The Vanguard has a new home, please update your bookmarks to

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Examining City Council Goals and Objectives

The Davis City Council will have another public workshop this Friday. First they will conclude their workshop on "Improving Transactional Effectiveness" and then they will have a staff presentation on the status of council goals and objectives.

The council has eight goals and objective for 2007-08:
  • Maintain and improve the infrastructure
  • Achieve long-term financial stability
  • Enhance the vitality of downtown
  • Provide a mix of high-quality housing to meet community needs
  • Conserve natural resources and protect the environment
  • Ensure top quality fire, police and emergency services
  • Ensure organizational strength
  • Promote economic development
This article will look at some of the specific policy objectives under each heading to see where the council has succeeded at least in their own goals and also discuss things that should have been included but were not.

The big objectives under "Maintain and Improve the Infrastructure," deal with the water supply and the wastewater treatment plant upgrade. In both cases, the city has moved along about at the rate that they wanted to. Both of these projects are massive and will end up greatly increasing Davis residents' water rates. The key question right now is whether this is what the city should be doing.

Last year, the city council agreed to spend $50,000 to $75,000 upgrading the parks and facilities master plan. It took a reconsideration of an agenda item after the initial item was defeated, due to the absence of Councilmember Asmundson. Mayor Greenwald and Councilmember Heystek would have preferred to have spent that money on unfinished projects from the previous plan rather than updating the current plan with an expensive survey.

Missing from the list is any upgrade in the quality of the roads, the workability of some of the traffic intersections and traffic lights.

In terms of the next goal, "Achieving Long-term Financial Stability," the council had a workshop where they look at various revenue enhancements, mainly in terms of new taxes.

The big thing that they did not do was seek to look at areas where spending has greatly increased that will end up costing the city. One such area has to do with upper level employees pensions and health benefits. These current practices for people in upper management may end up either bankrupting the city in future years, or at the very least leading to a large cutback in other sorts of spending as the city needs to get on top of a wave of retirements.

The third goal, is to "Enhance the Vitality of Downtown." Here it does not seem that they have proceeded on a number of their goals. Moreover, the big one that they did proceed on was the 3rd and B Visioning Process. My concern with their direction on this and other projects is that they are looking for ways to revitalize the downtown that are threatening the character of the city and the downtown. Tearing down some of the more historic buildings in the 3rd and B district is going to do far more to destroy the character of the city than it is to help downtown. Moreover, they have enacted projects such as Target that threaten the vitality of downtown.

The fourth goal, is to "Provide a Mix of High Quality Housing to Meet Community Needs." This is an area where I do not think the city has done enough. They have appointed a Housing Element Steering committee. We shall see what that process yields. What this city needs in my view, is a commitment to developing housing that families and younger and new home owners can afford. Not just an allotment of "affordable" housing for low income people that are really limited equity homes. We're talking about moving away from the model that has produced $500,000 to $600,000 homes. That means producing smaller houses on smaller lots and greater density of that housing. However, this is nowhere to be found on the city's goals.

The fifth goal, is to "Conserve Natural Resources and Protect the Environment." They have a list of items, most of which I have not heard of and most of which I do not believe have been acted upon. They do talk about recycling and composting. But I think the city needs to go further here. They mention the Davis Greenway Concept that includes locally based sustainability farms at the city's edge, but there needs to be, in light of county proposals, an all-out commitment to ag land preservation. Second, there needs to be a push for more electric vehicles for in-town use rather than internal combustion engines. Third, there needs to be a stronger commitment to solar power in new housing and perhaps even incentives for existing homeowners to purchase solar panels. Fourth, as they do in the north, they should convert all city road signs to solar energy.

The sixth goal, is to "Ensure Top Quality Fire, Police and Emergency Services." Here they have achieved a good number of their goals. It took them much longer than anticipated but they got the cameras and computers fully operational and for the most part reliable. They hired a police chief. For my purposes the top needs of the city are that we need more police officers hired and on the streets. I would like the city to look into higher standards for training in exchange for higher salary. The city is looking into a fourth fire station, and while I understand some of the concerns of a fourth fire station, particularly with regards to money, the suggestion has been made that the taxpayers could vote on it. I think that's a reasonable proposal from my observations. I can also see the need for a city-owned ladder truck, especially as the city continues to build taller and taller buildings.

The seventh goal, is to "Ensure Organizational Strength." This deals primarily with city staff. As I have suggested previously, I just do not like the city manager driven model of city government. I think it leaves elected council members, especially those who are in the minority, without the resources they need to do a good job of representing their constituency. Reliance on city staff has proven problematic at times. So one of the things I would like to see are reforms and changes to the overall structure.

A goal that is listed on their list of goals is to have in place by 2008 a living wage ordinance for City contracts and contract workers. This was a suggestion made by Councilmember Lamar Heystek that I strongly support. Will the current council majority support this goal? We shall see.

Finally, and this all appears to be future oriented, "Promote Economic Development." So far, I think this has not been an area of success. The first item listed there, is continue to work to ensure sustainability of Westlake Shopping Center. It has been over a year since Food Fair left this shopping center, and amazingly the existing businesses have primarily survived. But I do not think the city has acted aggressively enough to maintain this shopping center.

Second, they mention Trader Joe's. Here I think the city has really squandered opportunities by allowing the situation at University Mall with RAS. I talked to councilmembers after the lawsuit was announced and they felt that people just wanted Trader Joe's and did not care how it got here. Since that time, I have spoken to many people on the street and on the blog and I do not sense that type of attitude. Most do not understand why it has to be where RAS is currently located and most sympathize with RAS. The city lost a lot of their leverage by providing a zoning change prior to an agreement between University Mall and RAS.

Third, is the pursuit of the business and high tech research park. This is the issue that was postponed from last meeting's agenda. It figures to be an interesting battle on the slow growth side as to whether it is better to develop that as a residential development or a high tech research park. The latter has gained more prominence since the Tsakaopoulos proposal has emerged, although that is mainly a proposal for housing developments in exchange for the Stem Cell Research facility, it is unlikely to be available without the housing development.

Finally, we can put the Davis Manor in the same position as Westlake Shopping Center. Both of these locations would make far more sense for Trader Joe's and other additions than the University Mall. The council is seeming to allow two key neighborhood shopping areas lie underutilized for a substantial period of time.

A number of the goals on this list are laudable if overly ambitious. However, my sense over the last two months is that much of these are taking place at the expense of the existing character of the city. I do not oppose housing development, vitalization of downtown, or economic development, but I would like to see plans that integrate these projects into the existing character, rather than what I think is a rapid destruction of existing character. Make no mistake, Davis is under siege in a lot of ways. The question for Davis residents, is "Do you want a city that continues to look and feel like Davis? Or, "Do you want a city that looks more like Fairfield, Vacaville, or even worse some of the more rapid growing Central Valley Communities like Elk Grove and Natomas?" These are the key questions we must ask ourselves as we try to go forward with many of these laudable and necessary goals.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting