Monday Morning Thoughts: Why is the Council Majority Blind On BrightNight?


For the life of me I never really understood the decision by the council to approve the BrightNight proposal – it seemed rushed for no great and compelling reason.  The notion that this was a site that was underutilized suggested a more cautious approach.  The initial offer by BrightNight seemed underwhelming.

As I have said before – I really have no dog in this fight and I really believe the city has much more pressing challenges at this time with COVID-19 and a looming fiscal and economic disaster.

But that also compels them to get this small project right so that it does not consume their time.  The lessons we have learned from 50 years of governance – it is never your mistakes that doom you, but rather how you choose to handle them.

More baffling was how the council has chosen to handle this.  At least 50 different people have questioned the deal – we are talking about people across the political spectrum of Davis – this is important.  People that don’t agree on anything, agree on this.  People with a great deal of expertise.  People who are past leaders of this community.

That should give the city and council pause – would you not think?

Many of the people are not people that normally speak out and do not have a  bone to pick normally.

The response has been inexplicable and tone deaf to say the least.  First the city put out a highly technical and legalistic FAQ that made things less clear.  Then Mayor Brett Lee and Councilmember Dan Carson put forth an op-ed that doubles down on it all.

As pointed out yesterday – no one in this community questions whether there is a challenge with climate change or the need for solar power – but by focusing heavily on it, they are missing the points of contention.

Still there are two comments that stand out to me as the embodiment of the problem.

First, “City staff carefully vetted the credentials of our would-be partners…”  And then, “In reviewing BrightNight’s offer, we carefully took into account the allowable uses of the land.”

This is a “trust us” argument.

When someone is questioning the lack of a public process, the answer from the public officials can’t be, this is a good deal, trust us.  That doesn’t work.  Strangely, nowhere in this op-ed are numbers (except at the beginning with respect to solar power needs).

So the guy who got elected to be the fiscally responsible numbers crunchers is yelling “trust me” rather than showing us the numbers.  That’s really something.

The second thing that jumps out is this comment: “There appears to be some confusing and conflicting message 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.”

This argument basically says – we are confused about this project and if only we had the correct information, we would be on their side.

That’s a bit patronizing to start with.  But observe.  I have now read the FAQ and the op-ed by the Mayor and Councilmember, supposedly I should now have the correct and accurate information.  I am still in the same place I was before.

I question the need to rush this through and the need to lack of public project.  I also increasingly question the rationale for rushing it through.  I grant them that the COVID-19 situation was exploding, but that is all the more reason not to rush it through, not a reason to go faster.

BrightNight had a deadline, but there was nothing in this offer that seemed so compelling that we had to jump on it.  It’s not as though this were an above market rate offer for this land.

They write, “Our analysis determined that a bid process provided little certainty that a more attractive deal would be produced…”

Here again, they are asking us to “trust us” and yet, they undermine that trust with a calculation that actually makes little sense.  The only reason to jump the public process if they have an offer you can’t refuse.

“Little certainty” does not bolster their case here, it undermines it.  They had little compelling reason to truncate public discussion.

A reasonable person at this point would ask why that is and why are they fighting so hard against community pushback?

The more they say, the more I think we need to question what they are saying.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for


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.

Related posts

31 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: Why is the Council Majority Blind On BrightNight?”

  1. Don Shor

    There is a cohort in this town that has loudly and stridently opposed nearly everything the council majority has done for the last couple of years. They do so with righteous indignation across all media platforms. At some point, the council members and much of the public just tunes them out.

    So if there are some of you who are not in that cohort (I scarcely need to identify them; we all know who they are) who have reasonable concerns about this proposal, I suggest you contact the council members privately and respectfully and share how you think they could address this going forward. I have great respect for the city leaders who are trying to get things done in the face of constant, relentless criticism of their motives, competence, and adherence to process. We watch it play out with every development proposal, with the homeless day shelter, and on and on. As usual, the complaints about process dominate the discussion. The public fulminations and lengthy editorials are probably counterproductive at this point.

    A cynic might think that some are seeking to leverage this into a political campaign. In any event, it’s tiresome and it needs to be stated that it gets difficult to take people seriously who are constantly indignant and critical about everything.

