Council Narrows the Focus on Districts, Split on 5 Versus 7

Don Gibson presents his map to council

The third hearing on district elections came on Tuesday night, lasting well into the evening.  Mayor Brett Lee hoped to get direction on five or seven districts, but with his colleagues evenly split, he declined to put his finger further on the scale and weigh in – though for a time he seemed to be leaning toward seven.

Unlike previous meetings, the public was engaged on the form of the districts far more than the question of having districts, which in fairness was always fait accompli.  Nineteen people spoke during public comment.

Among two themes were concerns registered by residents of Old East Davis that some of the sample districts were splitting their neighborhoods into two and three different districts.  Also, students pressed for more student representation.

Paul Mitchell said that one reason the districts look at times rough and meandering is that they are breaking the districts along census blocks, which enable them to know exact populations as well as subgroup populations.  If they split a census block, they would have no sure way to determine size of a district.

Don Gibson, a graduate student about to get his doctorate, had drawn a sample map that the Vanguard published last week.

He said he drew his districts with the idea of “getting a renter, a student or a recent graduate elected.  There has not been a student or recent graduate sitting on the council since 13 years.”

He added, “I think this is an amazing opportunity for inclusion by the city by maximizing the student population or the renter population which also happens to be more diverse than the non-student population.”

Dillan Horton, the only announced city council challenger said, “Just the creation of districts can… lower the barrier for candidates and diversify the representation on council.”

Don Gibson’s map

Tom Hensey, a student, added that this is a sustainability issue, “Many of us that get priced out become commuters.”

Gwen Coder from the Graduate Student Association endorsed the map presented by Don Gibson on behalf of the GSA executive council.

She noted that just because there is a majority renter situation in a district does not mean there will be a majority voter situation in that district.  She therefore urged the council to create a district which has a super-majority of renters in order to ensure representation.

She noted that their difficulty with the housing situation “is a perspective that shapes so much of our interaction with this community.”

On the other hand, several representatives from Old East Davis noted that their neighborhood would be split up.

Rhonda Reed, President of the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association said, “My bottom line is please keep our neighborhood together.”

During their discussion the council in general seemed amenable to looking for ways to keep neighborhoods like Old East Davis together.  They were also interested in creating a district that could provide a representative from south Davis on the council, noting that over the years that part of town has often lacked representation.

There was some discussion and debate over whether there needed to be someone from South Davis or whether having a home district to which South Davis elected a member was sufficient.

Mayor Brett Lee pushed back a bit on the notion of representation.

He pushed back on the idea “that in order to have representation of students interest, there have to be students on the city council.”  He argued, “I think it’s possible to represent a variety of groups, while not necessarily belonging to all of those groups.”

Five Districts- Option 2

Councilmember Will Arnold added, “I am incredibly proud of the work that this council has done in my three plus years here, in terms of building new rental housing, in terms of creating… a renter’s ordinance to support renters and the agreement with UC Davis… to get them to provide housing to students on campus as well.”

He said that he is hopeful that they can get the vacancy rate into the 3 to 5 percent range “which is more healthy.”

Councilmember Arnold indicated that he prefers the 5-2 map for the district – the second five-member district map.  He said that he was not initially in favor of moving to seven member districts, but sees some advantages there.

Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida said, “I am leaning towards a seven district map,” but cautioned that having seven members “is going to make it more difficult” to run meetings.

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs is probably the strongest supporter of the seven-member districts.

“I still remain interested or supportive of the potential of seven districts,” he said.  “Lowering the barriers to entry, smaller geographic areas, lower population, so therefore it’s conceivably less expensive to run for election as a opposed to a citywide election.”

He does have some concerns about tribalism that might form, but thinks “some of that exists today without districts.

“We have the ability to do what’s best for the city,” he said.

On the other hand, Dan Carson remains the most outspoken for five.

Seven Districts – Option 2

I’m going to make my pitch for five districts,” he said.

He noted that he believes that going to seven will bring about $100,000 in additional costs.

“These meetings run long,” he warned.  “Having seven of us will run longer, folks.

“I love working with my colleagues,” he said.  “As the issues get tougher, the harder we work to compromise.”

He said, “I am nervous that going to seven changes that dynamic.”

“Maybe it doesn’t,” he said.  “But I worry.

