Commentary: A New Council Comes In – Here’s What They Will Need To Address

By David M. Greenwald

Four of the five members of the Davis City Council will be returning, with Brett Lee leaving the council and Josh Chapman joining it.  The council is going to have to address serious short- and long-term challenges over the next two years.

The most immediate challenge will be dealing with COVID and the aftermath.  Davis has probably weathered COVID better than most areas.  It has had fewer cases of infection than many surrounding areas.

However, the business shutdowns have taken a toll, especially on the downtown.  Some very prominent businesses are gone and probably will not return.

The city has been working on updating its Downtown Specific Plan and we are in the process of the scoping period.  But even that is up in the air.

As Jim Gray pointed out a month ago, “This initial document was prepared prior to the Pandemic and I don’t believe addresses many potential threats and opportunities brought on by the public health crisis and the resulting economic and business changes.”

The job of the council is tricky, therefore.  They must plan for a future that is not nearly as clear as it was perhaps a year ago at this time.  What happens if businesses do not come back?  Gray points out theaters are closed and might not come back, which has a big impact not only on those businesses but on the two parking garages.

Amtrak ridership is down and, while that might rebound, if many more people start working from home for various reasons in the future, we could see a massive shift in traffic.

Already the council saw it was tricky to hit a moving target when voters narrowly rejected DISC.  Some of that was due to concerns about traffic and perhaps sprawl, but some of that was due to uncertainty about the post-COVID future—not to mention the lack of students participating in local elections.

That gets us to longer-term challenges.  With the loss of DISC and, in 2018, of the parcel tax, the city has really not been able to address long-term fiscal issues.

In the short term the city is likely to take a big hit on revenue.  Hotel income, on which they have built a revenue strategy, are down, and sales tax figures to have taken a hit, though the housing market and thus property tax remains robust.

The parcel tax that lost in 2018 was projected to bring in $3 million, with DISC perhaps $5 million at build out.  Where does the city go to replace that potential revenue that they needed but did not get?

One possibility is a Utility User Tax.  But the city now not only has to pay for roads—even at a reduced rate potentially—but also about $1.5 million for a ladder truck and personnel for it.

The loss of DISC will perhaps force the city to reconsider its economic development strategy.  At some point they will need to look at where they can reasonably expect to gain revenue, whether from taxes or economic development plans.

Housing figures to be another huge issue with a Housing Element Committee appointed.  It is composed of seven members including two from Planning, one from Social Services, one from Senior and one from Finance and Budget, with five members appointed by the council.

Their charge is to review existing housing element documents, then make recommendation to the Planning Commission and council about future housing.

In addition to the housing element update, the city is finally going to have to tackle a new General Plan.  It has been newly two decades since the last General Plan update—so long ago that in fact the Vanguard, now approaching 15 years old, was not in existence at the last update.

Despite COVID, the housing market remains hot, with housing prices recently setting a new high with a median housing price of over $700,000 statewide.

A tricky issue for Davis will be what happens to students post-COVID.  Will they shift to a more distance-learning model?  Right now that seems unlikely.  But it is an open question still.

Finally, one of the biggest issues in the short and probably longer term will be the issue of public safety and reimagining policing.

Last week that drew 162 public comments—80 percent or more were positive.

Despite the heavy tilt toward support, the measure is likely to be somewhat controversial.  Calls to make drastic changes to policing in Minneapolis following the May death of George Floyd led to police union pushback, work slowdowns and officers leaving the department—which has in turn been commonly blamed on rising crime rates (though crime has gone up this year across the country regardless of local policies).

The city has some tough questions, like the recommendations from the subcommittee including finding out why there are racial disparities in arrests and police stops—a frequent complaint from Black residents, which now reflects that they are arrested and stopped at five times their population share, and stats show Blacks are disproportionately stopped even excluding out-of-town arrests.

More controversial may be calls to shift non-violent and low-risk services calls to unarmed personnel, and also calls for a CAHOOTS-style model of policing.