    Suggestions for how to bring about the development of solar energy more effectively and efficiently  would likely be welcome if they are presented respectfully and with less rancor. Politics in Davis seems increasingly toxic. I cannot imagine why anyone would choose to be a city council member here. I suggest that those who are legitimately critical of the project keep this context in mind as they approach the council majority on this and other issues.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      This one really transcends that cohort.  There is a letter coming out with five former Mayors including Robb Davis and Joe Krovoza.

    2. Matt Williams

      The respectful, direct and personal process that Don describes as his ideal  is precisely the process that was followed here.

      Prior to making their decision on March 24th the members of the Council received private respectful e-mails from the Chair of the Utilities Commission, Johannes Troost, the Chair of the Natural Resources Commission, John Johnston, Utilities Commissioners Lorenzo Kristov, Olof Bystrom and myself, Utilities Commissioner Richard McCann, and Chair of the Open Space and Habitat Commission, Roberta Millstein.

      Following up on their individual personal letters of concern , Kristov, Troost, McCann, and I collectively sent a Request for Reconsideration of Lease Option Agreement and Term Sheet with BrightNight prior to the April 7 Council meeting, further illuminating serious concerns with the closed session process and many specific terms of both the lease option and the lease term sheet, as well as the City’s failure to engage with several City Commissions that had been working with City Staff to consider alternative uses of the same property, and the award of the lease option without competitive bidding.

      The Council also got private respectful e-mails from Scott Ragsdale, Anthony Wexler, former Finance and Budget Commissioner Bill Wood, Crilly Butler, Danielle Fodor, Donna Lemongello, Senior Citizens Commissioner and member of the Unitrans Advisory Board Elizabeth Lasensky, Planning Commissioner Greg Rowe, Joel Mandel, Nancy Price, former Planning Commissioner Pam Gunnell, Russell Tangren, Utilities Commissioner Gerry Braun. and Susan Michael Gjerde.  To the best of my knowledge only one of all those private respectful communications has been responded to by anyone on the Council Majority.

      With respect to whether they are part of the “cohort” Don describes in his comment, Dr. Kristov and Dr. McCann, both career energy experts, were just announced on April 21 by the City Council as recipients of the City Environmental Recognition Award for their role in formation of the Valley Clean Energy Alliance. Dr. Kristov has been invited to speak at energy policy conferences around the world, while Dr. McCann has been testifying on behalf of the state’s community choice aggregators, including VCEA, before the California Public Utilities Commission.

    3. Tia Will


      Ordinarily, I would agree with your point about speaking directly with the councilmembers. However, I know for fact this has been done. I know multiple members of the council have been contacted and spoken with directly by members of our community, amongst them not the usual players, nor individuals who weigh in on every issue. To no avail, with unconvincing results. Like you, I have respect for the individuals who have voluntarily taken on city leadership positions. Like David, I remain perplexed about the route taken with its lack of engagement and transparency.



      1. Bill Marshall

        speaking directly with the councilmembers…

        Just because CC members don’t act on concerns from individuals, doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t listening, considering.  It might, but not a ‘given’.

        Weak analogy… “why doesn’t God answer all prayers?”… response, “God answers all prayers… sometimes the answer is ‘no’…”.

        That said, I agree there needs to be a “do over” on the solar option/lease/whatever… handled differently…

        But rancor, finger-pointing, recriminations do little (if anything) to that end…

        We need problem-solving, not finger-pointing… IMNSHO

        1. Matt Williams

          But rancor, finger-pointing, recriminations do little (if anything) to that end…

          We need problem-solving, not finger-pointing… IMNSHO

          Bill, I posted toward the end of this comments thread a sample of comments the Council has received.  They are all public record, provided to the Utilities Commission deliberation process by the City Clerk’s office.

          In those comments do you see rancor?  Finger-pointing?  Recriminations?

          Or do you see respectful attempts at problem-solving?

    4. Richard McCann


      I’d appreciate it if you could identify among those who are opposing the City Council’s decision are members of this “cohort”? I would challenge you by saying that in fact only a few people from the group that you have likely identified have been vocal about this. And I ask you to distinguish between those who are truly “watchdogs” like Matt Williams who point out flaws in the Council’s reasonings but do not universally oppose basic policies and initiatives and your “cohort.” Please don’t attack the messengers with such an unsubstantiated broadside.

