Individual Councilmembers Not Supportive of Limiting Council Meetings to COVID-19 Emergency-Only Items

At the onset to Tuesday’s meeting, four individuals during public comment pushed for the council to consider hearing only emergency items.  That cry got louder after the council had its public comment period disrupted by “Zoom bombs.”

In emails acquired by the Vanguard, one commenter, Ron Oertel, said, “Council really needs to reconsider the scope of items to be considered, due to communication difficulties (and shortchanged processes) caused by the coronavirus.”

Roberta Millstein on Facebook added, “I realize that staff is trying to figure things out on the fly under challenging circumstances. But I am sorry, this is a reason why a full meeting should not have been attempted.”

Colin Walsh added, “The City Council had the option of streamlining the agenda and taking the solar farm and the tobacco ordinance at a later date, but instead the council pushed forward the full agenda even though the public could no longer fully participate.”

Former Planning Commissioner and Council Candidate Pam Gunnell stated, “There are legitimate concerns about the processing of the ARC application with the limitations caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.”  She added, “Clearly this will be hampered by the current commission and council meeting process, and all of the other concerns that are derailing people’s attention during the crisis from economic to homeschooling to illness. Many things will face delays during this time and rightly so.”

Prior to the meeting, the Vanguard spoke on the record with four of the members of council and, after it, three confided support for figuring out a way through the challenges.

As Mayor Brett Lee told the Vanguard in our interview, “we need to continue to do work to improve our community.”

He added, “Just because the coronavirus has hit doesn’t mean that the only things that we need to address are coronavirus related, because a lot of things are still going on.”

He said it’s not an option for the city to simply stop functioning.  “The community doesn’t want that,” he said.  “The community wants us to do our job.”

Mayor Lee acknowledged on Monday in our interview that there is a legitimate concern here, that we need to be able to have a full and public process.

He pointed out that we don’t want to have to shut down the commissions for the next six months.  So one question he said he wants to know “is how the commissions can also function in this new environment.

“I don’t think it’s really an option for there to be no commission meetings for the next six months,” he said.  “For me the question is how do we bring the commission process back so that it’s a robust full commission process while acknowledging the coronavirus challenges?”

A big issue, for instance, is addressing the Mace redesign.

“We want to go and present to the public these new design ideas,” he said.  “That’s scheduled for early April.”

He said, “I absolutely believe that process should continue where we have a presentation to the public, the public is able to see the designs as proposed, and they’re able to weigh in on those designs,” he said.

They would then get feedback and continue the process.

The problem is, “if we delay the timeline of the design, the timeline of the reconstruction is quite long and lengthy,” he said.

Indeed, with the reduced traffic, one could argue there is no better time to do a major construction project than now.  But, of course, they aren’t at that stage yet.

“The congestion there, caused by the recent redesign, is a problem,” he said.  “Anticipating that the world returns to some level of normalcy in some number of months” he said, he didn’t think the folks in south Davis would be happy if we are where we stand today.

The people who live in south Davis do not want the council to say, “Because of the coronavirus, we didn’t do anything.  It’s really been a year since we looked at this.

“I don’t find that acceptable,” he said.

More pointed was Will Arnold, the only councilmember the Vanguard spoke to on the record following the meeting, telling the Vanguard he did not agree that we should focus only on items that are essential—for one thing, he argued, who is to decide what items are essential?

He said the voices calling for a pause “are coming very close to politicizing this crisis.

“The folks that are saying it was a disaster last night, the council doesn’t know what they’re doing… we should really just shut everything down for now,” he said.  He said, to a person, these are “folks that have called us a disaster before at every opportunity.”

Second, he said, “they are folks who have expressed that the one thing we are saying we should not take up, is something they are fundamentally opposed to.

“It’s hard to take that as a genuine and good faith comment when you know that it aligns with their previously held beliefs,” he said.

A big concern that Dan Carson, Gloria Partida, and Lucas Frerichs mentioned in their interviews with the Vanguard was the state of the business community and finding ways to shore up our downtown and other businesses.

Longer term, Lucas Frerichs said, “I think about these issues surrounding the economy.”  He referenced seeing all of the businesses closed in the downtown for the foreseeable future.  “Obviously I’m very worried about the long term ramifications of the lack of economic activity,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida saw the council role as “to keep things going” and “make sure that the city is functioning.”

