I made the comment to a former elected official that I really don’t understand why people in this town can’t agree to disagree without getting nasty about it. I was referring to comments made on the Vanguard (not about me this time) about a former elected official. But really, it could have been about anyone.
Their response to me: “It’s really an amazing spectacle to watch sometimes.”
Former Councilmembers Robb Davis and Rochelle Swanson had plenty of reasons not to seek reelection last year, but looming in their minds rather prominently was what they both separately described as the toxic atmosphere in this community.
In the last several weeks I have made a critical point about this current council – on the big issues, I have disagreed with them this year. I disagreed on paid parking – as I don’t think their proposal went nearly far enough to address the parking and traffic concerns. I disagreed on Mace Boulevard – I would not have gone back to four lanes and believe most of the problems on the corridor are related to the Waze app and impacts from I-80.
I disagreed on Pacifico – I would have worked more to make the current situation work without changing the target population. And, while the issue goes back to the last council, I disagreed on Trackside – I think they should have waited to finish the downtown plan.
Speaking of the downtown plan, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that I won’t agree with them on that issue either.
From 2004 to 2010, we had a very bad situation on council. In my view, there were four members of council from 2004 to 2006, and then down to three from 2006 to 2010 when Lamar Heystek replaced Ted Puntillo – the three completely seemed to disregard public sentiment. When they had their three votes, they rammed them through, they rammed them through over the objections of neighbors, the community and their colleagues.
Individually, that council had a number of good people – they did good things outside of council and even after council – but together on council they were toxic.
The council from 2006 to 2010 really embodied a strict and almost unyielding 3-2 split that ran through council to the community as a whole. At times it was ugly.
When I started the Vanguard, three incidents really stand out. First, the 4-1 vote for Covell Village where the voters turned it down by a 60-40 margin despite very overt and active work by some of the members of council. The vote to approve Target that almost turned into a riot until the council put the matter on the ballot. And, finally, the 4-1 vote at nearly 3 am to disband the Human Relations Commission – which finally precipitated my starting the Vanguard in July 2006.
The battles between Ruth Asmundson and Sue Greenwald became something of legend. That culminated in the day that the two bickered on the dais until Ruth Asmundson fell ill.
The turning point, though, came moments later, out in the hallway, me with my then one-month old daughter in hand. Sue Greenwald continued to try to make her case – even though it was not the appropriate time. She managed to badger and bait former City Manager Bill Emlen into a near physical altercation that I was forced to, one hand on my baby carrier, break up.
We were probably as a community heading for a new direction anyway – but this cemented it. Over the next two election cycles the council completely turned over, with Brett Lee and Lucas Frerichs being elected in 2012 to turn out incumbents Sue Greenwald and Stephen Souza.
Whether you agree or disagree with the current council, we are night and day from that day in January 2010 when the entire region was tuning into the toxic atmosphere on the Davis City Council.
Last week, following our event, I had a chat with a current member of council. He pointed out that this current group truly enjoys hanging out with each other. That was not the case a decade ago.
The strength of this council is that they may not vote the way you or even I would like, but they will listen to the community. Certainly, people were concerned about the staff proposal for paid parking in the downtown. They listened to the concerns of business, the Davis Downtown, the Chamber, and they altered the plan.
If anything, they probably were too responsive to public opinion. I think they did not go nearly far enough with the parking proposal, but they weren’t simply going to ram it through.
On Mace, I think the community that came forward might not have represented all of the stakeholders in South Davis. I think some folks were intimidated to go against the crowd. But the council did step forward and attempt to quickly resolve the situation there.
On Pacifico, as people started coming to council in the fall, they had staff give a report, and then acted at the last meeting.
Again, I point out that I don’t agree with their ultimate solutions. But their approach has been to find consensus, to listen to the community, and find a path forward.
We have a lot of big issues that we are going to have to tackle. I worry about the future of this community, both in terms of fiscal sustainability and in terms of economic development. I haven’t seen much advancement on those issues this term and I fear we are going to have to major community fights in the future.
We have tough decisions to make and we have not scratched the surface on those yet. Going forward, what would be nice would be if we as a community can proceed in a way that we agree to disagree on the issues, while keeping the discourse civil.
—David M. Greenwald reporting