Sunday Commentary: The Politics of ‘No’ Isn’t a Path to Power in Davis

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – This week our nation perhaps pulled back from the brink.  Likewise, the local voters once again showed that the tactics of the slow growthers can work to stop projects, it is not a viable path to political power in Davis.

Three consecutive elections have proved that.  All of them somewhat different in form and structure.  In 2018, in an open race, nine candidates, two spots for the taking, two staunchly pro-growth candidates finished 1 and 2 (Gloria Partida and Dan Carson) while the two slow growth candidates finished in the middle of the pack.

In 2020, with district elections, slow growthers challenged incumbents in the 2nd and 3rd Districts.  In the 2nd, Colin Walsh finished third behind Will Arnold and Dillan Horton.  In the 3rd, Larry Guenther finished a distant second behind Lucas Frerichs.

In 2022, while the results have not been finalized, the gap is large enough that nothing figures to change.  It appears that Gloria Partida in a two-person race will easily be reelected.  And while Dan Carson was defeated, it was the moderate Bapu Vaitla rather than the slow growther Kelsey Fortune who appears to have prevailed.

This reinforces existing patterns rather than changes any of them.  In short, since 2005, with the exception of two projects in 2018, slow growthers have been able to attack, vilify and defeat proposed development projects.

But as we saw in the actual council election, the tactics that work for defeating projects are not a path to power for candidates that oppose those projects.  The voters, it appears, accept attacks on projects and developers, but not people.

That of course leads us to problems.

For one thing, the city of Davis still has fiscal challenges.  Yet, every time the council has put projects or taxes designed to close the fiscal gap, the voters have rejected them.  That includes Nishi in 2016, with the innovation component.  It includes a parcel tax in 2018 that fell short of the two-thirds needed.  And it includes the Innovation Center in 2020 and 2022—namely DISC.

The community says it has concerns for things like affordability of housing—the top issue facing the community in consecutive surveys.  And yet, more often than not, the community has turned back housing projects.

There are those who will argue—though they are decidedly in the minority—that Measure J in fact is the problem.  The process of allowing the community to vote on complex projects does not work.  In a place like Davis, it is easy to attack the imperfections and flaws inevitable in every project and, as we have seen time and time again, they work.

It doesn’t take a lot of doubt and mistrust for the voters to use their power to say—no.

The community is facing a slow burn.  We have seen a prolonged fiscal challenge that is straining the very services, amenities, and infrastructure that makes this community great.

We are finally starting to hear from the schools, which are noting that our land use policies are imperiling our great schools by shutting off our access to young families with school age children.

We are pricing our community out of the reach of the middle-income residents.  Affordability is a concern and, without the ability to build outward, there is only so much infill we can build.

Those who argue that we need to get rid of Measure J are not facing reality either.  The community backed the latest renewal just two years ago with about 83 percent of the vote.  That’s a similar percentage of the Davis voters who rejected Trumpism.  The idea that Measure J at this point is not permanent is magical thinking.

So what is the alternative?  Those who argue for community visioning process have a point.  But as I have watched the angry posts on NextDoor, the angry letters and attack pieces, it seems that a small number of people who are nevertheless organized (somewhat) and vocal, can poison the well.  That makes it difficult to create a viable path forward.

In the past week, some have suggested that we simply call out the naysayers.  Shame them, if you will.

But that doesn’t work any better.  It drags everyone into the mud.  It brings the entire process down.  And in many cases, there really is no shame.

There is a lot of optimism that is natural to the moments after the election.  Especially when it appears that the voters have clearly come together and have collectively spoken and apparently rejected the politics of dissension.

The question of how we transform that into a positive vision, and more importantly a positive path to resolving our difficult problems, remains precarious at best.

A large enough segment of the electorate—overrepresented in the active community—would rather curse the darkness and nitpick any possible path forward, then shine a light to allow us to move forward.

Just as I don’t think the national crisis has abated, the local one lies in a precarious position, strewn with land mines and without a clear path forward.

That remains as much our challenge as any.

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. Matt Williams

    For one thing, the city of Davis still has fiscal challenges.  Yet, every time the council has put projects or taxes designed to close the fiscal gap, the voters have rejected them.  That includes Nishi in 2016, with the innovation component.  It includes a parcel tax in 2018 that fell short of the two-thirds needed.  And it includes the Innovation Center in 2020 and 2022—namely DISC.

    There is a common theme in all of the listed revenue measures … they were all poorly/inadequately planned.

