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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Profiling the Housing Element Steering Committee Members

It was originally my intention to do a profile on each of the members of the steering committee individually. What I've discovered is that there is too much going on and things are occurring too quickly to do that. So what I have done is two-articles that covers each of the members in varying amounts of detail. This first article will be on those members appointed by the council majority of Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson and Councilmembers Stephen Souza and Don Saylor. For those who have already been covered, I will link them back to the article.

One of the people previously profiled was Brenda Little Manager of the Tandem Properties, however she has since removed herself from the committee and was replaced by Lucas Frerichs. Jeff Adamsky also declined his spot and was replaced by Kevin Wolf.

One of the themes that I examine throughout this profile is who supported Covell Village. Covell Village is paramount in this discussion for two reasons. First the council majority proposed it and it was very soundly rejected at the polls by the voters by a margin of nearly 60-40. But second, and perhaps more importantly, discussion this past week focused on the development at Cannery Park and it seemed clear from the staff report and comments, that the intention is to bring back development at Covell Village despite the voters overwhelming defeat. Of the 9 members of the committee, 7 supported Measure X and two do not have known positions on it, but it seems likely that at least Former City Manager and current Realtor and Businessman Bob Traverso supported it as well.

Kristin Stoneking a campus minister and director of the Cal Aggie Christian Association was appointed by Don Saylor. Reverend Stoneking was involved a heated controversy over the infill development of the Christian Association Center with the neighbors in Elmwood. Please click here for the full profile.

Jay Gerber owns the Cable Car Wash in Davis. He was appointed by Don Saylor. Gerber was a strong proponent of both Target and Measure X while he was a strong opponent of Measure J. Please Click here for the full profile.

Ellen Shields was the third member appointed by Don Saylor. She is an elementary school counselor for the Davis school district, serving at Valley Oak Elementary School. She has been active with school activities including the PTA. She was a supporter of Sheila Allen in the 2005 School Board Elections.

Donna Lott was appointed by Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson. Lott is a former member of the Davis Planning Commission. Lott ran for the Davis City Council as one of the development candidates along with Souza and Saylor. She finished 6th in the large election field with around 13 percent of the vote. She ran as a strong proponent for additional growth and housing development in Davis, arguing that the city needed to re-examine the current general plan. Lott said calculations in the city's General Plan need to be updated to reflect current conditions, such as UC Davis growth, and that city leaders need to start now looking beyond 2010.” She was actively involved in the push for Measure X and the development at Covell Village. In a yes on X brochure she said: "I invite you to join me in voting YES on Measure X on November 8 to return the Covell Village acreage into the footprint of our community."

Maynard Skinner was appointed by Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson. Skinner served on the City Council from 1966 to 1974 and 1988 to 1996 (for a second eight year term of duty). Serving as Mayor from 1972 to 1973 and 1991 to 1992. While Skinner is often associated with the Progressive era of Davis politics, Professor John Lofland in his book, Davis, Radical Changes, describes him as a moderate: "Poulas, Motley, Evans, Taggart, Corbett and Skinner were ambiguously mild left or centrist and all often did quite well...[at the polls, relative to more clearly progressive candidates]. I conclude that while the political leadership of this famous progressive period could achieve majorities sufficient to make innovative policies, it dominance was precarious."

He was the mayor in the first two years of the Revolution of '72 Council. While he was not himself a major figure in that change and simply standing there when it happened, he rolled with it rather than stood against it. Skinner is one of the more iconic figures in Davis political history. He has often commented that he started out in Davis politics perceived as being a raving political radical, but over time he has been increasingly characterized as conservative or moderate.

He was the central member of the Council who brought bike lanes to Davis at a time other people in power of skeptical of the idea.

By 1990 Skinner was classified as a moderate. Lofland writes: "In the same 1990 election that brought moderates to power, voters rejected citizen initiative Measure C that would have limited Davis growth to 1.78 percent a year." The Davis Enterprise of December 31, 1990, quoted by Lofland, reported that "a late campaign, financed up front by Councilman Maynard Skinner, helped contribute to an overwhelming vote . . . [against it]. Skinner later paid off the campaign debt with a fund-raiser attended by builders, real estate interest and area developers."

