Monday Morning Thoughts: Is the Council Facing a Trust Issue?

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By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – Critics of the city and city council will attempt to merge all of the news from the past week—the commission mergers, the revenue measure and the proposal project at North Covell Creek—into the trust issue.

When asked to substantiate the trust issue they have a long list of grievances which includes things like Mace Road, BrightNight, the Cannery Development Agreement, and the ladder truck in addition to the latest “outrage,” the Commissions Merger.

The problem is, with the exception of the Mace Road redesign, it is not clear that much of this outrage goes much beyond the few hundred that are a constant presence at council meetings.

While I happen to agree that the merger issue was not well handled, particularly at the start, it really amounts to an inside baseball issue where the people who are really engaged may be up in arms, but the anger has not penetrated the general population.

The issue where this is most likely to present itself on is the revenue measure.

Council has yet to give it the go ahead but staff is going to recommend on Tuesday that council put a one percent sales tax hike on the ballot.  Anti-tax people will of course balk at any notion of a tax increase.  The critics will drag out their laundry list and put it before the voters.

At the end of the day, I have a hard time believing that getting this passed is going to be much of a lift for the city.

First of all, while a full “cent” increase is larger than what the city passed previously at one time, at the end of the day, it’s not going to penetrate far into people’s pocket books.

If you purchase $100 worth of taxable product, you’re going to pay $1 more.  You would have to spend $10,000 for it to add up to $100 and $100,000 to add up to $1000 and, even then, I’m not sure that is real money.

The notion that someone is going to go out of town, when all the tax rates are comparable, seems far-fetched—particularly given the cost of gas to drive out of town.

You can legitimately claim that Davis lacks sufficient retail to shop in town, but that’s not a sales tax issue.

Will the trust issue be more of a symbolic matter?

Maybe.  But then again, other than Mace Road, I haven’t seen a general population complaint about the management of city issues.

There is also evidence that the critics are not representative of the general population.

For instance, in the Revenue Measure staff report, the city notes that in November 2023, “the City completed a citywide community survey, conducted by EMC Research. The survey included 400 interviews of likely voters …”

What they found is that Davis voters “are optimistic about the direction of the city and most are satisfied with City government.”

That number has actually ticked up very slightly over the last four years.  And the consultant, EMC, noted that the polling is very high compared to other clients.

That is not conclusive and the naysayers will have a chance to make their case during the election that things are not as good as the general public thinks—but it does suggest that the trust issue is not seeping into the general population.

Moreover, in November at least, the general polling shows a generic 73 percent support versus 23 percent opposition to a revenue measure.

Add to that this is going to be a simple majority measure, and this is not looking like a huge lift or even a deep and dark fight to get this passed.

Let me be clear—none of this argument is me arguing we should pass a revenue measure.  I have some real problems with past policies and current priorities.

I have been very upfront about the fact that we should have been prioritizing economic development over the last 15 years—and the fact that we have lost on three votes for R&D space doesn’t sit that well with me, though in fairness that issue cuts both against the city as well as the voters.

I also take issue with prioritizing a revenue measure when I think housing should be the priority, and I have a big problem that the city council decided not to put one of the Measure J votes on the ballot in November when they have the best chance to get a project passed.

I also am not happy that the city council has apparently punted for now on a Measure J amendment.

Lack of affordable housing is tops on the list and homelessness is second.  And road conditions, long a Vanguard issue, remain in the top 4.  (I don’t agree with the public on the crime issue, but that’s a story for another day).

While $11 million is a nice chunk of change, putting $1 million of that into affordable housing, as I explained last weekend, is not going to accomplish nearly as much as anyone thinks.

At the end of the day then, I am skeptical about claims that angry voters will turn down this project, but lukewarm on whether this is the right approach, and I strongly disagree that this should be the priority for the city.

We will see what happens, but I have no dog in this fight.

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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6 Comments

  1. Ron Glick

    This is, as you point out, an insider issue. Musser has repeated touted the 159 signatures on her petition. Honestly, I’ve seen more signatures on a petition to save a Canary Island  Pine.

    Although I don’t put Musser herself in the against everything camp, many of the voices speaking out are, and include some who have opposed or even run against several sitting City Council members. Some of the  attacks against sitting and former CC members by the same voices have been particularly vicious and sleazy. Having repeatedly lost at the ballot box some of these voices now show up telling the CC how they should run things. Its laughable.

    Maybe they will exert influence on the attempt to raise the sales tax 1% as a kind of retribution because, the only political power they wield is to do the easiest thing in California politics, get people to vote down a ballot proposal.

    Time will tell.

    1. Richard McCann

      The vast majority of those who signed do not fall into the “against everything” category, and those who do are or were commissioners appointed by the Council. This group has done much of the heavy lifting on policy for the City (e.g., creating Valley Clean Energy) and now they are much less willing to help plus the Council has erased the easiest path to that assistance. They are much more likely to become a vocal opposition to City policies which could change electoral outcomes. Tax increases rarely pass in a landslide beyond the legal threshold.