She told the Vanguard that “the biggest threat to the community is where our economic plan is going to end up.”  As such, she said that she did not support the idea of limiting what the council did with respect to economic development and other such planning.

She added, “The people that are the most vulnerable always suffer the most in any sort of a crisis.”

There will clearly be challenges, as the council discovered on Tuesday night.

But even in one of the worst case scenarios where the council had to shut down verbal communications from the public, participation was still possible.

Councilmember Frerichs pointed out in the face of criticism, stating that “you’ve submitted numerous public comments this evening and ALL of them have been made (by yourself—earlier in the meeting) or read aloud into the public record.”

He added, “It hasn’t been perfect, but you’ve been participating—all night long.”

—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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34 Comments

  1. Moderator

    Maximum of seven posts per person.

    Please take the time to consolidate your points into longer, more organized comments. I suggest composing them off site and then pasting them in. I can edit out the odd coding that comes in from Word or other programs if necessary.
    In order to stick to seven comments, it may be necessary to avoid directly confronting each other. It will work best if you stick to the principle topics of the thread. Rather than repeat past discussions, perhaps link to them instead.
    The feedback I get is that there are very informative commenters who post here, but their points get lost in the squabbling. I know that all of you are smart people who can provide a lot of value in these conversations. So let’s try fewer, longer, better comments on the Vanguard.
    Thank you in advance for your cooperation.
    1. Alan Pryor

      Moderator – Yesterday you put on limit of 7 comments on Ron O but then I counted 13 separate comments (at last count) by David Geenwald, the author of the article and publisher of the Vanguard. It seems rather incongruous and Trumpian/Orwellian to impose comment limits on some posters while the author (and publisher) gets unlimited opportunity to add comments even after he had the entire article to express his views.

      And does this post count as one of my 7 comments to which I am limited?

      1. Moderator

        And does this post count as one of my 7 comments to which I am limited?

        Yes. Would you like me to remove it so you can make seven posts on the actual topic?

  2. Tia Will

    For those concerned about the “Zoom bombing” that impacted the City Council Zoom meeting, I would note that on the same day, the Board of Supervisors conducted a Zoom meeting with nary a problem beyond people forgetting to active their mics at times.

    I do not see this singular event as insurmountable as I trust by the next meeting, staff will have had adequate time to have addressed the issue of “bombing”. Although I prefer in-person public comment, I had no difficulty submitting my comment through e-mail and would point out that others seemed to have no difficulty either.

  3. Ron Oertel

    The main issue is probably the shortchanged processes (e.g., the probable elimination of commission meetings, where proposals are vetted).  This has been pointed out numerous times.  (But, this does not seem to be a venue where the author or some of the commenters welcome other points of view. Alan H. recently made a somewhat similar comment.)

    However, if I’m not mistaken – even Don acknowledged some difficulties regarding the processes (and probable delays as a result), in yesterday’s article.

    1. David Greenwald

      I think that is an issue – a big one. Another issue I have seen is prioritization of time.

      But let’s address the shortchanged process. Clearly the process on Tuesday broke down with the people taking advantage of the technology. But is that fixable? As Lucas pointed out – even with the problems, people were able to participate with comments on every item if they chose to.

      There are actually some advantages here. In a lot of ways, it is easier to participate. True – some people do not have access to email but some people did not have access to attending meetings before.

      As a side note, I have probably participated in more Zoom meetings in the last week than ever before and in fact, attended several that I would not have been able to had they not been via zoom. I see an opportunity here for the city to do what I have urged for as long as I have been active – modernize and take advantage of technology.

      Not everything has to be a negative.

      1. Ron Oertel

        But let’s address the shortchanged process.

        You’ve made some arguments regarding one of the processes, but have not acknowledged the primary point in my comment.

        However, you recently (in another article) acknowledged that ARC, for example, will probably not go through the normal commission process (e.g., if they try to force it on the November ballot).  Your acknowledgement occurred during your exchange with Matt.

        But again, your purpose here seems to be an attempt to downplay and undermine the concerns of those you don’t agree with (as usual).

        1. David Greenwald

          I don’t know if it will or won’t. But what they had done was allowed it to go forward to a whole bunch of commissions that they were not required to go before in the first place. That part may be cut back. And that would be falling victim to this. But that’s only one piece.

          Also, I’m not trying to downplay anything. I simply disagree with you that we can’t have full participation in a process going forward.