He is concerned that there is a natural tendency they will start to divide up into factions.

“I don’t want that,” he said.

Brett Lee, while not committing to five or seven, did note, “Humankind can probably figure out how to run a meeting with seven people.”

As of now, Will Arnold and Dan Carson were leaning toward five districts while Gloria Partida and Lucas Frerichs leaned toward seven.

—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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42 thoughts on “Council Narrows the Focus on Districts, Split on 5 Versus 7”

  1. Bill Marshall

    A modest proposal.
    Go to 5 districts.  Adjust boundaries once we have 2020 census data.  Marinate for 2-4 election cycles.  Evaluate.
    Nothing says that we can’t later go to 7, if warranted.
    But if we go to 7 now, ain’t no conceivable way we’ll go back to 5… there’d always be at least two CC votes against that.  With peer pressure on others, we’d be stuck with 7, no matter how problematic that may turn out to be.
    We’re going from at-large to districts.  5 districts is still a big change.  Effects unknown.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      While I understand your point, in my experience, you really get one shot at shaping the institution and after that it takes considerable time and problems to change it.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Like when the City chose at-large elections?

        Like when the Constitution was adopted, with only 10 amendments? ) Or, City General Plans…

        And think about medicine… someone has a leg infection… do you go to amputation when antibiotics might do the trick?

        If it is so damn permanent, why do we not get to vote on it?  Contrast to Measure J/R…

        And, I have a few more years of experience, in Davis, in CA, and on planet earth than you do.

        Your logic, isn’t.


        1. David Greenwald Post author

          Yes exactly like when the council chose at large elections.

          Let’s look at that because I think you prove my point – it’s not that it’s impossible to change, I didn’t say that.

          But even taking that from 1970, it has been in place in modern Davis for 50 years.

          They had a committee in 1998 with former mayors and respected citizens recommending district elections, and yet, at large remained.

          What did it take to change?  A state law and a no way out of threat of lawsuit.

          My recommendation is try to get your best arrangement possible now when the council has to act rather than trying to tweak things after the fact when they don’t have to act.

    2. Matt Williams

      Bill, the problem with 5 is that all it essentially does is perpetuate the status quo … preserving the under-representation that the current system supports.  In 5 districts, renters will continue to be short changed, and the socio-economically disadvantaged will continue to be marginalized.


      1. Bill Marshall

        Unproven, unsupported with facts.  We have one district now:   at-large… your speculation. And that of some others…

        Guess we need customized Districts… maybe 9 or 11 could get us there, if gerry-mandered correctly… 2 for renters, one for renters who are socio-economically deprived, one or 2 for latinx (2 because some latinx are socio-economically challenged, others are not), etc., etc. (oh and at least one for conservative Republicans)…

        1. Matt Williams

          Bill, you clearly didn’t read the word “essentially” or the final three letters of my comment.

          With that said, everything you have said in your pithy retort is also unproven and unsupported with facts.

          Your final paragraph is simply rhetorical hyperbole … a rant.  Your comment would have been more honest if it had ended with /rhetoric /hyperbole /rant

          Your anger with the whole concept of the CVRA is well documented in your past posts on this whole districting situation.  You have been heard … and no doubt you will be heard again.

        2. Bill Marshall

          Fair enough, Matt… was in a foul mood, in general, and specifically on uber-self-righteous folk who sometimes cause me to re-think my general liberalism…

        3. Bill Marshall

          The silly system cut me off with 3 minutes on the ‘shot-clock’ (which some deny exists)…

          Matt… neither of us are demonstrably wrong, nor demonstrably right… I still favor the 5, with opportunities (that David appears to deny) that we are making progress, we should test-drive, and then look @ 7 (or more?). It appears you are ‘wedded’ to 7.

          We can agree to disagree.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            It’s not that I deny it, I simply disagree that that’s a likely outcome (incremental change).

  2. Matt Williams

    I was very pleased with the open-mindedness of both the majority of the Council and the quality of of Paul Mitchell’s work as the consultant.

    The comments from the public were very interesting.  The first commenter said that she felt disenfranchised by any effort to give renters greater voice.  Bottrom-line, she was/is happy with a system like the one we have now that gives homeowners disproportionately greater voice in their elected representatives.  Her argument was eerily similar to many of the arguments we have heard about housing … “I’ve got mine, so don’t build a lot of new housing (that will effect the value of “mine”).

