By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – I was reading a piece in the Chronicle that looked at San Francisco Board of Supervisor votes—they used a rather elaborate algorithm called an ideal point estimation to rank the supervisor’s ideological position based on how they voted on 220 pieces of legislation from January 2019 to October 2021.
On that scale almost everyone was to the left of the zero score, although the person furthest right was “more moderate” while the person further left “was more progressive.” Nine of the 11 were between 1 and -1 on the scale, with 7 of the 11th being to the left of 0.
More interesting from my perspective—the polar opposites still voted together 94 percent of the time and the board overall tends to vote unanimously more often than not. Ninety-three percent of votes so far have been unanimous—that is something we definitely see in Davis.
“The perception that there are massive divides between progressives and moderates isn’t supported. Many of the unanimous votes are probably procedural, but it still shows a functioning legislature,” noted San Francisco State University Professor Jason McDaniel.
So what separates progressives from moderates? Housing.
This echoes at least some of the things we see here in Davis.
The article notes, in San Francisco, “Between 2007 and 2010, there was a slight uptick in the share of contentious votes — between 11% and 13% — but still, the vast majority were unanimous.”
When I first started the Vanguard, we saw something similar in Davis—there was a persistent 3-2 coalition where the three more pro-growth council members would vote in a three-vote block and generally were unwilling to compromise with their more slow growth colleagues. There was a similar 3-2 split on fiscal votes as well.
The split was so persistent that we referred to the three member block as the Council Majority—a term they did not like, by the way. They would often point out that most of their votes were also unanimous.
That dynamic started to fade after the 2010 elections and from 2012 on—3-2 votes are exceedingly rare, as the council goes out of its way to get 5-0 consensus, and even 4-1 votes are relatively rare.
Why the shift in Davis?
There are probably a lot of factors.
Start with the changes in the make up on the council. There were too many diametrically situated people on council during the 2004 to 2010 timeline. It is easy to point fingers at individuals but, in hindsight, it was the mix more than anything.
There is no doubt that Sue Greenwald could be difficult to work with and was perhaps considered a source of frustration by most—but the way the situation was handled 2004 to 2010 was poor. After 2010, once Joe Krovoza and Rochelle Swanson came on council, the dynamic drastically changed even during the two years Sue Greenwald remained on council. For whatever reason, the mix during those prior years was toxic.
That culminated in a very ugly incident in 2010—part of it caught on video, I would argue the worst part which I personally witnessed and had to intercede in was off-camera. Ruth Asmundson and Sue Greenwald were constantly at each other’s throats during their time on council and it finally exploded that night.
In most respects, that night was turning point, although it doesn’t hurt that by 2012 everyone on that council was gone and replaced by people who truly committed themselves to consensus building as much as possible.
Housing during that time was highly contentious, although strangely neither of the Measure J votes were products of that particular 3-2 split. In 2005, Covell Village was a 4-1 vote with Ted Puntillo joining the council majority and Sue Greenwald as the lone dissenter. In 2009, it was a strange coalition with Don Saylor, Ruth Asmundson and Lamar Heystek supporting Wild Horse Ranch and Stephen Souza and Sue Greenwald against it.
Since 2012, as we noted last week, the housing projects on council have generally been a consensus with the two exceptions—Cannery where Brett Lee and Joe Krovoza opposed the project, and University Commons having both Will Arnold and Lucas Frerichs in opposition (both would be on the ballot later that year)—as really two of the very few 3-2 votes in the last ten years.
Housing has been a contentious issue in the community, but not on the council.
Given how long housing has been the defining force in Davis, that remains a bit of a puzzle.
One reason might be Measure J serves as a buffer. Since 2016, all four Measure J votes have been unanimously supported by council, but half of them went down to defeat—granted, narrowly so.
As I mentioned previously the voters perhaps are freed to look at other factors when deciding their vote. We may have seen that in the last election, where DiSC went down to defeat, but in contested districts Will Arnold and Lucas Frerichs both won easily.
Perhaps their vote on University Commons mitigated some of that?
The last truly slow growth candidate to win election was Sue Greenwald—narrowly—back in 2008. Maybe you can argue Brett Lee, backed by Dick Livingston and other progressives in 2012, opposed at that time the water project. But he would go on to support the water project and most of the housing projects that came before him.
There was a bit of a divide between the council and the community on policing as well. The activists at least pushed harder and faster, but ultimately the council supported much of the proposed changes to policing in the last round.