Sunday Commentary: Opponents of B Call for New Vision, but Don’t Offer One

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By David M. Greenwald

The voters have spoken on Measure B, there can be no doubt.  We have undertaken some analysis of it and the opponents who published an op-ed in the local paper correctly note that about 52 percent of the voters voted no (of course that means that 48 percent voted yes) and opposed the project—and that opposition greatly intensified as you got closer to Mace Blvd.

From that result, at least, the op-ed headline suggests that Measure B’s failure “suggests need for new vision.”  But the authors—Roberta Millstein, Pam Gunnell, Nancy Price, Alan Pryor and Colin Walsh—do not present one.

Instead, they talk about the campaign, their lack of resources, long odds, and ultimately the voter repudiation of Measure B.

The opponents note: “The No on B campaign, composed solely of volunteer Davis citizens, created its own literature, designed its own sign and other graphics, was active on social media, and, to the extent possible during COVID, pounded the pavement distributing flyers to let Davisites know about the negative impacts that this project would bring.  It was a true grassroots effort.”

They add: “There were no paid designers, no paid consultants, no multiple glossy mailers, and no push-polls to gather information on what messages would sell.”

Indeed, that is one of the great things about Davis—we still live in a town where a grassroots effort can prevail.  But, at the same time, this was not the Herculean upset that they portray.  Instead, this was a tough year to push through a major project.

In addition to the very legitimate concerns about traffic—that, from the geographic distribution of opposition, clearly was the decisive factor—you had the uncertainty regarding the future in the face of COVID-based upheaval and the lack of students, who would have strongly supported a campaign of this sort in normal years.

A narrow loss doesn’t necessarily mean the need to offer a new vision, it could simply mean that both the city and proponents of the measure needed to do a better job of explaining why such a project was necessary in the first place.

Polling that I have seen over the last five years, for instance, consistently shows that the typical voter does not have a true sense for how precarious the city budget actually is.  Respondents generally find that city finances are actually good to fair while, in reality, they are probably more accurately in the poor range.  The city is at least $8 million in the hole—pre-COVID.  Few outside of the regular attendees of council meetings are probably aware of that fact, and the polling bears that out—consistently.

I don’t buy into the notion that Measure B was “defeated in the face of long odds.”  In fact, just the opposite, as it came very close to passing despite an almost perfect storm against it—the traffic issues of Mace erupted last year and have subsided due to COVID, but remain fresh in the voters’ minds.  And the uncertainty of the time and the need for future office space definitely didn’t help.

Close elections hinge on issues small and large—they do not necessarily represent a wholesale repudiation of the concept.  Remember, 48 percent of the voters were willing to support the project despite the host of valid concerns registered by the opposition.

The writers then overstep their case.  They write that “the election also demonstrates that there is a troubling disconnect between the current City Council and the concerns of its citizens, including the concerns of many downtown business owners.”

They note the support of the entire council and write “there was not a single voice on the council that championed citizen or city of Davis Commission concerns about DISC.”

And yet, when push came to shove, the opponents of DISC did not manage to do well at the polls.  In fact, the two council incumbents on the ballot won overwhelmingly over opponents to DISC.

In particular, one of the authors of the piece, Colin Walsh, finished a distant third with just under 22 percent of the vote.  He faced two candidates that strongly supported DISC but received a combined 78 percent of the vote.

The writers argue: “The defeat of DISC signals that the Davis community does not agree with the council.”

But when the voters had a chance to repudiate the council on this issue, they did not do so.

In the end, the voters were relatively evenly split, with the strong preferences of the voters in the eastern portion of town tipping the scale against the more modest support of the rest of the community.

Meanwhile, there was no alternative vision presented by the opponents.  They were quick to point out what they saw as major problems with the project, citing “the car and commuter orientation of the project would have created very significant traffic impacts on Mace Blvd. and in nearby neighborhoods,” and, second, “the project was financially speculative and poorly timed, coinciding with the devastating economic impacts of COVID on the downtown and local businesses.”

