By David M. Greenwald
Next week will be another changing of the guard. Just two weeks ago, we saw Dan Carson replaced on the Davis City Council by Bapu Vaitla. Next week, Don Saylor, who has served three terms on the Board of Supervisors, following two each on the school board and city council, will step down.
Saylor will be replaced on the Board by Lucas Frerichs, who steps down from the council on Monday after serving 10 years and finally getting his stint—albeit briefly—as mayor.
We still don’t know who will ultimately replace Frerichs; that will be an early 2023 storyline.
With Saylor retiring, that leaves just one elected official in Yolo County that predates the 2006 founding of the Vanguard. That would be Jim Provenza, who started on the school board and was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2008. His fourth term will expire in 2026 and it is widely expected that he will not seek a fifth term.
Saylor was often the sole voice of reform on matters of criminal justice while on the Board of Supervisors. There were times when he was the only member of the board who pushed back against the DA. It will be interesting to see the role that Frerichs ends up playing on the board.
Personally, I think that Frerichs will be a tremendous loss to the city council.
Ironically, because Frerichs has often been the youngest person on the council, and yet, in many ways, he has been its institutional memory. Not only did he serve on the council since 2012, the longest-tenured councilmember for the last several years, but before that he served on Social Services and Planning and the Housing Element committee and so he has been through the battles and wars and knows the issues and nuances of the debates as well as anyone.
He was a strong advocate for housing, and he was a reliable ally on issues like police reform and civil rights.
Perhaps most importantly, he was able to be a strong advocate without engendering a tremendous amount of hate and anger. That’s something often lacking in a community that often seems to relish the conflict.
With Frerichs moving on, Will Arnold becomes the new mayor and has an opportunity to seize the mantle as leader of the council. This is going to be a very young council. When the appointment is made, you will have Arnold as the only elected member at the end of a second term, Partida starting her second term and three first termers.
A lot of people were surprised that Arnold sought reelection in 2020. He brings to the table a lot of key assets—he grew up in this community, is part of a family that is as much an institution as any, and he has a keen political sense.
And yet, during his time on council, he has often seemed disengaged. At times he has stepped into the fray—and likely came to regret it and learned from those missteps. Now as mayor, will Will Arnold step into the leadership vacuum?
While the council has an immediate decision to make on the replacement for Frerichs, the decision has been taken largely out of their hands for the longer term replacement, as the voters will get to select the ultimate successor in a special election (correction: while that option was previously discussed, the final determination has not been made yet).
The voters in November chose to elect a very diverse council—adding Bapu Vaitla to the reelection of Gloria Partida, both of whom were overwhelmingly elected. That gives Davis two people of color on the council. It will be interesting to see who ends up being elected from the 3rd District.
Whereas in West Sacramento and Sacramento women are dominating the council, in Davis, Gloria Partida is right now the only woman on the council and there are no women at all on the County Board of Supervisors—and, might I add, there only two of 11 Yolo County judges who are women.
The city continues to have vital issues to address. Housing, affordable housing, and homelessness figure to be huge issues. The city has prioritized social services with the creation of the Department of Social Services. The council still has to finish its police reform plan, still has to create a permanent affordable housing ordinance, and, like many places, address homelessness.
One of the most contentious tasks will likely be the new General Plan update now that the Downtown Plan is basically done.
But I think in Davis maybe the most important issue will not be policy, but rather process. The city remains divided unto itself. There is a strong faction opposed to new housing. There is also a strong inclination away from peripheral development.
At the same time, many recognize that there are critical issues—affordability of housing, declining enrollment of school children—that need to somehow be addressed.
We have learned from years of pushback and fights that this stuff cannot be rammed through, but needs to be finessed through deft leadership and understanding. Can this be the council that is finally able to thread some of these needles?
If not, then as I have noted all too often, this is a community that will continue to change in ways that we do not intend for it to change, and the character of the community will be altered.
And so we will see what the next two years bring—if history is a guide, things will not be boring.