Commentary: The Hole Grows Deeper – Five Mayors Speak Out

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Robb Davis listens to community comments in 2016

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


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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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32 thoughts on “Commentary: The Hole Grows Deeper – Five Mayors Speak Out”

  1. Alan Miller

    It is one thing when you can write this off as a few people who are never happy with anything the council does.

    Or, you can just write off  ‘those people’ completely.  What a terrible inconvenience to have ‘them’ on the same page 😐   And, still, ‘they’ must be brought up, though it serves the argument not.

    1. Richard McCann

      Ron O

      It was Don Shor who brought this up a couple of days ago, and Ron Glick provided a strong rebuttal on that point on this particular issue. If you’re one of the people who fall into Ron G’s description, then you are part of that group. But that’s not a “personal attack”–that’s a factual observation about how other people perceive this group, and those people have explicitly expressed that view.

    2. Alan Miller

      that’s a factual observation about how other people perceive this group

      It’s an observation that “some people” don’t like “another group of people”.  History of the world.

    3. Ron Oertel

      It was Don Shor who brought this up a couple of days ago, and Ron Glick provided a strong rebuttal on that point on this particular issue.

      Don was roundly criticized for that, by at least one commenter whom I wouldn’t “categorize” into any particular “group”.  (Other than the “fiscal concern” group.)

      If you’re one of the people who fall into Ron G’s description, then you are part of that group.

      Ironically, I view you and Ron G as part of the same “development activist” group. And yet, I listen to and think about what both of you have to say (regarding that issue, and other issues).

      But that’s not a “personal attack”–that’s a factual observation about how other people perceive this group, and those people have explicitly expressed that view.

      It’s not factual.  I can’t speak for anyone else (nor do I know who David was referring to), but there are decisions that the council has made which I support.  (Including the new Nugget headquarters/development, and the two new hotels.)

      I also appreciated Brett Lee’s “taking responsibility” for the Mace Mess, though I’m not sure it can be solved.

      In any case, I appreciate your interest and advocacy regarding the solar farm lease.

       

  2. Alan Miller

    Why the obsession with going to VCE as opposed to the grid?  All electricity goes to the grid – the rest is just a financial arrangement.  The atmosphere doesn’t care whether Yolo County ‘buys’ the energy – the impact of a % of solar is the same.  The only thing that matters to the planet is the overall mix of energy sources and how much of that is dirty to the atmosphere.  And that includes the daily trains of Utah coal passing through Davis and headed for the Port of Oakland and then China to be burned in coal plants at Chinese-government environmental standards, that we of the USA enable by shipping them that coal.  Mother Nature couldn’t give a good g*dd*mn if that coal is burned in the US or China, which may be why she is taking vengeance against the human race.

    1. Tia Will

      Alan

      Your post of 8:19 is true as written. Mother Nature does not care about how human cooperation and mutual agreement achieve desirable outcomes, only that the outcome is achieved. However, humans do care. Continued human cooperation is often dependent upon trust in transparent and collaborative approaches as demonstrated by past and ongoing apparent commitment to partnerships. It is this human trust that some will feel has been breached by this seemingly unilateral decision making.

  3. Alan Miller

    t 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).

    I won’t really be impressed until:  Dan Wolk (2014-16), Don Saylor (2010-11), Ruth Asmundson (2004-06, 08-10), Sue Greenwald (2006-08), Susie Boyd (2002-2004), Ken Wagstaff (2000-02), Julie Partansky (1998-2001) [She gets a pass], Lois Wolk (1996-8), Maynard Skinner (1972-73,91-92), Gerald Adler (1990), David Rosenberg (1986-7, 94-96), James L Stevens Jr (1981), Sandy Motley (1980-81), Thomas Tomasi (1978-79), Robert Black (1976-77), Joan Poulos (1974-75), Vigfus Asmundson (1970,71), Ralph Aronson (1968-69), Kent Gill (1966-67), Edgar Markham (1964-5), Norman Woodbury (1960-63), Vernard Hickey (1954-59), Jack Hibbert (1952-53), Arthur Weaver (1950-51), Clay S. Quessenberry (1948-49), Ben Madson (1947-48), CA Covell (1917, 31-47), AG Anderson (1918-1930), and JB Anderson (1917) —  also all join in, or at least a strong majority of these former mayors — then I remain unimpressed.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Footnote:  I believe the portion of the narrative,

      Ann Evans (1984-85), Mike Corbett (1988-89)

      has errors… I recall that at the end of Evans’ term, the CC made Corbett mayor… passing over the person, Debbie Nichols-Poulos, who had the most votes in the previous election… I recall that Adler thought this to be wrong, and moved that Evans be ‘awarded’ another term… Evans paused (thinking she could be re-coronated?)… then moved to have Corbett as Mayor… I recall being in the Council chambers @ that meeting (on another matter)…

      The above ‘situation’ is what led directly to “institutionalizing” having the #1 candidate from the previous election being designated as mayor pro-tem, to serve as mayor two years later… which has to be re-visited due to switching to district elections…

      Ironically, Julie Partansky and Debbie Nichols-Poulos shared a ‘circumstance’… my theory and belief was that both were originally elected when 3 seats were open… they both were everyone’s “third choice”, and each were the highest “vote-getters”…

      History is fun…

      Between covid updates, BrightNight debates, upcoming budget with at least a temporary ‘new reality’ as to revenues, I’d sure like to see some CC/public discussion of how terms set to expire June 30 (by ordinance/tradition) are extended to December/Jan… and how mayors will be chosen, come then (theoretically, the mayor role is set to change July 1, 2020!)[an “interim”?]