But then they offer no answer for those problems that remain—the city’s inability to pay for its infrastructure, the city’s ongoing structural deficit masked by moving infrastructure and other needs off-budget, the lack of jobs for students graduating in the STEM field but not heading to university employment, the lack of housing and the increasing cost of living for people in this community.

If the authors want a new vision for Davis, perhaps they should put one forward.  That might be why the slow growth candidates did not fare well when they actually had to run in races—they fail to offer an alternative other than NO.

In this election, there were enough localized impacts and uncertainty that enough voters joined them on the question of DISC, but the lack of vision likely hurt them when they had to offer their own way forward in council races.

I don’t disagree that we need a vision for the way forward from here, I just haven’t seen one put up that can help us forward.

—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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57 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: Opponents of B Call for New Vision, but Don’t Offer One”

  1. Ron Glick

    Why put out a new vision when you are happy with the old one. Its like the GOP and healthcare where we are still waiting after almost 30 years since Hillary Care for a plan.

    Remember when Julie Partansky didn’t want to pave the alleys? The do nothing vision of no on everything will lead to whole sections of town returning to dirt roads as our 50 year old infrastructure crumbling roads and broken sidewalks wait for a fix.

    You write this as if no one won if No won but that’s not true. Davis Luddites have much to crow about. They won on both B and D. When it comes to development with D in place for another ten years it doesn’t matter who is on the City Council.

     

  2. Alan Miller

    But the authors—Roberta Millstein, Pam Gunnell, Nancy Price, Alan Pryor and Colin Walsh—do not present one.

    NOT a business park east of Mace.  That’s a vision.

    In fact, if you live on the east end of the urban line, it’s a vision of the Sierra Nevada on clear days.

    1. Ron Oertel

      That’s the vision I prefer, as well.

      It’s actually a vision for anyone passing through there.  A logical end to the city, with crops growing beyond that.

  3. Alan Miller

    But then they offer no answer for those problems that remain—the city’s inability to pay for its infrastructure,

    NEW VISION:  Raise taxes forever.

    the city’s ongoing structural deficit masked by moving infrastructure and other needs off-budget,

    NEW VISION: Do it next year, foever.

    the lack of jobs for students graduating in the STEM field but not heading to university employment,

    NEW VISION: Live somewhere else.

    the lack of housing and

    NEW VISION: Live somewhere else.

    the increasing cost of living for people in this community.

    NEW VISION:  Live somewhere else.

    I don’t disagree that we need a vision for the way forward from here, I just haven’t seen one put up that can help us forward.

    NEW VISION: See above.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Free money!  Yay!

      But actually, inflation might “devalue” (fixed) pensions, making it easier for cities to fulfill those promises.

      A win-win!   (Just kidding, sort-of.)

      1. Richard McCann

        Inflation isn’t coming soon based on Japan’s experiences since the 1990s. The Fed has effectively quashed inflation since 2002 and shows no letting up. The old relationship no longer exists. What the new relationship might be hasn’t been answered.

  4. Ron Oertel

    This appears to be a general “vision” statement, from the letter that David is criticizing as lacking in “vision”:

    The defeat of DISC signals that the Davis community does not agree with the Council. We hope it is part of an alternative perspective and vision for the future of the City and it is the one that youth have embraced enthusiastically – a healthy planet that equitably supports humans, other species, and ecosystems in the web of life.  It is one that rejects the massive car-oriented sprawl of the past and embraces projects that mitigate climate change, not worsen it.  It is the one that supports our local retailers and independent businesses. It is one that makes significant inroads toward providing affordable housing, not just the bare minimum that DISC offered. It is one that makes the best and highest use of precious resources like prime farmland and species habitat.  It is long-sighted, innovative, and progressive.  It is a positive path forward for Davis.

    1. Don Shor

      The defeat of DISC signals that the Davis community does not agree with the Council.

      Yet the community returned the incumbents to office by overwhelming margins, and soundly rejected the candidates supported by the authors.
      I think a second shot at a business park on that site could prevail.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          As I wrote: “But then they offer no answer for those problems that remain—the city’s inability to pay for its infrastructure, the city’s ongoing structural deficit masked by moving infrastructure and other needs off-budget, the lack of jobs for students graduating in the STEM field but not heading to university employment, the lack of housing and the increasing cost of living for people in this community.” Perhaps you think I’m mistaken here, I’m all ears.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Three of the finance and budget commissioners did not agree that DISC would create a “fiscal profit” for the city at all.

