Guenther Embarks on a Second Council Run

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It was two years ago that Larry Guenther ran for the first time, finishing in the middle of the pack, fifth in a nine person race where the top two vote-getters were seated on the council. This time, it will be different.

Gone is the at-large election, and with it a one-on-one battle is setting up against two-term incumbent Lucas Frerichs.

For Larry Guenther this is about the issues he ran on in 2018 “that haven’t really been improved.”

Community engagement, transparency and accountability are issues that he is focused on. “Those are overarching and fundamental issues,” Guenther explained in a Zoom interview this past week with the Vanguard. “The way we’re computing fiscal impacts of developments, we’re still pushing the numbers to favor a yes vote—instead of just looking at it honestly.”

Part of that, he said, “is only doing projections out to 15 years.” He said, “We keep going business as usual even though we’re in a fiscal hole and getting deeper.”

He added, “We keep doing the same things even though people are screaming, what about community engagement?” He said, “Why do we have commissions? I know so many commissioners who are just frustrated, why am I working this hard when my input is not being engaged?”

When this happens, the biggest threat is disengagement.

“A lot of people are engaged, but a lot of commissions have vacant seats,” he said, noting the lag between vacancy and appointment and wondering if there shouldn’t be an interim appointment until the council fills the spot.

He referenced the initiative brought out by Johannes Troost, Richard McCann, Mike Corbett, Lorenzo Kristov and others, “that comes out of frustration with commissioners who don’t feel that they’re engaged.”

Larry Guenther believes that going to district elections really changes the approach of a campaign—particularly in races where there are incumbents.

“You are running against people—that was not the case before,” he said. When he ran before and it was nine people running for two seats, it allowed candidates to define themselves knowing that the public had a choice of two people. “Now that’s off the table.”

He said the challenge is “I have to tell people why I’m better than the incumbent.” But if he goes super-negative, he not only goes against his own nature, but believes that would not go over well with the Davis community. That poses a dilemma for challengers.

Key point for him though is, “I disagree with a bunch of votes Lucas has cast.” But he quickly added, “I also agree with some of the votes he passed.”

Also impacting the race will be COVID-19.

“Before COVID, my campaign was going to be walk, walk, walk,” he said, and figured with the smaller profile of the districts, he might be able to cover the entire district two or three times during the course of the campaign.

But now, “how are people going to react to people going door to door?” He said he is still planning to do so, with guidance from public health officials including his wife, but he will be cautious about how that is perceived.

Larry Guenther expounded on the difference between himself and the incumbent. One point he raised when projects go before council is “there seems to be this tendency to pick winners and losers instead of trying to change the project so that everyone’s a winner.”

Trackside was a perfect example of that in his view.

He noted his neighborhood posed an alternative but were told “it’s infeasible.” “If the biggest multi-use building in downtown isn’t feasible—what is?” he asked. “We got no traction at all with trying to work out something that was acceptable to the city.”

He sees the same problem with all development projects. DISC, he thinks, has a solid premise, but “it’s still a car-centered development. We can’t keep doing that. Environmentally that’s a disaster.

“Those are two that are really big,” he said.

On police accountability, he noted that Lucas Frerichs was really instrumental in getting the Police Accountability Commission (PAC), “but voting on recommendations from the Police Accountability Commission, he has not voted—and neither have any of the other councilmembers voted for their recommendations, including reviewing the Picnic Day report.”

He noted with George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, what we are seeing is “lack of transparency” and “lack of accountability” and yet the first recommendation from the PAC was to review the Picnic Day report “which the police chief apologized for,” and they “voted no.”

But when the police ask for an armored vehicle and surveillance equipment, “they said yes.

“That is the pattern that we’ve seen,” he said, noting that he did not think this was conscious on the part of the council.

He said the U-Mall “is a really brilliant model for how we should develop.” He said shopping centers are already on heavily used areas with transit. “So let’s densify those spots,” he said.

But he said “trashing neighborhoods when you do it—we don’t have to do that.” He believes that plan could easily be re-designed to accommodate the issues on those things.

This is also a unique campaign because it is going to happen fast. With all-mail ballots, an electorate that figures to have long since decided the top of the ticket, people could be voting by early October.

Zoom coffees, livestreaming on Facebook, he said, “those will allow people to chime in and have feedback without sitting down in someone’s living room—which is not viable because it’s not safe.”

Walking was looking better a month ago, he said. “But because of failure of leadership, these are the conditions that we shut down the first time. They may be actually worse.” He said, “People aren’t behaving as we want them to behave and a huge part of that, I think, is lack of leadership.”

