Commentary: If the Results Hold, Davis Voters Reject Divisiveness

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – I was just reading Thomas Friedman’s excellent NY Times column in response to the election, “America Dodged an Arrow.”  I think collectively everyone not aligned with the far right is breathing a bit easier.  And while I don’t think the local picture faced the same sort of existential threat as we did nationally, I think the results—if they hold up—are a victory for civility over divisiveness.

It’s pretty hard to imagine at this point that they won’t hold up.   There were about 2500 votes counted in each district. Last time, 2020, the council races ended up with between 5300 and 6600. Given that the last election was historic in terms of turnout, a result somewhere around 5000 seems pretty likely. In order for either Carson or Morrill to win, they would have to basically flip the script and win by slightly larger margin than they lost so far.

That’s not impossible, but it doesn’t seem likely.  Leads of 60-40 don’t generally change that much and certainly don’t evaporate after election day.

According to a release from Yolo County, “The next unofficial election updates will be Tuesday, November 15th and Friday, November 18th by 5:00 p.m.”

That seems odd given that other races we are watching across the state in places like San Francisco, Alameda, and Los Angeles all had major updates yesterday.

As did the nationally watched races in Nevada and Arizona.

At this point it is reasonable to ask the question—why is Yolo County taking so long?

In their release, they said, “This election there was an immense amount of vote by mail ballots returned on Election Day (via the mail, Ballot Drop Box and dropped off at Vote Centers) as well as an unprecedented amount of conditional and provisional ballots (primarily due to same day voter registrations associated with UC Davis students) that will require additional verification and staff time.”

“As such, it is estimated that our office will need the entire 30 days to officially certify the election results,” said Jesse Salinas, Yolo County Assessor/Clerk-Recorder/Registrar of Voters. “Every effort will be made to provide unofficial updates frequently and to certify the election as soon as possible.”

Fair enough for finalizing the results, but why is it going to take a week to release the next batch of updates?  Whereas everywhere else in the state is releasing updates after two days?

That said, as I mentioned a moment ago, these results really aren’t that close and not very likely to change.

Earlier this week some suggested this was a rejection against the slow growth agenda.  To some extent that is probably true.

It is not a total shock that Gloria Partida, despite being at odds with her district over Measure H, would still prevail fairly easily.  When I spoke to her, she acknowledged that Measure H was in fact what she heard about most, but she explained, “I had a lot of conversations with people about Measure H, but I think for the most part, people understood that there was a lot more than just Measure H to being a leader in this community.”

That was my feeling all along.  If you look at the history of voting in Davis—the voters have not generally punished incumbents for supporting unpopular projects—at least not for only supporting unpopular projects.

That gets us to the apparent defeat of Dan Carson.  I did not predict that he would lose—but I am not terribly surprised.

As I mentioned in the run up to the election, there were a number of questions that mitigated against my predicting a Bapu Vaitla victory.

The fact that Kelsey Fortune would split some of the anti-Carson vote.  The fact that in a three-way race, would Carson’s vote total be low enough to be passed by Vaitla (who always seemed far more likely than Fortune)?

As it turned out, Fortune did break 10 percent and received 13 percent.  But Dan Carson only managed 27 percent of the vote—that part is a bit stunning.

Talking to Vaitla after the election, he had had the same uncertainty I did.

He explained, “(I)t is hard to know given (I was) running a three-way race against an incumbent.”

But I think it really illustrates the extent to which the voters in Davis rejected the dissension and incivility in this election.

Partida probably would have won regardless, but I think the attacks on her backfired.  I received a lot of communications via email and text pushing back against that attack.  I received them even from people who said they were voting against her in the election.

In the end, I think Dan Carson was undone not so much by the initial ballot challenge—which, again, I think was legitimate; however, having it come from a sitting councilmember had very bad optics.  Still, he might have survived that misstep had he not doubled down by seeking attorney fees, and also I think he was not helped by engaging with critics during a council meeting last spring.

I was very concerned, going into this election, that the race would turn ugly because of the district election set up means—that you have to finish first and when you face incumbents, they have an inherent advantage and you need to really knock them off and that is largely done by going negative.