    The parade of students/renters who supported either the 7 District Option 2 or Don Gibson’s map (see was a clear message that the opportunity to improve enfranchisement for renters has clearly been heard.  Four of the five Council members also clear indicated that they were sympathetic to that recurring public comment message.

    The one area that I believe was not discussed was the under-representation that the portion of the Davis population that is socio-economically disadvantaged currently experiences.  Unlike the racial/ethnic population in Davis, which is dispersed through the community without any significant geographic areas of concentration, there is a good way to see the coherent geographic area of concentration of the Davis residents who are socio-economically disadvantaged.  That is through a mapping of the location (by Census Block so that the privacy of the individuals is not violated) of the students who qualify for subsidized lunched in DJUSD.  The school district has the GIS information thast they could share with Paul Mitchell.

    I suspect tha the coherent, contiguous geographic area would start at the southern border of Nugget Fields on Pole Line and follow Pole Line south until reaching Montgomery Elementary School.  According to the maps provided by Paul Mitchell, such a “School Lunches” district would have as population of 9,310 residents which is only 0.69% away from the 9,375 “average” in a 7 District scenario.  I will try and post a suggested graphic later today.

    Bottom-line, the whole point of the CVRA was/is to address the disenfranchisement/under-representation of the vulnerable communities of interest.  I would argue that the socio-economically deprived residents of Davis fit that description to a tee.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Her argument was eerily similar to many of the arguments we have heard about housing … “I’ve got mine, so don’t build a lot of new housing (that will effect the value of “mine”). Bottom-line, she was/is happy with a system like the one we have now that gives homeowners disproportionately greater voice in their elected representatives.”

      Actually, those are the arguments that development activists attempt to “hang” around the necks of those who support slow-growth.  (They’re having trouble doing so with a proposal like ARC, though.)

      Adding apartments within the city doesn’t even impact homeowner value.  Might impact quality of life issues, though. And, depending upon design/purpose, can end up “excluding” some populations – as has been repeatedly noted on here.

      If anything, properties in the city will become more valuable, as the city becomes more dense.

      Homeowners do pay a disproportionate share of costs, in the form of parcel taxes.  The amount of which can be decided by those who don’t pay them.

      1. Matt Williams

        Ron, as Don Gibson or Will Kelly said, renters actually pay their fair share of the costs. Those costs are fully incorporated in the monthly rent charged by the apartment complex or individual rental house owner.  You and Bill have gone to the same school of rhetorical hyperbolic rants.

        1. Ron Oertel

          The DJUSD parcel taxes are allocated in the exact same amounts for each parcel, regardless of whether that parcel has one house, or a 100-unit apartment complex.

          (For that matter, that’s true even if the parcel houses no one – in the form of a commercial parcel.)

          Those taxes can be approved by 2/3 of voters without any regard to how they’re allocated, or whether or not the owner qualifies for an exemption.  (With parcels consisting of Affordable housing being entirely exempt.)

          In effect, this provides renters in an apartment complex (or those who qualify for an exemption) with an opportunity to stick single-family homeowners with a vastly disproportionate share of the cost.

          And, if the proportion of apartment complexes (or exempt properties/individuals) increase, so will the likelihood of sticking it to single-family dwellings increase.

          Somebody’s going to pay – and it’s pretty obvious who that is, as a group.

          Those are facts – not rants.

        2. Bill Marshall

          Technically, Ron, you are incorrect.  Some of the ‘parcel taxes’ are parcel size based… the DJUSD CFD’s. Parcel size and land use.  But those are essentially ‘bonds’, not GF, so you would be correct, on that level.

        3. Ron Oertel

          Bill:  Thanks for that reminder.

          Yes – I was referring to the DJUSD parcel taxes that are allocated in the same amount, regardless of parcel size.


        4. Matt Williams

          Your comment Ron was linked to the first public commenter at Tuesday’s Council meeting.  It had nothing to do with DJUSD.  Apples and oranges. Stay on topic.

        5. Ron Oertel

          Are any other parcel taxes (e.g., that the city administers) allocated the same way?  If so, then that could be within the purview of what the district-elected council could pursue.