—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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22 thoughts on “Guenther Embarks on a Second Council Run”

    1. Bill Marshall

      Ron G… I get that ‘paid parking’ is an important issue for you… I just don’t understand why, with all the issues the City faces, that would be #1… I might have “druthers”, but at the end of the day, I really don’t care…

      UCD  has paid parking, even if using the parking structure to pick up an Amazon delivery.  25 cents…

      Please help me understand why this is so important.  My main issue is paying off the costs of implementation and enforcement.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Yeah, am thinking 9 or 10, “tops”… at least I hope so… if higher, would be seriously concerned about folks’ thought processes… but, I believe Ron G is more accurate as to when it comes up again… a 10 year horizon is not borne out by local history… and, it’s “trendy”… almost a ‘poster child’…

  1. Ron Glick

    It is an issue that has been on the agenda and will continue to be on the agenda. I don’t think its the most important issue facing the city but I think its a reasonable issue to ask for a position from all the candidates. I intend to ask it of all the candidates to get them on the record for the voters weigh among the many issues that can influence how they cast their votes.

    1. Bill Marshall

      I think its a reasonable issue to ask for a position from all the candidates. I intend to ask it of all the candidates to get them on the record for the voters weigh among the many issues that can influence how they cast their votes.

      It’s an issue that has arisen dozens of times in the last 40+ years… never have seen (probably there, just haven’t seen it) a cost analysis dealing with the installation of paid parking in the ‘Brinley Lot’, as to capital, maintenance, enforcement costs vs. revenue… that is MY major issue.

      As to reasonableness as to asking position, fair enough.  Wouldn’t be one of my questions, but ask away… go for it!  I’d be interested to see responses to that (and other questions) to determine if a candidate has “thought it thru” and is informed prior to taking a ‘position’… I am prejudiced towards candidates who gather knowledge, and actually THINK before taking a position… whether I agree with the position or not! [one of the reasons I miss Robb Davis… often disagreed, but always respected his gathering knowledge and THINKING before deciding…]

      So, Ron G, am not arguing with you… I’m sure that many of the questions I may want answered, that might have little ‘resonance’ with you… I imagine there are some that we share as being crucial…

      For some, it seems like ‘paid parking’ is a “cause celebre”… a cool thing to do, as it is ‘trendy’… for others, it seems like the energized “third rail”… to me, it hinges on whether at the end of the day, is it cost effective… no profit, no loss… and no/minimal “unintended consequences”…

  2. Tia Will

    Ron

    I agree it is a reasonable question to ask of all candidates. I also believe the response ” we will have to continue to evaluate this in view of the COVID-19 related changes to the downtown and local economy” is reasonable and should not be seen as a dodge. We are in a time of great uncertainty which, unfortunately, I believe is going to last much longer than many anticipate. Once again, the flue of 1917 did not dissipate in 1917. It lasted approximately 3 years. Many issues including parking are going to hinge on how well we adapt to what is, not how we wish things could be.

  3. Ron Oertel

    Here’s a real problem, and is the reason that cities (including Davis) are facing deficits:

    The way we’re computing fiscal impacts of developments, we’re still pushing the numbers to favor a yes vote—instead of just looking at it honestly.”

    Part of that, he said, “is only doing projections out to 15 years.” He said, “We keep going business as usual even though we’re in a fiscal hole and getting deeper.”

    A similar comment was made by a commissioner on the finance and budget commission, as well.

  4. Ron Oertel

    David:  “And at some point you are no longer measuring the impact of a development but rather the increase costs to maintain a city.”

    Since you keep promoting this irresponsible view, perhaps it’s best to just cite something that one of the finance and budget commissioners stated, during the May 27th meeting to analyze DISC.  (This may be slightly paraphrased, as it’s difficult to transcribe word-for-word.)

    ”Pay as you go.  I take it that’s paid by everyone in town, not just the residents and owners, right?  (Response – correct.)  So, we’re deciding that everyone else is going to pay for this infrastructure, which is the way that it’s always has been done.  But, we’re facing a $100 million or more in shortfall (from this approach).  So clearly the system we’re using isn’t appropriate, which is sort of a logical conclusion.” 

  5. Don Shor

    “We keep going business as usual even though we’re in a fiscal hole and getting deeper.”

    So my immediate question is how Larry proposes that we get out of the fiscal hole he is describing. There are basically three ways: raise taxes, cut expenses, or expand the city’s revenues by means of economic development. Which would he emphasize?

    “Why do we have commissions? I know so many commissioners who are just frustrated, why am I working this hard when my input is not being engaged?”

    Commissioners are appointed and don’t necessarily reflect the will of the voters. Councilmembers answer directly to the voters. Commission role is advisory. I understand that many commissioners have greater expertise on a particular topic than do councilmembers, but they aren’t the ones that deal with the political issues. Or at least they’re not supposed to. I have seen examples over the years where commissioners move from advisory to advocacy roles, which is overstepping their bounds.

