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