Guest Commentary: Analysis of Vaitla’s Statements in Davis Enterprise Article on Merging Commissions

Elaine Roberts Musser during her public comments – screenshot, city feed

By Elaine Roberts Musser

If you parse through Councilmember Vaitla’s statements appearing in the Davis Enterprise, it shows: a lamentable lack of understanding about how commissions work; a complete disregard for the opinion of commissioners who are the ones affected by merging commissions; and an extremely questionable and ill-informed rationale for what he is proposing. Furthermore, because of his refusal to appoint applicants to commission vacancies, the FBC is no longer providing citizen oversight of the city budget. That, together with his proposal the city pay to create new city public health services that are the responsibility of the county, will sink the chances of any tax increase proposed for the November ballot.

1.    Vaitla: “…either City Council is not proactive in asking the commissions what to do; or the membership of the commissions is such that people have interests of their own and they are kind of deviating from what Council is asking, outside of the authorizing resolutions of the commissions…”

  • If the City Council is not proactive in asking commissions what to do, whose fault is that? The commissions cannot read the City Council’s collective mind. The City Council needs to be more communicative as to what information it wants. Why should commissioners be punished by being forced to merge with another commission because of the fault of the City Council?
  • If commissions are deviating from their authorizing resolutions, city staff will rein them in if so.

2.    Vaitla: “…the topic areas of the commissions have not been considered in a comprehensive sense. This led to the pair’s realization that a major restructuring was necessary, especially with the city’s upcoming update to the General Plan.”

  • How does merging commissions “consider topic areas in a comprehensive sense”? All it does is double the workload for commissioners, ensuring either longer meetings or less discussion on issues, or both.
  • There is absolutely no rational reason given for why restructuring the commissions is somehow necessary to update the General Plan.
  • Virtually all the commissions (except for Human Relations and Police Accountability, neither of which are subject to a merger) already weigh in on development projects, so merging commissions is completely unnecessary to update the General Plan.

3.    Vaitla: “Vaitla says the subcommittee and staff did consider going back to the commissions with specific ideas for a consultative process, but decided against this due to restructuring being vital going forward for the city and time. He estimates it would have taken at least another three to six months to do this, which would have made it more difficult to align with the General Plan update…”; “…there is an assumption that Mayor Chapman and I acted in bad faith or that we didn’t consult with staff and commissioners, which we certainly did.”

  • Vaitla admits he and Chapman did not consult with commissions, then later insists he did. Vaitla can’t have it both ways. According to commissioners, they were never told about the merger idea.
  • City staff made it a point to make clear the merger was not their idea.
  • Chapman and Vaitla took an entire year to finalize the merger concept, yet somehow didn’t have the time to consult commissions. As early as June 20, 2023, Chapman and Vaitla on their own, without City Council approval, decided to stop appointing applicants to commission vacancies, pending recommendations. So it appears they knew perfectly well what they had in mind well in advance and didn’t want to listen to opposition, which they knew would be forthcoming if they consulted commissioners.

4.    Vaitla: “Since the authorizing resolutions for each commission will have to be approved by the Council during an upcoming meeting, Vaitla says he and Chapman also see this as an opportunity for commissioners to provide their feedback.”

  • Commissioners will have had no opportunity to give any input on what goes into the authorizing resolutions.
  • Vaitla and Chapman have shown themselves to be averse to feedback from commissioners, thus why would the two give any particular attention to feedback they receive once they go to the commissions with authorizing resolutions, making it appear that the merger proposal is, in effect, a done deal?

5.    Vaitla: “Vaitla says the Social Services Commission is so overwhelmed with work on affordable housing and homelessness that they are not fulfilling their entire scope of work as laid out in their authorizing resolution. He says that this is completely understandable and that the SSC is a fantastic commission but that their authorizing resolution does need to be revisited.”

  • Other commissions are also “overwhelmed” by their work, e.g., Utilities Commission, Finance & Budget Commission, Tree Commission, Natural Resources Commission. Merging will only double the workload, making matters worse.
  • If the Social Services Commission is so overwhelmed, then why not make another separate Affordable Housing Commission?

6.    Vaitla: “Vatila indicates that the Tree Commission is another commission that is outside of its scope of work. He personally believes that neither Council nor a commission should be handling tree removal requests, only an urban forestry professional.”

