District 1 Council Candidates Meet at a Forum – Part 3

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – Indivisible Yolo and Yolo People Power and DSA hosted a forum on Monday for the Davis City Council.  Moderating the forum for District 1 was CJ Watson.

Dan Carson is the incumbent and he is being challenged by Kelsey Fortune and Bapu Vaitla.

Question: we’ve all seen the blistering effects of climate change and how shall this city prepare for the harm which will occur? And what else should the city do to reduce potential harm? 

Kelsey Fortune: When it comes to climate we have a long way to go in both our action and our adaptation. We have been in a planning process, unfortunately it was not very community led. And so we have a CAAP that unfortunately is getting a lot of pushback from the community right now. And, and rightly so.  I would like to see us move forward, the CAAP that we have with modifications based on what the public is seeing. The home electrification time of sale is something that not only the public has identified, but the NRC identified when they took a look at the CAAP as well as a problematic policy. And that’s why it’s so important that we engage the public in this process. And, and so we need to push this CAAP forward. We need to create an independent climate commission and immediately begin an update to this CAAP that is community led so that we have the buy-in of our community, We have the focus where we want to go. And, to be honest, we need to focus a lot more on transportation and resilience, because the current plan does not touch on those enough.

Bapu Vaitla: We are in the middle of setting this 20 year vision for climate action and adaptation. And there are a lot of great elements in the plan. I appreciate the amount of detail that went into it, but also it lacks it lacks the boldness and vision we need. And that’s clearly shown by the fact that the full set of actions in the plan don’t get us to carbon neutrality. So we need to do innovative things that other cities have already done. Public utilities creating community solar parks, electric car share programs, expanding public transit. The other thing that the plan it has prioritized to a certain extent, but the reality is that we’ve got a hundred ideas in there and a hundred ideas without being prioritized, just won’t get done. They won’t obtain the kind of financing that you’ll need to implement them if we don’t focus. What I propose is for the next few years, we focus exclusively on generating solar energy and storing it so that that can be microgrids. That’s an excellent solution to how you locally keep neighborhoods resilient. I would say in the downtown, let’s envision what other cities have already done in terms of creating a human centered downtown that’s built not just for cars, but also for people that we can make economically vibrant. And the other thing I would say is that we need an electric charging infrastructure across town. That’s probably the most powerful quick way that we can get to net neutral carbon neutrality.

Dan Carson: Our city has already taken bold and important steps to address climate change and adaptation. Valley Clean Energy, which I served as chair and now am still on the board, will achieve 85% renewable power for our community by 2024 under long term contracts that are in place and signed, sealed, and delivered. Our city adopted two different reach codes going far beyond the state building code, which will help us achieve energy efficiency and help to change the way we power our heating and cooling. I co-authored the climate emergency declaration that advanced our timetable for being carbon neutral from 2050 to 2040 and set in motion this adaptation plan that we’re working on. And it was a great process with lots of outreach that resulted in 900 ideas coming out the door and our Natural Resources Commission doing a splendid job wading through that, providing feedback along with the technical advisory board with a lot of scientists on it. I worked hard to make sure that that plan included specific scoring of each proposal and that 2030 target so that we would know if we had a plan that was worth it. And for 2030, our plan shows we do get to the goal. What we don’t do is get to the 2040 goal, but we do have time to work on that.

Question: What services do you think the city of Davis is doing well, and if any, what would you work to improve the actual services? 

Bapu Vaitla: Some aspects of our Covid 19 response were exemplary healthy Davis together was an excellent example of cooperation with the university that got nationwide attention. We also did great in providing emergency rental assistance to low income households affected by the pandemic that prevented them from getting evicted. Our first responders in very difficult conditions, including our fire department responded with stamina and grace throughout the pandemic and continue to do so to protect our lives. All that being said, there are services that could be improved. Among them is the permitting process in general for whether it’s home renovations or affordable housing development or small business creation has been delayed. And we can improve that.  Landscape Maintenance is suffering, as was pointed out earlier, this, this evening. And infrastructure, although there is a game plan to invest in infrastructure slowly over the next decade, we are still below average in terms of the infrastructure index. So we can focus on that. What I’d like to do is give our, give ourselves a chance to improve services by drawing more people into city governance. That’s through reforming our commissions. That’s through creating professionalized volunteer programs that can provide auxiliary services to our, to our paid employees as well.

Dan Carson: I’m glad Bapu referenced Covid because I think it showed how great our police and fire services and other first responders in this community were to with all of the disruption that comes with when someone was exposed to the virus and people had to stay home from work that we managed to provide our services on a continuous basis, showed that we have our act together. But I do agree infrastructure fixing it first is really important. It is a big problem. We wrote a 10 year plan to put $84 million into fixing our roads and bike paths. We are in year four of that plan. I have insisted each and every one of those four years that we put the money in our budget that sticks to that plan. And we are making progress. In West Davis, We redid sports courts at West Manor Park and Westwood Park. We paved our LinkedIn, Oh, we, we put in new features at a Royal park. We’ve put in $500,000 a year permanent addition to the base to deal with the weeds and trimming trees. But we have a ways to go. We may talk about it later, but we still have about a 4 million annual funding gap before this is a fiscally sustainable community. That is what I have focused my whole time on this council in solving.

Kelsey Fortune: When it comes to city services our staff are doing really well with the resources and policies that they are given. I do think that there are staff positions that have been vacant for a very long time that have created times when our services are not provided at a level that we would necessarily like them to be. We need to make sure that we’re filling those vacant positions, like having an arborist on staff. I hear from the community a desire to get back to the basics. We talked a little bit about infrastructure and road maintenance. There are many opportunities for our staff to think creatively about these basic, basic services that we need to provide and, and opportunities to work with communities surrounding communities to share costs of potential projects or capital funds so that we can maintain road maintenance and these types of things.

