Sunday Commentary: Make This about Ideas, Not Personal Attacks

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – Going into the fall election, I think most people, myself included, expected that Measure H/DiSC would play an oversized role in the city council elections.  After all, both incumbents were closely associated with both DISC Campaigns from 2020 and 2022 and seemingly at adds with portions of the community on issues of housing and development.

Whether that strategy would actually work remained (perhaps remains) to be seen.  As we have previously noted, Davis has a history of voting no on Measure J projects and then having turned around—sometimes on the very same ballot—and elected and reelected the people who put those measures on the ballot.

The slow growth forces have taken the position that even putting measures on the ballot is a reason to change the guard, while the voters seem to take the position—at least tacitly—of no harm, no foul.  We have Measure J for a reason as a brake against projects we don’t like, and we’ll vote for the leaders we want.

While we could probably have a great discussion on the proper tactics here, the campaign has morphed into something where it feels like even Measure H is an afterthought.  We have now seen attacks on one incumbent based on a more than 20-year-old family dispute that unfortunately ended up in the legal system, and another candidate for the possible misuse of emails.

Yes, emails.  What is this, 2016?  Harkening back to the worst aspects of one of the lowest periods of recent American History?  Have we now devolved to “but his emails”?

You would think there weren’t grave issues at stake for this community.  This campaign season has unfortunately taken us to new lows.

I was reading a letter from a long-time prominent member of the Davis community.  It was a letter attacking Gloria Partida and supporting Adam Morrill.

It says he has “stepped up to run for council because he can offer new and innovative solutions to many city problems.”  Unfortunately, it doesn’t list any (other than he “has pledged to take the time to review the City Council packets before voting on them”) and instead attacks Gloria Partida, this time for her voting record.

At least this letter is focusing on issues rather than more personal attacks, but this is still a negative piece.  We don’t get to read about Morrill’s vision for Davis or what he would do to fix our housing and fiscal shortfalls, how he will boost our schools, or really much of anything (he has laid out some of these points in community forums, but the community discussion is focused elsewhere).

Instead, we read a five-point list of what Partida did wrong:

She voted for: 1) putting the badly planned DISC project on the ballot twice, (then rejected by voters twice); 2) the seven-story University Mall project with its significant impacts on surrounding neighborhoods; 3) simply moving the problematic Arroyo Park zipline an insignificant distance from its current location, which doesn’t remedy the impacts to the neighborhood; 4) the recent Pacifico proposal despite neighborhood concerns that the crime and other problems related to the project over past years haven’t been addressed; and 5) the ill-conceived CAAP residential electrification mandate. 

Basically, Partida voted to put the DISC project on the ballot—which the community voted down.  She voted to approve the University Mall project which, because it was downsized by the council due to community concerns, is no longer financially viable for the developer and they have said now that it will be commercial only, a fact that all of the candidates at a recent forum lamented.

The zipline issue is unfortunate for the neighbors living near that park.  But curiously the city found overwhelming support overall for the zipline except for people living right near the park and who have to listen to the noise, and Partida’s district is largely unaffected by the issue.

The Pacifico proposal is also an unfortunate situation.  The city has been dealing with it since Partida took office.  In fact, the very night that the community showed up at Montgomery Elementary School library in early 2019 was the night that Natalie Corona was shot and killed.  The city has since been working with the county and putting forth RFPs to attempt to resolve the problem.  That’s another unfortunate situation that does not impact the residents of Partida’s district.

Meanwhile with respect to CAAP, the council has not voted on it yet, and the city just removed the electrification requirement to make it voluntary.

As Partida put it at a recent forum: “Our climate action and adaptation plan, right now, is out for citizen input. And I think that we have all heard loud and clear that electrification at point of sale is something that is not acceptable. And I think I’m on board with everybody else when I say that it makes more sense to, you know, do this at the end of the useful life.”

Several of the issues do not directly impact Partida’s district (zipline, Pacifico and even University Commons), so this really comes down to whether the voters of the Fourth District are interested in punishing Partida for her support of the projects—something that previously has not occurred.

In the meantime, the community continues to face a number of issues that are of crucial importance which are unfortunately not getting nearly enough play in this race.  We are going to have to see our council make the tough choices on issues like affordable housing, the downtown, climate change, homelessness, and a whole lot more—shouldn’t those issues be what this campaign is about rather than emails and long-ago messy family disputes?