  • The Tree Commission’s mission statement, approved by the City Council many years ago, clearly states: “Reviews and approves or denies tree removal. Hears appeals from decisions of the Parks and Grounds Superintendent regarding public nuisances. Hears appeals regarding denials of tree modification permit applications.” To say that the Tree Commission is outside its scope when handling tree removal requests is completely false.
  • If Vaitla thought the Tree Commission should no longer handle tree removal requests, why didn’t he take the matter to the City Council for discussion?

7.    Vaitla: “The Planning Commission, Vaitla says, has a lot of insight on how historical resources can best be preserved given that they have a global view on trends. ‘Given that planning deals in their own work with historical resources that relate to other buildings, other developments, other zoning issues, for us it made a lot of sense,’ he said.”

  • Historical Resource Management Commissioners have to take a specialized training course. Planning Commissioners have not necessarily taken that training course. Forcing them to take it will be yet one more burden on Planning Commissioners.
  • What does preserving historic resources have to do with “global trends” in housing development?
  • Vaitla misses an important consideration. In order to obtain CLG grant funding and streamline the CEQA process for development projects, there must be a stand-alone Historic Resources Management Commission.

8.    Vaitla on the Utilities Commission: “On average, not more than once a year do they actually perform their role in reviewing the rate payer studies,” remarked Vaitla. “They’ve done some other things that have been great but it’s been outside of their authorizing resolution.”

  • Vaitla is clearly ignorant of how the Utilities Commission works. Rate studies are done once every 5 years for three of the four utilities, with a yearly review of every utility that takes more than one In fact Vaitla was told at the Feb. 21, 2024, Utilities Commission meeting that in order to complete each rate study, it takes anywhere from 8 to 16 meetings (1-2 yrs) for each of the 4 utilities.
  • The UC does more than just rate studies. For instance, it studies each utility’s reserve fund, to ensure it is sufficient to cover the cost for capital projects, and analyzes the capital projects themselves. As a result, all four utilities are now on a firm financial footing.
  • The Utilities Commission has a very broad enabling resolution approved by the City Council. City staff has and will advise the Utilities Commission if it is going beyond its assigned mission.
  • Vaitla himself, as the Utilities Commission liaison, has brought issues to the Utilities Commission outside its scope, e.g., utilities user tax, sustainable energy plan for the city. If he doesn’t want the UC to go outside its scope, he shouldn’t be asking it to.

9.    Vaitla on merging Utilities Commission with the Finance & Budget Commission: “So for us, we thought why not create a body that has a global view on all city revenue and expenditures, both the enterprise fund side that deals with utilities as well as the general fund and other special fund side?” “This new Fiscal Commission, according to Vaitla, would give a very valuable bird’s eye view on the overall revenue picture for the city.”

  • Vaitla does not understand the difference between the city budget and utilities. The city budget is funded through city tax revenues (sales tax, parcel taxes, etc.) Utilities are funded through customer rates. And those rates cannot be any higher than the cost of services, which makes rate setting a complicated procedure. The health of the utility reserves says absolutely nothing about the health of the city budget and vice versa.
  • Vaitla allowed the Finance and Budget Commission to shut down by halting the recruitment of (commissioners). As a result, there has been no public oversight of the city’s budget for months. This is a formula for sinking a city tax increase proposed for the November ballot. Promises by Vaitla of careful oversight of new taxpayer funding will ring hollow after what happened to the FBC.
  • Both commissions, when properly functioning, have extremely hefty work schedules. A utility rate study takes between 1-2 years to complete, and the UC does far more than just rate studies.

10.  Vaitla: “All four commissions that will not be merged will be getting updated authorizing resolutions and recruitment will start back up.”

  • In other words, if the mergers are approved, there will be no recruitment to fill the existing vacancies of the former commissions that were merged. In the case of the Utilities Commission merged with the Finance & Budget Commission, in the newly formed “Fiscal Commission” there will be 5 UC commissioners and 2 FBC commissioners, for a total of 7 commissioners, not 14. So public participation has been decreased by 7 commissioners for that particular merger. The same will be true of the other commissions, until each merged commission is whittled down to 7 through attrition. That is 28 less commissioners in total, decreasing public participation in oversight of what the city does.

11.  Vaitla: “For the merging commissions, the subcommittee plans on taking a more direct hand in the draft authorizing resolutions alongside staff. Over the next couple of months, the plan is to go before the affected commissions with ideas of what an authorizing resolution for merged commissions would look like.”

