cost Containment as a third leg.  In the last two June elections, the Davis voters have said not to expect any near-term contribution to fiscal stability from Economic Development.  On Tuesday the Davis voters said not to expect any incremental contribution to fiscal stability from Parcel Taxes.  That means our current situation realistically places all the burden of fiscal stability on the shoulders of Cost Containment.
    Councilmember Robb Davis raised the issue of Cost Containment on February 2, 2016 (see VIDEO LINK beginning @ 4:15:25 and Attachment C), and subsequently proposed creation of a Cost Containment Taskforce to look closely at strategies and tactics for making real progress in containing costs. Unfortunately, his efforts died without receiving a second from any of the other Council members. 

    That makes it very clear that the citizens and taxpayers need to let the Council members know that actively discussing and addressing Cost Containment is important.  The failure of Measure I at the polls on Tuesday should be seen as just such a message.  The role of the Finance and Budget Commission is providing fiscal advice, rather than providing political pressure, so the recommendations provided herein are carefully constructed as fiscal advice, with particular focus on:

    — Greater (overall) accountability for how funds are spent, and
    — Greater involvement, engagement and understanding of the Davis citizenry with the fiscal challenges our community faces

    At the April FBC meeting Michelle Weiss moved, with a second by Matt Williams, to direct the Efficiency, Cost Containment & Fund Balance Subcommittee to come up with a plan for cost containment and enterprise funds borrowing and bring back to FBC.


    The failure at the polls of Measure I has increased both the immediacy and the urgency of the City’s fiscal challenges.  As a result, the Finance and Budget Commission recommends that City Council take proactive steps to accomplish the following:

    1)    Direct the City Manager to direct all City Departments to assemble a “90% Budget” identifying where they would;
    __ a.     Reduce the costs of their Department by 10% from the FY 2018-2019 Budget, and
    __ b.     Identify any services currently delivered by their Department that would be impacted by their proposed cuts
    __ c.     Present their 90% Budget to the City Manager, so that the City Manager can present the consolidated 90% Budget to City Council before the end of the First Quarter of FY 2018-2019. 

    2)    Take immediate steps to create a Cost Containment Taskforce, the goal of which will be to:

    __ a.     Substantially increase citizen/taxpayer/voter involvement and awareness of the City’s costs of delivering current City services,
    __ b.     Create a community dialogue regarding the tradeoffs between the Proposed FY 2018-2019 Budget (the 100% Budget) and the 90% Budget created by the Departments.
    __ c.     Create a community dialogue about how best to spend the approximately $6 million per year difference between the 90% Budget and the 100% Budget.  For example, should the $6 million be spent,

                                                   i.     Retaining/continuing some (or all) of the services the Departments have identified as impacted (reduced or eliminated) by the 10% cuts in the 90% Budget, or
                                                 ii.     Addressing the $7.8 million Budget Shortfall in Capital Infrastructure Maintenance.
    __ d.     Use the items contained in Attachment A and Attachment C as a beginning point for creation of the Taskforce Mission and Goals.
    3)    Take immediate steps to update the Council Goals as formally recommended by the Finance and Budget Commission by unanimous formal motion adoption on February 13, 2017.  The recommended Updated Goals are included herein as Attachment D

    1. Howard P

      You forgot 2. c. iii: “gift” all the money to DJUSD (“it’s for the kids”, and will boost DJUSD compensation)… but we’ll still be asked to vote for a new DJUSD levy to “support the kids”.  Fine.

      If DJUSD is concerned about their deferred maintenance, we should be asked/expected to fully fund that, in addition, because “it is for the kids”.  Last thing we should expect of DJUSD to do, to fund deferred maintenance, is to have them look at having a task force for cost containment asking DJUSD to produce a “90% budget”.  No way they should be subjected to what is proposed to be asked of the City.  That would just be wrong!

      Anyone who would not support ANY levy DJUSD seeks is a lowly miser!

      1. Howard P

        The third option (econ devel?) is not under our control…  but you are ironic… you say you are not a mind-reader… appears you think we should be… your post is, at best, cryptic… what the hell is the third option?  ‘Divine intervention’?

        Tax measures, cost containment we can control… econ develop is a wish and a prayer…

        1. Howard P

          To that purpose, we could pump the toxic air from the Nishi site to Davis seniors, who have locked in the Prop 13 prop tax rates, and the City could get to have free housing to sell (100% profit), at higher property tax rates!  Think you have a winner there, Jim… except of course mobile homes, which should be just “nuked”, right?  And recycled to 6 story MF housing… we could use the irradiated air to add to the Nishi fumes… great idea!

