By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – The County of Yolo is starting to embark on new boundaries for the county supervisors. Davis has held, for years as the largest city in Yolo County, two of the five supervisorial districts.
But Davis’ power is declining, as Woodland and West Sacramento are growing much faster than Davis. While Davis has tended to believe it is its own island controlling its own destiny—that’s not necessarily set in stone.
The census data shows that Davis’ population ticked up over the last decade by just 2 percent total, from 65,622 to 66,850. Meanwhile, Woodland grew at 7.6 percent and West Sacramento by 9 percent. West Sacramento has grown from a city of around 30,000 people to one of over 50,000 in just the last few decades.
(There is an interesting caveat to that—there is difference between the Department of Finance cited figure of 66,850 and the Census page which links to the American Communities Survey that lists the population at 69,420. The city indicated that the numbers that will be used for the redistricting will be the lower figure. It’s a huge difference but it does radically change the growth projections from 5.8 percent down to 1.9 percent which does have implications. The city thinks the 69,420 is probably closer to accurate and that the 66,850 figure is probably reflective of students leaving town in April 2020).
How will this impact political power in Yolo County?
There will come a time when Davis probably does not get two supervisors, which could have a profound effect over Davis’ power and potential county growth policies—which I will explain shortly.
The changes are still on the margins. Davis has the largest population still, but that advantage is down to 7000 people over Woodland and 13,000 over West Sacramento. Another decade of growth at the current rate could make the three cities pretty similar in population.
Davis shrank from 32.7 percent of the county’s population to 30.3 percent. Still, a marginal rather than a radical decline.
On the other hand, each supervisorial district in Yolo would be 44 thousand with equal distribution. That means that, instead of two districts, Davis should have 1.5.
Is that a big deal? It could be. For example, Don Saylor is leaving his district. The new districting could reduce Davis’ share of the district to half, rather than the predominant number it currently has.
In addition, Davis remains at the mercy of the rest of the county in terms of what those districts look like, and 60 percent of the votes are outside of Davis.
My sense is that a lot of people are going to shrug this off, but they shouldn’t.
There is a notion that the county has been accepting of the fact that growth should be directed to cities, but that’s actually only a very recent phenomenon.
We can look back to the Mace Ranch incident from the 1980s to see a case where the county permitted growth on the borders of Davis, forcing its hand. That led to the pass-through agreement.
There has been a sense that the county won’t pursue growth, but look only as far as 2007—with two very different supervisors, Helen Thomson and Mariko Yamada—when we saw the exploration of the county developing in the Davis sphere of influence.
That led to some interesting battles in July of 2007 (see the article on the proposal). As it turned out, Yolo County backed down from that when hundreds showed up at the County Supervisor’s meeting, and then Davis elected two supervisors—Don Saylor and Jim Provenza—who were unwilling to allow county development on the periphery.
But the board is evolving. Gone is agricultural anti-growth stalwart Duane Chamberlain. He was defeated this year by Angel Barajas, whose base is in Woodland, not the rural areas. Moreover, Gary Sandy, the other Woodland Supervisor, for years worked for UC Davis in their Government Affairs office and has battled the city of Davis on growth from that vantage point.
Reduce Davis’ number of districts to one, and elect people less inclined to protect agricultural land and you could have profound consequences for Davis. Already, Davis has declining power in Sacramento.
In 2010, Davis was represented by Lois Wolk and Mariko Yamada. Both were Davis residents. Now Davis is represented by Winters’ Cecilia Aguiar-Curry and Napa’s Bill Dodd.
Both of those have much more agrarian and rural interests than Davis. But more importantly, both are far more pro-growth than Davis’ population, and that is reflective of what we see coming out of the legislature on housing policies.
A lot of people take for granted the ability of Davis to control its own destiny, but forget how perilous that has been in the past—and that the seeming stability has only been accomplished over the last 15 to 20 years. That could change fast.