          If viable, DISC would have created more housing demand than it satisfied on-site.

          If this type of thing is actually viable, recent graduates (who actually want to stay in a hot, flat area near UCD) will likely live 7 miles up Highway 113 (where it’s cheaper, and where they’re planning to include 1,600 housing units on-site).  In addition to the 4,000 or so units that were previously planned adjacent to that area, of which a significant number have already been constructed.

          An “inaccurate”, harmful vision is not one I’d suggest following.

        3. Ron Oertel

          You have an entirely different “vision”, to begin with.

          There will always be a “reason” for someone like you to pursue sprawl – even when it directly conflicts with other claimed personal visions and goals (e.g., reducing local contributions to greenhouse gasses, avoiding the creation of housing shortages, preservation of farmland, etc.).

      1. Richard McCann

        David

        That’s not true. Rochelle Swanson, a quasi incumbent, was defeated in one district most impacted by DISC, and the other district which is Gloria Partida’s, was not up for a vote. Your won analysis showed how the Measure B vote varied so much in different parts of the City. I don’t think you can make any conclusions from the Council vote.

        On the other hand, I don’t think there’s a groundswell of opposition to the Council over this single issue of DISC. The electorate has approved 2 other projects so the voters are looking for particular traits for projects before approving them. DISC ran to a buzzsaw similar to Nishi I’s late blooming issue on impacts on Olive Drive.

      2. Richard McCann

        David

        At least one vein of the opposition has stated that the original premise upon which DISC was proposed may have changed radically in the last 9 months. We’d be foolish to move forward on a false vision. Just sticking to our guns when so much might be changing could end up with a worse outcome. This is the moment when we should bring in a firm like Urban3 to help us plan for a different future.

        http://www.urban-three.com/

  5. Ron Oertel

    Yet the community returned the incumbents to office by overwhelming margins, and soundly rejected the candidates supported by the authors.

    How did that school board race turn out, by the way?  In terms of alignment with the Vanguard’s “vision”?  😉

    I think a second shot at a business park on that site could prevail.

    No easy fix, as with Nishi (which was a lot closer).  And by that time, traffic will have returned, the business park in Woodland will have a massive head start, etc. (Assuming once again that there’s any actual “demand” for that type of thing, beyond the 1,600 housing units.)

    Also – Need a new traffic study, EIR, fiscal and financial analysis, perhaps?

    And no doubt, many will be “ready” for another attempt. 😉

  6. Tia Will

    The defeat of DISC signals that the Davis community does not agree with the council.”

    I think it is undeniable that there was not an agreement of the majority with the position of the council on this issue. Whether the votes on councilmembers hinged on this issue or others is a matter of debate that will not be resolved here and now.

    As for offering a new vision, that is not necessary for calling out when a mistake is about to be made. I’ll provide real medical examples. I have been stopped from making surgical errors many times by nurses, and on one occasion by a housekeeper who had overheard something I had said and stopped me. That does not mean I expected them to make suggestions on how best to do the surgery, but I was grateful for them speaking out and stopping the potential harm my acts could have caused. I find this a very weak argument for all except the actual candidates who I feel do have an obligation to put forward an alternative plan for problems.

     

  7. Sharla Cheney

    I was annoyed by the Op-Ed. I found it to be distasteful. I noted that certain members of the letter in the past were unwilling to just accept results of elections and chose to file lawsuits in an attempt to subvert voter approval of projects.  If the project had won, I’m guessing that there would have been a lawsuit filed to stop it, because that’s how it goes with these things.  I note that there was a substantial number of voters in Davis who voted to approve it, which shouldn’t be ignored.

    1. Ron Oertel

      I see nothing distasteful in the letter.

      Lawsuits are not necessarily limited to opponents of a proposal, nor are they based upon votes (by councils or voters). No one is claiming “voter fraud”, here, nor have they ever regarding proposals that were approved.