  • Note that the commissions themselves will be afforded no opportunity in drafting these authorizing resolutions before being brought to commissions as essentially a fait

12.  Vaitla: “The goal is to have the commissions that are directly involved with the General Plan update process fully ready to go first, by spring. The rest, Vaitla hopes to have set up by the mid-budget cycle, some time in May or June. Ideally, by this summer, the subcommittee would like to have all the work done to set up the new commissions with new authorizing resolutions, fully recruited.”

  • Apparently Vaitla is assuming this merger proposal is a done

13. Vaitla’s proposed new Community Health Commission

  • Vaitla is continuing to push for a new Community Health Commission, which will be stacked with advocates for new city public health programs. Public health is the responsibility of Yolo County, not the City of Davis. Residents are already paying federal, state and local taxes used by the county to support public health programs. City taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay city taxes as well for the same services.

14. Vaitla: “Vaitla says he has seen the petition and respects the opinion of those who do not want the mergers to go forward…Everyone’s got a right to their voice, to their opinion.” On Feb. 21 he denounced “the quote-unquote leading citizens of Davis (who) are monopolizing the policy conversation as happens again and again and again.” He said public participation “doesn’t mean having 14 committees of people who are privileged and already have power and voice.

  • While Vaitla says “I respect” opponents of his commission merger plan, he has used remarkably insulting language in his council speeches about members of the city’s 14 commissions. Such language is hardly respectful (and speaks to hostility towards commissioners) to describe expert citizen volunteers who are giving freely of their time. These commissioners are carrying out their duties at the behest of the City Council, who specifically chose them to support City Council approved commission missions.
  • Commissioners have a right to their opinion, but apparently Vaitla doesn’t want to hear it until after the authorizing resolutions are presented as if the merger is assumed approved.

We are still collecting signatures on the petition asking the City Council to reverse course on this terrible merger proposal. The petition currently has 106 signatures of Davis residents and/or activists, including two former City Council members, and 19 commissioners/former commissioners. Use this link to sign the petition:

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. Ron Glick

    One hundred six signatures in how long? How many weeks has this petition been online? When people didn’t like a school board appointment over 1000 signature were gathered in days, live, during the pandemic. I’ve seen more petition support for non-native Canary Island Pines. Aside from a few effected commission members I doubt anybody really cares that much.

    The staff would like more nights at home with family. Is that too much for our public servants to ask?

    My favorite moment was the commission member complaining at public comment that nobody from the city had contacted them. I think this was completely assbackward. As the saying goes Muhammed goes to the mountain. What is more, in that particular instance, the commenter was someone who had defended the dirtiest campaign gambit I can remember in the 32 years I’ve lived in Davis. Why would the people who got elected reach out to such a person?

    As the City Council begins the new General Plan staff time will be stretched enough. Combining a few commissions will hopefully give the staff a little more space for that work. As for public participation right now the new General Plan will provide ample opportunity for people to be heard.

    1. David Greenwald

      “My favorite moment was the commission member complaining at public comment that nobody from the city had contacted them. I think this was completely assbackward.”

      I don’t agree. If the council was planning to make changes to the commissions, didn’t consult people on the commissions, how would someone even know to reach out to the council?

    2. Matt Williams

      Ron, I believe you have this ass-backwards.
      As I read the Enterprise front page article I was struck by the same bottom-line that Elaine came to in her article above.

      With respect to the Utilities Commission, she did an excellent job illuminating key points.  I would add to her third bullet that the resolution for the URAC was seen as far too narrow by Council members, commissioners and citizens/ratepayers alike. The process that converted the  then-existing URAC to the Utilities Commission with its expanded scope of work clearly articulated the help that the Utilities Commission could be to the City Council, staff, and the citizens/ratepayers in oversight and consultation regarding utilities operation as well as Enterprise Fund balance management and rate setting.

      Regarding the first bullet of Elaine’s section 9, I would add that most of the utilities are legally handled as Enterprises which legally requires Fund accounting that mandates that ratepayer dollars can not be mingled with General Fund dollars.  The FBC has enough treouble keeping up with the General Fund alone.  Adding oversight of all the Enterprise Funds would be well into “my cup runneth over” territory.