          As an extreme example – if 90% of city residents live in apartment complexes, affordable housing, or qualify for other exemptions for a given tax, “tyranny of the majority” could theoretically occur.

          Or, the city might ultimately collapse – since there aren’t enough regular households left to actually pay the bills.

          I understand that no one has fully analyzed the long-term fiscal costs of megadorms (or other apartment complexes), for example.

          (Actually, some make similar arguments regarding California as a whole.)

          Just a thought.


        6. Bill Marshall

          Ron… going to give you the benefit of a doubt, and that your partial post (6:42 P), was honest question

          Are any other parcel taxes (e.g., that the city administers) allocated the same way?

          Drainage fees (some call them taxes, I do not), are based on parcel size… de minimus, in reality.

          Other parcel taxes (true taxes) are parcel based, not by size… and all this is available on City website…

        7. Ron Oertel

          Thanks for the response.

          All my questions are “honest”.  Some are made to provide “food for thought”, and I try to differentiate those.

          In this case, it was what you’d call an “honest” question.

          Based upon your response (and the lack of study regarding costs for megadorms and other apartment complexes), I’d suggest that my “theory” (e.g., tyranny of the majority, or ultimate fiscal collapse) could have validity.

          Somebody has to pay the bills, and most people seem to hope and assume that it’s the “other guy”.

        8. Bill Marshall

          Based upon your response (and the lack of study regarding costs for megadorms and other apartment complexes), I’d suggest that my “theory” (e.g., tyranny of the majority, or ultimate fiscal collapse) could have validity.
          Somebody has to pay the bills, and most people seem to hope and assume that it’s the “other guy”.

          That is really bordering on, if not over the border as “off topic”… IMHO

          Glad you seemed, otherwise, to acknowledge my info… but you have twisted it to something I never intended.

          So, since you are against the “tyranny of the majority”, have to assume you agree with folk that want 7 districts, at least two student oriented districts (making same arguments as those who espouse that).

          Fine… we’ll agree to disagree.

        9. Ron Oertel

          It has gotten almost off-topic.  However, if you go back to the beginning, I was initially responding to something that Matt stated which was rather stereotypical (and somewhat insulting), regarding those concerned about development – particularly housing developments.

          I was surprised that he made such a comment.

          And from that point on, I received responses to which I replied.

          I have not put forth an opinion regarding the number of districts. But, the comments I have made would not support your assumption regarding that.

  3. Alan Miller

    I was stumped as to why Brett Lee asked for how fellow Councils were leaning, then didn’t say his preference, which would have broke the tie.  Anyone?

    1. Bill Marshall

      Parlimentary procedure, as I recall… no imminent need to call the question, so ‘punted’… probably ‘torn’, and thought it was too early to play his “card”… Chairs/Mayors like to ‘test the waters’ before jumping in… for a number of reasons… most of which make sense, some of which are just being ‘tentative’… probably letting the issue ‘marinate’ a bit.

      While I strongly favor 5, with future options, as appropriate/warranted, the vocal folk appear to be aligned to 7 (bare minimum, it seems).  I’ll double down, and posit that if 7 is better, 9 would be best!  Or 11…

      Again, we need to look @ existing condition… 1 at-large ‘district’…

  4. Don Shor

    On the other hand, several representatives from Old East Davis noted that their neighborhood would be split up.

    Rhonda Reed, President of the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association said, “My bottom line is please keep our neighborhood together.”

    It seems that the issue is that OED neighborhood* extends past Fifth Street, and Fifth Street — being one of the major east-west corridors in town — is being used as a natural dividing line.

    So just curious: why does OED extend to Sixth Street?

    And why would it make any difference if people in that neighborhood association might find themselves voting in two districts?



    1. Matt Williams

      That is a very good and interesting question Don.  I had the same question as I watched the public comment, and texted Larry Guenther to get a better understanding of what he and Rhonda were referring to.  He confirmed that footprint, and I subsequently went to the 2001 Davis Downtown and Traditional Residential Neighborhoods Design Guidelines, and the blocks between 5th and 6th, and L and the Railroad Tracks have indeed been historically part of Old East Davis.

