Commentary: Parking, Fluoridation, Green Waste – What Davis Can’t Seem to Get Right

When I started the Vanguard – 13 years ago this coming July – I had the premise of the “dark underbelly” of Davis.  The idea was that beneath the veneer of progressive enlightenment was this darker component of regressivism.  At that point, I had not really experienced the inability of Davis to solve rather basic problems.

We have seen this problem over the years – several times, the city of Davis has attempted to join most other communities by adding fluoridation to its water, only to get beaten back each time over the decades by popular demand that makes such a solution by an elected body not worth it.

We have seen the same thing over the years with containerizing green waste – for some reason the very thought of putting waste into containers like pretty much ever other community has led to a series of paralyzing half measures, but no one has been willing to go all the way.

Paid parking appears to be joining that pantheon.  Like the others – never mind best practices.  Never mind that we are not reinventing the wheel.  Never mind the consultants and the data and their analysis.  As I mentioned on Monday, a sizable number of businesses are absolutely convinced that paid parking will harm their businesses.  A sizable number of residents are absolutely convinced that paying for parking downtown is an anathema.

Gloria Partida made the point, “as a leadership body, we are charged with making decisions that are in the best interest of the city.  It would be easy to make that decision based on only best practices.”

She said, “The problem with that is that when you’re looking at only statistics, those numbers represent real people.”

Dan Carson made a similar comment, “The analyst in me thinks that the approach that city staff and the consultants brought to us is a very good start to think about.

“There’s another side to this,” he said.  “As elected officials… we operate with the consent of the governed.  We have to listen to what our constituents are saying.”

He said, “What I’m hearing is that the idea of meters on the streets is particularly concerning to folks.”

And so both Gloria Partida and Dan Carson moved off the solution that appeared to be best from an analytics framework and responded instead to public pressure.

Under the weight of such a tide, the council did really the only thing they could – they as gracefully as possible found a middle path and they will hope for the best.

I very much disagree with them here.  My personal belief is that we have a parking distribution problem and that needed the city to implement paid parking in order to solve it.  During peak hours, we have too many people attempting to park on the street in the core areas.

But too many people were pushing back on the council for them to try to impose that solution.  We will see if the half measures work – I’m skeptical.  Putting paid parking in a few lots does not seem likely to change the game much.

They may free up a few spaces that were reserved for 20-minute parking, Zipcars and Jump bikes, but without a huge stick, it seems unlikely that reaching out to the business community on employee parking is going to fall flat.

There was probably a compromise there as I suggested a few weeks ago – but that would have taken the council calling time out, engaging the Chamber and Davis Downtown in talks and hashing out an agreement prior to passing this compromise.

The bottom line: I don’t think we did nearly enough to solve this problem, and just like on green waste, we will be back here in a few years because the problem is not going to go away.

It would be easy to blame city council here – just as one could blame them for failing to put forward a coherent policy on green waste and for bowing to pressure on fluoridation a few years ago – but the problem is that we really do live in a community where we operate with the consent of the governed.

For all the attacks that were visited on the city council when people believed they would simply ram this through, the council, this council, really does listen to the constituents, they really do take to heart community sentiment, and anyone who understood the council and the way they conduct themselves knew that they would have to follow a middle ground.

Some of these comments were disheartening, to be sure.

Councilmember Frerichs did push back on some of angry comments in the community, noting that “you don’t sign up for the Davis City Council … we’re used to being called all kinds of names… but rarely have I seen this type of rhetoric that’s been used on this issue, since I’ve been on the city council the past seven years.”

But as he knows, over the years council has been attacked for being out of step with the population.  It’s not clear that they have been out of step.  For the most part, they have followed what seems to be the will of the people.

Where they felt they could do so, they have been bolder.  They have supported, for instance, housing projects – the voters for the most part have backed them there.  The voters supported Nishi 2 and WDAAC – and while the voters turned down Nishi 1, it was a very evenly split vote.

