By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – In the last round of commission appointments there were complaints that a number of people who opposed DISC were not reappointed as commissioners in the wake of the November Election.
Some councilmembers have pushed back on the notion that this represents a purge, arguing on a case-by-case basis legitimate reasons why several ended up not being reappointed including several being termed out.
Look I have had my moments with people like Colin Walsh, but I see no reason why he shouldn’t be reappointed to the Tree Commission.
Whether you want to argue this is an intentional purge or whether it is a series of individual-level decisions, it appears to form a pattern and the pattern I think is not helpful to the governance of the city.
Let me add here that there are a number of very excellent people who were appointed to various commissions and that overall it appears the council subcommittee of Dan Carson and Gloria Partida have done a good job.
But that does not diminish this concern.
Intentional or not, this does not seem to be a healthy situation, and it runs the risk of creating an echo chamber. While the slow growth portion of the community has not achieved much in the way of electoral success in terms of electing council members the last few election cycles – and the prominent slow-growth candidates overall did not perform well, the majority of voters did oppose DISC in November – that’s a sizable percentage of the population.
And yet if you look at key commissions dealing with land use issues it is hard to know how representative that view is on the commissions – but from an eyeball level of scrutiny, it would appear that opponents of DISC are in the distinct minority.
By way of example, I recall back in 2013, I was attending a meeting of the Innovation Park Task Force. Well represented was the business and start up community, but when I looked around the room, I quickly realized that “half the room” (with the “room” in this metaphor meaning “the community”) was not represented. As I pointed out at the time, by not having the slow growth community engaged, it was difficult to understand, anticipate and address their concerns and get community buy-in and consensus on a course of action.
It took a long time, but ultimately in 2020, seven years later, that manifested itself in a narrow but decisive defeat for DISC. Could a more engaged process from the start, which had buy in from stakeholders across the spectrum, have made a difference? Who knows. Certainly, you can argue circumstances were unfavorable in November for a project like DISC, but maybe a broader base of support would have carried the day.
When one looks at the Commission appointments, there is a real danger of exclusion here – even if unintentional.
First, you cut people out of the deliberative and advisory process, which means instead of being part of the process, a whole group of people are on the outside looking in.
That group is largely electorally excluded, they are now cut off from influence on the commissions, which means only through things like Measure J elections and lawsuits can some play a role in shaping our community.
That doesn’t seem like a great way to build consensus.
Second, by excluding prominent views, you can’t anticipate potential problems with an approach. This is part of what went wrong in the innovation park process – there was not true community engagement … and there can’t be in situations where huge parts of the community are locked out of the process.
Third, even if this was unintentional, you have basically handed a sizable portion of the population a claim that they have been cut out of the process.
From my standpoint, it is better to have a diversity of voices serve on commissions. These are advisory bodies for the most part anyway. Why would you not want to hear from all perspectives?
Right now, I think the council would be wise to reappoint Colin Walsh to the Tree Commission. I see no reason why he shouldn’t be allowed to serve there. I don’t always agree with him, but I think having people who can challenge the status quo is healthy, especially on a commission.
I think the council should examine the composition of other key commissions that deal with land use issues and make a concerted effort with future recruitments to make sure they are representative of the community as a whole.
Finally, given that the city needs to focus heavily on economic development in the future, they ought to consider reinstituting the Business and Economic Development Commission (BEDC) or some derivation thereof, tasked with creating an economic development plan and that commission should pull from people who work in the business community and the startup community but also who are critics of large projects such as DISC.
As we move forward, we need to bring disparate parts of the community together and see if we can create some common ground on which to move forward.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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