    2. Alan Miller


      The answer is historic.  Old East used to be “East” Davis, before new East Davis.  We are the first suburb of downtown, of the entire town.  On old maps, Old East was bordered on the west and south by the railroad (as today) on the creek to the north and the horse track on the east.  The horse track is PG&E and the creek is filled in.  The creek ran through the Korean Church and along Yale and towards downtown under Hibbert’s.  The streets now known as I, J & K ended at the creek, but north of what is now 5th.  Thus, the original neighborhood was built north of 5th Street.  In addition, this history remains in the zoning, which changes between the 500 and 600 addresses on I, J and K Streets, as addresses to the north were new builds after the streets were extended across the filled in creek (a deltaic branch off Putah that branched off the campus Putah near A Street and crossed downtown in a diagonal, running on through the cemetery and Lake Alhambra).

      1. Matt Williams

        If I understood Paul Mitchell’s comments correctly Tuesday, he is very leery about using non-Census geographical boundaries.  His reason was clear … he can’t get “accurate” population numbers for “partial” Census areas.

        That is a legitimate concern, but has to be dealt with regardless.  Based on information shares in past communications with the County Supervisorse Drive Office, the Census Block that includes Tufts Street and El Cemonte Avenue in Southeast Davis also includes Non-City residences on the north side of North El Macero Drive … approximately 50 homes.  So the problem Old East Davis is looking to address has to be addressed regardless.

  5. Don Shor

    Per the city website there are 17 neighborhood associations in Davis. Logistically I think it would be  nearly impossible to keep them all intact individually within district boundaries.

    1. Alan Miller

      Regarding both DS and MW above:

      Our ask was that neighborhoods that were codified in City code be kept together.   This would be the three historic neighborhoods MW showed in pretty pictures above (there may others?) and are all pretty small in size.  Old North Davis is intact in all five scenarios.  University-Rice is intact in all but one.  5-1 splits Old East into THREE districts.  Old East is only 4×4 blocks and has only 12 populated blocks (4 are not if you count unpopulated half-blocks).  It’s not difficult.

      In fact, I met with the demographer after the meeting to clarify, and he was clicking away on his laptop and altered one map (the one presented by the renters) before my eyes as well as the submitter of the map, keeping Old East together.  I don’t think adjustment of the other maps will be any more difficult, given the direction given from Council.

      And thank you to the Councilmembers who spoke in favor of keeping these neighborhoods intact within voting districts.  I remember specifically Will Arnold and Dan Carson focusing on this matter.


    2. Bill Marshall

      Yes.  But it can be attempted to maximize… if appropriate

      Questions:  how do census tracts correlate to precincts? How do either of those correlate to past development patterns?  How do any of those correlate to ‘neighborhood associations’?  How do neighborhood associations correlate to existing demographics (racial/socio-economic/party/ownership/rental status)?  How do proposed districts relate to any of the former?

      In engineering, some ‘problems’ are “insolvable”, if there are too many ‘boundary conditions’ (pun sorta’ intended).

      Looks like ‘resolution’ will require one or more ‘boundaries” (census tracts, precincts, Neighborhood Associations, etc., to be modified or compromised (depending on view)… using a cricket term, there may be one or more “sticky wickets”…

      Alan’s definition fits with historical development patterns (and make sense in my view)… but there are the other variables/values…  it will be interesting, unless the ‘variables’ are prioritized by the community(ies)… Don’s point fits with mine… the gist I believe, was “something’s gotta give”…

      I do not know the answers to my questions… I feel it is all the more justification for ‘starting small’, initially.  5 districts… that will be a challenge in and of itself… 7 complicates things, as far as I can see… something about ‘herding cats’?


  6. Edgar Wai

    Districting wouldn’t matter if councilmember vote according to how people would vote in their ASSIGNED district.

    For example, if people in district A are 40% for and 60% against a change, the councilmember would cast 40% for and 60% against in that population. Any agenda of the councilmember cannot affect the vote. The councilmember would need to convince the people (in any district).

    The districting requirement seems too old.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Thx… hope that answers Alan’s question, but begs the question of how a picture you have, to share, is transformed into a URL.. yeah, I’m a dinosaur…

          1. Don Shor

            You can upload it to a photo sharing site such as Flickr or Photobucket, and then use that URL for the picture. Or you can email it to me and I can upload it for you and insert it into your comment.

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