Question: how is the city being governed well, and what would you say about the governance of the city?

Dan Carson: Gloria, there in the back and I joined forces when there had to be a changing in the guard who was going to recruit folks for our city commissions. We went on a mission to try to increase the numbers of women, people of color, various underrepresented and disadvantaged groups. We did a great job. We have added students, people with all sorts of perspectives that were missing from our commissions, and we have made great progress there. The weakness in our governance, but we’re working through it, is our move to district elections. I think it’s going to reduce potentially the representation of folks from those groups because of the way things work in Davis. One size fits all does not work, but I wrote in a resolution to try to make sure that our city, while it is divided into lines that we govern as one city. So for example, that resolution says that if someone from another part of the city reaches out to me for help, I’m not only allowed to help them, I have an obligation to help them.

Kelsey Fortune: I see the biggest strength of our governance here in Davis, in our commission structure that engages people in our community who have great expertise and dedication and are giving their time as volunteers. I would like to see this improved by actually giving them a seat at the table during council meetings, not relegating them to public comment. I think it’s really important that our community be the leaders when it comes to decision making and they’re not being given that opportunity right now. I also would like to see improved working relationships between staff and our community.

Bapu Vaitla: Just to say that our greatest asset is the talent, abilities, knowledge of our community, the people that step up to serve on city staff on commissions on council. The challenge, though is to make that participation feel meaningful to the participants and impactful to the city. So a lot of times people don’t feel like they’re being heard, and when that happens, morale and city government can fall. What I would do is help to make city government immediately more transparent by limiting the closed session discussions that we have, and also by making data more accessible. A prime example is data around the cost of development. I would focus on city commission reform, giving commissions a chance to actually formulate policy, write up policy, literally write ordinances, literally, write strategic action plans that then could be debated by council. I’d also work to restore our labor force, since 2008, we’ve been understaffed and labor. Our city staff has paid the price in a lot of ways, including being overworked.

Dan Carson: Maybe not to the degree everyone would like at every moment, but we do give our commissions the chance to go beyond public comment. For example, when Natural Resources Commission brought forward a proposal about how to control noisy leaf blowers, they had a chance not only to present,  as a separate presenter, not bound by three minutes, but also to interact with council and respond to questions and have a discussion back and forth with us. We don’t do it for every item, but we do that for significant items in which a commission has made a significant contribution. I can also tell you, we do write policy. When I was chair of the financing budget commission, I wrote a white paper on how we ought to be getting a better deal from uc, Davis, like uc Santa Cruz and uc, Berkeley got that turned out to have a huge impact on when I arrived at council, the campus released its new growth plan. My colleagues seeing the work that I had done sent me down to the regions with my city planner and my city attorney to get the regents to agree and direct that this campus and to a binding and enforceable agreement with our city, not to stop enrollment growth, but to have them help us with dealing with the impacts of that growth on transportation and housing. That white paper I did on FPC was the first domino that fell, that completely changed the relationship between this city and that campus.

Question: the challenges in this city budget. Do you think you’ve the challenges in the city budget and what, how would you prioritize things to change to meet those challenges?

Dan Carson:  I’m your fiscal walk up here. I’m proud to wear that label. I ran on this issue in 2018, and I, I think I’ve delivered on what I promised to make significant progress on that issue. In 2018, we had an 8 million funding gap. We’ve got it down to about four. We’ve got an $84 million commitment to fix streets and roads. We’re making real progress on those issues, but we’re not done. I want to stick around and finish the job.

Bapu Vaitla: A lot of times I get asked when I first knock on doors, these are great ideas, how are we going to pay for them.   And in the short term  we can take some action on affordable housing and climate. That’s by ordinance alone, that doesn’t require spending. But there, a lot of these ideas do require spending and trimming fat from budgets is a great way to start on figuring out how we recover some of that money. Some of the state and federal dollars coming in is a good way also to get us started. But in the end, we’re going to need an economic development plan that generates more sales taxes, more commercial property taxes, both of which are categories of revenues for which we receive a lower percentage than other cities do in their general fund budgets. We all know that we could be more vibrant economically this city. What this means though, is creating an economic development plan that’s centered around an identity that attracts investors to us, attracts entrepreneurs to us.   We already have a cultural identity, and that’s around sustainability. The obvious choice for me in creating an economic identity is to say, okay entrepreneurs are working on sustainable food systems, sustainable energy systems. Let’s incentivize their ideas. Let’s first of all build housing so they can live in our community, but let’s also fast track permitting for new businesses that focus on these values. Let’s partner with the university and creating an incubator for these businesses. Ultimately, this requires strategic vision and not just piecemeal planning.

Kelsey Fortune: We regularly have budget shortfalls and I could spend 90 seconds telling you about the things that we could cut from here and there to get there. But instead I’d like to create a vision of Davis where our budget aligns with our values. So my vision for Davis would include creating new revenue streams, specifically around infill development. Creating mixed use buildings, increasing density in the form of  town homes and small complexes that at the same time generate tax revenue and lower the costs of city services and, and infrastructure maintenance per unit. The  idea that that everything costs money means that we have to be thinking about our budget when we are thinking about every policy that we put in place. I think the whole house electrification in the CAAP is the perfect example of a policy that costs money and doesn’t raise any revenue to actually enforce. And there are alternatives to that that would create revenue and incentivize people to electrify at time of replacement.

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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