In 2016, it was notable that, while opponents of Nishi were able to narrowly defeat the measure, all four of the council candidates supported Nishi. In 2018, that shifted.
Larry Guenther described himself as a “soft no.” Whereas Ezra Beeman said, “I think it does not yet address what the community wants in its current form, e.g. onsite testing to demonstrate safety, no increase in congestion on First Street and the Richards Boulevard underpass and 35-percent affordable housing.”
Meanwhile, Nishi itself, with some ballots outstanding, barring a monumental shift in voting patterns will win overwhelmingly.
In the year 2000, old school progressives were resurgent with Ken Wagstaff, Mike Harrington and Sue Greenwald forming a council majority and the voters narrowly approving the seminal Measure J – which required a vote for any peripheral projects, greatly restricting growth on the periphery.
But soon, the numerical advantage of progressives began to wane. As soon as 2002, the progressives lost their majority as in-fighting and relatively weak candidates paved the way for victories by Ruth Asmundson and Ted Puntillo. In 2004, while Sue Greenwald finished first, Mike Harrington was defeated for reelection and Don Saylor and Stephen Souza were elected to the city council.
In 2006, Lamar Heystek won a seat, but that paved the way for four years of 3-2 votes by a council majority that was largely in lockstep.
Following the recession, growth issues were on the back burners in the 2010, 2012, and 2014 elections. But they reemerged in 2016 and 2018 as the economy recovered.
Sue Greenwald appears to have been the last old-school progressive elected to the council. Since that time, you had John Munn, himself a Republican but backed by progressives, who narrowly lost to Rochelle Swanson in 2014, and now in 2018, Ezra Beeman and Larry Guenther were on the ballot.
Ezra Beeman finished a solid fourth, about 1400 votes out of second place. Larry Guenther is in sixth (he is only eight votes behind Mary Jo Bryan for fifth and could pass her depending on the remaining ballots to be counted, but seems unlikely to pass Mr. Beeman who is 600 votes ahead).
The top two vote getters come from different backgrounds and constituencies. Gloria Partida, who founded the Phoenix Coalition, is a strong supporter of housing and laments that, by passing Measure J/R, the city has altered its landscape by precluding those of modest means from moving into Davis and owning a home.
She is part of what we have referred to as new progressives. The new progressives and the old progressives have taken common cause on issues such as police reform and support for reform DA candidate Dean Johansson, but they disagree – often contentiously – on housing issues.
While Linda Deos is perhaps more moderate on housing issues, she supported Nishi and has said that if Nishi and WDAAC did not pass, we should re-evaluate Measure R. Ms. Deos ran a strong race herself but finished third, about 400 votes ahead of Mr. Beeman but nearly 1100 out of second.
On the other hand, Dan Carson, who appears to have finished second and almost certainly will be seated on the next council, was a more mainstream presence on the ballot. He played down social issues and focused heavily on fiscal issues as well as housing. He has been a strong supporter of Nishi as well as a strong supporter of fiscal discipline.
He gained the support of much of the mainstream or establishment wing of the city.
In 2016, the old progressives focused all of their energy on defeating Nishi and were narrowly successful at doing it. They got some assists, however, that were outside of their own efforts. For example, Nishi 2016 suffered self-inflicted wounds on affordable housing which led a huge number of otherwise progressive students who were in need of housing to oppose the project. That effort was bolstered with a huge wave of Bernie voters who pushed the turnout to record heights. Without the affordable housing issue, Nishi likely would have passed in 2016 as well.
Still, there were 4400 no votes on Nishi. Had most of those translated to the only two candidates to oppose Nishi, they would have likely finished in the top two.
This was a point that many supporters of the No on Nishi argued – a point that we couldn’t completely rule out. But Ezra Beeman only received about half the no on Nishi vote. Larry Guenther got 37 percent of the Nishi vote.
What happened? A number of things. First of all, voters in general are not single issue voters. In fact, many of the candidates pointed to the eclectic array of candidate combinations that voters supported.
Leaving that point aside, however, a big factor is that in order for a candidate to take advantage of a minority position on an issue, they must be completely tied into that issue. We’ve pointed out in the past that Jose Granda often far trailed behind the vote totals for No on the school parcel taxes.
While this is a more extreme example, with Mr. Granda being a more extreme candidate, the problem is similar. Voters have a far better idea where they stand on a single issue ballot measure than they are able to identify where the candidates stand on those ballot measures.
In order to be able to tie himself to the No on Nishi vote, Mr. Beeman, for example, would have had to have put out a lot of literature and contacted a lot of voters. In other words, he would have had to have done the types of things candidates do anyway, but he had to do more than he did in this particular race.
The bottom line is that it actually takes a lot of resources to tie oneself to a particular position on the ballot, in the minds of the voters.
I have often argued that the influence of old school progressives is waning in contemporary Davis politics. This election round, what we saw is the rise of new school progressives – progressive on issues of social justice, but who tie the need for housing into that framework.
It is not that old school progressives cannot influence the process. They certainly can. But in 2000, in response to a period of rapid growth, the old school progressive movement reached its secondary peak with a two-year stint on council. Since 2002, however, you can argue that only Sue Greenwald (2004 and 2008) and Lamar Heystek (2006) have been successful.
On the other hand, we have seen more impact on housing issues, where the progressives can join forces with others to oppose specific proposals. Given the housing crisis and the fact that Nishi re-tooled to address concerns from 2016, they were not nearly strong enough to block the latest proposal.
—David M. Greenwald reporting