          And if we enclosed the freeways as Tod has suggested, we could divert more toxic air towards seniors!

        2. Mark West

          “Tax measures, cost containment we can control… econ develop is a wish and a prayer…”

          In 1992 the City formed a task force on Economic Development. The plan put forward as a result would have made a significant positive impact on the City’s fiscal health, but it was never fully implemented. Economic development does not take a ‘wish and a prayer,’ it takes a willingness to follow through with our planning. Economic development and cost containment should be the first options we consider, not afterthoughts once a tax measure is voted down.

        3. Alan Miller

          > A new campaign “bequeath your house to the city” along with an aggressive euthanasia outreach?

          Very dark.  Nice.  I approve — (of the humor, not actually killing people).

        4. Jeff M

          Economic development and cost containment should be the first options we consider, not afterthoughts once a tax measure is voted down.

          This is the key and why I did not include economic development.

          There was work done years ago to derive that a 200 acre business park when fully operational should provide the city about $10M net in additional annual revenue.

          With our mini ~$50M per year general fund budget (compared to Palo Alto’s $160M per year annual general fund budget) you can make a case that Davis should have 1000 acres of new business/commercial space developed to support our existing population.  Conceivably we would then have a $100M per year general fund budget and pristine roads and bike paths.

          But we would also need more housing even as Davis would end up with more people living and working in the same community instead of today’s thousands commuting outside of Davis to and from their jobs.  And then there is Measure R and the proof that Davis cannot approve any significant commercial peripheral project… but we can approve affordable housing as it is a social justice issue now.

          So the problem is that we will end up with minimal new commercial/business/innovation/economic development… development… and more housing which over the long-term tends to cost the city more than it brings in tax revenue.

          The voters just made it clear that they will not continue to tax themselves more to pay for roads and bike paths.

          So clearly we have this choice of well-maintained roads and bike paths or over-compensated city employees.

          Just pick one.

    1. Howard P

      So, what should City employees salaries be? Pensions (or none)? Benefits (or none)?

      What is your vision?  You must have a ‘concept’, as you bring the theme up often…

      1. Jeff M

        City employees should all be on defined contribution retirement plans, and share more of the cost of their healthcare… especially in consideration of their retirement healthcare benefits.

        We should increase the retirement age.

        We should reduce the vacation, sick leave and paid holiday benefits.

        We should outsource more city functions in joint-powers agreements.

        We should streamline city functions with more self-service options for residents.

        We should have a goal of increasing the number of residents per city employee over the next 10 years… which means some reduction in staff… especially highly compensated managers.

        We should give no more COLA increases for the next 4-5 years and instead implement a performance bonus program that measures customer service satisfaction and rewards employees that score well.  We should keep that in place and increase the potential reward every year by the COLA adjustment.

  3. Todd Edelman

    I am a member of the Bicycling, Transportation and Street Safety Commission. I’m obviously unhappy that the majority’s wishes weren’t honored due to the requirements for a parcel tax (um, curious if they have similar in places with similar or rapidly-improving road infrastructure.) I’d feel better, or bitter or worse – who knows? – if I’d actually gotten more involved, beyond producing obvious, timeless gems such as “if drivers found that their cars we nearly getting knocked over by potholes, there’d be a riot” (Depending on my audience, I’d alternate the result as “we’d find the City Council hanging from the trees in front of City Hall…”).

    But… yeah: Based on what might be low relative turnout amongst university students who can vote in Davis because they actually live in the formal part of Davis, combined with junior high school kids, it’s perfectly local-growingly obvious that the people most threatened by the dynamically-horrid conditions of our road (and path) infrastructure are those who didn’t or who can’t vote here. Seriously: Boom, voila, !!!, etc. These two groups carrying the bulk of bicycling modal share in Davis aren’t the ones who voted on “I”. Despite that, it still had majority support.

    I have no idea what can happen with a Measure I 2.0, where we remove the philosophical access from Richards – so to speak* – but my personal preference for the after-November DJUSD parcel tax is that it’s about funding a school bus program for kids – primarily 4th grade and lower – who don’t attend their local school.

    My personal – hopefully not always so personal – preference is that we instead toll the Causeway!