    I don’t think it’s clear to the voters how commissions are formed and how commissioners get appointed.

    He referenced the initiative brought out by Johannes Troost, Richard McCann, Mike Corbett, Lorenzo Kristov and others, “that comes out of frustration with commissioners who don’t feel that they’re engaged.”

    It would be unfortunate if this letter were used as a campaign manifesto. Another look at the list of signatories and the current roster of candidates suggests that it is going to be used that way by some of them. That will reduce its usefulness.

    1. Ron Oertel

      There are basically three ways: raise taxes, cut expenses, or expand the city’s revenues by means of economic development. 

      None of those have actually worked, so far.  And not just for Davis.

      And frankly, none of the candidates are going to be able to “solve” this. It is beyond their scope, and it is totally unreasonable to expect ANY of them to “solve” it.

      Regarding “expanding the city’s revenues” (the one that the Vanguard harps on), one has to examine if it’s feasible, and the costs associated with that.

      There are concerns among the entire finance and budget commission, for example, that DISC is not feasible for the developer – beyond the phases which are subsidized by housing.

      And again, capital replacement costs are not even part of the model.  “Pay as you go”.

      Some on that commission are “counting on” this being worked-out in a development agreement, after it’s approved.  (How’s that approach working for Bretton Woods?)

      I believe there’s another finance and budget committee analysis regarding the University Commons proposal, which I haven’t even looked at so far.

      1. Don Shor

        There are basically three ways: raise taxes, cut expenses, or expand the city’s revenues by means of economic development.

        None of those have actually worked, so far. And not just for Davis.

        We haven’t done economic development. Some would say we haven’t cut expenses, or not enough, but if that’s the go-to answer I suggest specificity as to what cuts should be made. We have raised taxes.

        1. Ron Oertel

          We haven’t done economic development.

          Yeah, “we” have.  University Research park comes to mind, as do the businesses along 2nd Street.

          And, the new Nugget headquarters.

          Probably others, as well (e.g., marijuana sales).

          But for the most part, “we” have been allowing commercial sites to be converted to housing.

          Including several business park proposals.

          But again, there has to be actual demand, and full accounting of costs.  Those are the things that we “haven’t done”, and still aren’t doing. “We” are listening to salesmen, rather than direct evidence.

          Again, this problem isn’t limited to Davis by any means. Including those cities which present no obstacles whatsoever, to development proposals. What does that tell you, Don?

          The city is ignoring legitimate concerns by commissions. Many of whom have far more knowledge than those on the council.

           

           

          1. Don Shor

            What I want to hear from the candidates is what they propose to do to stabilize the city’s budget. I know what you oppose. I don’t know what you support. That’s what I want to hear from them as well.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Oh, and the new hotels.  Is Residence Inn open, yet? (Not that there’d be any demand for it during this time of Covid.) I looked at the new Hyatt under construction, maybe a couple months ago.

          Is the state still footing the bill to place homeless people in low-rent hotels around the state – including at least one in Davis, as I recall?

    2. Bill Marshall

      I have seen examples over the years where commissioners move from advisory to advocacy roles, which is overstepping their bounds.

      ‘Ya think?  Duh!

      Has happened far more often than not!  Based on 40 years experience with commissions in Davis…

      Moving to advocacy for their own views is precisely why they are upset when they don’t ‘get their way’…

    3. Richard McCann

      Commissioners are appointed and don’t necessarily reflect the will of the voters. Councilmembers answer directly to the voters. Commission role is advisory. I understand that many commissioners have greater expertise on a particular topic than do councilmembers, but they aren’t the ones that deal with the political issues. Or at least they’re not supposed to. I have seen examples over the years where commissioners move from advisory to advocacy roles, which is overstepping their bounds.

      Don, the issue isn’t between commissioners and councilmembers–its between commissioners and staff management. Commissioners feel that management is suppressing their voice and access to councilmembers. Many commissioners have more expertise than staff (I can go through and list the numerous examples) yet their advice is ignored and even countered by management for reasons unknown. Most commissioners recognize that Council has the ultimate decision and must weigh the political issues, but their input has been truncated or even bypassed.

      And you mention advocacy by commissioners. What about management who are not stakeholders at all in City decisions? We have numerous examples of City management advocating for specific projects over the objections of commissions. University Commons is just the most recent example where the Planning Commission’s input was buried several hundred pages into the Staff report, and there was no record of the final 7-0 vote or the resolution that was adopted. Why is formal citizen input being countered by staff management?

  6. Ron Oertel

    I don’t know what you support. 

    The truth.

    By the way, what’s that large smudge around Larry’s photo? Thought my screen was messed-up, at first.

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