  2. Matt Williams

    This is a thoughtful and balanced article covering a complex issue.  An issue that is complicated by the fact that the personal quality of life of the vast majority of Davis residents is very very good, and as a result it is very hard for them to imagine that the municipal jurisdiction they live in can be so badly messed up.  Bottom-line, unless something intrudes into that very personal cocoon of “very, very good life” Davis residents simply don’t pay attention.  I believe the responses to the ECM survey reflect condition of their personal lives rather than the condition of the life of the municipal jurisdiction.

    However, as was clearly shown …

    — in the public meeting regarding the Mace Mess, and

    — in the public reaction to a member of City Council suing individual residents for exercising their free speech, and

    — in the reaction to the traffic impacts along Mace of the DiSC proposal, and

    — in the reaction to the traffic impacts along Richards of the 2016 Nishi proposal,  and

    — possibly in the reaction to the zip line controversy in West Davis, and

    — in the reaction of parents to the reduction of Kindergarten classes at DJUSD

    … when an issue does intrude into the inner sanctum of the personal lives of Davis residents, they can swarm like bees … quickly and effectively and with vigor.

     

    Where the article paints with a broad brush is by lumping the active voices into a single homogeneous pile.  I’ll use myself as an example.  I had never been involved in politics prior to arriving in Davis in 1998 … aged 51.  But my feet hadn’t even hit the ground for the first time before a neighbor (and one of the community’s then social justice activists, Dair Rausch, had presented herself at my car door to recruit me for activity in support of one of her causes.  She asked me to be involved.  After being involved in water issues for El Macero, Council member Rochelle Swanson asked me to be on the Water Advisory Committee (the WAC), then when the WAC came to an end Dan Wolk asked me to be on the NRC.  Even when Dan Carson was working feverishly to banish me to Siberia, Lucas Frerichs and Brett Lee asked me to join the Untilities Commission. There is a pattern in that sequence of events that is true for a whole lot of the other “voices” referred to in the article.  Richard McCann was asked to bring his energy expertise to both the NRC and the Utilities Commission. The same was true of both Lorenzo Kristov and Gerry Braun.  Elaine Roberts Musser’s expertise in Seniors issues was desired.  The list goes on and on and on. The other common characteristic of all of those situations is that it wasn’t City staff asking each “voice” to participate and contribute, it was City Council.  Staff really doesn’t want to have anyone looking over their work, nor asking for accountability.

    Some of the “voices” like Ron Glick’s have stayed outside the system.  They seem to have not been listening when Jack Kennedy said “Ask not what your Country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your Country.”  With that said, given the insular nature of the very, very good lives we lead in Davis, it is possible that someone has stepped up and contributed in a formal way and very few people know about it.  My current role as Treasurer of Davis Community Network (the DCN of dcn.com) is a perfect example.  I’m sure that very very few people know about that.  So if Ron Glick wants to share how he has contributed to the time and effort on behalf of our municipal jurisdictions, then he is free to enlighten us.

    Regarding the ability of Davis voters to rally in support of a “message” the campaign platform/slogan of my Council election campaign in 2016 was “We Have to Pay Our Bills!” which is about as boring and uninspiring as one could possibly ask for.  But 7,157 people in that election voted for that “We Have to Pay Our Bills!” platform.  So don’t underestimate the Davis voters (like Mark West did in 2018 when he got only 1,469 people to vote for his platform).  A message of Fiscal responsibility and accountability has resonance with the Davis voters, and when the opponents of the tax are saying “No more money until you are honest about how bad the financial mess is!”  I believe the voters will be listening.

  3. Todd Edelman

    In regards to “Trust” inclusive of “… dog in this fight…”, it’s way more than the trust of Council, and – as Matt discusses – trust amongst Council about citizens.

    It’s about:
    > Trust of media (e.g. ongoing issues with the ‘Enterprise, non-participation in certain media forum by former Commission Chairs and transportation experts)
    > Trust of experts (e.g. on the “I-80 Permanent Congestion Project”, deferring to politicians over recommendations of nationally-known transport experts and several major environmental organizations. Is it because the politicians are friends… or is it more about apathy or ignorance?)
    > Trust of staff independence (e.g. it often seems that mid-level staff cannot be honest or pursue – um – city goals, because “they are just following orders” with their job preservation too much of a motivation, though to be clear this is generally not their fault, but their boss’s.)

    And perhaps it’s also about trust not to spin things a little too soft — “personal quality of life of the vast majority of Davis residents is very very good” is really “most citizens are narcissists”. 

  4. Keith Y Echols

    I’m going to go with a much broader interpretation of the Davis civic political situation.

    I think he City Council does what it can under the limitations that the crazy political factions of the community will place on them.

    I think for the most part the community recognizes the crazy activism political environment that limits what can be done in this city.  People in the community think it’s the other guy whatever their position on whatever issue.  But in the end it’s all the same in which the city ends up with modest, incremental and even sometimes backwards progress for the community.   So for the most part the community (the part not opposing whatever particular issue) just sort of goes along with whatever the Council tries to accomplish.

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