I would certainly like to hear more about everyone’s ideas for addressing the critical issues of the day rather than getting another mudslinging submission from various political actors in the community.  But I guess that’s the unfortunate legacy of district elections.

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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  1. Ron Glick

    One thing I have been wondering about that I haven’t heard addressed is can Morrill be both a Council Member and an employee of the city?  Doing so would make him his boss’ boss. Does he plan on giving up his day job if he wins? If that is not the case what kind of issues would he be conflicted out of? Evaluating the City Manager or the City Attorney? Budgeting? Employee contracts? Hiring or firing the CM or City Attorney. Voting on Public Works projects the department he works in. Anything where he differs with the staff recommendation. It seems like the list of potential conflicts  is endless.

    Has this come up?

    1. David Greenwald

      I asked the city about this and they said he has been told he would have to retire if he won. But I am also told he disputes this, I haven’t had a chance to follow up.

      1. Bill Marshall

        It is more complex than that…

        State law says you can’t hold an “elected” position in overlapping jurisdictions… employment (unelected) doesn’t figure in.

        If you own property in Davis, as a CC member, you have to recuse yourself from matters that affect your property, if they affect your interests more than the community in general… (self-dealing)…

        My information from folk directly involved, indicate, yes, the issue has been ‘vetted’, including by City Attorney, parameters discussed.

        And, no, you cannot require someone to ‘retire’, in any event.

        Ironically, given the title of the article, both portions of the article, and subsequent ‘moderated’ posts are “feeding the beast”…

    2. Matt Williams

      Ron, what I have been told … firsthand, not by hearsay … is that because he is an employee of the Water Enterprise Fund he is not conflicted out of General Fund decisions/discussions.  He would have to recuse himself from any Water Enterprise Fund decisions/discussions.

      The first sentence of David’s statement is troubling on a whole wealth of levels.  Hopefully David will tell us more about the provenance of that statement.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Matt… not quite that simple, as to conflicts of interest issues… but getting closer… again, based on ‘boots on the ground’, firsthand experience and knowledge.

        Will call you later…

  2. Bill Marshall

    This “article” comes way too late… pick your metaphor:

    Horse left the barn; train has left the station; ship has sailed… etc.

    The VG has “enabled” this… the VG should ‘own’ that, rather than whine/remonstrate…

    Too late to go “noble”…

    1. David Greenwald

      We either get blasted for publishing something or we get blasted for not publishing it. Can’t win. It’s out there, would rather address it than ignore it.

  3. Ann Block

    California law does indicate that Adam Morrill will need to retire from his city job or find another job if elected. Otherwise he would be terminated. I would assume he knows that?  It’s quite clear – here’s the statute: 
    Gov’t Code 53227
    (a) An employee of a local agency may not be sworn into office as an elected or appointed member of the legislative body of that local agency unless he or she resigns as an employee. If the employee does not resign, the employment shall automatically terminate upon his or her being sworn into office.
    (b) For any individual who is an employee of a local agency and an elected or appointed member of that local agency’s legislative body prior to January 1, 1996, this section shall apply when he or she is reelected or reappointed, on or after January 1, 1996, as a member of the local agency’s legislative body.
    (c) This section does not apply to any volunteer firefighter who does not receive a salary, or where the salary the volunteer firefighter would otherwise receive is applied directly by the local agency toward the purchase of disability, life, health, or similar insurance coverage.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Thank you, Ann for your cite… a nuance I missed… hadn’t been exposed to or needed to deal with in my years of being a public employee… there may be other nuances, but excellent cite… thank you!

      It’s good to have knowledgeable adults in the room, for meaningful discussion…

    2. Richard_McCann

      If Morrill disputes the implication of this law, to me that would be an indication of his unsuitability of being a councilmember as not fully understanding the implications of how state law limits decisions.

      The Vanguard can publish unfiltered articles without fact checking, but then David shouldn’t complain about mudslinging because the VG becomes a platform for that message. The alternative is to write a story that fully airs the accusations, include the response, and then provide a factual review of the situation. (The Enterprise should be doing the same thing.) That complete story would have suppressed much of the controversy around the recent one and similarly, ones in the future.