      But regardless, perhaps that’s another possible obstacle – if they try again (and don’t properly update whatever associated processes are needed as a result).  Assuming that your speculation is correct.

  8. Alan Miller

    Bottom Line —

    I find the premise of this article incredibly hypocritical.  But I understand that the seriousness of hypocrisy has been de-criminalized for this blog comment section recently, so we’re alright, eh?!?

    While it is easy to argue the direct effect of losing potential tax dollars over a single project, what has really harmed us is losing tax dollars from many projects, most of which were never even proposed.  The reason for that is Measure JeRkeD, pure and simple.

    So I don’t blame the individuals targeted in Paragraph 2, easy scapegoats.  I blame:

    1)  The owner of this blog, for continuously failing to understand the effect of Measure JeRkeD on limiting housing, hurting lower income people, and killing our tax base.

    2)  Property owners who keep voting for Measure JeRkeD to keep their property values high – both individual and corporations.

    3)  Students who fail to see Measure JeRkeD is their biggest obstacle to housing and don’t fight it.

    4)  The City Council for dropping Measure JeRkeD on the ballot again this year with virtually no discussion, because it is politically prudent to do so – i.e., it is politically suicidal to oppose it.

    5)  The 83% of Davis voters who voted for Measure JeRkeD.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Isn’t it possible that someone can support a people’s right to vote on a project and oppose their decision and reasoning behind opposing it?

      1. Mark West

        “Isn’t it possible that someone can support a people’s right to vote on a project and oppose their decision and reasoning behind opposing it?”

        There is no real issue with the vote on a specific project. The problem is that no one gets to vote on the multitude of projects that are ‘JeRkeD’ before they reach the proposal stage. You support a policy that greatly limits the community’s options, then whine about the obvious outcome resulting from that policy. The real issue is the continued support for JeRkeD that results in an ever increasing tax bill, insufficient housing and work opportunities, and a demographic shift to a wealthy retirement community with students and workers crammed into overcrowded and substandard housing. That is the outcome you are supporting.

      2. Alan Miller

        Isn’t it possible that someone can support a people’s right to vote on a project and oppose their decision and reasoning behind opposing it?

        Yes, but that’s not my point.  We have clearly seen what Measure JeRkeD has done to Davis and the economy, and how projects are being tailored to garner votes rather than through a planning process – which results in citizens doing some bazzackwards version of planning by developer pony show.  As I’ve said many times, I would probably be out there fighting the projects that will be brought forward without JeRkeD (not that I’ll ever have to worry about it), but the current process is so flawed it is harming Davis.  That wasn’t the original intention, which came from past City Councils repeatedly OK’ing projects that brought massive opposition from citizens.  But I think we’d have a chance of getting some careful-growth candidates on the council again and get some balance, and have a more sane ability to plan and grow – at whatever rate.  If only we cold dump this 83% albatross around Davis’ throat.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Amen.  Je d’accord.

          Except not sure it’s an albatross (aka “gooney bird”… they fly very well, but not so good on take-offs/landings)… might just be a loon… that latter seems more likely…

        2. Richard McCann

          The “right to vote” is the crux of the problem. Alan’s list is quite accurate (I might quibble a bit, but not important.) People have problems understanding the more complex problem how risk impacts decisions. I suspect a developer would choose “you can spend $500,000 on preproject approval and we’ll approval it if you hit all of the checkboxes” over “you can spend $200,000 on an election approval with no guarantee of approval.” It is possible to construct such a process as I’ve written before. That would go a long ways toward bringing in those projects that we don’t even see.

           

  9. Alan Miller

    the lack of students, who would have strongly supported a campaign of this sort in normal years.

    At least be honest about what you mean here.  Just like the recent call to clearly define words such as the word “we”, we should clearly define what we mean as “students”.  What we are talking here are activist students, often associated with the College Democrats.  If you really were honest about the politics of most students regarding local issues, you’d find the attitude is one of getting the h*ll through college and having very little idea what is going on in local politics.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      That’s probably why voting levels by students are low under the best of circumstances. But at the same time, when they do vote they tend to support housing and economic development and were widely seen in 2006 as providing the margin of victory for Target. I don’t see any disconnect between the idea that students are low propensity voters and the idea that when they do vote they could have potentially provided the difference in the margins here.