      Also regarding Elaine’s section 9, it is useful and important to point out that the last audited Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (coloquially known as the CAFR) issued/published by the City is for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2021.  What does that say about the City’s commitment to transparency and accountability?  Which ties directly to and reinforces Elaine’s very good point “This is a formula for sinking a city tax increase proposed for the November ballot. Promises by Vaitla of careful oversight of new taxpayer funding will ring hollow after what happened to the FBC.”

      When you layer on the fact that the $3 million Mace Blvd. Reconstruction Project has now spent colse to $10 million on the $3 million budget, is it any surprise that the level of trust in City operations and finances is so low.  That $7 million budget over run has the direct result of $7 million of other City services having to go without funding … and therefore not happen.

      If the Council wants to see the city tax increase pass in Novemeberf it is going to have to drastically increase honesty, accountability, and transparency.  Otherwise distrust will produce far more “no” votes than “yes” votes.


  2. Alan Hirsch

    Not a zero Sum game:
    Maybe the clue is in his labeling the commission volunteers “privileged.” (his word) a way to deflate altruism of these volunteers who are willing to donate and expertise to the community. How does a retired or middle class person ability and willingness to serve on tree commission reduce the voice of families or student concern for the trees in our community ?
    I suggest this may be a once again, pattern of council pattern of “circling the wagons” defensive move I have noted in previous Vanguard and Davisite pieces.
    Consider the $1 Million redo of 200 block 6th street Ped area. No where mentions written plan is the word “tree” even mentioned.Even when there are 6 missing tree in that block in addition to factand another 6 existing tree that are inappropriate or sickly.
    How does eliminating the Tree Commission address any the clear process problem reflected here? Or address why the Tree Protection Ordinance has not been updated for 18 years after Tree Davis first called for it- and city staff and council has fail to respond to three draft of a revised ordinance put forward by Tree Commission?
    I note Council’s  rule implemented by council 2/16/23 that blocks commission from discussing an topic that council is also weighting in on-without council permission.
    Let’s also consider the I-80widening resolution on community council agenda- The agenda title cryptically called on advance planning calendar: “Legislative Committee: communication on States Transportation Policy” why the cryptic name for the agenda item if you want public engagement?
    And why council has never asked for input from the BTSSC on I-80 widening?
    In fact the coming March 5th council meeting is the first time it will held an open meeting with an agenda item yes or no on $465 Mil project freeway widening – even while out city’ rep on YoloTD (Lucas Ferichs now Josh Chapman) has voted numerous time in support of it without any community  input.
    Except for 2 minute public comments from lone citizens like me


    1. Mark West

      The purpose of the commissions is to provide input to the CC, not to replace the CC.  If the CC has ignored three proposed drafts from the Tree Commission, for example, then what is the value for having the Tree Commission continue in its current form? If the input coming from a commission isn’t being valued by the CC, then that commission should either be reconstituted to provide better input, or be disbanded as a waste of resources.


      1. David Greenwald

        That’s one way to look at it. The other way to look at it is that if the council is ignoring signals from the community, that puts the council potentially out of step with the community which is unsustainable long term.

      2. Alan Hirsch


        Re: 3 proposals to rewrite the tree protection ordinance.

        The City Arborist Rob Cain supported the rewrite, and infact stimulated the reprocess, it was not started by Tree Commission.  Cain supported the result of the Tree Commission work. City council and public never got to see it.

        The rewrite of the ordinance was in the annual city budget plan for the tree program each year council voted on.

        The problem lies not  with Tree Commission being out of step.

        If council does not want public input on trees, they should so state and not claim they are all in on public engagement than ignore input.  They should als0 take public engagement out of the Urban Forest Master Plan we just spend 1/4 million including a 9 month public engagement plan.

        Regardless, suggest someone owes an acknowledgement to former tree commission members for the hundreds of volunteer hours seemingly were waisted.



      3. Richard McCann


        Generally the problem hasn’t been the Council ignoring the commissions, but rather the Staff often rejecting the recommendations and then carrying those rejections into the Staff report. Then the Staff makes a one sided presentation in which the commissioners are given virtually no opportunity to rebut the Staff misinterpretation of the recommendations. (And it has been very often a misinterpretation created by a lack of the same depth of knowledge that the commissioners have.) Perhaps the Council is choosing to favor the Staff’s perspective over the citizens that the Council chose to provide in depth advice. And I have argued for some time that is the apparent problem in the system–choosing to listen to hired professionals who mostly live outside of Davis versus citizens who have expert knowledge who have a direct vested interest in a good outcome.

