A Chain of Events on Tuesday Leads from Supervisor Frerichs to Mayor Arnold to a May 2 Special Election in Davis (Updated)

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – The day began in Woodland as Lucas Frerichs, elected way back in June, finally took office on the Board of Supervisors.  He was sworn in by former Supervisor and Assemblymember Helen Thomson.

That triggered a series of events later in the day in Davis.  Will Arnold, now the longest serving councilmember, was installed as Mayor, sworn in by his daughter, and Josh Chapman became Vice Mayor, sworn in by his two sons.

Frerich’s resignation created an opening, and the four remaining council members, following what seemed to be unanimous public opinion, called for a Special Election in May and—perhaps surprisingly—decided, given the short window, not to appoint an interim council member.

For good measure, Donna Neville and Francesca Wright already stepped up to indicate their intent to seek the open 3rd District seat.

Frerichs, upon being sworn in, noted that while cities have increasingly taken on social service, it is the essential function of the county to provide social services and noted the need to step up, given climate change and issues such as wildfire, drought and, most recently, floods.

“I commit to being just as responsible as County Supervisor as I was on the City Council,” Frerichs said.  “I am honored and grateful to be able to serve and represent the greater area as well as the campus.”

In term of priorities, “I certainly want to do a lot more work, engagement on mental health services.  Ensure a successful launch of the CrisisNOW partnership that has been initiated between cities and counties.”

Implicitly noting the lack of women in leadership in the county, both at the elected and staff level, Frerichs added, “I want to help create and support leadership opportunities for women in Yolo County, whether for elected office, the staff level, and across the board.”

He added, “At minimum I think Yolo County should join other counties in the creation of a Yolo County Status of Women and Girls.”

For Will Arnold, getting sworn as mayor in the town he grew up in, he called it “the honor of a lifetime.”

Arnold said, “Most kids I think, probably don’t dream of being the mayor of their small town when they’re in high school.”  He said, “But there’s certainly some folks right up front here that knew me when I was that age and know that that was something that I had wanted to do—and it is just very meaningful to be here.”

He said, “When I was standing right here in 2016 and I was sworn in to the city council for the first time, I said, and it’s true that I’ve had a dream, a literal dream in which Davis is a beacon of hope and light and a darker world.”

Arnold added, “We’ve seen some shades of that darkness since then.  And yet we’re the community that beat COVID better than any other community. We’re the community that took the challenge that was placed in front of us to reform public safety when grand pronouncements were made in other communities, only to be walked back.

“We took a serious, deliberate approach and we delivered on something that will help our most vulnerable members of our community for decades to come. And there’s so much more work to do, and we need to work together to face all of these challenges.”

Josh Chapman, after being sworn in noted, “I can’t follow up on 45 years of experience in this community.”  But he did thank the folks who supported him.

“This work isn’t possible without the support of our community and more importantly, the support of our city staff and then the folks at home who deal with us every single day,” he said.

The ceremonies being done, the council had one major item to decide on Tuesday—an item that, given the tight window, they had to decide immediately: whether or not to put the council vacancy on the May ballot, or go later, or go to an appointment.

For newest councilmember Bapu Vaitla, the decision was simple.

Councilmember Vaitla said, “I’ll keep it short and sweet.  I would support an election in May.  Seems like it makes sense, seems like the preponderance of public comment has argued for that and made compelling arguments, so would support that.”

Gloria Partida pointed out that “often when we get public comments from a large group of people… it tends to come from a faction of folks” or perhaps the “usual suspects.”  But she said, “This has been one of those instances where we have had input from a very wide group of folks, and with very few exceptions those people have asked for a special election.”

Councilmember Chapman noted that he has been “all over the board on this one” but said, “there has been a lot of outreach from community members and conversations with staff around the right way to move forward.”

A key factor for him was “this move toward districts so that districts can elect that person who they see best can represent their interests.”  And while he did point out, “I would argue on the other hand that we all sit up here and cast votes in other council members’ districts.

“So we are representing this community,” he noted.  “But I do think from my experience. being the first to run a district election, there’s something for us to reset that and set a new norm.  This is a different situation than what we’ve had in the past, it’s different than what we saw when Supervisor Saylor was up here.”

He concluded, “I do think it is appropriate for us to turn this back over to the District 3 voters and give them the opportunity to vote for the person who they see best represents their interests.”

The council quickly reached consensus and voted to conduct a special election in May.