      1. Ron Oertel

        You’d think that they’d vote against housing shortages created by something like DISC.

        Not sure how they determine the number of student voters, but Target was infill.  If the DISC developers try again, perhaps students’ commitment regarding their concerns related to climate change would be tested.

        In the meantime, the other development which failed in Davis (before it was even presented to voters) and subsequently “moved” 7 miles up Highway 113 would provide both jobs AND cheaper housing for recent graduates (assuming it’s actually viable – even there).

        And of course, Trump won’t be on the ballot again, which means that there won’t likely be a record turnout (as there apparently was last time).

        So maybe, the subgroup of students that Alan is referring to aren’t as formidable as some imply. Seems to me that they have the “ear” of some on the council, though. Regardless, they’ve certainly let their thoughts be known to the council.

        1. Richard McCann

          You’d think that they’d vote against housing shortages created by something like DISC.

          Why would students bother to vote in droves for a project that won’t materialize during their academic career. The vast majority of students are passing through and don’t have a long-term interest in this community. Many will be altruistic but that’s the only motivation. This is a good illustration of how we effectively keep those who are most affected by decisions from having a voice in those decisions. Future students don’t vote (at all actually). This is just one example of where our self-interested electorate is failing its own claimed willingness to look out for the larger social welfare.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Why would students bother to vote in droves for a project that won’t materialize during their academic career. 

          The same question might apply regarding the megadorms, and even more-so with proposals such as Trackside.

          I understand that some of them have connections with development interests, one way or another.  Do you think that might help “explain” it?

          Future students don’t vote (at all actually). This is just one example of where our self-interested electorate is failing its own claimed willingness to look out for the larger social welfare.

          That same electorate approved Nishi, and the council has approved every megadorm that’s come before it.

          There was also a robust effort on the part of some (who might be characterized as “slow growth” to some degree), to ensure that UCD increased the amount of housing on campus, and follows-through on that commitment.  Strangely enough, some of those who claim to be concerned about student housing appear to be “MIA”, regarding that effort.

          Of course, there’s now suddenly a glut of unoccupied student housing.  I guess we’ll see if demand for it (completely) returns, and how much of what’s in the pipeline (on campus, and off) will make a difference.

          I suppose we’ll also see if the agreement with UCD makes any difference, going into the future. (Of course, demand for college education is experiencing an enormous decline, but not so much within the UC system so far.)

  10. Ron Oertel

    Regarding those who have a problem with Measure R (D), I’m guessing that the 17% who voted against it would have “no concerns” regarding their own votes.

    The outcome would presumably be like it is in towns that don’t have it. (Pretty much the same type of thing that the 17% consistently support.)

    It’s just those other 83% whom they’d like to disenfranchise.

    Oh, well – they’ve got another 10 years to “try again”. (Now, THAT’s gloating.) 😉

    1. Bill Marshall

      Oh, well – they’ve got another 10 years to “try again”. (Now, THAT’s gloating.) 

      You obviously do not understand… which could be good, as you ‘won’t see it coming’…

      If enough citizens sign a petition and put out a referendum to change/modify , or overturn completely, Measure D, in even as lttle as two years, that referendum (if successful) would “trump” Measure D.  So enjoy your gloat while you can.

      At this point, am willing to join with others in a discussion on how a measure could be brought forward, as many have advocated, to revise the provisions of Measure D… a discussion, that many have pointed out, should have occured before Measure D had been placed on the ballot…

      I believe such a thoughtful, reasoned measure could succeed, and hope one will be considered as part of a GP revision/update… would only make sense to do both at the same time… no point in a new GP with a constraint that has a nominal 10 year lifespan…

      Or, we could hold off on a new/revised/updated GP for 10 years…

       

        1. Richard McCann

          No viable alternative to Measure J/R/D has been put forward, so we don’t know what might happen. The opponents to the Measures have only said we don’t need, which the voters clearly don’t agree with it. The Council failed to review potential alternatives.

