Commentary: The Davis Council Has Moved to a More Consensus Model Even on Housing

Mayor Gloria Partida in April at a rally

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

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.

Writes the Chronicle: “Progressives generally support 100% affordable housing, while moderates generally believe increasing housing for all residents will solve the city’s housing crisis.”

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.

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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31 Comments

  1. Bill Marshall

    The split was so persistent that we referred to the three member block as the Council Majority

    Funny… I recall the term as “The Gang of Three”… made famous by Corbett, Evans, Tomasi… there were other permutations (different ‘characters’), same ‘moniker’… but I’ve been in Davis more than a bit longer than 2006…

    Given how long housing has been the defining force in Davis, that remains a bit of a puzzle.

    Here, you seem to lack perspective, David… in the late ’70’s to mid ’80’s the pendulum was swinging towards “no growth”… housing entitlements were given via an “eye-dropper”… the ‘cork popped’, in late ’80’s, early-mid ’90’s… then the cork reappeared… it has been a pendulum… rarely ‘in the median position’… the pattern of the ‘swings’ go back to almost the founding of Davis as a City (‘Municipal Corporation’, technically) in 1917…

    History, if truly told, is fun…

    1. Don Shor

      in the late ’70’s to mid ’80’s the pendulum was swinging towards “no growth”…

      In the 1980’s Davis was the fastest growing city in Yolo County. IMO Covell Village was the turning point.

      1. David Greenwald

        Although if you read “Growing Pains” they argue that Covell Village was planned as the last major development for a while anyway, the end of a boom cycle.

        1. Bill Marshall

          And, had you ‘lived it’ you’d know you were wrong.  Crossroads (same land as Covell Village) and Wildhorse both came forward at the same time… Jerry (developer, blanking on his last name, starts with an “S”) dropped the ball before it was approved… Covell Village came much later (real time)… different owners, different concepts… City planning staff pushed them to “densify” and expand the limits… then ‘bailed’ when the reaction occurred… and then there was the death of “Ellie”… that was part of what was used to ‘kill’ CV. Emotion, tying her death to ‘growth’ and ‘traffic’, instead of the result of a criminally negligent act of a semi-truck driver…

          True history… but you deal in “opinion journalism”, not facts.

          1. David Greenwald

            Then you argue that the author of Growing Pains is wrong.

            “City officials responded by assuring critics that the pace of housing construction would slow down in following years, noting that Covell Center was the last big residential project envisioned in the General Plan before the year 2010, and there was talk about removing it as part of the update process.”

            https://www.cityofdavis.org/about-davis/history-symbols/davis-history-books/growing-pains-chapter-7

      2. Bill Marshall

        Read again, Don… the “cork popped” in 1986… mid ’80’s… I stand by what I posted… I can show you the maps of housing… thanks for the incorrect “correction”…

  2. Alan Pryor

    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?

    Ya, think? Both of those Councilmembers really talked up the project before the final vote. But knowing that the project would pass with at least 3 votes, they read the tea leaves and voted “No” on the final vote. The University Commons project was fiercely oppossed by some in the neighborhood (in Will’s District but near Lucas’). Call me cynical but could the fact that they were both running in an upcoming election possibly have influenced their votes on University Commons given that neither had ever opposed any development of any appreciable size in the past?

  3. Ron Oertel

    The council may largely have consensus among themselves, but they don’t share that consensus with the citizens of Davis. Just an observation.

    Consensus is not always a valid goal, in-and-of-itself.

    1. David Greenwald

      I don’t agree on the first point – I think they have been much more conscious of attempting to find a more consensus based policy – as opposed to the previous council majority which would often as not ram things through even over heavy objection.

      Completely agree on the second point and in fact, my piece should not be taken to be arguing “Consensus” is good, “non-consensus” is bad.

      1. Ron Oertel

        One only has to look at their record(s) on housing proposals, to see that they are not in alignment with neighborhoods (e.g., regarding opposition to various infill proposals), or peripheral development (when compared to election results).

        This is a demonstrable fact, not a personal opinion.

        All recent councils have been far more supportive of development proposals than the populace.

        Almost as if they’re in their own bubble.

        1. David Greenwald

          “One only has to look at their record(s) on housing proposals, to see that they are not in alignment with neighborhoods”

          Yeah let’s look at that…

          They went through an extra six months of discussions between the neighborhood and Sterling and came to an agreement that was mostly acceptable. They took a highly contentious process between the neighborhood and hotel. You could probably argue they didn’t go far enough on Trackside, but there probably wasn’t a huge middle ground left. While they did vote over the objections of some of the neighbors on UC, you could argue that they took a lot of steps to attempt to mitigate the impact there as well. So I would disagree with your assessment. The council in 2008 would ram things through unmitigated all the time. Clear difference in approach.

