By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – It has been ten years since an incumbent was knocked off in a Davis City Council Election. But we enter a reelection cycle full of intrigue, questions and unknowns.
Four years ago, Gloria Partida and Dan Carson separated themselves from a crowded field of council candidates to finish first and second. A lot has happened since then, including the COVID pandemic. But perhaps just as consequentially for the council election, we now have district elections in November and both incumbents face questions after backing several Measure J projects.
Just how vulnerable are the incumbents? That remains to be seen. One of the points that we have noted consistently has been the disconnect between the community’s support for councilmembers who have supported peripheral development and the voters’ reluctance to approve those very projects.
In 2020, on the same ballot with DISC, the voters overwhelmingly reelected Will Arnold and Lucas Frerichs.
Dan Carson is running for reelection on his record of four years. In his statement, he notes, “Four years ago we faced an $8 million annual funding gap and a substantial housing crisis—and we couldn’t have even imagined the devastation of COVID. It’s a testament to thoughtful planning and the strength of our community that we face the unpredictable times ahead standing on a much firmer foundation.”
But Carson has become a lightning rod after he became the face of the litigation against the No on H campaign. His involvement triggered letters of protest from former councilmembers, and his engagement during a council meeting earned a rare rebuke from his colleagues.
He has two big advantages going, however. First, he represents the western part of town, which actually supported DISC in 2020 and is far removed from the personal impacts of traffic this time around.
The bigger factor, however, may be that he faces two opponents, rather than just one.
On the one hand, is Kelsey Fortune who ran in the 5th District in 2020. On the other hand is Bapu Vaitla, a first-time candidate who has chaired the Social Services Commission and has worked hard to lead “the City’s groundbreaking public safety reform process and continue to fight for affordable housing for our workforce, low-income families, and the unhoused.”
On their own, either Fortune or Vaitla could be formidable candidates. Running against each other, they could split the more progressive and opposition vote.
Recognizing it, there was a Zoom meeting a month or so ago where supporters were asked to assess the race and thin the field. The tactic actually happened back in 2005 for the 2006 council election and it worked at that time, with Lamar Heystek and Stan Forbes emerging as the progressive backed candidates and Heystek ending up finishing a close second and winning a spot on the council.
However, the effort this time did not work and both candidates are now on the ballot to face Carson. It is difficult to knock off an incumbent. It is harder still when the opposition to the incumbent will split their vote.
That brings us to the other race where Gloria Partida faces Adam Morrill.
In his candidate statement, he notes, “Our roads and sidewalks are crumbling and our trees and parks are suffering from neglect. I will ensure there are fiscally responsible plans to fix and maintain them. I will work with local businesses to revitalize our downtown to make it a destination for our residents and visitors to Davis to prevent further sales tax loss to neighboring cities.”
He added, “I will not approve or campaign for unaffordable housing that permanently destroys prime farmland. I will push for strategic infill development and affordable housing. Our city has a homeless crisis and it is not solved by using taxpayer dollars to duplicate the efforts of others. I will work cooperatively with our local non-profits, faith-based organizations, and the county to work towards a solution.”
Morrill has two big advantages over the challengers in the first district. First, he is the only opposition. Second, Gloria Partida was one of the faces of the support for DISC both times. Morrill subtly has positioned himself in opposition to those campaigns. District Four was probably the district most impacted by the proposed project and potential traffic impacts.
However, Partida has some advantages over her colleague. While she supported the project, she does not carry the extra baggage that Carson does for filing the writ against the opposition campaign.
Second, her overall community background including her fight for social justice and founding of the Phoenix Coalition may mitigate some of the disagreement over land use.
Finally, she faces someone who, while he has been active in the community and is a city employee, is relatively unknown. On August 1, Morrill was one of the candidates that spoke to the Yolo GOP which, according to notes obtained by the Vanguard, is backing his candidacy.
All in all, it will be interesting to see if disagreements over land use policy finally translate to opposition to council incumbents. Moreover, it will be interesting to see if district elections changes the dynamic as well. Gloria Partida’s race in particular, in the heart of the probable traffic impact of DISC could be an interesting test case.
On the other hand, it could be that Measure J itself negates what otherwise could be a large disadvantage for Partida. Stay tuned.