While Bapu Vaitla favored “an interim appointment,” the rest of his colleagues ultimately leaned the other way.

It was Gloria Partida who really made the critical point about times.  The latest they can appoint someone is March and she indicated, “What I’m thinking is it doesn’t make much sense to appoint somebody in March and only for a month…  We’d have to do a fairly quick process if it was going to.”

It is possible that the person might not get much more than four meetings.

The thinking was even if it was someone familiar with the council, by the time they really got up to speed, they would be stepping down.

Chapman said, “When I step back and look at it, I’m not in favor of the interim appointment.”

He pointed out, “I think us moving forward a deliberative body, there has not been very many split votes at all.  If there was any sort of contentious issue, when you step back and look at the issue that I recused myself from before our break in the holidays, it was a 4-0 vote around the Downtown Plan, the Hibbert site, which I think demonstrates that the folks up here can work together and move this forward.”

Council vowed not to shelve anything in the interluding time.

Vaitla did push back against the notion that an appointment was anti-democratic.

“I’m uncomfortable with the sort of the equating of the appointment process with sort of anti-democratic vocabulary.  I think that’s such a pretty dangerous precedent.”

He noted that there are costs with elections and while direct voting is the ideal, “but we also don’t hold votes every day.”

In the end, Vaitla accepted that the council was 3 to 1 against him on the issue, and allowed the consideration to die without pushing for a vote.

There will be a special election on May 2 that is an all-mail ballot and more details will be forthcoming.

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. Don Shor

    Council vowed not to shelve anything in the interluding time.

    So if there is an item related to downtown businesses, Councilmember Chapman will have to recuse and three councilmembers will be deciding it, with no representation for that very district.

    If anything related to the nearby neighborhoods comes up, District 3 will not be represented.

    If they aren’t going to appoint an interim councilmember they should absolutely defer anything related to District 3.

    1. David Greenwald

      They probably will not want to take up anything on the Downtown until May. I was originally in favor of an appointment, but once the timeline came into focus, it didn’t make sense.

    2. Dave Hart

      The idea that we are naturally balkanized by district elections needs to be elevated and dealt with directly by the council.  The idea that each district has a greater interest in electing their “own” representative is polarizing and actually quite incorrect.  The evil of district elections is wholly in the minds of the electorate if they think it matters that “their” district is represented.  Every council member has the responsibility to represent the entire city, including all citizens in all five districts.  Failure to do so should be grounds to recall or otherwise censure a council members who votes in favor of “their” district if it means putting that district’s benefit ahead of the other districts.  We must keep this in mind and resist the tendency to balkanize city politics.  This is a political issue that really needs constant attention and discussion by all five council members to educate the voters away from the notion that “their” district representative is supposed to put “their” district first.   If the trend toward balkanization continues and cannot be reversed, we must rescind district elections.

      1. David Greenwald

        It seemed to me there were a lot of bad points that were raised in this whole thing. Nevertheless, the safest move by the council when in doubt is to punt it to the voters.

      2. Don Shor

        District 3, where my business is located, includes a high proportion of lower-cost housing that is at risk of gentrification, the respite center and its problems, the likeliest sites for multi-story buildings, much of the public land that is being considered for economic development, and more. It’s arguably the busiest district with respect to development conflicts and social issues.
        I would argue that the balkanization has already occurred over many years. South Davis residents justifiably feel left out or slighted in planning and traffic issues. District 3 gets all the complicated issues. Council members are directly answerable to the voters of the neighborhoods they represent. It’s all good and well to say they should act ‘for the city as a whole’ but I don’t see any respite centers or 5-story buildings being proposed in Stonegate, Wildhorse, or Lake Alhambra Estates.
        Yes district elections should be rescinded, if or when the council thinks that the city could prevail in a lawsuit without undue expense. Until then, each council member represents a particular set of neighborhoods and pretending otherwise seems naive to me.
        I’m just specifically saying they *should* shelve anything affecting this district until we have representation.

        They probably will not want to take up anything on the Downtown until May.

        District 3 is much more than just the downtown.

      3. Richard_McCann

        Santa Monica is winning its case against districts and the State Supreme Court will make a final ruling shortly. Davis will be free to dissolve districts then.

        I think we can see that districts are largely anti-democratic in such small communities when we look at the school district election. To have competitive elections we would have had to add 3 candidates–a single city wide election would have needed only 1. As it stands I know little about the school board members due to the lack of the election. Hiram Jackson I already knew (and would have voted for).

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