A few years back, the council got too far ahead of the community on water – that was incidentally in 2011 before any of these folks were elected – but a few months later, they pulled back and supported a community process that ultimately resulted in the public approval of a surface water project.

Public outcry here went way to far, pushing beyond reasonable proportions.

Lucas Frerichs gently pushed back: “The notion that paid parking is going to destroy the downtown is I think a bit much.”

He pushed back as well on the notion that “the city council wants to destroy the downtown.”  He said, “That’s just patently false.”

In the end, the council probably went as far as they could.  Had they jammed this through, who knows what would have happened – recall?  Probably not.  Referendum?  Maybe.  Huge campaign issue?  For sure.

Should they have gone further?  It’s debatable.

At some point, while I believe we live in a republic rather than a strict democracy, the voters themselves get the governance they both want and deserve.  That we have problems we can’t solve because of it – that is really on them.

I think the city did what it could to educate the community.  At the end of the day, the elected officials were forced to thread that needle between the best practices put forward by the consultants and staff, and the public outcry.

My lament is that the middle on this – just as we continue to take the middle course on green waste – means that we will have this issue revisited in a few years.  Fortunately, because we are undergoing the CASP (Core Area Specific Plan) process, that day of reckoning will come sooner rather than later.  And as I suggested on Sunday, maybe that’s the better time to revisit this anyway.

—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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37 Comments

  1. Ron Glick

    “My personal belief is that we have a parking distribution problem and that needed the city to implement paid parking in order to solve it.”

    I agree with your personal belief but disagree with your solution. What the city has is an education problem on its distribution problem and paid parking 12/7 is a pretty big stick for solving it. Just the other day I told someone who has lived here  more than 40 years about the 4th and G garage. To me that interaction said more about the failure of the city to educate its citizens to solve its distribution problem than the need to make people pay.

    “During peak hours, we have too many people attempting to park on the street in the core areas.”

    What the CC did by voting to put meters in the lot North of 3rd between E and F is likely to make this problem worse. More people will now be circling trying to find a free spot. Some will pay but more people will give up and not go downtown when they have choices then under current conditions. Of course when it becomes apparent that more circling is going on the advocates for paid parking will be back for another bite at the meter apple.

    1. David Greenwald

      The experience with E St says otherwise.  I also believe that the city attempted to implement an educational program.  The bigger problem though could have been better addressed by the city – employee parking. The council could have negotiated this with businesses prior to the final vote.

      1. Ron Glick

        E  St lot is easily avoided by those not wanting to pay because it represents a small percentage of the total spaces but as you add more meters avoidance becomes harder and other choices will increase. That is my prediction. Time will tell.

    2. Richard McCann

      To me that interaction said more about the failure of the city to educate its citizens to solve its distribution problem than the need to make people pay.

      While education can make a marginal impact, the extent and duration is very much limited. Pricing is the only durable and effective method of changing demand over time. Economic studies show this over and over again.

  2. Ron Glick

    “…but without a huge stick, it seems unlikely that reaching out to the business community on employee parking is going to fall flat.”

    Here is a novel idea, instead of a big stick, how about we try a carrot for a change. How about we offer employees free parking all day in the underused new lot south of the tunnel. If you filled that lot you could free up 30 plus spaces.

    1. David Greenwald

      Which is fine – but we still need compliance/ buy in from the vast majority of businesses.  Right now, what is their incentive to follow through?

      1. Ron Glick

        Not sure you need much more than a pay stub for filling the underutilized new lot if you offer free permits to low wage employees on a voluntary basis. Remember its supposedly not about the money.

        1. Ron Glick

          What I’m suggesting is that you try a carrot instead of a stick. That we try to incentivize the behavior we want instead of punishing the behavior we don’t want. There is actually a Nobel Prize winning concept we could try with that particular lot, its called behavioral economics.