Skinner has recently begun working strongly with developer interests and lobbying for development companies. He was a very strong supporter of Measure X--inundating Davis residents with multiple "robo-calls" urging residents to vote for the massive development. He has in general supported the council majority on development issues. And has endorsed the council majority in City Council elections.

Kevin Wolf has been a long time environmental activists owning a consulting company call Wolf and Associates and then starting up Wind Harvest International which specializes in the development of wind technology and energy development. He was the strong opponent of several developments including Wild Horse, however, he has in recent years moved in the direction supporting big development in Davis, most notably in his front line advocacy and activism on behalf of Measure X.

He was involved in a couple of controversies during this campaign, one involving the use of the Friends of the River organization in a yes on Covell Village Mailer in June of 2005 that drew this response:

“A mailing arrived at the homes of most, if not all, Davis residents this week that included a quote from Kevin Wolf in support of the Covell Village development project and identified him as representing Friends of the River — thus implying an organizational endorsement of the project. That is not the case. Friends of the River has not endorsed the Covell Village project. We have no organizational position on the issue, nor do we intend to. This was an unauthorized use of our name and at no point were we contacted by the authors of the mailing either before or since the mailing went out. Kevin Wolf is a former employee of Friends of the River and currently does occasional consulting work with the organization. According to Kevin, he was also not consulted about being identified as a representative of Friends of the River. The developers of Covell Village have a responsibility to make a formal retraction and clarify that Friends of the River has not endorsed the project. Peter T. Ferenbach”
This prompted a quick apology by Mike Corbett, the project’s designer.

“In a recent brochure, we accidentally identified Covell Village supporter Kevin Wolf with a title saying "Friends of the River." Unfortunately, he was read the final copy over the phone and had no idea that we made this mistake in his identity. He thought he was going to have a label "environmental activist and local business owner."

There are also enduring questions about Mr. Wolf's business relationships from both the Covell Village campaign and now. Does Mr. Wolf stand to gain financially from his activities as a member of this committee? That seems an open question and as some have suggested given the nature of financial disclosure forms, one that we will not know.

Luke Watkins, an associate of the development company Neighborhood Partners was appointed to the committee by Stephen Souza. Mr. Watkins served as a planning commissions from 1986-1991. He then ran for the City Council on the progressive slate along with Julie Partansky and Dave Rosenberg. It was a tough field but he finished credibly.

Beginning in 1996, he began developing Affordable Housing Projects with his business Partyner David Thompson forming Neighborhood Partners. Since that point with few exceptions, Watkins has not been actively involved in City Elections.

“David and I decided that we had to take this step in order to make sure that our nonprofit clients/partners did not end up being denied housing funds by council members who did not like our political faction. When you are asking for millions of $ in city resources, you can not afford to be at odds with the council majority (which ebbs and flows over the years)… I may have broken this rule a couple of times in the 1990s to endorse Steve Souza and Mike Harrington, because they have each been personal friends for more than 20 years.”

Neighborhood Partners has been the subject of a large amount of criticism. Critics have suggested that many of their projects have either been failures or needed large bailouts. Most recently Eleanor Roosevelt has come on line, however at a recent city meeting, City Staff Jerilyn Cochrane told the Senior Citizens Commission that there are still 40 vacancies among the 60 or so units. Watkins and Thompson believe that it will fill up when Section 8 funding becomes available. Davis Area Cooperative Housing Association (DACHA) was the subject of an audit last year and is now in the process of suing its low-income clientele for a variety of breeches of contract.

Watkins was also supporter of Measure X.

“I supported Covell Village. This was largely because I think that the design by Mike Corbett was quite innovative, and he is a good friend whose city council campaigns I managed twice. I do think that the project was too large and should have been presented as a project that only went to the edge of the Covell drain and thus had less traffic impacts.”

Watkins served on the previous General Plan update as well.

“In future developments I am very interested in getting more modest style housing (in the 10 to 15 unit per acre density range), instead of luxury custom homes. I would like to try to mandate photovoltaics on all new single family units. And growth that occurs needs to be planned in such a way that all of the amenities get financed and constructed as the housing is developed.