  11. Don Shor

    Davis would benefit from additional tax revenues, as the city faces long-term budget deficits and is not adequately maintaining current infrastructure, especially roads and bike paths. There are many amenities that city residents like to have, such as tennis courts, swimming pools, parks and greenbelts, libraries, playgrounds, etc.; Davis has more of these than a typical town of its size, and they cost money to maintain.

    So increased economic development has been part of the strategy for financing and maintaining those things, and the public planning process over several years identified peripheral development and downtown redevelopment as the key elements of that.

    During the campaign, opponents of DISC cited the small parcels scattered around the city as being adequate for economic development. It seems their focus is on redeveloping the downtown for enhanced city revenues. I believe that will be very, very difficult. It is also clear that the remaining vacant sites have little likelihood of development in the near future. So the argument ends up turning into a recipe for continued stagnation of city revenues.

    An alternative, of course, is to cut services, reduce staff, and continue raising taxes.

    For a stronger retail base and enhanced sales tax revenues, Davis would benefit from a wider range of age groups living here. The city is getting older and younger, with fewer families and fewer people starting their careers. Better diversity requires housing that is accessible to younger adults, families, folks who work at the local businesses, graduate students, and more. It means a concerted effort to develop more housing for a range of income levels, not just higher-income professionals, students, and a sprinkling of very low-income folks lucky enough to qualify for the small numbers of affordable units. Policies that try to force developers to build more low-income units are likely to backfire, with the result of simply fewer projects coming forward.

    As I’ve said before, the way to achieve a stronger customer base, greater diversity, more generally affordable housing is to begin the process of planning, annexing, and developing a new subdivision. That would allow a range of homes, the possibility of land set-aside for affordable housing to be built by non-profits, and still give the developers the return on investment that is expected. Trying to force all of those preferred housing types into the downtown will surely not succeed.

    1. Bill Marshall

      See also, my 3:41 post… new/revised/updated GP to deal with the issues cited, and a concurrent deleted/revised/updated measure, re: “D” (a ‘nearly failing’ piece of work)…

      Am thinking that with a new GP, we can stop being JeRkeD around… and Covell Village was not nixed by Measure J… that would be Measure X (98.7% confidence)

        1. Don Shor

          The phrase ’tilting at windmills’ comes to mind. I don’t even think we could get through a full General Plan revision right now, much less revisit a measure that just passed with 83% of the vote.

        2. Bill Marshall

          But then Don, a new General Plan would be constrained, big time… so I remove any support for a GP revision… what’s the point?  Might as well muddle along with GP amendments when they arise…

          Funny tho’… a new/revised/updated GP is not subject to a “vote of the people”… go figure…

          1. Don Shor

            As I’ve said before, I see no reason to do a full General Plan update at this time. IMO the city should just do the parts required by law. Anything more than that would be costly and probably not productive.

        3. Bill Marshall

          Well Don, given comments from Ron O and Keith O, I opine that there should be no GP revisions, “required” or not, re: Housing or other elements, unless they are put to a full “vote of the people”… fair is fair, n’est-ce pas?

          1. Don Shor

            I opine that there should be no GP revisions … unless they are put to a full “vote of the people”…

            I think that’s reasonable. We still have an advisory measure that was passed a couple of decades ago that caps growth to the ‘minimum amount required by law’ or something, the 1% limitation. I don’t recall when the housing element is up for renewal, but as far as I know that is the only part that has to be updated on a regular basis to comply with the state regs.

        4. Richard McCann

          Don

          I disagree that a full GP revision is not coming. We’re at a crux point where the City must develop a new vision going forward. There’s growing political momentum for this.

          1. Don Shor

            There’s growing political momentum for this.

            What is your evidence for this growing political momentum?

  12. Ron Glick

    “You support a policy that greatly limits the community’s options, then whine about the obvious outcome resulting from that policy.”

    But David is a blogger pretending to be a journalist. The true irony is that the City Council avoided taking up renewal until the last minute and then refused to engage in a serious discussion of the consequences of the ordinance only to get their asses handed to them at the polls on their pet project that was supposed to right the financial ship of the city.

     

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