    + The Metropolitan Transportation Commission – MTC – raises lotsa money for transit projects in Solano County and the whole Bay Area – from the multiple bridges it manages;

    + There is no technical barrier to tolling all the lanes (confirmed at the Caltrans open house about I-80 last week.);

    + Except for the Bay Bridge East Span, all of the bridges are more or less paid off. Is it justified that the eastern part of the Bay-Delta Supercounty can raise funding for transit through fees on automobile movement on its highways only because it has bridges (i.e. few alternatives for alternate routes by car)? No way!;

    + Earlier I’d proposed that raised funds could just go to Davis, but that makes little sense since it’d be hard to have more than one toll (or similar: I doubt that Sacramento is considering a congestion charge?) in the SACOG area. So, money raised would go to all SACOG counties, at least the ones which “host” I-80. I don’t know how this would be split: Perhaps make it based on how many people live within a particular distance of the highway? On need? On the proportion of its residence that live within that distance?;

    + But yeah, transit: Transit. Transit is not only buses (school buses, trains and trams, etc.) these days; it’s that and their support/feeder network and also “last mile solutions”, such as bicycle infrastructure, high-quality bike parking, bike share, carshare or local self-driving shuttles. Plus a cautious amount to support Park & Ride for cars. So it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to justify this holistic transit network as what would benefit from the Causeway Toll;

    + If there is $4 net from a $5 toll on 50% (peak) of the total (current-ish) 120,000 or so daily transits of I-80 from east to west, $87.6 million could be raised every year. That’s almost 30 times what Measure I would have raised. Even if 1/5 of this went to Davis itself, it’s be huge;

    + Would this require an initiative process or could it be done by Council vote? (In all SACOG cities.);

    + There would be bulk discounts, lower-income driver discounts, possibly local-resident discounts and we’d make sure that the Toll is not so high that it encourages people to take 5 to 113 to head west from Sac.

    – Todd, Davis Loving Leftists with Good Analysis and Even Better Solutions.

    * I am not sure what this means. Maybe it means that the beneficiary projects of the next Measure I-type initiative would be different. 

    1. Alan Miller

      “we’d find the City Council hanging from the trees in front of City Hall…”

      The current City Council, future City Council, or past Councils?  With the suggestion of such harsh punishment, one must make sure blame is properly assigned.

    2. Jim Hoch

      You will then officially join “the 1%” because 99% will not prioritize buses. I admit I may have overstated the support for buses in preference to other educational initiatives but possibly it could hit 1%.

      “but my personal preference for the after-November DJUSD parcel tax is that it’s about funding a school bus program for kids”

  4. Ken A

    It looks like people are planning on the roads getting worse with SUV and Crossover sales booming (even Porsche now sells more SUVs than cars)  and bikes with suspensions outselling old school hard tail stiff fork road bikes.  I took my 30 year old (all steel) road bike out for the first time in a while this weekend and it sure is a rough ride compared to my full suspension mountain bike and titanium frame bike.  As I was on one of the asphalt tree lined Davis bike paths I bouncing over the root bumps every few feet I was thinking that if the city had talked to Don (on anyone else that has ever planted a tree or done any landscaping) they would have been told that the roots will get bigger and push the asphalt up (at least the city was smarter than a friend and didn’t plant bamboo next to the bike paths since it can actually grow “through” asphalt)…

    P.S. I’m wondering if we ever get the I80 toll plaza built if Todd will want his name on it

    1. Todd Edelman

      Ken A. : There would be no

      Tolp Laza

      It is not necessary. The only plaza-ble outcome would be a larger one than is what’s currently in the inside of the block between E and F and 2nd and 3rd, which people lovingly access via multiple modes, including the privatized motorized conveyance, parked peripherally yet walkably, or via a frequently-operating self-driving shuttle on a fixed route, such as is already being worked on here-like.


  5. Robb Davis

    Some responses to what I see here:

    1. We cannot talk about cost containment without talking about where real (not theoretical) cuts would come from.  An honest community conversation would be about what programs can be reduced or cut since the bulk of what is driving our fiscal challenges is compensation (more on that below).  So, the main subsidized programs (subsidized by tax dollars) involve summer programs, various partner groups, and field use.  So, we could eliminate subsidies and staff if we cut summer programs. We could cut police or fire staff.   We could outsource all parks work.  We could close parks (and redevelop the land.  We could close (permanently) pools.  Who will stand up and advocate for any of the above?

    2. On compensation.  Anyone who continues to believe that the City government can unilaterally cut retiree benefits, or change from defined benefit to defined contribution plans, is not speaking about reality.  The benefits we pay are hard wired in based on decisions made years ago.  You want to reduce compensation?  Cut staff.  Cut a lot of staff.  See point 1 above.

