As a long time political observer, I cringe when, time after time, government bodies and elected officials dig in rather than acknowledge a mistake. We can disagree over whether the mistake in the BrightNight issue was a procedural one, a policy one, or both.
The problem for the council majority, which approved this project by a 4-1 vote with Lucas Frerichs in dissent, instead of acknowledging that they made mistakes, they keep pointing to the fact that the public does not understand their reasoning and if we only understood, we would agree with them.
That was the crux of the op-ed by Mayor Brett Lee and Councilmember Dan Carson.
They write, “There appears to be some confusing and conflicting messages out there about this issue. And based upon some of the inaccurate information that has been going around, it is understandable that some in the community would have questions about this agreement.”
The fact is, they have had three chances to explain and get the correct information out there—the initial vote, the FAQ and now the op-ed. Even now, I find myself with “questions about this agreement”—why was it rushed through, why was there no public process, and did the city get fair market value?
Add to that an underrated point made by the five former mayors in a letter:
“The city also failed to ensure that any power generated by the solar project would first be sold to Valley Clean Energy Agency (VCEA), which provides electric power to Davis citizens,” they write.
They add, “Indeed, the potential for electricity generation at the site and subsequent purchase by VCEA was never brought before the VCEA Board for discussion.”
The key: “This despite the fact that Davis is a founding member of VCEA. Instead, the electric power will go into the grid.”
When the city made the effort to create a modification of the public power proposal starting in 2014, they went the Community Choice Energy route—and they did not go it alone. They initially brought in Woodland, and in short order Yolo County and Winters joined as well.
And yet here we are and the city of Davis is creating a generation of clean energy power without including their partners or ensuring that VCEA gets access to that power or those benefits.
As one person told me, “Davis took an asset that could have been developed as an explicit part of the VCEA portfolio and did not even discuss it with its partner agencies in the VCEA. “
As they said, “That goes against everything I felt was necessary in a regional alliance.”
They said that this thing just “feels like Davis (is) going it alone without regard for its partners.”
It is easy to feel like the council majority is going it alone without regard for its citizens.
The council majority—perhaps down to three members, as Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida two weeks ago appeared to be looking for a way to rescind the deal—is going to have a tougher and tougher time ignoring this problem.
It is hard to disparage five former mayors from different times and backgrounds.
Will the letter from the five former mayors be the coup de grâce? Too soon to tell. But it is hard to overstate the impact of five mayors spanning nearly 40 years of Davis’ history: Bill Kopper (1982-83), Ann Evans (1984-85), Mike Corbett (1988-89) and then more recently Joe Krovoza (2010-14) and Robb Davis (2016-18).
Striking too is the fact that you rarely see any of these former mayors coming to council to speak on an issue these days—and even more rarely to criticize the council.
In fact, Robb Davis has disagreed with several decisions by the current council, but this is the first time he has come out to publicly criticize his former colleagues.
It is one thing when you can write this off as a few people who are never happy with anything the council does. We are well past that.
As one commenter put it: “When it’s the guy who opposed (fluoride) in water, Nishi and road budget allocations it’s one thing, but when it’s McCann and Kristov it gets my attention. Yes, I agree, experts are not infallible and at times they are not unbiased. The nature of science though is we keep what you are right about and throw away the rest. Here it seems, on this one, the CC is keeping what they are wrong about and discarding the advice of our best.”
That is the problem that the council has—and they have dug the hole ever so much deeper from their initial vote by doubling down on a highly technical FAQ and then an ill-conceived op-ed.
The letter makes several additional points.
The mayors criticize the council, stating that they have “made several serious errors in approving the Lease Option.”
Among these are the failure to “issue an open request for proposals to obtain the best offer for a solar-electric facility on its property.” They argue, “Such RFPs should be standard procedure for local government agencies.”
In the end, they call on the council to “void the Lease Option and start over.”
Seems like a prudent course of action, much more prudent than attempting to explain themselves again and then accuse those criticizing them of misunderstanding what they are doing.
There are far more important issues that the city has to face right now. The COVID-19 emergency remains on the forefront of community needs. The city has generally gotten good marks for their handling of the immediate crisis.
But perils lie ahead. We have a downtown now decimated by closures. We are facing steep new fiscal challenges. Now is not the time for a self-inflicted crisis of faith in our city’s leadership.
The council needs to think about the bigger picture and do the right thing.
—David M. Greenwald reporting