That figures to be an issue that has both a local and national component—and right now the calls for police reform are being driven more by the national conversation, whereas in 2006 and 2017 it was local incidents driving police reform talk.

These issues of course are by no means the only issues that the council will have to take up in the coming weeks and months and over the course of their term.  But they figure to be some of the hot-bed issues that they have to address.

—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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29 Comments

  1. Alan Miller

    The parcel tax that lost in 2018 was projected to bring in $3 million, DISC perhaps $5 million at build out.  Where does the city go to replace that potential revenue that they needed but did not get?

    They don’t.  Potential revenue never was – it cannot be replaced.  The gravy train derailed south of Dixon a few weeks back, and all the gravy spilled and was lost.  That was the last gravy train and it was scrapped on site.

    about $1.5 million for a ladder truck and personnel for it.

    Time to annex UCD (with their willingness, of course) and absorb their fire and police.  What a waste and duplication of services/resources!

    The loss of DISC will perhaps force the city to reconsider its economic development strategy.  At some point they will need to look at where they can reasonably expect to gain revenue whether from taxes or economic development plans.

    Those ships sailed, and sank – and sailed, and sank . . .

    Housing figures to be another huge issue with a Housing Element Committee appointed . . .  Their charge is to review existing housing element documents, make recommendation to the Planning Commission and Council about future housing.

    I suggest finding a way around 83% of the electorate and nullify Measure JeRkeD.  Otherwise you are performing an outward bodily function that produces a clear or yellow liquid into the oncoming turbulent air mass.

    1. Don Shor

      Time to annex UCD (with their willingness, of course)

      When I discussed this with someone who worked in the Chancellor’s office a few years ago, they laughed heartily and suggested the willingness of UC to even discuss the issue was non-existent. UC has zero incentive to agree to loss of control over any of their property.
      UC admin’s work with city planners and politicos as little as possible. There is no love lost there.

      1. Alan Miller

        I agree that the prospect is about equal to the chances of overturning Measure JeRkeD.  Davis has dug itself some deep structural systemic systematic holes.  (I just wanted to use those “s” words since they are such popular words these days.)

        1. Tia Will

          Alan,

          I know we stand on opposite sides of Measure D. However, we currently have one council member who openly favors “just stepping aside and letting the developers do their thing” and others who doubtless feel the same, but are not as honest about it. Measure D is not perfect, but neither is a developer-driven process, which seems to be in favor with the current council.

    2. Richard McCann

      I suggest finding a way around 83% of the electorate and nullify Measure JeRkeD. 

      I’ve proposed one path forward with preapproval of required development baseline conditions by the electorate, which will facilitate more certainty for developers.

      BTW, I believe every UC campus has its own police force whether the campus is part of a city or not. The fire departments could be merged.

        1. Alan Miller

          They tried that.

          Temper tantrums aren’t a good reason to give up.  With millions about to be spent to have two ladder trucks sitting 99% of the time a couple of miles apart – that should be mass incentive to get past the barriers.  But if government officials were horses, fools would ride – right off a budgetary cliff

        2. Tia Will

          Don

          True as written. But the failure was largely due to inordinate pressure from a politically active group invested more in their own autonomy than in the provision of cost-effective services. Change that dynamic, and the university might be more amenable to a cooperative approach.

        3. Matt Williams

          Don is partially correct.  The two departments actually shared only one position, the Chief, all the rest of the personnel and all the equipment remained with their original respective department.

          Then Davis Firefighters Local 3494 behaved like Donald Trump has been behaving since November 3rd … making life miserable for all the parties involved, and then unlike the various Federal and State courts and officials that have stood up to Trump’s shenanigans and blustering, the local UCD and City of Davis officials rolled over and gave local 3494 their way.

        4. Don Shor

          The university terminated the shared management in 2016 after six years.

          https://www.davisvanguard.org/2017/02/uc-davis-ends-shared-management-fire-department/

           “… significant challenges have remained in managing two different fire departments with different cultures under single leadership.