    Nishi 2016’s inadequate planning existed on four levels:

    1) Traffic
    2) Affordable Housing
    3) No City of Davis Economic Development Plan for the innovation component to relate to and/or contribute to
    4) No collaboration with UC Davis

    The Transportation Parcel Tax in 2018 simply sat out on the ballot like an inert blob.  There was

    1) No advance education of the public on the mess that the streets and bike paths had become
    2) No advance education of the public on how the money would address the mess
    3) No accountability measures that would allow the public to measure the success of the use of the funds

    The two incarnations of DiSC in 2020 and 2022 both were woefully under planned

    1) No traffic plan for handling the incremental volumes added to Mace
    2) No educational outreach to the neighborhoods
    3) No collaboration with Davis Downtown businesses
    4) Attempts to bypass the Baseline Features provisions of Measure J
    5) No collaboration with CalTrans
    6) Bait and Switch messaging regarding the “Northern Half” and the City’s 25 acre parcel
    7) No City of Davis Economic Development Plan for the innovation component to relate to and/or contribute to
    8) No collaboration with UC Davis

    1. David Greenwald

      “There is a common theme in all of the listed revenue measures … they were all poorly/inadequately planned.”

      Only wonks knew (thought/ believed) that. That’s not why they lost.

      1. Matt Williams

        David, are you saying that DiSC 2020 and 2022 did not lose because of the 8 reasons listed?  2022 went down in flames because of Carson’s lawsuit, but it was headed down even before that series of missteps.

        Are you saying that the 2018 parcel Tax did not go down because of the failure to educate the voters on A) the problem and/or 2) the need and/or 3) any accountability?

        The best way to get perspective on 2016 Nishi is to analyze why 2018 Nishi passed.  They planned for and defused the traffic issue by eliminating Olive Drive as part of the plan.  They included the appearance of an Affordable Housing program. They eliminated the innovation component, making the project 100% housing for UCD … garnering their support.

      2. Todd Edelman

        Only wonks knew (thought/ believed) that. That’s not why they lost.

        Wow, such respect you have for the citizenry.

        You’re whole thing for a couple of weeks… comparing Trump supporters and election deniers with your tired and worn “slow growthers” is…  simply absurd. Matt addressed my main gripes in fine and succinct fashion better than I could, but I would add that every “no” – from your header is also a “yes”: Yes to infill, yes to sustainable growth, yes to a updated General Plan…. and describing detailed and often impassioned analysis by many as “nitpicking” is kinda sorta beyond reproach.

        Again, I am surprised your editorial board doesn’t at least flag these atrocities.

        But’s let not make this about you, the editor and journalist (and mostly agreeable activist on criminal justice issues, thanks!). H lost because it was a big mistake, which says a lot about its backers. Now all of them are in power, including at the County level. I live in south Davis, so didn’t vote yea or nay on anyone this time, but it wouldn’t have been “no” only because of H, so in a way I understand why some who voted against H also, soon after, voted for Bapu and Gloria in enough numbers to help them win (re-)election.

        Dan and Gloria said “no” to a lot of things. They said “no” to meeting with the BTSSC’s DISC 2020 subcommittee, no to me being on the BTSSC, and no to Matt and Alan Pryor on theirs, they said (no, not literally said) “no, we won’t acknowledge that the DISC campaign lied about various features and promises of the project”, in the same way more recently Gloria said “no, I won’t represent the street repaving plan in an honest fashion…” (she showed a photo of the 2nd St reconstruction as an example of hers and Council budget decisions BUT it was actually paid for by Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority and that she and the Council didn’t invite the BTSSC to contribute robustly or in any way to this important plan is a huge “no”, isn’t it?). Similar for the parking lots & solar panel discussion. (To be fair, the BTSSC Chair at the time did not really advocate for the Commission to do anything beyond waiting to give opinions…). She once called me “white”, denying (no-ing) my ethnicity and recent family history, and though I doubt it was intentional, I would hope that politicians and scientists who also grew up in L.A. would better understand Jews, especially children of immigrants.

        Carson’s gone, and good riddance. But Gloria’s “no” in all those examples is not simply a decision, well-reasoned or less so, it’s a denial of equity. It’s a big highwheeler- organic tomato-award-winning beer-electric powered rainbow-painted car “no” to equity. In the hands of an elected official, and perhaps even more so a social NGO founder and waver of her own equity flag, it’s political violence…. a “no” to life and love.

        1. David Greenwald

          “but I would add that every “no” – from your header is also a “yes”: Yes to infill,”

          When you say yes to infill – do you mean yes to an actual project or yes to some fictitious, theoretical, unattainable perfect project? Because that’s what I have seen. It’s a de facto no, because the perfection required for support makes it unattainable.