        2. Richard McCann

          Ron, you keep hinting, but you haven’t come forward with an actual solution that costs the rest of us money to solve the local businesses’ problem. I answered your free parking proposal as failing this test. So what is your incentive solution other than the one that failed the test?

          BTW, even giving employees free parking won’t incent them because they still have no incentive to stay away from parking on the streets which likely is closer to their workplace.

    2. Richard McCann

      Here is a novel idea, instead of a big stick, how about we try a carrot for a change. How about we offer employees free parking all day in the underused new lot south of the tunnel.

      And why should the City subsidize businesses? Given that this is a problem that affects businesses income and they will realize gain from addressing the parking problem, they should share some that gain with the rest of us who have paid for that lot. I’m OK with a discount that reflects costs savings compared to other solutions, but not free.

      1. Ron Glick

        I don’t think we should offer it to businesses for free. I think we should offer it to low wage workers for free. You know the ones who wait on our tables and wash our dishes or help us try shoes on.

        1. Richard McCann

          No, as with MediCal, having the rest of us pay low-wage workers what the businesses should be paying them instead is a subsidy to those businesses. The BUSINESS is the one who is bringing these workers downtown, so the BUSINESSES should pay for that parking. If businesses are unwilling to pay a true living wage then those businesses should suffer the consequences.

          So again, please give me a solution that is not a subsidy to businesses. Your proposal didn’t meet that test, not even close.

      2. Don Shor

         they should share some that gain with the rest of us who have paid for that lot.

        Many of the parking lots in Davis were paid in part by assessment districts that were financed partially by fees that were assessed on the property owners. I don’t recall the complete details of how it worked, but I know that downtown businesses paid for some shares of those lots. I believe the last assessment district expired a few years ago.

        1. Don Shor

          Verified: joint public/private partnerships were used to fund all of the downtown surface parking lots and the parking garage at 1st and F. Businesses were assessed to pay off the bonds on top of the property taxes they pay and the sales taxes they collect. The last bonds were paid off about 2011.

  3. Ron Glick

    “And so both Gloria Partida and Dan Carson moved off the solution that appeared to be best from an analytics framework and responded instead to public pressure.”

    The problem here is that you are arguing that the technocrats should run things, that they should decide what is best for people. I’m glad that I live in a place where this is not the case. In my mind the technocrats looked more like something from a B movie called “Invasion of the parking meter money snatchers.” The proposal for 12/7 wasn’t based on best practices for solving a problem with a narrow time window it was based on budgetary concerns about how to pay for the high cost of putting in a metering system.

    It was also based on the adoption of tools that represent a policy choice between two visions of downtown. When I taught science I had a lesson about how science can offer us choices but in a democracy its up to society to decide. The people of Davis overwhelmingly rejected meters as a policy choice. Its too bad that the CC only partially listened by adding them to a parking lot that I believe will only make things worse for the circling problem that the advocates for paid parking claim they a trying to solve.

    1. David Greenwald

      Yes – I’m arguing that evidence should drive decisions – analysis, analytics, data.  Both Gloria and Dan backed off that approach based on public sentiment, that public sentiment was not backed by data or analysis but rather in many cases – popular appeal and fear (sorry Alan Miller).

    2. Mark West

      “The proposal for 12/7 wasn’t based on best practices for solving a problem with a narrow time window it was based on budgetary concerns about how to pay for the high cost of putting in a metering system.”

      Not to mention the pay and benefits for three new employees.

      I think the CC made a poor decision, but the blame here should be placed on Staff for presenting a proposal that ignored best practices and focused instead on generating revenue. The data is clear that the best approach is to charge the least amount necessary to change behavior, not to maximize the amount extracted from the community in order to expand the payroll.

      1. Don Shor

        The data is clear that the best approach is to charge the least amount necessary to change behavior,

        I’m not persuaded that the staff would have had the expertise, immediacy of information, flexibility, or authorization to make the pricing changes necessary to achieve that objective.

