Commentary: Is Council Purging Dissenters From Commissions?

Planning Commissioners at a February 2019 meeting – from left to right: Emily Shandy, Greg Rowe, and Herman Boschken

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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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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18 Comments

  1. Alan Miller

    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.

    I agree, but in reality politics is about stomping the opposition into a squashed goosh.  Metaphorically of course.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Or, in giving lip-service to token ‘opposition’ forces, to claim ‘fairness’…

      So many Commission appointments have been made, not for subject matter expertise, not for likelihood of rational, independent rational judgment/counsel, but rather for political reasons… in many cases, “tokens” to appease a certain segment of the community…

      Yeah, “echo chamber” is not in the community’s best interest… neither is planting seeds of discord, just for the sport of it… there is a middle ground where a good harvest might be had…

      1. Robb Davis

        I don’t do this often but I must strongly object to this characterization.  I reviewed literally hundreds of applications for commissions when I was on the CC.  Each time we voted I reviewed each and every one.  Typically, it was an “embarrassment of riches”—so many good people to serve, so few spaces.  It made me proud to be part of this city.

        I always sought to understand how the balance of experience, interest, and expertise came together and made my selections accordingly.  It is not JUST subject matter knowledge, but also experience and a clear articulation of interest and goals that is important in selecting a candidate.

        Given all of this, I have no idea what you mean about “political reasons.”  That is not a statement that means anything and it puts you in the position of knowing the heart motives of the Council member.  I did not always vote for recommended candidates but appreciated the time my colleagues put into meeting with each and every one.  I believe we all took the selection seriously.

        Your comment is not helpful.

  2. Ron Oertel

    “Move forward”.  “Common ground.”

    The problem being that this means different things, to different people.

    For the business park people, both of those terms itself includes a peripheral business park for which there is no commercial demand.

    So, unless they find a way to include that, they view the result as a failure to find “common ground” and to “move forward”.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Same is true for the rabid no growthers… so you are correct… some feel that compromise is necessary, just for the sake of  ‘compromising’… no matter the issues, or their merits… sometimes it rears its head as ‘subtle extortion’…

      1. David Greenwald

        To be clear – I’m not necessarily saying that the outcome will be compromise or common ground, just that shutting off voices in the community is problematic to good planning and good governance.

      2. Ron Oertel

        The problem being that city officials are on “one side”, while those advocating for slower-growth are on the “other side”.  And are essentially purged from commissions.

        I’m not sure why this result almost always occurs – including in other cities/communities. Somehow, the “establishment” is almost always more development-oriented, than regular citizens.

        Personally, I think the purging will backfire.

        If there’s a “next time”, at least the opposition should be able to do more in-person campaigning.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Don’t know what your point is, but yeah – there wasn’t sufficient demand on its own, without the subsidy for the developer provided by the inclusion of housing.

        The same thing appears to be true regarding the proposal in Woodland.

  3. Richard_McCann

    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.

    I wholeheartedly endorse this. Instead of having meaningless discussions on blogs, email networks or in the paper, we can get the different parties together to hash out what’s acceptable and what’s required. We have so many unanswered questions on this front, and we’re left with opaque assertions from developers that don’t build the trust that we need if we’re going to move forward.

    Separately, I sent an email to the Council asking that they approve Kelsey Fortune instead to the Utilities Commission. She brings economic expertise that is in short supply on that commission at the moment (there were at least 4 economists when the URC was first formed–now there’s 1.) Kelsey applied for 5 commission positions and wasn’t nominated for any of them, and applied last fall as well. We need to encourage those who are willing to be so engaged.

    1. Alan Miller

      Instead of having meaningless discussions on blogs . . .

      Like rain on your wedding day (which actually isn’t ironic, ironically), this comment is ironic.

      I sent an email to the Council asking that they approve Kelsey Fortune instead to the Utilities Commission.

      I’ll second that.  I don’t see eye-to-eye on some policy with KF, but I respect her views and she’s one sharp person who is going to be involved in Davis politics either from the inside or the outside – so take advantage, oh City, of her talent.

      But I’m not going to write to the council about this.  Instead, I’m going to make a meaningless comment on a blog.

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