Councilmember Dan Carson did the community a good service by laying out his proposal for Guiding Principles for Districts. It is always good to put something on paper, so that everyone can have a foundation from which to work.
As Mr. Carson writes: “The move to district elections could have positive results for our city, such as opening the door to wider participation in city government and bringing an additional focus to neighborhood concerns. However, this change also poses some challenges — in particular, how we ensure that our future actions benefit both individual districts and the City of Davis as a whole.”
Basically, while I believe these principles are well-intentioned, I disagree with some, think some are unrealistic, and will point out what I believe is a glaring omission on his part – so, as they say, may no good deed go unpunished.
First of all, Councilmember Carson proposes that we have a citywide focus. He notes that a councilmember should “respond to specific citizen concerns,” whether or not they arise outside of their own district or that appear at public events in districts that are not their own; that budget items will be allocated on a citywide rather than a per-district basis; that funding not be allocated to councilmembers for distribution based on districts; and that goal-setting be based on citywide needs in addition to district needs.
I would say this: these are really good focuses to have. Those are tangible expectations, especially the response to citizen comments and attending events across districts.
The problem that is going to arise is, over time, councilmembers are going to have more and more of a district-based focus. The problem that you have is that the first rule of politicians is you have to get elected. It is easy for councilmembers who have been elected citywide to talk about having a citywide focus. And there are rules which can be put in place, as Councilmember Carson has suggested, which can continue that focus.
But at some point, the next batch of councilmembers is going to have to get elected. Whoever runs in South Davis is going to be a good example. They are going to be focused heavily on Mace, for instance. They are likely going to get elected based on that issue (among others, for sure) and therefore will be judged based on how they deliver on that issue.
So while I think Dan Carson’s proposals – and I would suggest that the council go further and make them actual ordinance level, so that council has to change them by statute rather than practice – are good and focus in the right direction, but there will be no way to avoid a district-based approach.
Avoid mayoral squabbles.
Dan Carson proposes: “Prevent future quarrels over mayoral appointments, after Brett Lee and Gloria Partida have completed their terms as mayor, by rotating the position of mayor each year to the council member with the longest tenure on council who has not yet served as mayor.”
I have to admit I’m a little disappointed in the direction here, though I get it. In San Luis Obispo where I grew up and was involved in politics while in college, they set it up like this: four councilmembers elected to four-year terms – two each cycle and every term a mayor was separately elected for two years. That said, it made the mayor weak, with a two-year rather than four-year term, but it also created an independently elected position and one that was a clear step up for politicians.
In Davis, we really have no mayor – we have a presiding officer. We made it a little prestigious in the past by designating the highest vote receiver as mayor. Now we want to completely eliminate the prestige of the position.
He writes: “Partida. The selection of mayors after we shift to district elections poses a serious risk of dividing our council into factions. I believe that establishing clear-cut selection rules for mayors under a new district system reduces that risk.”
I would suggest that, rather than doing it by seniority, simply rotate. If you want Gloria Partida to be the next mayor, then you rotate up one number to the next district and rotate through.
Personally I would rather the mayor position mean a bit more than the President of the School Board or the Board of Supervisors, but it’s pretty clear that we are moving away from that idea.
Third, he writes to “cultivate strong neighborhoods.”
Here Councilmember Carson proposes: “Take full advantage of the potential benefits of district elections by paying closer attention to the needs of Davis neighborhoods and communities.
“Periodically, in lieu of or in addition to our regular council/commission workshops, the council as a whole could schedule workshops on a rotating basis focused on particular City of Davis communities. Residents could be invited to identify and prioritize their specific community needs and to discuss with the council and city staff how City Hall could better serve them.”
Finally, I would like to point out what is not here. The California Voting Rights Act was enacted to prevent impairing the ability of a protected class, “candidates of its choice or otherwise influence the outcome of an election.” Council chose to draw lines that gave no heed to this expressed purpose of the CVRA.
Communities of interest extend beyond protected classes. They are defined “as a neighborhood or community of shared interests, views, problems, or characteristics.” Paul Mitchell noted that the council is able to draw a district around many of these communities of interest – people living near an industry, senior citizens, students, downtown, urban, rural, agricultural, homeowners and/or renters.
It appears that the council chose to draw their districts around traditional neighborhood boundaries, as well as prioritized South Davis by giving it its own representative.
What the council did not do was focus on maximizing the influence of protected classes or to ensure participation of students or renters.
It is telling that Councilmember Carson, who fought harder than anyone against the seven-district set up, now completely ignores the issues of race and ethnicity as well as student representation in his principles – except with regard to appointments, the only time when the terms “race” or “ethnicity” appear in the guiding principles.
That would seem to be a rather glaring omission – particularly in light of the reason we have the districts in the first place.
In our view then, the guiding principles should include something that would address those omissions.
—David M. Greenwald reporting