        2. Ron Oertel

           I simply disagree with you that we can’t have full participation in a process going forward.

          Not sure how you’re defining that, since you’ve acknowledged that the commission process will be shortchanged.

          And, that’s only one piece of it.  Like Don, I suspect that this will slow down the process (and may impact applicants, as well). Perhaps in more than one way, given the health and economic calamity.

          Seems like there’s some unknowns at this point, regarding the full impact of the virus emergency on city functions (and finances).  We’ve already seen one fiasco unfold.  And yes – that did impact even those who normally know how to contact the council – including me.

          Communicating electronically (vs. in-person) has its shortcomings, as well.  It is not the same.

          And sorry to say, but I disagree regarding your apparent/underlying purpose regarding these types of repetitive articles.
          [edited by request]

          1. David Greenwald

            “Not sure how you’re defining that, since you’ve acknowledged that the commission process will be shortchanged.”

            I don’t agree that it will be short-changed. It just won’t be expanded.

            Like most things there are advantages and disadvantages to electronic communications.

            The other thing I will point out – just because the process goes forward now, is no reason that it can’t be halted later.

    2. Don Shor

      What I specifically said was

      The issues with scheduling commission meetings and receiving public input will likely require that some project applications be delayed. It is quite possible that changed circumstances may be causing the project applicants to consider delay as well.

      The city staff really has to set priorities at the moment. In my opinion, the impact of severe loss of revenue in the short term (first and second quarter sales tax revenues are likely to fall way below projections) will require reassessing the budget and reviewing staffing. Then a reasonable schedule of online meetings for the commissions can be set up and publicized. Every business in town, every non-profit in town, and even likely the university are all having to review projections and make serious adjustments.

      If individual commissioners feel unable to fulfill their duties under the changed circumstances, they should resign immediately so the city council can appoint replacements. I do hope that after the city manager reviews budget and staffing issues, that a schedule of commission meetings can be posted after consultation with commission chairs. It will be important to provide sufficient time for written input on topics. The individuals who are cited in this article didn’t seem to have any difficulty getting their views to the council. Others who are less familiar with the processes might, so it’s incumbent on the council and staff to adapt practices to facilitate input.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Don:  You also noted the following, from yesterday:

        Don:  “I’ll be very surprised if ARC is still on the November ballot as previously discussed. But I do think city business can go on. Just much more slowly, most likely.”

        I agree. However, perhaps not with the following:

        Don: “The city staff really has to set priorities at the moment. In my opinion, the impact of severe loss of revenue in the short term (first and second quarter sales tax revenues are likely to fall way below projections) will require reassessing the budget and reviewing staffing. Then a reasonable schedule of online meetings for the commissions can be set up and publicized.”

        I am doubtful that this will occur.  Even David previously acknowledged that the commission process will likely be shortchanged.

        Don’s comment from today: “If individual commissioners feel unable to fulfill their duties under the changed circumstances, they should resign immediately so the city council can appoint replacements.”

        Some of those commissions require significant expertise, skill, and knowledge.  (For example, the Finance and Budget Commission, among others.)

         

         

  4. Alan Pryor

    She (Gloria Partida) told the Vanguard that “the biggest threat to the community is where our economic plan is going to end up.”  As such, she said that she did not support the idea of limiting what the council did with respect to economic development and other such planning.

    She added, “The people that are the most vulnerable always suffer the most in any sort of a crisis.”

    I support the Council on their devotion to our most down-trodden citizens. In fact, on Tuesday’s agenda there were many items that probably really alleviated the misery of our most vulnerable, suffering, out-of work citizens. For instance,

    1) Continuing to move forward on a remodel of 2 fire department kitchens to the tune of a minimum of $422,00. I’m sure knowing our fire departments are cooking their meals in brand-spanking new kitchens (on City-time BTW) while many of the restaurants in town are shut down helps assuage our most vulnerable, suffering, out-of work citizens.

    2) Agreeing to a secretive 50-year, no-bid land lease deal that Staff intentionally withheld from all of the Commissions and then lied about it to Council (much more on the potential losses to the City and the illegality of this contract coming soon). I have to admit that I’m just not sure how the potential loss of tens of millions of dollars to the City in lost revenues is going to help out our most vulnerable, suffering, out-of work citizens – but I’m willing to give our Council the benefit of the doubt on this one.