      1. Matt Williams

        Richard, I respectfully disagree with the thrust of your question, which I believe … in its own way … shifts the focus of the message to the messenger (who is in “the cohort”).  I believe the community is better served by keeping its focus on the message.  That message, both at an individual citizen level and as a collective community voice, speaks for itself.

        1. Richard McCann


          I understand. Don raised the issue, and I’m challenging him who he thinks those messengers are? Others may be dismissive for the same mistaken belief. See Scott’s comment below reiterating that issue.

    5. Scott Ragsdale

      Public fatigue with what is to often described as “an outrage” is a hazard of our time – here and nationally.   Hopefully Davis can rise above the fray and address this bad solar lease option.  The process to reach the deal has been accurately seen – by many different perspective voices – as inexcusable.  And I disagree with David’s assessment that there are many more pressing challenges and financial considerations.  If this deal holds, the city will lose on the order of millions of dollars a year for as many as 50 years.  That’s a lot of money.  And much has been said about the culture of City obstruction to public engagement.

      To echo Richard McCann’s comment – please don’t broadly classify the response to the solar lease option as some kind of “oh there they go again.”  Attempting to discredit the messenger, a tactic as equally common as declaring “outrage”, only serves to hurt the process of directing attention to the remedy.   A remedy that will help all of Davis – rescinding the solar lease option.

    6. Alan Miller

      I suggest that those who are legitimately critical of the project . . .

      As opposed to those who are illegitimately critical of the project?  DS, I agree with you that the people you speak of can be annoying, but your four paragraph diatribe against them is disturbingly hateful.  Is it so horrible to have people who you dislike/disagree-with, actually agree with you on one subject?  “Those people” being ‘right for once’ in your mind is not going to sink the ship or negate the voices of others taking the same stance.  May I recommend a chill pill, chicken soup and bed rest?

  2. Alan Miller

    My primary concern about this deal.  I am against solar farms.  I’ve never heard of the City even considering this purchase and I’m pretty politically active.  How did this pass under the radar that far?

    Let me be clear, I’m not against solar – as far as it can go – I’m against land-wasteful farms as a concept or idea. These are almost always companies working to take advantage of bad government programs to funnel money to players.  REAL solar takes advantage of existing ‘top-space’ available everywhere!  Rooftops, parking lots, building tops, highway medians.

    There is absolutely no need, ever, to construct solar farms.  Had I heard the City was considering one, I would have been out in front protesting the very idea.

  3. Bill Marshall

    Politics in Davis seems increasingly toxic.

    Yes… but that trend started about 40 years ago… glad you are finally realizing it…

    Many professional staff who had to interface with that reality, retired early.

    1. Richard McCann


      There is a growing cultural problem within the City staff that is exacerbating this problem. It will take real and assertive leadership to solve this. We’ve heard lots of words but little action on this so far.

  4. Richard McCann

    “BrightNight had a deadline…”

    David, I will continue to try to correct this myth. BrightNight had the option to make a $250,000 REFUNDABLE deposit before the April 15 deadline WITHOUT site control. It was BrightNight’s demand for site control (revealed by Martin Hermann’s comments at the April 22 special meeting of the Utilities Commission) that drove the deadline, which is an unacceptable condition to attempt to impose and should have been rejected outright. It’s also disingenuous on the part of some Council members and the staff to repeat this misinformation. (And some point it becomes a lie…)

    You can go to the CAISO’s Tariff, Section 25, Appendix DD, Section 3.5.1 (iii) to see this requirement:

  5. Matt Williams

    Don, here is a recent communication the Council received.  Do you believe it is respectful? Does it share how the author thinks they could address this going forward? Or is it a public fulmination?