But I think the voters were able to straddle that line.  They end up resoundingly supporting two candidates who were largely above that fray.  Bapu Vaitla largely avoided the attacks and focused on a positive agenda.

I think both will see the need to find better ways to bring the community together in common purpose.

For her part, Gloria Partida said, “I think it’s the work that I do… around inclusivity.”  She explained, “It’s around building bridges between people who have differences, and it’s what I believe in. And so I’m very hopeful that we can remember that we’re a community and that we all have similar goals. And I tell people all the time that I’m very accessible and if they want to talk about whatever it is, I’m very happy to do that.”

In this climate that is still tricky.  The community has a series of very difficult issues to address over the next four years, including affordable housing, homelessness, a new downtown and General Plan, and the ongoing climate emergency.

Vaitla told me that he felt like the conversation around affordable housing has changed.

He said, “What we kept hearing again and again … and I think the culture in Davis around affordable housing has changed. People’s kids who grew up here can’t afford to move back and rent, let alone buy.

Vaitla noted, “As the number of homeless goes up on the streets, as we see how many low income units we’re obligated to build that we haven’t made any progress on. I think it’s just people start being open to how do we build affordable, dense housing.

He said, “So we heard that a lot. Just kind of this new openness to what do we do about sensible housing.”

We will now get to see how well the new leadership in City Hall can forge together a consensus to address these issues.

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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15 Comments

  1. Ron Glick

    I don’t  know where Bapu lives but I do know he has roots at Village Homes. I always find irony in the idea that people who live in some of the least dense housing in the city argue that we need more density.

    1. Richard_McCann

      Yes, Bapu lives in Village Homes. The housing there is quite dense along the streets. But remember it was designed to also provide food for the residents. That was more prevalent when it first started with organized harvests, but it is a useful model if a developer could bring themselves to build a similar one. The development also includes apartments that were owned by the HOA until a few years ago. So I don’t think that its fair to compare a community built with a working environment that supports the households to standard housing with wide spaces of decorative landscaping. Village Homes is as dense as it can be while functioning as a more complex community than a typical suburban neighborhood.

      1. Ron Glick

        Sorry Richard, that dog won’t hunt. I think the traditional way of defining density is people/area. By that measure Village Homes is among the least dense places to live in Davis.

        I didn’t endorse in Bapu’s election and I’m certainly willing to give him a chance and support his efforts to add housing supply. My critique is that living in Village Homes doesn’t walk the walk of advocating for dense housing. Its not leadership by example, which is, of course, the finest form of leadership.

        Davis has a history of this sort of thing, people who have one or more houses opposing more houses, people who live on what was once farmland opposing development of farmland, people who bought homes in new subdivisions opposing new subdivisions.

        Now we have people who live in low density housing advocating for dense housing. I would call that an improvement in facing reality but it is not leadership by example.

        1. Keith Y Echols

           My critique is that living in Village Homes doesn’t walk the walk of advocating for dense housing. Its not leadership by example, which is, of course, the finest form of leadership.

          None of your comment makes any sense.  You’re convoluting good policy with the economic reality of the society we live in.    We live in a capitalist society.  That means there are haves and have nots to varying degrees.  It means I can’t buy a home in Pacific Heights in San Francisco.  And yes, it means some people are denied the glory of living in Davis and must sink to the nether regions and live in Woodland.   But housing policy is about proposing plans that help to create housing for people that want housing; market rate, affordable…etc…  When you propose new higher density affordable and market rate housing….the existing stock of housing still exists.  El Macero, Wild Horse and Alhambra Estates aren’t just going to disappear.   If I propose a 20 unit/acre med/high density workforce/affordable housing project, that doesn’t mean I need to give up my house to live in one of the new units.  Bapu Vaitla can afford to live in a home in the Village Homes neighborhood….so what.

        2. Ron Glick

          I don’t think its that hard to understand. I’m not saying he needs to live anywhere. I’m saying its not leadership by example to live one way and advocate that others live some other way.