  4. Hiram Jackson

    “We have seen this problem over the years – several times, the city of Davis has attempted to join most other communities by adding fluoridation to its water, only to get beaten back each time over the decades by popular demand that makes such a solution by an elected body not worth it.”

    Davis historian John Lofland has written a lot about the history of discussing fluoridation policy in Davis.  Here is one good summarizing article.

  5. Don Shor

    Most of the opponents of fluoridation in the water did not dispute the effectiveness of fluoride for preventing tooth decay. They simply argued that treating the entire population for the dental needs of a very small percentage was not a necessary approach. Most people don’t need fluoride to prevent tooth decay. Some even proposed, and offered financial support for, alternative methods of delivering fluoride to those who were not getting regular dental treatment. I don’t agree with those who opposed fluoridation; I don’t much care one way or the other about it. But it is disingenuous to suggest they were denying the evidence.

    putting waste into containers like pretty much every other community

    This is false, though widely cited. Sacramento uses the claw. On a basis of percentage of the regional population, it’s not accurate to say “every other community” when the biggest city in the region uses street pickup of green waste.

     

    never mind best practices.

    Paid parking is the urban policy du jour of those who make their living proposing theoretical solutions to urban problems. The “data” presented were case histories. They were not provided with context nor were any countervailing case histories given sufficient analysis. The consultants were hired to propose implementation of paid parking, and gave a road map for how to do that. They also proposed a lot of other things, many of which the council enacted on Monday.

     

    A council that follows the evidence would not have banned glyphosate from use by city staff. It is the overwhelming consensus of regulatory scientists (“the science”) that it is not a cancer risk. Every single regulatory agency that has reviewed glyphosate has concluded that it is safe and does not pose a threat to the public or to the applicators when used as directed. I chose not to argue about the decision to remove it from usage by city staff, but that decision was based on the personal preferences of some activists – not on the best evidence. I can provide citations for anyone who is interested. If the city wants to manage its parks organically, that’s actually fine with me. But it isn’t an evidence-based decision.

    My point is that councils, as representative bodies, have to balance the supposed expertise that is put in front of them and come to decisions that the public accepts. Sometimes they face overwhelming opposition to the advice of technocrats. More often, in Davis, they are being pushed hard by a small coterie of activists (bicycle enthusiasts, glyphosate opponents) who have their own agendas and who feel they know what is best for the public. Those activists aren’t always right about their evidence, and they certainly aren’t always right about the best ways to achieve broader goals.

    Dialogue can often yield acceptable compromises. But compromise seems to be a dirty word. Certainly council members never seem to get much praise when they seek to compromise.

    1. Alan Pryor

      Most of the opponents of fluoridation in the water did not dispute the effectiveness of fluoride for preventing tooth decay.

      I do not believe that was the case at all when we had the last rounds of “Flouridation Wars” in Davis.

      The opponents (including myself) presented very compelling and peer-reviewed objective evidence that the community water fluoridation did little, if anything, to prevent community dental decay and additionally presented a wealth of evidence showing the toxicological, economic, and operational problems with fluoridation.

      The fluoridation proponents countered with evidence supporting fluoridation that was decades old and statistically flawed. In fact, evidence has since emerged that the seminal studies supporting fluoridation done back in the 1950s were intentionally fraudulently biased.

      When directly asked by the Council if they had any more recent evidence bolstering their case for the supposed cavity-reducing benefits of community water fluoridation, the fluoridation proponents said they did not, but that ” the federal government supports it”; as if that should be reason enough to poison our population.

      So contrary to David’s Greenwald’s decidedly unscientific speculation and assertions to the contrary, in that instance the Council bowed to both the real science against fluoridation AND the overwhelming public opinion against the practice.