      There has been more focus on character issues in part because there is a recognition that HOW the City is being managed is affecting WHAT is being decided. There has been a suppression of open discussion of key issues that has led to important mistakes like the BrightNight decision. How we get to that more open discussion depends on who we have on the Council. The campaign can’t just be about ideas if the conversations around those ideas are truncated by process decisions.

  4. Alan Pryor

    Interesting that this commenter went on a rant when the law was cited as a reason that Partida might not be able to serve given her past conviction yet here she is citing the law claiming that Morrill might not be able to serve because of his employment status with the City. I assume she does not see the blatant hypocrisy in all of this.

    1. Ann Block

      Alan, not correct, please do not misstate the content of my posts. I pointed out what was either the failure to disclose or flaw in your analysis regarding Gloria Partida’s eligibility to run and serve in public office. The law clearly does not render ineligible those with misdemeanors. And I did not say Adam Morrill might not be able to serve, he can certainly clearly run for office and serve, but he cannot serve and at the same time continue to work for the city. Just citing the statutes.

        1. Ann Block

          Never said that being anything that Morrill is or has been is “disqualifying” from any public office, certainly nothing of the kind is true to my knowledge. But I do think that certain associations (like with the current Republican party which has been raising funds for him and with which he was registered until this past July and switched to NPP) reflects a likely set of values not in sync with the vast majority of Davis. I don’t see how that is “character assassination.” How someone would likely vote based on their political affiliations would seem quite relevant to how they would vote on the issues facing City Council. I don’t agree with Gloria on everything, certainly not. But I would much rather see a generally progressive Democrat who reflects most of my values on City Council than a Republican who most likely does not.

  5. Ron Glick

    I hope Partida wins so the point becomes moot.

    I’ve never advocated that anyone should lose a job with the city or that they should resign from the City Council. Or that they shouldn’t be allowed to serve over some policy dispute or based on a technicality. I’ve always thought such arguments were petty and revealed more about the accuser than the accused.

    Once, when I caught a staffer in a serious act of wrongdoing I complained to his boss at City Hall but I was clear that I didn’t want him fired.  However I told the Assistant City Manager I spoke to that  I did want him to know that if he ever did anything like that again there would be serious consequences. I remember telling his boss the guy has a family to support. I’m not after his job.

    Years ago there was an employee going around saying he was going to get the City Manager fired over a bargaining unit contract dispute. I thought that was reprehensible. I recently defended Lucas when people were saying he should resign during the interregnum because he won higher office. Go figure? And the attack on Gloria pi**ed me off beyond anything I’ve experienced in all my years in Davis.

    I’m not a lawyer but the Morill situation raises some interesting issues. According to David, the candidate was informed he couldn’t be on the CC and work for the city and that Morrill disputes this. If the statute Ann Block cites is correct Morrill might have received bad advice. Maybe he planned on retiring if he won. Maybe he plans on getting a job elsewhere if he wins. After all, winning a CC or school board election has historically been good for your career.

    Still there is one other possibility that would be the pinnacle of irony. Maybe he would file a wrongful termination lawsuit against the City. Imagine Morrill suing his own constituents after being supported by the people who expressed outrage over another CC member suing his  constituents.


      1. Ron Glick

        Like Granny in Bugs Bunny, the old lady who owned Tweety Bird, sitting by the fire throwing piles of cash in to stay warm, perhaps you know someone willing to burn a bunch of money.

        Ran into a neighbor today, someone who has practiced law for 50 years, but has been out of town recently. I told him about the hit job on Partida about her expunged record. He told me that he knows all about expunged records and that the law is clear that if its expunged it can’t be used against you in any way. So go ahead Colin but why wait for the election to file? There is nothing holding anyone back from suing since she is currently serving. Talk is cheap.

        1. Colin Walsh

          You are right Ron, For Gloria it will likely take deep pockets, like a developer who has lucrative issue before the city that Gloria is not supporting to take this to court.

  6. Ron Glick

    Maybe a deep pocketed developer or more likely a grass roots citizens coalition or maybe the City Council will indemnify her. But will it be the plaintiffs attorney or the defendant’s who pays this time? Maybe it will be a pro bono attorney. I’ve seen four attorney’s who have said there is no case against Gloria in writing and spoken with two more who also say there is no case against her. I’m yet to see one who says there is a case against her. Its just a continuous stream of slime from former No on H supporters.

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