        2. Todd Edelman


          No, just creative thinking, which I believe I’ve shown ample evidence of over the years in these “pages”:

          1) Nishi I could have worked better – not perfectly – if the parking and vehicle access necessary for the commercial parts was either directly accessed from Richards or even I-80. A much smarter design of the 80-Richards tight diamond thing could have incorporated this, inclusive of a significant change for egress to In & Out and Dutch Bros (right now the bike lanes on Olive and Richards are chronically-blocked at busy hours. Council and Staff does nothing. The police don’t cite anyone, they actually park in these lanes when not on service calls.)

          2) Sterling 5th could have been approved with a lot more housing also with less motor vehicle impacts if the footprint used for parking provision was instead used for housing. There might have also been agreement to go up another story or two without the motor vehicle impacts.

          3) University Commons should have been designed just as high but up against Russell — this would have kept the views and sun and provide more privacy for housing to the north. This is so obvious; my guess is that there was no effort put into making the commercial more interesting in the reverse-scenario. There could still be lots of sunny spots, etc.

          DISC in either iteration would have had and Bretton Woods will have extremely low walking and cycling share for anything except for recreation. This is even more inappropriate for elders. I really don’t imagine seeing people from BW walking to the Marketplace to go shopping. Neither is salvageable at these locations.

          The more aggressive and exciting plans I’ve mentioned repeatedly about diverting 80, building on top of 113 and parking lots and adding floors to too-low industrial and office all deserve studies, charettes, etc. before being declared “impossible”.

      3. Richard_McCann


        The list of issues that Matt provides (which I agree were the most important) are the ones that the “wonks” took to create simpler messages to the voters. The problems he describes caused many who might have support these projects or proposals to either stand on the sidelines or actually oppose. This sent signals to voters that those who better understood issues didn’t support them. Yes, voters use digested messages, but that digestion has to start from somewhere.

        As for creating a vision for Davis, we haven’t tried to do this for at least 3 decades (before I moved here). I believe that if we really try hard to get everyone in the room, particularly inviting the right people, we should be able to have a fruitful discussion. It’s also very important that the City staff not try to control the discussion and that it be citizen led as much as possible. I don’t know anyone who seems to be as passionately pro growth as the staff. Too often it has been the staff who has created the problems that Matt cites.

        1. Matt Williams

          I provided my observation in outline form on purpose … hoping to promote dialogue amongst the Vanguard readers.  Richard has done an excellent job of fleshing out and building on the “meaty” list.

          No planning
          No Vision
          “No!” as the voters’ response

          While I agree with Richard’s closing sentence “Too often it has been the staff who has created the problems that Matt cites” there is plenty of blame to go around.  Especially in the case of DiSC, the developer chose to only do the bare minimum … only exactly what the City required, nothing else.  To the best of my knowledge, the DiSC developer did not conduct even one education meeting with the project’s neighbors.

          To the credit of the Nishi developers (perhaps this is because they live in and are part of the Davis community) when they lost the Measure A vote in 2016, they reached out to some of the key Measure A opponents to understand (dare I say plan for) what modifications they could make to the project to mitigate or eliminate the propblems with the plan.  They modified their traffic plan.  They modified their Affordable Housing approach.  They eliminated the for-sale housing component so that the air quality concerns were mitigated/reduced … but not eliminated.  They recognized that the City has (1) no Vision and (2) no Economic Development plan and (3) no collaborative partner in UCD, and eliminated the “wing and a prayer” innovation component.  Bottom-line, they devoted time and energy and thought to planning a 2018 Nishi project that stood the test of a Measure J vote.

          With all the above said, Richard and I have shared our thoughts. Tim Keller has added his thoughts.   It would be good to hear from others. Let’s use the Vanguard as the kind of community dialogue space that it has the potential to be. David has thrown in his “wonky” comment, but my gut tells me that that was intended to cut off dialogue rather than promote it.

          Time’s yours.

          1. David Greenwald

            I threw out my wonky comment largely because I believe you can always make a case of poor planning. I think for the most part however the voters rejected projects that they thought would negatively impact them, particularly with traffic and supported projects that had limited impact.

            I think Todd’s comment above illustrates part of the problem. Most of what he proposes is infeasible and impractical, that’s not saying yes.

        2. Richard_McCann

          I agree that Todd’s comments are too “wonky” at times, but he also isn’t representative of what others are proposing that are more practical. Look at what the NRC proposed on DiSC and point out what wasn’t feasible (I’ll save you the time–you won’t find any because everything was done through a lens of feasibility, not wish list.) In any community, its how the “wonks” digest the discussions and considerations for the public to understand them.

    2. Tim Keller

      Part of me HAS to think that Matt and Richard are right, and that IF there was a plan put together that was good AND well-communicated to the voters, that they are rational enough to accept it.

      I have had a lot of conversations since the failure of measure H, including with people who vocally opposed it, and I get the feeling that the majority of people who were opposed to H, WOULD be able to support growth of this community, if a coherent, well-thought out plan was on the table.