          A good analogy is people jetting off to global warming conferences and then telling other people they need to reduce their carbon footprint.

          Its why I respected Robb Davis when he was on the CC. He tried to live by example by not driving cars.

  2. Keith Y Echols

    I think Dan Carson was undone not so much by the initial ballot challenge—which, again, I think was legitimate; however, having it come from a sitting councilmember had very bad optics. 

    I think you overestimate the voters’ intelligence.  I think that regardless of the legal right/necessity to challenge the statements by the No campaign that the voters would view a city councilman suing a poor little activist as a significant enough negative to vote against him.  The nuance of the correct legal action or suing for legal fees is likely lost on most voters.

     He said, “What we kept hearing again and again … and I think the culture in Davis around affordable housing has changed. People’s kids who grew up here can’t afford to move back and rent, let alone buy.

    Vaitla noted, “As the number of homeless goes up on the streets, as we see how many low income units we’re obligated to build that we haven’t made any progress on. I think it’s just people start being open to how do we build affordable, dense housing.

    Vaitla seems to be convoluting affordable housing with homelessness.  Different but somewhat related problems.  What is “affordable housing” to Vaitla?  Are we talking about more 5th Street types of housing?  Is he talking about smaller market rate housing?  Remember, people are usually cool with affordable housing until it’s almost literally in their backyard.

    He also seems to assume (like many people) that people have the right to live where ever they feel like.  My grandparents had a home in Palo Alto.  None of us ever assumed my parents or I had some right to affordable housing there.  I’m still waiting for my student housing on Oahu to be available for me once I start surfing school.

    1. David Greenwald

      ” I think that regardless of the legal right/necessity to challenge the statements by the No campaign that the voters would view a city councilman suing a poor little activist as a significant enough negative to vote against him. The nuance of the correct legal action or suing for legal fees is likely lost on most voters.”

      I agree with that. What I was attempting to argue in my piece what that it should not have been Carson who filed the legal challenge. I don’t think the legal challenge itself was a mistake.

      1. Keith Y Echols

        I don’t think the legal challenge itself was a mistake.

        I don’t know if we’re not communicating clearly or I’m just not picking up on what you’re writing.  I think the legal challenge was a POLITICAL mistake.  It doesn’t matter if it was the correct thing to do legally.  Carson shouldn’t have sued the No Campaign in the first place.  Not because he didn’t have the right or because it wasn’t the correct legal procedure.  But because it just looks bad….bad optics as you say.

        The other thing that is “bad optics” that people get confused about and have a misplaced understanding of the role of the council and development.  Many believe that representing the city requires an adversarial type of role of “holding the developers accountable”.  They don’t understand that once all of the details have been negotiated and the council gives it’s support of the project; that the city and developers are partners.  Carson’s role has been vilified as being conflicted as a councilmember and head of the Yes Campaign.  But in truth he had the council’s support to go forward as their representative.

    2. Richard_McCann

      I don’t know that people have a “right” to live where they want, but they should have a reasonable opportunity to 1) live near where they work so they don’t have commute long distances and 2) live where their children can get a good education. Unfortunately we’ve erected barriers that have made it unaffordable for lower income households to benefit from our excellent school district, and forced many UCD employees to commute from other cities due to high prices caused by a restricted housing supply.

      I agree that Carson’s challenge (or any challenge by Yes on H) was a political mistake. The better tact would have been a direct rebuttal to the analytic basis of the No on H argument, which was quite feasible. No one really reads the ballot arguments to make their choice.

      1. Keith Y Echols

         but they should have a reasonable opportunity to 1) live near where they work so they don’t have commute long distances and 2) live where their children can get a good education.

        Why do you believe that people have these rights?  Why is our society obligated to give them these rights?  The society we live in says your net worth and income dictate where you live.  That’s why real estate is mostly a private asset.  If it wasn’t and we made it communal, then you’d have an argument to be made.  But it’s not so our real estate is part of our net worth.  So when you consider if people can or should live in a certain area, the people have to consider how it impacts the quality of their life (maintenance and service costs, traffic, crowds, open space…etc..).

