The city is on lockdown, city hall is closed to the public, the council meets tonight by remote technology, and the Vanguard will have a series of articles talking to each of the members of council about their thoughts on the current crisis.
The important thing that Mayor Brett Lee told the Vanguard: “We’re in sync with the county.”
The mayor stressed the importance of a coherent approach with the county under the lead of the Public Health Officer, Dr. Ron Chapman.
“If everyone comes up with their own plan, it’s going to be less effective than if we work together,” he said. While there may be people with ideas on either a better or different plan, the mayor saw the value in making sure that the approach between the various jurisdictions was cohesive and coordinated.
“I get updates on a daily basis,” the Mayor explained. “My role is as it’s always been to try to make good policy decisions for the city.”
He leaves the real time response to the first responders—the fire chief, police chief, and, to some extent, the city manager.
The community is going to face some pretty serious challenges.
“Small businesses are going to face some challenges,” he said. “So we’re responding to that with an item on our agenda.”
“Our goal is not to sit on the sidelines, but our goal is to intervene and respond where appropriate,” he said. Lost wages, he said, “are a valid and real time concern that we need to address.”
Overall, “policies that have a real-time, big sense of urgency—the council needs to be on top of it,” the mayor explained. “Not just react for the sake of reacting. We need to come up with a coherent policy.”
Last week the council was presented with an urgency ordinance on evictions. Over the past week the council has reached out to various stakeholders.
Brett Lee believes that that effort will “make the proposed ordinance even better.”
Many believe that this state of affairs will continue for months.
“I think we should measure it in terms of months,” the mayor said, with the caveat that he does not view it as his job to make that determination. If we look at other countries, “this is months long, measured in months, not measured in weeks.”
What that means is that we cannot simply put things on hold for a few weeks, pop back out and attempt to resume the normal course of our lives.
“I don’t view it that way,” he said. “Our role, especially the city, is to maintain its essential services and to also recognize the fact that this will be the new normal probably for the next three to four months.”
He added that he would be very surprised if this is shorter than months.
In part that will mean that, in addition to taking up emergency items like the eviction issue, tonight they also have the final ordinance on the flavored tobacco ban.
“We are supportive of banning bubble gum flavored tobacco products and things like that,” he explained. “Is that urgent—urgent, in terms of coronavirus? No, not really. But for our community, 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.”
That means that the city needs to find a way to continue its planning processes. The example he used was the South Mace redesign.
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.”
Does coronavirus and the challenges surrounding it mean planning and things like that should stop? Mayor Lee asked.
“I don’t think so,” he said.
But he agreed with the “subset of folks” that he described as being very concerned with “high visibility sorts of things.”
To them he responded, “Their concerns are quite reasonable.”
The public’s ability to participate and weigh in to planning and other processes, he said, “should not be curtailed or abridged.”
By the same token, that includes addressing issues like 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.
The key is to safeguard staff and the public. If that’s the case, we should be able to have “a fully transparent and participative approach on something like that project.”
He added, “I believe that the South Mace redesign is the perfect example of something that is not related to the coronavirus, but the city needs to continue to make progress on.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting