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.”
“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