        2. Ron Oertel

          I see that you’re limiting your defense of the council in regard to some infill proposals.

          O.K. – let’s look at that.

          Regarding Sterling, many were outright opposed to having a megadorm replace the facility that was there, and remained that way.  Some were more supportive of a traditional apartment complex, there.  NONE on the council were opposed to it.  The developer representative himself was willing to compromise on the size – probably more so than the council, itself.

          Regarding one of the hotels, I recall that the local owl group had to file a lawsuit to ensure that the hotel provided space for resident owls.  Regarding the other hotel, I suspect that (once again) many neighbors were outright opposed to it.  NONE on the council were opposed.

          Regarding Trackside, I don’t have to make an “argument”.  Neighbors have already done so, in court.

          Regarding University Mall, once again – many neighbors were opposed to having a megadorm replace one of the few retail malls in Davis.  Ultimately, some on the council did oppose it (after UNANIMOUS opposition from the planning commission), and after an organized neighborhood campaign against it.  And yet, it passed, anyway.

          So if you’re defining “consensus” as “we’re going to approve it regardless” (with possible minor modifications), then yes – there is consensus for that goal among the council themselves.

          But there is no consensus (or even representation) on the council for those opposed to various infill or peripheral proposals.

    2. Don Shor

      The council may largely have consensus among themselves, but they don’t share that consensus with the citizens of Davis. Just an observation.

      The “citizens of Davis” who voted for them. And re-elected them in some cases. Lucas won his last election with 63% of the vote against a clear slow/no-growth opponent.

      1. Ron Oertel

        From Alan Pryor’s comment, above:

        Ya, think? Both of those Councilmembers really talked up the project before the final vote. But knowing that the project would pass with at least 3 votes, they read the tea leaves and voted “No” on the final vote. The University Commons project was fiercely opposed by some in the neighborhood (in Will’s District but near Lucas’). Call me cynical but could the fact that they were both running in an upcoming election possibly have influenced their votes on University Commons given that neither had ever opposed any development of any appreciable size in the past?

        So in a sense, it’s even worse in that at least one of these guys didn’t even vote his “conscience” on the proposal.

        Was that guy also partly responsible for the Mace Mess, given his involvement with SACOG?

        But your broader point is somewhat true, in that the electorate elects people who oppose their own views.

        1. Don Shor

          But your broader point is somewhat true, in that the electorate elects people who oppose their own views.

          No, the electorate (1) is not as concerned with growth issues as you are, and (2) the voters know that they have the ultimate say on major projects, either via Measure J or by referendum.

          1. David Greenwald

            This is my take as well. Overall the electorate has been mixed on growth issues, there are other issues that they are voting on, and in the end they have the brake if they need it.

        2. Ron Oertel

          No, the electorate (1) is not as concerned with growth issues as you are,

          I did not make an observation about myself; I simply noted the opposition regarding the infill proposals that the council has put forth.  (Without even discussing the council’s support of peripheral proposals.)

          and (2) the voters know that they have the ultimate say on major projects, either via Measure J or by referendum.

          Again, the council does not represent its own electorate regarding that.  If it did, the council would be split in a manner which represents the electorate.

    3. Richard_McCann

      Ron O

      As a resident of Woodland with no ties to Davis, you don’t have any insight into what the citizens of Davis think, nor should we care about your opinion on the matter. You don’t reflect the interests or opinions of Davis. You reflect those of Woodland.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Let me get this straight:

        YOU reflect the opinions of Davis?

        Don reflects the opinion of Dixon?

        I reflect the opinion of Woodland?

        Don Gibson reflects the opinion of Sacramento?

        Davis staff reflects the value of wherever they’re from?

        Do I have that right?

        1. Bill Marshall

          No… no… no… no… weird, but professional staff reflects both the values of the CC/Mgt and bring their own nuances to that [hard to defend a person who brings that claptrap into the game]… how do you mean “right”? as in “correct”, philosophical persuasion, or constitutionally protected (publicly, but NOT on a ‘blog’) ‘right’… so can’t answer/opine on your last question…

      2. Bill Marshall

        Out of line… technically semi-correct, morally wrong comment…

        On different ‘fronts’ I could say of you,

        you don’t have great insight into what the citizens of Davis think, nor should we care about your opinion on the matter. You don’t reflect the interests or opinions of Davis. You reflect those of Richard McCann

        But, I won’t do that, because it would be ‘wrong’ to do so…

        I assume you’ve been a member of the Davis community for at least 50 years… I have only been for 49.

