A History of Staff and Council Circumventing or Ignoring Citizen Advisory Commissions in Davis
by Alan Pryor
This is Part 1 in a series discussing the recent Council decision that greatly limits Citizen Advisory Commission input and recommendations for Baseline Features for the newly proposed DISC 2022 project now heading for the June 2022 ballot in Davis. Readers will remember one of the primary complaints surrounding DISC 1.0 on the November 2020 ballot as Measure B was that the Commissions were intentionally and systematically excluded from fully participating in the review of the project through scheduling manipulations imposed by City Staff with Council approval. It appears that history is repeating itself.
This Part 1 in the series will discuss the history of City Staff and Council ignoring input by both the Advisory Commissions and the public in many other important City matters. It will be followed in Part 2 by a detailed examination of the means and schemes by which Staff and Council similarly intend to limit Commission review and input in processing of the DISC 2022 project.
Francesca Wright, a founding member of Yolo People Power, had a scathing editorial in Sunday’s Vanguard concerning the City Council ‘s continued failure to meaningfully address police reform in Davis over the year (see https://www.davisvanguard.org/2021/09/guest-commentary-wanted-leadership-substance-not-spin/). Ms. Wright claimed this failure is still occurring despite unanimous approval of a 9-point plan for reform presented to Council by 3 different citizen Advisory Commissions and a petition signed by over 800 citizens calling for immediate action on the Commission recommendations. Said Ms. Wright about these failures,
It has been over a year that community members have been asking City Council to create meaningful structural change in how we address public safety. We have marched. We have sent public comments to City Council meetings. We have analyzed local police traffic stop and crime data, researched the underpinnings of public safety as well as examples of effective public safety practices.
…We have met individually with each council member. Over 800 people signed an open letter to the Council. Three council-appointed commissions unanimously supported nine recommendations on public safety.
…This may be the most public pressure exerted on any council in the 23 years I have lived in Davis California. And after all of this, how has the current city council responded? … they have not advanced Davis’ vision. This is not leadership. This is maintenance of the status quo. To have meaningful change we need effective visionary leadership.
This is reminiscent of Staff and Council behavior in ignoring Commission and public input in many other important but questionable decisions unilaterally made by Staff and Council over the past several years and calls into question whose interests they are really representing behind the dais.
Other Recent History of this Council’s Discounting or Disregarding Commission Input in Important City Matters
Ms. Wright’s comments focus on Social Justice and Police Reform, but they could just as easily be describing any number of similar tales from the recent history of the City of Davis Staff and Council’s recurring pattern of ignoring Commission and community input.
The history of municipal government in Davis over the past 5 years has become increasingly non-responsive to the involvement of its own citizens, as evidenced by the inability of the citizen’s Advisory Commissions to provide substantive input and influence policy regarding major decisions unilaterally made by Staff and Council. One only has to look at the horrible decisions made by Staff that were then rubber-stamped by Council on major issues before them in the past few years where the advice of one or more of the Advisory Commissions was completely ignored or the Staff and Council simply did not even solicit Commission or citizen input.
DWR Sale to Recology – The sale of DWR to Recology in 2017 was strongly and unanimously questioned by the Utilities Commission, as well as by some members of the Natural Resources Commission. The issue raised was the failure of the City to even explore exercising the right of first refusal to purchase the 2nd Street waste processing facility. Failure to exercise that right left Recology in an absolute leveraged-monopoly position when renegotiating their waste hauling contract with the City at the time of contract expiration. This could end of costing ratepayers tens of millions of dollars in future waste hauling fees simply because the City has absolutely no leverage when trying to bring in other bidders at that time (see https://www.davisvanguard.org/2017/10/benefits-potential-concerns-related-davis-exercising-right-first-refusal-dwr/).
Land Solar Lease to BrightNight – Even more egregious was the BrightNight Solar debacle in 2020 where the City leased 235 acres to BrightNight Solar without even obtaining competitive bids. Further, they conducted all negotiations in secret without even bothering to solicit Commission input. This also likely cost the City General Fund tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue because the deal was so obscenely structured to BrightNight’s benefit (see https://www.davisvanguard.org/2020/04/guest-commentary-did-our-city-council-just-agree-to-the-absolute-worst-deal-in-the-citys-history/).
Broadband Franchise to Astound Communications – Or when the Citizen’s Broadband Advisory Committee proposed and strongly supported municipal ownership of the broadband infrastructure in the City. Yet when a monopoly contract was eventually awarded in 2019, the City unceremoniously granted it to Astound Communications for seemingly a pittance in municipal fees plus free internet access to the City government. But this decision left the citizens of Davis at the mercy of Astound when trying to secure their own broadband access (see https://www.davisvanguard.org/2019/07/council-set-to-approve-astound-fiaber-optic-agreement-despite-community-oppos/).
In each of these cases Staff made a recommendation to Council that was completely at odds with opinion given by the respective Commissions which Commissions contained far more experienced and competent experts in their respective fields compared to the inexperience of Staff in these matters. But in each case, Council saw fit to just go along with Staff’s recommendations to expedite getting it off their agenda.
3 recent Citizen Petitions to Council – The attitude toward serving their citizens’ direct requests for services or changes even when the matters are not before the Commissions is equally dismal. Right now in addition to the petition on Police Reform, 3 separate major petitions by citizens seeking street and traffic management improvements or restrictions on tree cutting are languishing in Staff’s inbox. Each request has 100s of signatures imploring the Council to take action (see https://www.davisite.org/2021/08/three-petitions-three-frustrated-and-unheard-constituencies.html). The three petition requests are:
1) To prevent further unnecessary removal of dozens of mature parking lot trees at Sutter Hospital where suitable alternatives exist for coexistence of the PV system and trees. Staff is supporting the tree removal without input from the public or the Tree Commission,
2) To resolve the never-ending traffic quagmire on Mace Blvd (the “Mace Mess”) produced by the street redesign promoted by Staff and their traffic consultants, Fehr and Peers (the same traffic consultants used by the Developer on the DISC 1.0 project), and
3) To install traffic-calming signage to reduce unsafe traffic conditions at intersections in the still unfinished Cannery project; another calamitous Council failure.
And as will be discussed in upcoming Part 2 of this series, this past Tuesday the Staff and Council considered the matter of Commission input for the newly proposed DISC 2020 project. Many objected to the rushed process forced on Commissions during the lead-up to the Planning Commission and Council votes to put DISC 1.0 on the 2020 ballot as Measure B. Ostensibly this recent Council meeting item was an opportunity for Council to give direction to Staff on how to proceed with the processing of new newly resubmitted DISC application and receiving Commission input on the project and many had hoped that the Council would provide a more measured and deliberative process to Staff requiring more time for Commissions to consider their project recommendations and Baseline Feature. However, the way the meeting played out, it was Staff that was giving direction to Council on how Staff and the Developer wanted to proceed, and Council then meekly followed along.
Alan Pryor is a Former NRC Commissioner