      History is fun… governance procedures are important.

      Just an opinion…

    2. Richard McCann

      Alan

      Actually who pays for the power does matter. VCEA aims to achieve a much higher percent of its portfolio from renewable sources; PG&E aims only to achieve the minimum requirement of 33% this year, and it is likely to do so with its current resource mix so it may not buy the BrightNight output (except as part of the specifically local GTSR/ECR program). Other CCAs are in the market for renewables as well. If VCEA buys the output, then those CCAs will have to buy from a different project, which means another project is added to the overall state mix.

      Another potential benefit is that the project output could be bought and applied to one of two different programs that may not be available if BrightNight is broadly bidding into the grid. The first is a direct-to-retail aggregated community solar sale. Something along the lines of PG&E’s GTSR/ECR, but better designed, is one option. (I testified at the CPUC in 2014 about the problems with PG&E’s program, and that program has failed to launch.) The other is the sale to local municipal accounts through the RES-BCT tariff. That tariff affords an additional benefit that could be 60% or more greater than the likely cost of the project. That purchase would likely move those accounts to 100% renewable, and free up other VCEA renewables to be sold to other retail customers. Those are the advantages of a local renewable if done correctly rather than randomly hoping that things might work out.

       

        1. Richard McCann

          The easy way to think of it is that each load serving entity (LSE) such as PG&E and VCEA must build a hill of RPS generation of a certain size with a minimum contribution from each LSE. They pull from another hill of renewable sources , and they have to go out and bring more dirt (renewables) if there isn’t enough in that 2nd hill. If BrightNight is thrown into that 2nd hill than then PG&E or another CCA can just dig out of that collective pile of dirt until its empty. But if VCEA instead directly gets that dirt from BrightNight and it never makes it into the 2nd hill then PG&E or another CCA must go out and find more more dirt to throw into the 1st hill when the 2nd hill runs out. And the 2nd hill runs out more quickly if the BrightNight project isn’t available to throw into the 2nd hill.

          (Maybe I should have use the analogy of buckets of water which is more common…)

    3. Richard McCann

      My other post got moved to the wrong comment in the midst of writing this one. Oh well.

      So let’s look at who’s really eligible to comment on this. First, those who are either Yolo County judges or supervisors are disqualified because they may be directly deciding on this issue in the near future. That eliminates Work (now), Rosenberg and Saylor. Others have moved out of town, which include Ruth Asmundson (more about Vigfus later) and Susie Boyd. A number of these folks are dead or moved away–honestly, neither you nor me probably knows what’s happened to those prior to and including Baker and given that they have faded away from the public eye (unlike the 5 who signed the letter) we must discount their lack of participation as meaningless. So we are left with 5 former mayors off your list who did not sign. That’s 50% who did step forward and sign, which is pretty damn significant.

        1. Richard McCann

          Yes, but it was an interesting exercise that demonstrated how really significant this group is. (And I misspoke about Ruth moving out of town–it was just down the block.)

  4. Matt Williams

    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.

    Interesting statement(s)

  5. Ron Glick

    Whether or not a person is a “usual suspect” should be irrelevent to CC deliberations. I know its hard to listen to the same voices who come out against whatever you are trying to accomplish but if you aren’t willing to consider the merits of each argument standing alone I believe you shouldn’t be on the council. Not listening can lead to bad policy if the person, who you are discounting because you are tired of their repeated complaints, is telling you something you didn’t already consider.

    I think that some on this council have a problem listening to the public as exemplified by the change in the time limit for each comment from three minutes to two minutes. I will readily admit I have some sympathy for CC members who must suffer through often long, boring, tedious meetings, but they should have known what they were getting into when they put their name on the ballot offering to serve. If they didn’t know during their first term perhaps they should get a little more understanding, but, they certainly should know by the time they are running for a second or third term.

    In the case of this lease, by not listening to the early warnings of the usual suspects, the CC members who didn’t listen are taking what I believe to be a well deserved pounding. The CC members who are trying to muddle through and defend the poor decision they made that was based on a flawed process should be particularly called out for their failure to listen to the “usual suspects” the army of ordinary citizens that came in behind them, and our VIP ex-Mayors who added their voices in dismay.

    1. Alan Miller

      if you aren’t willing to consider the merits of each argument standing alone I believe you shouldn’t be on the council.

      Or running a blog, for that matter.

      as exemplified by the change in the time limit for each comment from three minutes to two minutes.