        And yes, (apologies, Ron O) Ron O does have ties to Davis, but if I disclosed them, I’d be condemned as a “doxer”… the PC/VG authorities would ‘exterminate’ me…

      3. Alan Miller

        As a resident of Woodland with no ties to Davis,

        How do you know RO has no ties to Davis?  I assume he does or he wouldn’t care so much about issues here.

        you don’t have any insight into what the citizens of Davis think,

        I don’t understand this comment at all.

        nor should we care about your opinion on the matter.

        Feel free not to care, “We”

        You don’t reflect the interests or opinions of Davis.

        I’d say his opinions (on housing/growth) reflects a large segment of the population of Davis.

        You reflect those of Woodland.

        I wouldn’t even begin to know how to measure how true or false that statement is, and I’d question anyone who used science to try.

  4. Matt Williams

    Greetings from Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport!

    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.

    .
    The next Council election may have a similar dynamic if the DiSC vote has to move from June to November because the City and the Ramos team can not get all the necessary steps completed by the February deadline.  That would mean Dan Carson and Gloria Partida would be up for reelection at the same time as the DiSC decision is before the voters.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Pendulum.  Several ways.

      Like in cards, elements of luck and odds.  And sometimes (poker) bluffs.

      Although I like playing poker and blackjack, at this point, would not put money down on any of the potential outcomes…

      Particularly not on CC election… now that the “good folk” (?) have tied us in to district elections, and it is yet to be determined what those look like… instead of voting for 2 CC members, at most I’d get to vote for 1… and that might be tenuous… might not to have a vote for any…

      DISC vote might well hinge on whether there is a grade-separated crossing of Mace Blvd.  Not clear if that is “in play”, one way or the other.

       

  5. Robb Davis

    As a former elected official I have some perspectives on the article and comments.  I know I served in the distant past but some of this may be relevant.

    1. When I ran for office I stated clearly in my speaking and writing that I would support efforts to create dense, multi-family housing.  I never hid it and was asked about it frequently.  Despite clearly stating I was for infill and dense means going high, I garnered the most votes. (True, it was an off-year election and turnout that June was very low).

    2. There was some form of opposition to EVERY multi-family housing project we approved while I was on the CC.  There was also opposition to hotels.  Opposition to the former was MOSTLY very localized and was all about feared impacts in the neighborhood near the project.  I even had a well-known slow growth person tell me that it was perfectly fine for the University to build out west because it was not contentious.  This person, I noted, lives pretty far to the east…

    3. The most contentious issue in most of the projects was the opposition to building anything that was student-oriented in the City.  I must admit that I did not see these particular housing products coming when I ran but I welcomed them because, well, students were my constituents as well and I felt they were hurting.  Homelessness among students was growing and the University under Katehi was not building.

    4. Having said the foregoing, as the Mayor in 2016, I began pushing the University hard to produce more housing and used as leverage our own willingness to break the log-jam in town. I am not going to say it was a compelling argument but it helped make our case.  My very first meeting with the current Chancellor was about the need for housing on campus and I laid out a clear case for why the University needed to do more.

    5. I strongly supported both Nishi projects because the location was perfect for housing and I still hold to that.  No one every threatened to “never vote for you again, Robb” because of my support of Nishi or any housing project.

    6. As far as the other Measure J/R/D projects (DISC and West Davis), I learned from Nishi that putting a ton of effort into negotiating all aspects of the project (something I spent MANY hours doing) was a questionable use of my time given a) that opponents basically just made stuff up to try to scuttle any measure J/R/D project; b) the decision was really out of my hands; and c) most of the negotiated parts were NOT in baseline but in a DA that could (and probably would) be changed later.

    7. Okay, almost done… On Trackside: I spent an entire weekend before the vote reading and studying various plans including GP and neighborhood, downtown, etc. The historical flow and clear intent of all these documents was to create denser multi-use buildings in and around the core.  The parcel in question was clearly (by my reading) in a zone that expected a multi-use building.  Even a few opponents of the project thanked me for laying out my rationale for my “yes” vote.  I think I took 15+ minutes to lay it out in the meeting.

    I could say more but the main point is that I never felt “out of step” with something known as “Davis voters”.  There is a minority of vocal people in this town who will systematically show up to oppose any project.  Some of them comment here frequently.  Otherwise, opposition is mostly localized.  Unlike some of my colleagues I never believed that local opposition trumps broader community need and voted accordingly.  Some people disliked me very much for that but back in the old days, we were elected to serve the entire community, not just our district, so I felt at ease trying to figure out the best ways to serve the broader needs of Davis—including students—rather than just the desires of a single neighborhood.  Were I in office today, I would do the same.

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