    George Galamba  OK, Here is my two cent’s worth. (Probably worth half of that.) When I first heard of this deal, my initial thought was, “Great. The city is doing something useful to mitigate our carbon footprint.” Then when I heard that the approval process had been short-circuited, I thought, “There has to be a brother-in-law somewhere here.” I still think that using the land for a solar farm is a good idea, and I hope the environmental goals of the city council are not lost in this debate. Unfortunately, the op ed also heightens my suspicion that the process is a bit fishy. The article states,

    “Why didn’t we reject BrightNight’s offer and go out for a competitive bids for the use of the city land? Our would-be partner faced an April deadline to apply to the California Integrated System Operator for permission to hook up to the electricity grid. Going out to bid would have assured that BrightNight missed that deadline”

    What’s up with that? Was BrightNight not aware of that deadline? Were they not aware of the amount of time it takes to shepherd a city deal through the process? If either is true, then the company is probably not ready for prime time. The IT office where I used to work had a sign on the door: “A lack of planning on your part doesn’t constitute an emergency on mine.” It is a shame that the city council bought into the sales pitch of “this is a great deal, but you have to sign up today.” I do hope that a solar farm is developed on this land, but I would prefer that the council do its due diligence.

  6. Matt Williams

    Don, here is another for your consideration.  Do you believe it is respectful? Does it share how the author thinks they could address this going forward? Or is it a public fulmination?

    From what I’ve seen, it looks like the BrightNight deal has dulled considerably and should be considered more carefully before final approval. I respectfully request that this agreement be considered at tonight city council meeting so that community members can voice their concerns.

    Thank you,

    Tony Wexler


    “In my country we go to prison first and then become President.” Nelson Mandela

  7. Matt Williams

    Don, here is another letter Council received that you may want give us your thoughts on.  Do you believe it is respectful? Does it share how the author thinks they could address this going forward? Or is it a public fulmination?

    Please ask council to bring back the BrighNight solar agreement voted on by council last meeting. People I trust in this community have looked into the financial and contractual agreement and feel the city does not have a good deal.
    Additionally, this was not brought to commissions and was voted on under the duress of the first council Zoom meeting which had technical difficulties.

    A lease agreement with misleading information from the bidder

    — No competitive bid process
    — Significant risks and liabilities for the City
    — Lack of Due Diligence by the City: the County gets $1,000,000 for its grasslands solar lease, while the City only gets $80k per year for this solar lease
    — A rushed process with no input from community experts or Commissions

    Thank you. It is important that the City be vigilant and make sure every contract is the best we can do as the City will be facing hard economic times because of Covid-19.

    With respect,

    Pam Gunnell Davis, CA

  8. Matt Williams

    Don, here’s another comment sent to the Council. Do you believe it is respectful? Does it share how the author thinks they could address this going forward? Or is it a public fulmination?

    To: Davis City Council members

    After reading in the April 3rd Davis Enterprise about the land lease agreement with BrightNight, I had many concerns. I contacted my son, Dan Ferguson, a commercial project developer in solar PV for the past 11 years, for his thoughts. I have pasted his comments below, in hopes that this information would inform your upcoming decisions. I think it was unfortunate that you didn’t have appropriate guidance before making a commitment for five years. It is critical that you have an independent consultant to guide our city on any future power purchase agreements.

    Sincerely, Bruce Ferguson Davis, CA
    530 564-4061

    Notes from Dan Ferguson:

    $4,700 a year with a slight escalator for a 5-year lease option is not a good deal. The dollar amount for site control is ridiculously low, especially considering that the term is for 5 years, which is lengthy. Details are vague, but I would assume this to be about a $250 million project, well over $300 million if it includes storage (and I would hope that it does). Market rate for a lease option on such a project should be more like $10,000 a year for NO MORE than 2 years. The City of Davis has just given up 5 YEARS of site control on 235 acres for only $25,000.

    It concerns me that Assistant City Manager Ash Feeney reports that the City Council felt the lease rate they negotiated was competitive. It is not clear to me why the City of Davis needed to give up site control on this land for 5 years.

    Either BrightNight will win approval on this cluster study (yes, the application is due by 4/15) or they will not. Two years would have been more than enough time to secure their reservation within the CAISO capacity program as well as negotiate the ground lease and power purchase agreement (PPA) with the City of Davis.

    As for the solar array project itself, it sounds like the city council is getting a little ahead of itself here. Mayor Lee is excited over receiving “up to” $80,000 a year on the ground lease for the solar array. Who will be the off-taker for all this energy, City of Davis? City of Davis residents? Are there proposed terms for the PPA? That is, beyond the length of term being 49 years?