    3) Agreeing to spend $1.3 million on neighborhood street repairs (instead of major arterial road repair) using SB1 gas tax monies without any vetting at all by the Bicycle, Transportation, and Street Safety or Finance and Budget Commissions. Well, I guess at least a handful of our most vulnerable, suffering, out-of-work citizens will have nice streets in front of their $500,000 to million dollar homes while the rest of us blow out tires on our pot hole-ridden major streets.

    4) Agreeing to eliminate flavored tobacco products. This will most definitely  alleviate the misery of  our most vulnerable, suffering, out-of-work citizens. Now everyone will have to use the unflavored tobacco products to alleviate their misery which we all know is much better for vulnerable, suffering, out-of-work citizens.

    Well, maybe on retrospect I’m not really sure how much relief our most vulnerable, suffering, out-of-work citizens actually did get out of all this hard work by our Council. But I sure as heck feel a lot better knowing our Council is laser-focused on helping them.

    1. Tia Will

      Alan

      Agreeing to eliminate flavored tobacco products”

      With all due respect to your previous concerns about the health of our children, I would argue that the elimination of flavored tobacco products and other inhalants is very relevant to the current coronavirus pandemic and thus from a Health In All Policy perspective can be seen as urgent. We are hearing more and more incidences of young people being severely affected by Covid-19 including an increasing number of deaths in the < 50 group. To the extent that we dissuade young people from damaging their lungs in the present and becoming addicted to lung-damaging products, we will have made one more contribution to public health both in the short and long term.

  5. Alan Pryor

    He said the voices calling for a pause “are coming very close to politicizing this crisis.

    “The folks that are saying it was a disaster last night, the council doesn’t know what they’re doing… we should really just shut everything down for now,” he said.  He said, to a person, these are “folks that have called us a disaster before at every opportunity.”

    Second, he said, “they are folks who have expressed that the one thing we are saying we should not take up, is something they are fundamentally opposed to.

    “It’s hard to take that as a genuine and good faith comment when you know that it aligns with their previously held beliefs,” he said.(Bold Emphasis Added)

    Attacking the intentions and integrity of those that criticize you…now that’s taking a page right from the Trump handbook, Will. Good political move to bring us all together! I’m surprised you did not throw in a “Make Davis Great Again” shout-out and suggest we close our city borders to those folks and tell those folks that “if they don’t like it here they can always go back to North-North Davis where they came from!“.

    Note to Moderator – This is only Post #4 …but who is counting?

    1. David Greenwald

      Come on Alan – it doesn’t make one Trump to point out that from day one you guys, folks, opponents, etc. have attempted to attack the process and attempt paralysis by analysis and stop the project through delay. It’s a fact. Do we need to have a good process and have a way for the public to participate – absolutely

      1. Ron Oertel

        The process was already compressed, prior to the widespread emergence of the coronavirus.

        As a side note, no one is stating that the council themselves are a “disaster”.  Why would Will Arnold say this?  This is nothing short of a blatant personal attack, and is not the first time that Will has done so.

        He said, to a person, these are “folks that have called us a disaster before at every opportunity.”

        This is factually untrue.

        1. David Greenwald

          No it isn’t. Everything with Colin especially is a scandal, it’s troubling, he gets up there during public comment and attacks the council, staff, process, at virtually everyturn.

        2. Ron Oertel

          “To a person” is absolutely not true.

          Regarding Colin, I have not witnessed what you are claiming.  I haven’t witnessed everything he’s said, but I’ve appreciated everything that I have witnessed.

          He is certainly doing some “heavy lifting” on behalf of those concerned about issues.  And, receives no appreciation for that effort, from some (to say the least).

          Regarding Will Arnold, he should keep his mouth shut more often. Even if that is how he feels.

          1. David Greenwald

            I would suggest you go over the last year of public comments if you don’t believe, you might even be able to pulll it just from articles. It’s pretty blatant.

        3. Ron Oertel

          I tried to edit this to say that Will should be “more careful”, regarding what he says.  But again, this isn’t the first time.

          Interestingly enough, I recall that he was opposed to MRIC with housing, prior to being elected.

          Regarding Colin, you’ve personally attacked him on here (via your articles and guest articles), more than once.  Seems like there’s some personal animosity emanating from you, or perhaps between the two of you.

          In fact, it appears that there’s some personal animosity between you and some others, as well.