      The problem is that we have not seen our city summon the political courage to do that kind of big planning, which is why we have been talking about having community leaders get together on our own horsepower and do it ourselves.

      The most cynical voiced I have talked to think that there is NO kind of growth that a significant amount of voters in this town wouldn’t reject… no matter how good the plan.     I guess we will never find out how true that is until we try it.

      1. Tim Keller

        Should mention:  I am using “people against measure H” as a proxy here… im not talking about growth only in the context of the innovation park concept.   As I have pointed out in articles here… the economy and housing etc are all inter-related and NEED to be adressed together.

        I do think that Snafu’s like the U-Mall, and the resistance to densificaiton in particular will be more avoidable in the future if there is this general plan.   If we people understand that densification NEEDS to happen across the city, and not JUST in their backyard, then the push-back might be more manageable, and less reactionary, and the council might be less willing to give concessions to neighborhood push back because the density is part of a comprehensive master plan… not just a profit-maximization strategy of a “greedy developer”

      2. David Greenwald

        Part of me also wants to believe that you can right-size, right-project your way in Davis approvals. But a more cynical side of me wonders if that’s actually true. Nishi was able to get passed when they eliminated the most important parts of the project and eliminated the traffic concerns. With DISC the developers attempted to do something similar when they reduced the size of the project – but it didn’t work. Perhaps they got in their own way on that. Or perhaps there was never a project out there that would have passed. I don’t know.

        1. Richard_McCann

          Remember that DISC 1 almost passed on the November ballot when students were out of town during the pandemic. DISC 2 fared worse on a June ballot when the most visible proponent shot himself in the foot twice. That Carson went from a clear lane to less than 30% support almost overnight as a result. That should tell us that his performance may have cost as much as 20% off of Measure H’s performance. (That said, the emergence of the Mace Mess, albeit mostly from El Macero residents, probably impacted it locally as well.) So I don’t think we should overread the results of the June election. Davis voters haven’t really been given a good project that reflects full community input. If the DISC developers had adopted the NRC recommendations at baseline features they would have gotten a lot more community support instead of just saying they would use them as guidelines. Both the developers and staff have underestimated how much thought goes into balancing for commission recommendations and then they’re surprised at resistance at the ballot box. That’s a clear example of how what the “wonks” think rolls over into actual votes.

        2. Matt Williams

          With DISC the developers attempted to do something similar when they reduced the size of the project – but it didn’t work.

          David, do you really believe the bait-and-switch tactic the developers and the City tried actually reduced the impact the project would have produced?  The voters were not stupid.  They knew that the northern half of the project was not “off the table.”  Going forward with that half-baked idea was just another example of bad/inadequate planning.  It also injected the issue of “trust” into the community’s consideration of the project.  So “trust” was already on the table when Dan Carson filed the suit, and then doubled down by suing for legal fees that had already been fully paid by the developer.  A good plan needs to cultivate the good will of the voters, not insult their intelligence.

          1. David Greenwald

            “David, do you really believe the bait-and-switch tactic the developers and the City tried actually reduced the impact the project would have produced? ”

            You’re trying to discuss through the continuation of campaign talking points. I still think the calculation here is relatively straight forward – the inverse of “what’s in it for me” – “will this negatively impact me?” Dan Carson’s mistake simply gave the voters another excuse to say no to a project that might have been a coinflip prior.

        3. Richard_McCann


          An important difference in Nishi and DiSC was that Nishi had the full support of the NRC (and the NRC points to its Sustainability Plan as a useful template). DiSC didn’t have that. In this case, the support of the “wonks” made a difference.

  2. Ron Glick

    “They said “no” to meeting with the BTSSC’s DISC 2020 subcommittee, no to me being on the BTSSC, and no to Matt and Alan Pryor on theirs, …”

    Winning elections has its privileges.

  3. Marc Thomas

    Davis fiscal issues are the direct result of poor management and subsequent execution enabled by the city council.  10 firefighters making near $400K with a chief making $500K…really?  New ladder truck with 3 FTE for support … with commitments for funding continued employment for decades and pensions that last forever.  $600K for a new kitchen?  No wonder they were out “walking” for a few select politicians.

    Until we have city council members who represent the taxpayers and residents instead of their own political ambitions and self and special interests; adding revenue exasperates the poor financial decision making.

    You can call the naysayers “no-growthers”, but what it really is smart people recognizing that these developer funded efforts are not for the city and their residents, but for sheer profit and self interests.

    City council, whomever winds…follow Adams Morrill’s points:  1) act financially responsibly and 2) develop a general plan aligned with the taxpayers and residents of the city and you might have a chance at creating some “grothers”.

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