Commentary: Today Mayor Lee Gives the State of the City Address, What Does It Look Like?

City Hall
Mayor Lee at a recent council meeting

At midday today, Mayor Brett Lee will give his first state of the city address.  It has been interesting to watch the shift in these addresses over time.  Dan Wolk during his time as mayor offered an optimistic view of a Davis renewal – while Robb Davis warned of fiscal challenges on the horizon.

What will Mayor Lee’s overall view of Davis be?  What will he choose to focus on?

In a way this has been a strange start to 2019.  In my view it is important to separate immediate brush fires from longer term policies and needs.

We have seen some hot burning issues.  Obviously the tragic death of Natalie Corona just ten days into 2019 set a tone that in some ways at least changed the short-term focus of the city – although, for the most part, her death, while horrifying and tragic, really did not have a lot of policy implications.  The general sense has been that the tragedy was not foreseeable and pretty much unavoidable.

Other issues have emerged in recent weeks: road congestions, traffic delays and construction delays at Mace and Cowell and F and Covell, the shopping cart issue, Pacifico, and, most recently, paid parking.

While certainly several of those issues tap into longer term challenges, none of them by themselves represent core issues that we will have to struggle with long term.  Certainly Pacifico taps into the broader issues of mental illness services as well as affordable housing needs, while paid parking taps into a broader discussion of the Davis downtown.

But in the scheme of things, these represent more of a brush fire than a core issue.

Here are several longer term issues that we think Mayor Lee should address today.

Affordable housing – The city council has created an interim ordinance, and they will also shortly get a chance to weigh in on the affordable housing funding stream, as proposed by the Chiles Road apartments.  The key question that the council will have to address is how to fund affordable housing in the long term.

Budget – The city budget is balanced on paper.  But as we have reported the city is in a precarious position with a real $8 to $10 million annual shortfall between the revenue received and what we need to pay.  That could get worse as unfunded liabilities and pensions continue to loom.  It could also get worse if the economy starts to go into a recession.

Climate change – The city recently passed a resolution declaring a Climate Emergency.  That is a precursor to the updating of the city’s Climate Action Plan, which has become all the more urgent as the world continues to slide into global warming and its impacts.  Part of this will have to focus on sustainable energy and GHG (greenhouse gas) reductions, but the city may also want to start dealing with adaptation plans, including planning for increased impacts from smoke and drought int the future.

Davis downtown – We have seen a glimpse of the issue with paid parking, but we await the recommendations from the Downtown Planning Advisory Committee (DPAC) and their recommendations on the future of the downtown.  In a way, you could argue that paid parking is premature in comparison with the plan for how to proceed with the downtown.

Economic development – We have received word that Mace Ranch Innovation Center will be coming back with a proposal shortly.  As we know from recent council items, there is an overall lack of commercially-zoned vacant property in the city.  The council, if they wish to generate revenue longer term, will either need MRIC or need to figure out what the alternative is.

General plan – There hasn’t been a lot of talk about the general plan update, but the tentative plan is that after the Core Area Specific Plan (CASP) is updated the city will undertake a full general plan update process, which figures to be highly contentious, to say the least.

Homeless – The city had a recent update on their homeless service.  Will the mayor push for more funding here?  How will his approach differ from that of Robb Davis?

Housing – In addition to dealing with affordable housing, the city has an overall housing crunch, which with Measure R figures to become more pronounced as the ability to fill housing needs with infill development will subside and peripheral housing options become even more limited.

Infrastructure – There has been little talk since the failure of a parcel tax last June on roads, as to how the city plans to close the funding gap on infrastructure.  That figures to wait until at least 2020 – but with the renewal of the sales tax, it might take until 2022 to address.

Measure R renewal – This figures to be the hot button issue for 2020.  Will the council put the measure on the ballot as is, or will they consider either technical modifications or even more wholesale revisions?  That remains a critical question.

Revenue – While this relates to three of the items above, it remains its own category because the city lacks revenue needed for critical infrastructure.  They have not been able to capitalize on economic development.  The city has added several hotels which are in various stages of development.  Cannabis dispensaries figure to help as well.  But the city will have to look at things like ballot measures for taxes and economic development to help generate revenue.

Transportation – We have the issue of roads and bike paths, and we have had to deal with traffic congestion – not just at places like Richards Blvd. and Mace Blvd., but also in conjunction with road construction as mentioned above, and the Friday commute that has caused traffic jams in south Davis.  Will there be local efforts to address these concerns?  How will multi-modal transportation means be addressed?

Other issues: it will be interesting to see what other issues Mayor Lee decides to focus on.

—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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5 thoughts on “Commentary: Today Mayor Lee Gives the State of the City Address, What Does It Look Like?”

  1. Todd Edelman

    Mayor Lee’s made some great efforts to move cycling in Davis above and beyond its current position, bogged down by contentment, denial and free parking that have resulted in a plateau’d modal share for most user groups.

    This started sometime in 2017 prior to when I joined the BTSSC – as the (still) primary Council rep to my Commission – at a Commission meeting he made strong point about how Davis was resting on its laurels in regards to cycle development – no else to this date from Council has ever been so forthright (at least since 2016 when I moved here.)

    One of the fruits of his labor is the cooperation with the Dutch Cycling Embassy, and tonight a representative from the Dutch consultancy Bike Minded, Maurits Lopes Cardozo, will make his second appearance this evening at the Cycling Hall of Fame – this time addressing specific issues of recent changes in Davis cycling infrastructure and street design.

    That said, while I appreciate Mayor Lee’s support of properly costed parking – we already pay for parking in a very inequitable way – I hope to see more progressive actions beyond the plan focused on the southeast part of Downtown. Appreciating parking as a valuable resource is a cornerstone of Dutch sustainable transport policy, and I feel that Brett has the wits and wisdom to make clear that everything from buses to bike share will work better if we all show leadership with this issue.

    1. Alan Miller

      a representative from the Dutch consultancy Bike Minded, Maurits Lopes Cardozo, will make his second appearance this evening at the Cycling Hall of Fame – this time addressing specific issues of recent changes in Davis cycling infrastructure and street design.

      Maybe he can explain to Davis how to make a “Semi-Dutch Intersection” into a fully Dutch intersection.

      1. Todd Edelman

        The FAKE Dutch intersection fix can certainly be explained by Maurits – but even if it is acknowledged my guess is that it will be difficult to fix – to justify further expenditure – in part because the pavement is in shape. Also Public Works thinks that some elements of it work okay.

        At this point I would like to focus on new projects.

      2. Bill Marshall

        Remember, a “Dutch treat” is no treat at all…

        “Dutch intersections” (or semi-Dutch intersections) are not panaceas or perfect.  They should be in the tool-box for any given intersection…

        Dutch intersections have some issues as do most design concepts… I’m a proponent of roundabouts being in the toolbox… it depends… when you have pedestrians, bicyclists, wheelchairs, cars, buses, and trucks interacting with many conflicts where someone may be killed, injured, or simply unreasonably delayed… it is complex… one solution does not fit all.

        I am annoyed with folk who espouse a ‘universal’ solution to transportation issues… VERY annoyed.  Particularly when they have little to no background in either science or engineering…

        Oh, and today’s “trends” may well be future ‘dinosaurs’… reality.

  2. Bill Marshall

    Let’s see…  David has cited 12 “must-do’s”/priorities (?)… Todd has added a 13th ‘priority’… the current council has about 15 months left, and one of those will be a summer recess, another will be leading up to the election for CC.

    Perhaps the CC and staff should FOCUS on a smaller list…

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