I also think that we need to aggressively try to craft our plan in the context of the county general plan. If we end up with the county approving growth on our border, like for example in the northwest quadrant (west of the hospital) then we could end up with more growth than we have planned high quality infrastructure for.”

Bob Traverso is a former Davis City Manager for a brief time in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was appointed to the committee by Stephen Souza.

Traverso has always been a controversial figure in Davis politics. In 1989 he was named City Manager. Immediately many complained of his "dictatorial style" that made "him a poor choice to be the city manager manager. " They said "that some high ranking officials will leave the city now that the council has selected Traverso." (Davis Enterprise, April 6, 1989). Sure enough on April 11, 1989, PLanning Director Tom Lumbrazo resigned citing "irreconcilable differences over management style and the future direction of the city." The Davis Enterprise reported on April 11, 1989, "The prospect that Traverso might win the job has been creating turmoil at City Hall for month." Also then Interim Assistant City Manager John Meyer "announced" that he was "leaving to take a job" with a private company. Several other high ranking city officials resigned as well.

John Meyer would return however just a year and a half later to be the new City Manager after Traverso was fired in September of 1990. The Davis Enterprise on September 20, 1990 reported that "Traverso was forced by a council seeking new direction and more amicable relationships with city employees..." The following day the Davis Enteprise reported that "his early retirement follows a tumultuous 1 1/2-year reign as city manager. Morale has been low among employees and several top officials have resigned, taking public swipes at his management style." Councilmember Dave Rosenberg was one of the few who remained a strong supporter of Traverso, saying "I stand by Bob Traverso." However other councilmembers had heard "concerns of citizens about city manager practices during their council campaigns" and promised to "assess the situation once they took office."

Traverso also would later have a serious problem with shoplifting. In the mid 1990s he was arrested for shoplifting $1500 worth of merchandise from Davis Lumber. Apparently, he simply loaded up a cart with merchandise and brazenly walked out of the store. The store employees were so stunned by this that they did not attempt to stop him. Rather they called the police and turned over the store surveillance tapes and he was finally arrested. He was defended by former Davis Councilmember Bob Black and given an extremely light sentence that outraged many in the community.

In recent years, Traverso and his wife, Carli, are high-powered realtors with Lyon Real Estate. In addition, he owns his own winery, producing Traverso Wines. He has also served on the California Gambling Control Commission. In recent years has endorsed various members of the council majority including Souza and Puntillo. And he as always remains a strong political ally of Dave Rosenberg throughout Rosenberg’s various political endeavors.

Lucas Frerichs
sits on the board of the Davis Food Co-op and also is a member of the Social Services Commission. Frerichs was a one-time supporter of Sue Greenwald and also Mike Harrington, however more recently has supported Measure X and the members of the council majority. Mr. Frerichs is a long time board member of the Davis Food Co-op, serving since 2000. He is also a former student at UC Davis in political science.

Frerichs allegedly used the Davis Food Co-Op attribution in an ad supporting Measure X:

“November 7, 2005 Davis Enterprise:

Joan Randall, president, Davis Food Co-op board of directors:

The Davis Food Co-op does not endorse Measure X ... nor does it oppose it. Some might think otherwise after seeing the full-page, picture-rich ad in Thursday's Davis Enterprise (Page A7).

First, the ad contains false information. David Thompson is not a member of the DFC board of directors. He has, along with scores of others over our long history, served on the board.

Lucas Frerichs is a current board member. Some reasonable people might think the position he takes in the ad is in some way reflective of an official opinion of the DFC board of directors. This is not so.

Although the DFC has no official position on Measure X, we welcome the opportunity for democratic decision-making in our community. The Co-op is democratically run by its member/owners so it makes sense that although we do not support one side over another, we support the process.”

Mr. Frerichs contacted me the other day, however, has not returned requests to meet for an interview at this point. He has been described by people who know him as an exceptionally nice person, however in recent years has increasingly associated himself both personally and professionally with development interests (such as David Thompson and Luke Watkins) in addition to his strong support for Measure X. Hopefully in the near future we can meet for an interview and expand this profile a bit.

In an upcoming blog entry, I will conclude the profile of this committee by profiling the six members appointed by the Council minority of Mayor Sue Greenwald and Councilmember Lamar Heystek.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting