GUEST COMMENTARY: Confirmation Bias and City Council Culture

Can we learn anything from Davis History?

By Alan Hirsch

The Davis Council on 7/18 approved building a $400,000 design of the shade structure in Arroyo Park—just for picnic tables.   This high cost has at its root in someone spec’ing a monumental structure: Only allowing 4 column and long clear spans that required a massive expensive truss without intermediary supports.  There are less expensive design alternatives for a shade structure, but it seems none were explored—or none at least were shared. Council was given a yes/no choice—and told the money must be spend on this one staff, one design open.

Critics in the council audience attempted to question the design, pointing out the 60% increase in cost, but this seemed to fall on deaf ears.

This reminds me of the story of the design of the Cannery’s grade-separated crossing.

If you recall a few years back public works staff, after much work, proposed a 1/5 mile long $8 million aerial structure for Cannery residents to get over Covell and RR in a grade-separated crossing. An aerial structure had to be very high to get over both the road and rail line, thus, long ADA ramps. It would have been one of the biggest structures Davis—thus $8 million dollars.

This was actually proposed to city council for a final vote.

That night the council wanted to get the project promised to Cannery residents done.

Luckily at the time council had Brett Lee, an engineer, and Robb Davis, both self-confident enough so not above questioning staff. They listened to critics in audience and asked for a chance to those to take one more look of this extremely expensive project. They wanted to visit the site and talk with critics—even though public works staff has been working on it for months.

In the end, Robb and Brett came up with an improved ADA compliance solution you can now see on the west side of Covell-RR overpass a lengthened ramp more gently runs up to crest of the overpass from F street. On the east is built a switch back ramp to existing undercrossing under the roadway parallel to the RR.  Safer and cyclable for kids. And it saved the city taxpayers millions!

Council listened to critics of city staff, unlike how they handled the critics of the expensive Arroyo Park shade structure, and slowed thing down to investigate.

I have concerns that the current council has a confirmation bias that default to always defending city staff recommendation instead of listening to the diverse ideas from public.

I know staff morale is important, but I think council confuses how individual contributors on city staff feel about their work vs defending current city top management.

Another Davis story:

At the June 6 Council meeting Gloria Partida said she was voting in favor for the I-80 widening to protect the relationship with Caltrans management.  She did this even though all 22 residents who spoke on the proposal were against it —people including leaders of Cool Davis who believed the proposal undermined the city’s climate change adaption plan.

Caltrans in the meantime showed how little of it thought of its relationship with the Davis by not even sending a representative.

Why did Gloria vote to side with the invisible staff of Caltrans over our city residents?

A Final Story from History:

Judy Corbett, co-developer of our world-famous Village Homes community, often tells the story of how the development was approved: It was because city council of that era ignore its own staff recommendations and instead approved her and Michael’s innovative eco-features.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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1 Comment

  1. Todd Edelman

    Indeed… but:

    + Citizens, politicians and staff also have construction bias: I-80 is awful even when it’s “flowing smoothly” etc, and while some key aspects of Village Homes are still quite valuable, the lack of changes in regards to multi-use is really troubling.

    + The solution for Cannery to F is awful at any price, and your story leaves out what I understand was a failed legal action to create a path on the east side of the tracks + the real issue of Union Pacific’s intransigence on under crossings.

    + Council was listening to current City of Davis staff…. and Yolo County staff, former City of Davis staff now working for Yolo County, former City of Davis council members who are now (ex-)County Supervisors and the rich guy who’s the Chair of Yolo TD whom  you mentioned in the Davisite today.  What’s this compared to the voice of citizens?

    + During the discussion proceeding their unanimous approval of the reintroduction of e-bike share and introduction of e-scooter share, the Council accepted the policy of the vendor – a private company – on age limits, seemingly as some kind of unmalleable rule – and did not question the bizarre argument from the vendor’s representative that other locations* which allow under-18’s to use e-bikes is simply due to legacy rules, i.e. they claimed that these systems are not “new”.  The latter is especially troubling because it formalizes an ageist and racist structure for youth mobility in our city that has no basis in state or federal law.

    * “New” or not is far less relevant than numerical provision: the ongoing expansion of under-18 e-bike share in the two biggest cities in the country – LA and NYC – involves thousands more devices that are going to be available in Davis and UC Davis.

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