By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – While the issue of housing has roared into the forefront in the past couple of weeks, the actual election for city council has been relatively quiet.
One reason for that is that for 80 percent of the community, they can’t vote in the election.
In their column in which the Davis Enterprise endorsed Donna Neville for the District 3 council seat to replace Councilmember Lucas Frerichs, who last year won election to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, the Enterprise took space to note the problems of the current district election system.
They write: “Not only is the majority of this city not participating in the election, but the people who are voting will have gone months without representation on the City Council.”
The general consensus in the community seemed to favor holding a special election in part due to the issue of representation. The Enterprise is not wrong about the concern over lack of representation by District 3 on the council.
The lack of a fifth councilmember has not come into play much this year but it did last week when, in order to hear the appeal by Bapu Vaitla, it required three votes on council—and with only three members eligible to vote, that meant it required a unanimous vote, which it could not attain.
Not noted by the Enterprise, however, is that another reason this election hasn’t attracted a huge amount of focus in the community is frankly—and with all due respect to both candidates—there really isn’t a huge difference on the issues.
For example, on the hugely contentious issue of housing, the two have very similar concerns.
In this week’s weekly question, Donna Neville on housing noted, “(W)e are now faced with the reality that we may not be able to meet our Regional Housing Need Allocation. Council is currently working to develop criteria that it will use to decide which peripheral projects to place on the ballot but decided not to place any such projects on the ballot until 2025 at the earliest. We need to ensure that any project that goes on the ballot meets the needs of the City and has the support of our residents through smart planning and an engaged process.”
Meanwhile, Francesca Wright wrote, “Our community has a shortage of both workforce and affordable housing. I support pressing for infill while we have rigorous community conversations about the conditions under which we’d support bringing projects forward for annexation.”
The Enterprise focused on two issues, housing and homelessness.
They write, “On the city’s persistent housing shortage, Neville aims to promote affordable infill housing by streamlining the city’s permitting process for infill and for accessory dwelling units; backing the Housing Trust Fund with a steady revenue stream; and collaborating with the school district on identifying surplus district property that can be used for housing within the city limits.”
But again that’s not much different than Wright’s views.
They also looked at homelessness and the need overall for “more staffing” as she also cites “understaffing as one reason the city is having trouble delivering the level of services Davis voters expect, especially in the case of infrastructure. As befits someone with experience in the state auditor’s office, she sees the need to bring in more revenue to the city as a critical component to shore up lagging services.”
The Enterprise endorsement focuses heavily on experience, citing Neville’s experience as chief legal advisor to the California state auditor as well as her work on the Davis Planning Commission and a former member and chair of the Davis Finance and Budget Commission.
But Francesca Wright also has tremendous experience professionally and in the community—both in fact have an impressive array of experience in the community—and here that experience differs.
The biggest difference in the two seems to be that Neville seems to be backed by a bit more moderate supporters in the community while Wright is backed by more progressive supporters.
To the extent that there are differences between the two candidates, this really has not been so much a clash of ideas as a contrast of two thoughtful approaches to governances that may somewhat differ in focus and experience.
The Enterprise tends to have a track record of supporting more establishment-backed candidates who tend to be more pro-growth.
An Enterprise endorsement over the years has been more an indicator of who the more establishment candidates are rather than a huge factor in who ultimately wins the race.
Whoever wins will be stepping into a very challenging environment and will face an array of immediate challenges.