By David M. Greenwald
In one of the most competitive races in the city, all four candidates for the District 5 City Council met on Sunday evening in a forum hosted by the Davis League of Women Voters—Josh Chapman, Kelsey Fortune, Connor Gorman and Rochelle Swanson. They had 90 seconds to respond with a possible one minute follow up.
Question 5: The city faced financial problems before COVID, so how can it dig out of an even deeper hole now?
Josh Chapman: “The key is to bring in more revenue,” he said. “More revenue, what does that look like? That looks like building more housing—we have to look at the redevelopment of properties. We have to look at increasing our tax base. We have to look at infill, that’s one of the things I’m so excited about the Downtown Plan.” He is also looking to increase our redevelopment dollars in our downtown and increase our tax base. “We also need to stand back and look at our grant writing process and how we prioritize grants that we go after,” he said. He also said we need to look at providing spaces for businesses to grow—he said to look at DISC, “we need incubators, we need space for businesses to grow, create jobs, and housing for more people living within Davis to increase our tax base.”
Connor Gorman: He said that there are two ways for the city council to address these physical issues. Indirectly, “the city should use its platform to push for larger changes on the state and federal level and in particular universal healthcare which will be helpful on its own and also likely reduce employee health care costs for cities,” he said. He also suggested the city support Prop. 15. He said on the direct side, “I think that having downtown rent control and/or a vacancy tax would incentivize the landowners to allow more small businesses to move in and that would be a good way to rejuvenate downtown,” which he believes would help produce more revenue for the city. “Revenue is important and this would be one way to generate it,” he said.
Rochelle Swanson: “The city has one of the largest roles to play in the economy, it’s part process, and it’s also spending and it’s revenue,” she said. She said we have a better process than when she was first elected in 2010. At that time she said they did not have a solid process and were structurally imbalanced. She said, now we have quarterly check-ins and a two-year budget as well as controlling the number of employees. “That was very difficult to have to do cuts back then,” she said. “It put us in a better place.” It’s different now with this being “a global pandemic” with “people being out of work for months on end.” She said in the short term they are looking at furloughs, but in the longer term they need to look at services, what she believes is our long-term conversation with the community. “These are conversations that should be happening now while these issues are on the forefront and people understand what are the trade-offs,” she said.
Kelsey Fortune: “It’s a bit disappointing that after the longest period of growth in recent history, that the city is not able to balance its budget in normal times,” she said. She noted that the pandemic has thrown things off in the short term but believes that we need to look at the bigger picture as well. “Why are our expenditures higher than our revenue?” she asked. “How are we going to prepare for this type of thing in the future—we know that natural disasters and other things are going to become more and more regular as climate change continues. We need to be prepared for emergency situations.” She said that we need to be prepared for when revenue drops for whatever reason and put in place revenue-saving mechanisms for the city. She agrees that Prop. 15 will help the city to meet its revenue needs. “Having Prop. 15 in place allows for more equity in who’s actually paying for the services that the city provides,” she said.
Josh Chapman: He responded to the issue of Prop. 15. He said that as someone who owns a business, he can tell you firsthand the effect it will have on the economy and on downtown businesses. “This is going to be a tough one—they are balancing it against education,” he said. “We have seen what happens when businesses have gone out of business when John Brinley sold his property. That was a direct reflection of property taxes going up on businesses whose owners live here and whose businesses have closed.”
Kelsey Fortune: “The idea behind Prop. 15 is that this wouldn’t happen anymore. We wouldn’t have these jumps when businesses are sold.” She said this is a process by which we would enter into a more equitable system by updating property taxes more regularly. “So that when property changes hands you don’t see these huge jumps,” she said.
Connor Gorman: “At least in the long term it would not only directly generate revenue but it would also potentially even incentivize lower rents, and maybe even incentivize selling property to the actual business owned instead of these large corporate owners holding a lot of it,” he said.
Rochelle Swanson: She said that what happened with the Brinley property was a huge motivator to create the new downtown plan and prevent this from happening in the future. He said that if Prop. 15 does pass, “it’s going to be imperative that the city work together with the businesses immediately that are impacted by those changes and also come up with a plan.”
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