      My advice to David is to stay away from any “science-based” arguments one way or the other on parking, green waste, or fluoridation. He has neither the educational or employment-related experience to weigh in on these topics and just uses the “science supports it” argument to support whatever opinion he is espousing (typically whatever they do in San Luis Obispo where he grew up) without ever offering a real shred of scientific evidence one way or another. Continually using the crutch that “science supports it” without ever objectively discussing the underlying science is a real disservice to his readers and detracts from his other arguments.

      1. Tia Will

        Alan

        Your comments about fluoridation are as incomplete and duplicitous now as they were at the last round of  “fluoride wars”. You demonstrated your lack of care about evidence and the truth in a number of ways.
        1. After having publicly bemoaned both sides not having been fully heard, you personally blocked me from speaking before the city council on a technicality. You knew I was in possession of evidence the other listed speakers did not have and still blocked me.

        2. Your comment about your presentation of peer-reviewed articles was laughable in its bias. Within the articles that you and your colleagues referred to me were several that demonstrated the safety and efficacy of fluoride at the proposed dosage level. Those magically did not turn up in your presentation.

        3. Perhaps my favorite was your repeated claim that we offered no current studies. Of course, we didn’t. This is the principle of established science. Would you refuse to take antibiotics for a serious infection without current studies that demonstrate that antibiotics can kill bacteria? Of course not. Penicillin is not retested on a regular basis to see if it kills bacteria, we know it does. I suspect that you, if not some of your supporters were fully aware of this but chose not to share.

        4. Oh, wait. I forgot one more part of your approach. As you told me in person, you knew very well that what some presenters were stating in public comment was false. When I challenged  the ethics of letting false testimony stand unchallenged, you just smiled at me. It seems the win justified all in your mind.

         

         

        1. Bill Marshall

          Tia… fluoridation  is the ‘poster child’ for telling others what they have to do, to meet the de minimus needs of others… aka “progressive” (?)… mandatory vaccines for kids in public schools, pales in comparison… I believe in the latter (strongly believe in the ‘herd’ protection), but the former is expensive, there are other reasonable alternatives, and I’d gladly pay for fluoride alternatives (supplements for individuals) rather than put them in the water supply, where everyone has to get “dosed”, unless they choose to buy bottled water… or should we require all water sold/consumed in Davis is fluoridated?  Including bottled water…

          I grew up in a system (water supply) that was fluoridated… had statistically somewhat better results than those who did not, nationally, as to caries, but there were other factors…

          I assume you know that water systems that naturally contain fluoride get mottled teeth, and many still get cavities, other tooth/oral issues.

          Conflating fluoridation/ paid parking/green waste, that David has done, is very weird…

        2. Alan Miller

          Conflating fluoridation/ paid parking/green waste, that David has done, is very weird…

          It’s not weird at all.  It’s on purpose.  Some people like to throw a burning spear into a crowded nightclub – in order to further their agenda of building a new fire station.

          1. David Greenwald

            I didn’t conflate “Conflating fluoridation/ paid parking/green waste” – I found the city’s refusal to adhere to what other communities had done on those three issues, over a long period of time, to be similar.

        3. Alan Miller

          I found the city’s refusal to adhere to what other communities had done on those three issues, over a long period of time, to be similar.

          Other communities, like Portland, OR

    2. Bill Marshall

      Don… @ the  rates normally used in municipal water supplies, does fluoridated water affect turf, plants, gardens, trees one way or the other?  I would think it would be de minimus, one way or the other, but was curious as to your view/knowledge…

      1. Don Shor

        Fluorine accumulates in plants and can cause some injury to some sensitive plants, but high pH and soil calcium tie up fluoride and mitigates the risk. The only notes I’ve ever seen have to do with some indoor plant species. Outdoors the amount would be so small that I doubt there’d be any effect on any species in the garden or landscape.

  6. Rik Keller

    How times change… Congratulations Greenwald: You are now part of the “dark underbelly” of Davis! You are running a supposed non-profit journalism site that is actually just a political blog wherein you don’t provide any of the transparency and disclosure that ethical guidelines for nonprofit journalistic enterprises mandate.

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