          I try not to let political views interfere with personal views/relationships – even online. Integrity is ultimately what matters, regarding relationships. (A reason that I view Keith in a positive manner, for example.)

          1. David Greenwald

            “Interestingly enough, I recall that he was opposed to MRIC with housing, prior to being elected.”

            His position was that he believed that housing would be fatal to the project. I don’t think he was ever opposed to it.

            “Regarding Colin, you’ve personally attacked him ”

            I don’t believe I’ve every personally attacked him. I may have criticized his comments, but I don’t beleive I’ve ever personally attacked him. I suggest you do some actual legwork and watch his comments over the last year and I don’t think if you do that, you will disagree with my point made.

        4. Ron Oertel

          His position was that he believed that housing would be fatal to the project. I don’t think he was ever opposed to it.

          If that’s true, then some people may have supported him, (mistakenly?) believing that he would insist upon sticking to the original plan.  I guess we’ll see if he now changes according to what he may perceive as the “political wind”.

          Personally, I think the (almost) 6,000 parking spaces are going to doom the proposal, regardless. Hard to believe that it’s gotten this far, especially considering it’s Davis. (I’m kind of chuckling, as I write this.)

          I recall a very harsh article from you (which included an “embedded” article, from someone else) that was highly critical of Colin, as an example of the personal animosity toward Colin.

          1. David Greenwald

            This is from my January 16, 2016 article where Will Arnold announced…

            “It’s my opinion that putting housing as part of the Mace Ranch project will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it will reduce them to zero because there will be no project.”

            He acknowledged that that is a political read on things, however, he argued “if you are a proponent of the project, you can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good here.”

            Site: https://www.davisvanguard.org/2016/01/game-on-will-arnold-throws-his-hat-into-the-council-race/

        5. Ron Oertel

          Again, some may have felt “safe” in supporting him, based upon those (and other) statements. (I haven’t looked through your referenced article, as I write this.)

          I believe that the “greenhouse gas” (environmentally superior) claims were made in regard to the claim that a certain percentage of residents would work at the facility.  However, I believe that claim has now been abandoned (or significantly changed), in the EIR for ARC.

          And again, the number of parking spaces now approaches 6,000, for ARC.  I’m pretty sure that the EIR lists some “environmentally superior” options, compared to that.

           

      2. Alan Pryor

        it doesn’t make one Trump to point out that from day one you guys, folks, opponents, etc

        OMG – Now I’ve been inaugurated into the “you guys, folks, opponents, etc.” club. Was there a vote? Can I get a pin? Is there a secret handshake (er, ‘scuse me, I mean a secret elbow bump)?

        But wait just a minute….I don’t have to pays dues or anything, do I?

        Note to Moderator – This is only Post #5 …but I think I should get a pass on  this one because I was responding to a scandalous personal slur from the publisher himself!

  6. Alan Pryor

    Note to Moderator – I have counted 9 posts from the publisher of this blog on this article of his alone (10 including the article itself).

    I demand equal post time!

    (Oh, dang, I just used up one of my posts complaining about excessive posting….arrrgh!)

  7. David Greenwald

    We did a records request for the emails received by council during public comment.  There were 40 of them.  Some were one liners.  But many were detailed.  I know people want to react to new stuff often in a negative way, but it is likely that this could be a far more robust way to communicate to council and the public.  And one that opens it up to a lot more people.

  8. Alan Miller

    I have probably participated in more Zoom meetings in the last week than ever before . . . Not everything has to be a negative.

    So have I, and most of them have been an absolute train wreck . . . and not the ‘oh, how horrible, but kinda cool watching metal get twisted’ kinda train wreck, more the ‘kill me now’ kinda bored-outta-ones-skull kinda train-wreck.  People have not perfected this as an art form, and the moderators didn’t know how to use the platform in a useful, engaging or appropriate manor.  Just blah, blah, blah – ‘I know best and know you want to hear me say this great wise thing cuz what I have to say is sooooo special’.  Argggggg.  If this is life in lockdown, kill me now.  Zoom moderators must heed to the wise words of the great entertainer What’s-‘is-Name:  “Thou Shalt Not Bore Thy Audience to Death”.

    Oh, and bands playing virtual concerts – don’t advertise a concert and then play me ONE song – and then its available online anyway.   That’s not a concert, that a YouTube vid.

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