          …. differences in organizational cultures present material challenges that affect continued forward progress towards our joint vision. …

          I think it’s safe to assume they won’t be trying this again.

          1. David Greenwald

            There is interest on the part of the council to explore the option again though housed under the city, not the university.

        5. Ron Oertel

          Interesting, that the university wants the city to house its students, but is resistant to cooperating regarding the costs and responsibilities. (Hey – do you think that the sub-group of student activists are concerned about this, as well?)

          You’d think that this would have been something that was worked-out under the “celebrated” agreement between the city and UCD.

          I didn’t realize that fire departments had different “cultures” and “visions”.  You’d think that they might involve more similarities (such as responding to fires and emergencies), rather than “culture”. 😉

          Maybe they should use that “vision” (instead) to see if there’s smoke rising from buildings, those in need of emergency services, etc.

          And maybe the new highrises in town (which are creating the additional need) should be assessed, appropriately.

          1. David Greenwald

            “Interesting, that the university wants the city to house its students, but is resistant to cooperating regarding the costs and responsibilities.”

            That’s not an accurate read of what happened with regards to the fire departments.

        6. Ron Oertel

          If the need (e.g., for a ladder truck) is being created in part by new high-rise megadorms, then it would be an “accurate read”, regardless of “how” it happened.

          1. David Greenwald

            The chief mentioned about 200 buildings more than four stories now, I think we have added five or so student apartment buildings in the city.

        7. Ron Oertel

          For what it’s worth, I believe that some high-rise apartment buildings predate the more recent approvals.  (At least one I can think of.)

          Also seems to me that the university resisted building high-rise apartments on campus.

          In any case, the cost should be allocated to buildings which create the need for a ladder truck, which should probably be concentrated in core areas. (Might be too late for that now.)

          Then again, I’m not sure if they sometimes use those trucks on shorter structures.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Another “comment of the day”.  Made me laugh, at least.

      If not parking meters (directly), maybe the resulting/related tickets? Or, does that just pay for those issuing the tickets? 😉

      Then again, what “parking spaces”, if they’re (permanently) used by restaurants, instead? (A “pet peeve” of mine.)

  2. Matt Williams

    One possibility is a Utility User Tax.  But the city now not only has to pay for roads—even at a reduced rate potentially—but also about $1.5 million for a ladder truck and personnel for it.

    .
    For well over a decade, probably well over two decades, the City and UCD have cooperated in the use of UCD’s existing T-34 ladder truck (and predecessor ladder trucks) and its personnel.  Is there some change in the relationship between the City and UCD that makes the City’s continued cooperative use of the T-34 UCD ladder truck and its personnel no longer possible?
    https://www.davisvanguard.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Downtown-Fire.jpg

    1. Alan Miller

      Is there some change in the relationship between the City and UCD that makes the City’s continued cooperative use of the T-34 UCD ladder truck and its personnel no longer possible?

      Never let a public employee union and their enabler politicians/bureaucrats pass up a good opportunity to waste a few million in taxpayers dollars.  Am I to assume “cultures” means “different public employee unions” ?

      1. Ron Oertel

        Much like time = money, I suspect that “culture” ultimately does, as well.

        I doubt we’re talking “cultural diversity”, in this case.

        Again, something that perhaps could have been addressed in the agreement with UCD.

      2. Bill Marshall

        Actually, Alan, the difference between salaries and benefits (inc. retirement) between COD-FD and UCD-FD was a point of significant “culture friction”… think ‘equal pay (and/or total comp) for equal work’… wouldn’t surprise me if the ‘haves’ gloated over the ‘have-nots’… there have been hints in the media, and public staff reports as to the “friction” pretty much since the inception of the joint management experiment…

        And, the reality is that with changes in the Building/Fire Codes over the last 10-15 years, between smoke detectors, automatic sprinklers, etc., ‘hook and ladder’ equipment is far less necessary for tall structures constructed after 2000.  Including “rescues”…

        Wonder if some of the ‘driver’ for Davis FD recommending a ladder truck is “equipment envy” (double entendre intended)… rather than “need”…

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