        1. Mark West


          Apparently, you still do not understand how the City is run. Until you accept reality, all you are doing is barking at the wind. My comments are not intended as an insult to you, or anyone else for that matter. I am simply pointing out how the City governance is structured, and how you (and many others) fail to understand that structure. The commissions are currently superfluous, and will only have value again when the CC requires it of the CM. Until then, enjoy your barking.

  3. Richard McCann

    I fully agree with Elaine’s analysis (and I’ve signed the letter as well.) Unfortunately, it appears that the subcommittee hasn’t been fully informed on the many considerations as to why each commission exists, including legal ones, and how the scope of each has evolved. I agree with the subcommittee that restructuring the commissions might be warranted, but it appears they did not take any of the lessons from suggestions by an experienced group of citizens and commissioners.

    Matt Williams is particularly well positioned to understand the burdens of Utilities and F&B commissioners. There are reasons to better manage jointly General and Enterprise Funds, but the staff cut off a promising proposal from the two commissions in 2018. Combining the commissions will just mean there’s even less oversight of utility rate changes like the recent wastewater rate change that reflects a misunderstanding of what are fixed and joint costs.

    It’s particularly troubling see Bapu insulting a group of citizens who give of their time to the community. He should be highly aware that many of the commissioners are appointed not to somehow increase public input but rather to provide expert advice. I personally know that appointees to the Utilities, NRC and Finance & Budget Commissions must demonstrate some level of expertise of some kind. If his comment is true, I’m sorry to see that he so poorly understands what these commissions are actually providing. Unfortunately, he may be influenced by a City Staff that increasingly views this outside expertise as a threat to its role in City policy making.

    Which brings to me perhaps the most important point. Over the last two decades, just about every time the Council decides to rush a decision and bypass the commission input process, it makes a major error. Of course Brightnight is the one of the most disastrous, probably leaving tens of millions of dollars on the table for the solar developer to scoop up. The Recology franchise acquisition similarly  and unnecessarily precluded reviewing more attractive options. This appears to be a similar pending disaster.


    1. Alan Hirsch

      A year doing the “process” in a closed door ad hoc and no time left to check back with those effected and with experience?    Public process is good for thee but not needed for me.

    2. Mark West

      “he so poorly understands what these commissions are actually providing.”

      Perhaps he understands exactly what is being provided and has determined that it is of little or no value.

      1. Richard McCann

        Thanks for the insult Mark. Glad that you’re so much smarter than the rest of us.

        More seriously, given that Bapu himself was a commissioner, I doubt that he would tell his fellow commissioners that their input was of little value and that only his own view is of particular value. The fact is that I have NEVER received a message from a Councilmember that our input was of little value. Rather I’ve generally gotten praise and I’ve had conversations with EVERY Councilmember over the last decade on these types of issues. I’ve gotten a different message directly from Staff members including one was high ranking but no longer works for the City, and dismissal of Commission inputs in Staff reports also reflects this attitude.

        1. Mark West

          “Thanks for the insult Mark”

          Richard – You have a formidible ego, perhaps justified, but so you know, I did not intend to insult you with my comment above. You chose to view it as such. My comment was intended to point out that your interpretation was potentially faulty because you assumed you knew Bapu’s thinking (for my part, I have no idea what he was thinking). Your comment is simply your ego talking, which is consistent with many of your comments here. You clearly believe you are smarter than everyone else, yet you apparently still do not understand how the City is managed.

        2. Richard McCann


          That you didn’t intend to insult shows your lack of understanding of how your words sound to others. That you could come up with Bapu’s potential thinking on your own perhaps shows your own arrogance. Instead of speculating without any evidence such as conversations or direct interaction, you might remain silent. Given that I’ve had several conversations with Bapu on city matters at his invitation, I can safely assume that he values at least my input to some degree and I don’t think I’m special compared to other commissioners–we each bring our own expertise. And to imply that I think I’m smarter than anyone else is just a further insult–you keep digging a deeper hole.

          You also confuse my statements about how the City SHOULD be managed with my statements about HOW it is managed now. For some reason you believe that the “should” and “how” are consistent with each other. We disagree over that and you haven’t described how those two are consistent in your mind. You believe for some reason that current institutions that keep giving us flawed outcomes are just fine.

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