      Agree, and also agree I have some sympathy as you RG stated.

       . . . they certainly should know by the time they are running for a second or third term.

      Perhaps they know but are growing weary.

      by not listening to the early warnings of the usual suspects,

      Interesting the term “usual suspects”.  I was reading comments in a Bay Area newspaper that used the same term to describe those with the politics of those here in Davis doing the pointing/labeling of others as the “usual suspects” . . . what’s good for the goose is good for the . . . gender-fluid duck.

      . . . should be particularly called out for their failure to listen to the “usual suspects”, the army of ordinary citizens that came in behind them, and . . .

      So you are calling the “usual suspects” extra-ordinary citizens?

      1. Ron Glick

        Maybe they are extra ordinary or maybe they simply have the time and an interest level that compels them to participate. I know that before I was retired I had far less time to participate. I wasn’t any less passionate about civic life I just didn’t have the time. Some people would rather die than participate. Some don’t even vote. Some need to take a valium before they speak publicly. Each must decide for themselves the level of engagement they are willing to commit. I did have one former elected tell me that when the people you don’t ever hear from turn out you really need to pay attention.

        Personally, I try to listen to everyone and accept that we aren’t going to agree on everything. I try not to make differences personal and count among my friends people with diverse views and try to find the places where we are in agreement. I will readily admit I find frivolous lawsuits contemptible. They are expensive, time consuming, and do nothing but delay the inevitable. However if you win at any level on the merits, as we see in the case of Trackside your lawsuit is by definition not frivolous.

        1. Alan Miller

          Some people would rather die than participate.

          I wonder where the bodies are buried?

          Some need to take a valium before they speak publicly.

          Knowing this, I will keep an eye-out for the tell-tale signs.

          I did have one former elected tell me that when the people you don’t ever hear from turn out you really need to pay attention.

          Disturbing, but I’m sure true.  How much is a “Mission Impossible”-style mask?

          I will readily admit I find frivolous lawsuits contemptible . . . as we see in the case of Trackside your lawsuit is by definition not frivolous.

          Yeah, then those in opposition changed from pointing the dirty finger at us that they pointed at the so-called anti-growthers, and they then pointed that same dirty finger at the judge and declared him ‘wrong’.  ’twas unbelievable . . . such an ugly thing, . self-right-yee-us-ness — most expecially when yee are wrong.

          Though, RG, are you saying the Trackside lawsuit was frivolous — until it wasn’t???

        2. Ron Glick

          “Though, RG, are you saying the Trackside lawsuit was frivolous — until it wasn’t???”

          Don’t think I ever said that. What I was trying to say is that Trackside is likely the one local land use lawsuit that wasn’t frivolous.

        3. Ron Oertel

          Most lawsuits don’t make it that far, before they’re settled or dropped (e.g., from lack of resources/interest to continue).

          In my opinion, the Trackside lawsuit might be the “least important” one, except for the fact that the city lost (so far).

          I suspect that a lot of people (outside of that immediate neighborhood) couldn’t care less about one extra floor – at that particular location at least (and likely view it as “frivolous”, and a form of “NIMBYism”).  Then again, it would also set a precedent.

          I also think that “NIMBY” concerns can be “legitimate”.

          As I recall, David was rather indifferent – because he believes it should be even more dense.

          But again, it seems that many on here “judge” lawsuits before they’re actually “judged”. (Which I understood to be Alan M.’s point.)

      2. Richard McCann

        “Perhaps they know but are growing weary.”

        Maybe that’s the sign that they shouldn’t run for reelection. Being on City Council isn’t an obligation, it’s a choice.

  6. Ron Glick

    “Ironically, I view you and Ron G as part of the same “development activist” group.”

    I am not now nor have I ever been a member of any development group, activist or otherwise. I’m simply an old school Democrat, pro labor, pro jobs, pro education, pro economic growth, pro trying to help people improve the lives of themselves and their families.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Most “old school Democrats” care about environmental issues (e.g., sprawl, climate change, etc.). In fact, they form the cornerstone of the (modern) environmental movement.

  7. Ron Glick

    I care about environmental issues, endangered species, clean air and water and preservation of critical habitat. I don’t find those issues to be of much concern in local land use issues.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Good to know, but if everyone felt that it wasn’t a “local issue”, then we’d all be waiting for someone else to address those issues.

      Sort of like ignoring a 6,000-parking space, freeway-oriented proposal that will ultimately create even more sprawl.

      I understand that critical habitat and endangered species are a local issue, as well. But, maybe you view those concerns as “frivolous”, if it stands in the way of a development proposal.

      1. Ron Glick

        Actually on a local level I’ve been speaking out on burrowing owls since Mace Ranch Park was built and opposed the flawed and failed original Yolo Habitat Conservation Plan in the 1990’s that undervalued the loss of habitat for at risk species.

        I also supported gaining river water rights to improve water quality. Something that anti-development activists opposed as a weapon against development.

        The issues I’m interested in may not be the same as yours. C’est la vie.

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