By David M. Greenwald
We will probably never know why the UC Davis College Republicans and their Attorney Matt Rexroad actually forced the city to go to district elections. As most readers know, I actually support it, but there is one clear downside, and it has the potential to get ugly at times—instead of nine candidates for three spots this year, we have three winner-take-all districts, which means to win you have to defeat your opponent and that can mean attacks.
That’s what happened this week. It started on Tuesday, as the Davis Enterprise ran a letter from former Mayor Mike Corbett. “We need new blood” and the letter recounting a litany of mistakes or criticisms of past council actions over the last seven or so years.
Truth be told, there is validity to a number of the criticisms—although one councilmember said the letter was about 30 percent correct. I think that figure is more in the eye of the beholder and a lot of them are subjective rather than objective assessments.
For example, the vote to approve the Cannery without a required grade-separated crossing at F Street. There is a grade-separated crossing there—it was a bit of a fiasco to get there. But there is also the issue of the CFD, which he noted “surrendered $8 million in cash to the Cannery developer, and received $0 value in return. That raised parcel-related taxes to the Cannery residents by over $21 million. The Cannery residents are now paying what the developer should have paid.”
That was a big deal in 2014. It was fully discussed in the public. And there was a 3-2 vote to approve it—which I very strongly disagreed with.
The letter also notes that “the controversial, possibly illegal, BrightNight lease of city property that excluded public and commission input.”
Not sure I would go to “illegal,” but definitely a fiasco and subjectively okay.
I did find it more than a little ironic that Mike Corbett would write that they “chose to put the Davis Innovation and Sustainability Campus project on the ballot without first updating the general plan…”
They put Nishi on the ballot without updating the General Plan and Mike Corbett campaigned for it in 2016. At our candidate forum, he sat next to Tim Ruff and helped argue the yes side. Not sure why suddenly now he would have objections to the process he seemed to have little problem with in 2016.
However, I received information that there were allegations that were serious and also completely false.
I woke up the next morning early as usual and had an email in my box from Alan Pryor. The request was to publish the attached article if the letter from Mike Corbett was not reposted in the Enterprise.
Alan had sent the article noting that by 9:30 pm the letter had been removed. He had copied the text, repeated it. Most of the article was okay, but the title accused the Enterprise of “censorship” and repeated the false allegation, but he did ask an important question, “Why was the article retracted?”
Fair question. I wrote Alan to let him know on the basis of the information I received, I could not publish the article. I never got a response to him.
Then I set about finding out from the Enterprise why they pulled it. Tried to call, but couldn’t get a human. So then I emailed Sebastian Onate, the editor. Never got a response.
And yes, I think that was inappropriate by Sebastian, who I don’t know because he has never reached out and has also never returned my emails (which have not been many). It didn’t stop him from writing a critical commentary about our fundraiser last year without talking to us about it.
Even if he deemed that he couldn’t comment or that their editorial decisions were private—which would be a fair response—a courtesy email would have been appropriate.
Instead, they pulled the letter by Alan Pryor’s count at 9:30 pm on Tuesday and it wasn’t until 11 am on Thursday that they issued a correction.
The correction posted September 3 at 11:13 a.m. reads: “On Tuesday, Sept. 1, The Enterprise posted on its website a letter to the editor that made unsubstantiated accusation of wrongdoing against an unnamed City Council candidate. While we strive as much as possible to maintain the letters section as a forum for open debate, posting this letter constituted a failure to apply our usual standards of fact-checking and fairness to any material that goes on our site. For that failure, we apologize to our readers.”
A lot of effort would have been spared had they simply pulled the letter down and replaced it with the “for the record” correction.
Truth be told, I don’t blame the Enterprise for printing the letter from the former mayor. I would have. They did the right thing pulling it when it was shown to contain a potentially inaccurate allegation in it. I would have done the same.
But no one knew why the letter was pulled, which led to rampant speculation and further allegations. As much as I had my differences at time with former Editor Debbie Davis, she was always very accessible and responsive to questions and she received a fair amount of criticism—sometimes rightly, other times unfairly.
In fact, I would argue that the lack of communication played to detriment of the Enterprise because, even though they acted responsibly in pulling the letter, their lack of communication fueled speculation during a time when there is too much of it.
I worry that in a time of very very serious problems—COVID, economic collapse, national strife—our community has real problems that it needs to solve, like housing, long-term fiscal sustainability, quality of life. And if our campaigns start devolving into attack campaigns reminiscent of national politics, we will lose our ability to come together to solve these pressing issues.
—David M. Greenwald reporting