        , and forced many UCD employees to commute from other cities due to high prices caused by a restricted housing supply.

        So you’re saying that the city doesn’t have to pay for services and maintenance for people that work for an institution that doesn’t pay business taxes into the city (and no property taxes don’t make up for the cost)?  That sound really horrible!

        1. Ron Glick

          Sometimes when I read your comments I’m reminded of Hobbes’ famous  “Nasty brutish and short” quote.

          You have argued that the private sector won’t solve the housing shortage in Davis. So why not seek some other sort of model to address the problem? Why not publicly financed housing? Maybe we have no legal obligation to help less fortunate people but I’d like to hope that we can find the humanity within ourselves to do so.

        2. Keith Y Echols

          Sometimes when I read your comments I’m reminded of Hobbes’ famous  “Nasty brutish and short” quote.

          Oh, I’m sorry if you think so harshly of me….oh wait…that would be completely out of character for me!  And how did you know that I’m short????   I just like to point out the irrational beliefs, policies and attitudes by the No Growth Crowd and the Let’s Shed a Tear for the Poor People That Can’t Live Where They Want Crowd.  “Nasty and brutish”?….eh…I just like to point out in away that amuses me how neither of these extreme groups know what they’re talking about….but yeah I don’t write with good supportive, inclusive feelings for all….on the other hand you could say that I’m inclusive because I pick on both groups.

          You have argued that the private sector won’t solve the housing shortage in Davis. So why not seek some other sort of model to address the problem? 

          I have argued for more PUBLIC HOUSING.  But not public housing that is continuously subsidized by taxes (state, local..etc..).  I have proposed public housing that is structured so that it isn’t dependent on public subsistence in the long term and would actually generate revenue for local agencies (like the city or school district).  But solutions that require long term subsidies from the public just won’t work.  It’s not that I have anything personal against such a structure.  It’s just it goes against human nature to have to continually subsidize people directly.  So anything proposed that requires continues public subsidies is bound to fail eventually.

          Maybe we have no legal obligation to help less fortunate people but I’d like to hope that we can find the humanity within ourselves to do so.

          Yes we are evil!  We condemn those less fortunate to the inner circles of hell!  We cast them and deny them from the utopia, the paradise that is Davis!   They must live in such hells like Woodland!  West Sacramento!  and dare I say it?  Dixon!  Oh…the humanity!!!!  I admit that it’s a personal issue for me.  I’m still waiting for Hawaii to provide housing for me (and my family) while I go to surf school.  So if I can’t live where I want to live….no one can!

           

        3. Richard_McCann

          The society we live in says your net worth and income dictate where you live.

          Ah, the mythology of individualism–that somehow we are entirely atomistic with no communal interests and that somehow individuals are entirely responsible entirely for their own achievements. How very Ayn Randish. It’s also exactly the argument that more sophisticated segregationists have used to exclude certain racial groups

          The reality is that we have zoned housing to be near businesses and subsidized utilities, roads and other infrastructure to provide more affordable housing for workers. We are foolish if we don’t recognize and acknowledge the need to intervene in markets to address key failures that impede improvements in social welfare. (Studying and analyzing those issues is why I studied to be an economist.)

          As for the benefits that state and federal taxpayers bestow on Davis, I’ve listed them in a separate comment elsewhere. The presence of UCD increases property tax revenues to the City by 85%, and sales taxes are higher due to the higher income of households here with commensurate spending.

          Here’s the latest on studies showing that we need to increase housing supply, particularly in California, to meet housing demand: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/11/us-housing-gap-cost-affordability-big-cities/672184/

  3. Ron Glick

    “I don’t think the legal challenge itself was a mistake.”

    What you smoking?

    The Governor just got re-elected in a landslide and didn’t even bother to submit a ballot statement. Did anybody even notice? Suing over the ballot statement has to be one of the most ridiculous political gambits in the history of Davis. It ranks right up there with the No on H attack on Gloria. Yes on H went Defcon 1 with the lawsuit when a simple rebuttal argument would have been enough.

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