    It looks like it is too late to do anything about the 5-year lease option. I would hope that the City Council would acknowledge they are out of their “realm of expertise” and please engage an outside independent consultant before committing to a 49-year ground lease and PPA in order to avoid costly and avoidable mistakes.

  9. Ron Glick

     “Dr. Kristov and Dr. McCann, both career energy experts, were just announced on April 21 by the City Council as recipients of the City Environmental Recognition Award for their role in formation of the Valley Clean Energy Alliance. Dr. Kristov has been invited to speak at energy policy conferences around the world, while Dr. McCann has been testifying on behalf of the state’s community choice aggregators, including VCEA, before the California Public Utilities Commission.”

    In Davis, you are simply another citizen even if out side of Davis you are considered a world class expert in your field.

    1. Richard McCann


      Not sure if you’re making an ironic comment, which I agree with in large part if that’s the case. That said, experts are not infallible and sometimes they stray too far from their expertise. (Unfortunately, that was the case with Dr. Cahill with his criticism of the air quality impacts on Nishi.) But they should be listened to respectfully at first, and the content of their analysis questioned (unless a clear source of bias can be identified.)

    2. Ron Glick

      It is ironic but I’ve seen it too many times. When its the guy who opposed F in water, Nishi and road budget allocations its one thing but when its 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.

  10. Ron Glick

    “I am against solar farms.”

    “REAL solar takes advantage of existing ‘top-space’ available everywhere!  Rooftops, parking lots, building tops, highway medians.”

    I’m with you here Alan. Aside from  the fiduciary failures of the CC where has the discussion about taking farmland out of production for solar generation occurred? Davis has all these constraints about development of houses on farmland but then we see hundreds of acres converted to solar without any discussion at all about the choices involved. This deal takes land out of production for at least 50 years. Whatever remediation the land might need after being used by the wastewater plant I doubt that it would take 50 years to cure any issues.

    1. Alan Miller

      I swear people sh*t their brains out their *ssholes when they hear the word ‘solar’, like it echoes the sacred sound of God’s holy name.  Solar to stupid progressives (not that all progressives are stupid, only the stupid ones are) can do no wrong.  Solar farms have permanently destroyed vast swaths of pristine desert and killed untold desert tortoises by scraping the desert floor — and deserts, unlike forest, do not eventually repair themselves in a few decades — it can take many thousands of years due to the low rainfall.  And many large solar farms aren’t even cells — they are heat generation sites that use scarce and difficult-to-replenish desert groundwater for steam, drying up springs and water holes for wildlife.  Solar farms replacing agriculture also makes little sense.  These solar farms can be distributed across numerous high-level surfaces being used for other purposes below.  Why destroy farmland?

  11. Ron Glick

    As far as it goes, Don raises a point that is likely true, that many of the usual suspects lack credibility with the council because they oppose most everything and seek to obstruct the City from getting anything done by any means available, Measure R, CEQA delays, and meritless lawsuits are good examples of why some members of the CC don’t listen when these people speak out.

    However, the opposition to this project seems to continue to grow throughout the community and now transcends the usual suspects argument. With former mayors about to come out it seems that the CC is out of sync with the larger community of Davis rather than just the usual suspects.

    A neighbor who doesn’t speak out at all told me the deal didn’t pass the smell test. To me that was like Lyndon Johnson after the Tet Offensive understanding that if he had lost Walter Cronkite he had lost the country.

    What comes next? Will Brett Lee do what LBJ then did? Too young to know? Too old to remember?

    About a month after TET, LBJ addressed the nation and said:

    “Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”

    After Cronkite slammed LBJ walking outside the ancient capital of Hue with gunfire in the background Johnson knew he was toast.

    Does our current Mayor and CC majority yet see the writing on the wall?

  12. Jim Frame

    Does our current Mayor and CC majority yet see the writing on the wall?

    I believe they’re too busy looking for the light at the end of the tunnel.


  13. Ron Oertel

    In reference to some of the comments on here, I have an entirely different view regarding who comprises the “usual suspects”, and what they advocate for.

    Probably a reason to focus on the issues, rather than the individuals.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for