    3. Opponents of Measure I made it all about “trust”.  Can anyone imagine the response if we had floated a general tax in which we CANNOT specify the use ahead of time.  Bait and switch arguments would have proliferated.  And which utilities should we keep in or remove?  Everyone had their own pets and their own sacrificial lambs.  We followed the FBC’s recommendation to make any tax proposals be special taxes to increase accountability.

    I will defend this and the previous CC for making transparency a priority.  Our insistence of reserve analyses, a robust fiscal model, and clarity around community needs are all exactly what local government is supposed to be about.  We have told the truth about the challenges in multiple hearings on reserve needs, PCI and our fiscal model. At the end of the day people have to decide if they want to pay.  In this case the majority—a strong majority—said “yes” we will pay.  The reality of Prop 13 and attendant constitutional changes prevent the majority from prevailing in this case.  So be it.  We need to go back to the drawing board, but I reject the notion that something is fundamentally broken here.  Bring me a coalition that is willing to talk about REAL cuts, rather than theoretical exercises in 10% across the board cuts (I have no idea what that even means—it certainly has nothing to do with how cities or businesses are run), and I will work with them to help bring about change.

    1. Mark West

      “We cannot talk about cost containment without talking about where real (not theoretical) cuts would come from.”

      Before talking about what services to cut, we should first determine if the services need to be provided by City employees with their defined-benefit pensions and other benefits. For instance, we have outsourced much of our park and tree maintenance efforts to private companies, and have formed a JPA to manage our surface water project, in both cases reducing our long-term pension and healthcare obligations. Are there other areas where we may make similar efforts?

      The reality is that we have delayed and deferred making the difficult decisions for so long that we may now have no other option but to cut services, but if that is true, it only demonstrates again just how poorly the City has been managed over the past decade or more. I know that Robb wanted to have these discussions when he was first elected but never was able to get a motion to do so seconded. Maybe it is time we ask Brett, Lucas, and Will when they are going to get serious about implementing sound City management (instead of just talking about it)?

    2. Jeff M

      Bring me a coalition that is willing to talk about REAL cuts, rather than theoretical exercises in 10% across the board cuts (I have no idea what that even means—it certainly has nothing to do with how cities or businesses are run), and I will work with them to help bring about change.

      Having decades of corporate experience managing multi-million dollar budgets where almost every year I was told I had to figure out a way to do more with less and would always succeed, I clearly see “impossible” being conflated with “difficult, gut-retching, requirements of leadership”.

      Because City Council members are part-time workers in their role, and especially in this government-business company town they would suffer a tremendous drop in likeability having to do this hard work implementing change to do more with less, it is easier to just throw up their hands as being tied to the old tricks of the Democrat-public-sector-union pay-for-play system.

      The problem with a coalition is that even those with their fingers and toes connected to city business, is that only insiders can develop a workable plan.  There are too many variables and moving pieces to build an effective new model unless you are working within the old model…. or you have the authority to crack open the brains of people working there to have them spill the beans… or else.   Note that the city employees working in the old model are motivated to keep it that way and will not cooperate without leadership with capability and authority to cause them to support the effort for change.

      In the real world, this responsibility goes to the senior operational management.   The council would perform as the board of directors.  The council should hire a city manager given the charge to figure out a way to do more with less.  That would probably be a 5-year gig as the labor unions would be out to take this person out, and in our government-business company town there would be lots of voters supporting this taking out.

      Sometimes we call this a turn-around specialist.

  6. Matt Williams

    Given the spirited dialogue above, I fully expect to see a large turnout in the audience at tonight’s FBC meeting (7:00 at Council Chambers).  If that large turnout is missing, then Davis will have once again made a statement that when it comes to fiscal matters, we are willing to talk the talk, but reluctant to walk the walk.

    See y’all tonight.

  7. Cindy Pickett

    So, the main subsidized programs (subsidized by tax dollars) involve summer programs, various partner groups, and field use.  So, we could eliminate subsidies and staff if we cut summer programs. We could cut police or fire staff.   We could outsource all parks work.  We could close parks (and redevelop the land.  We could close (permanently) pools.  Who will stand up and advocate for any of the above?

    It might be a useful exercise to think about possibly restructuring the summer programs and working with other programs to save costs. UC Davis is offering a Veterinary Medicine summer camp that is heavily subsided by the school of Veterinary Medicine.  Are there private organizations that might be interested in working with the City?  I like the idea of Nugget subsidizing the Kids in the Kitchen camp! I agree though that cutting summer programs would be difficult, but the question for me (as a tax payer) is whether the programs are currently being run efficiently.


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