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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Councilmember Heystek Discusses His First Year on the Davis City Council

In the latest in my series of interviews, I discussed with Davis City Councilmember Lamar Heystek his first year on the job.

Overall, how has your first year as Davis City Councilmember gone?

My first year on the Council has gone very well. I constantly ask myself if Davis looks different because I’ve been on the Council. I believe the answer is yes. Then I ask if the difference is a positive or negative one. I would honestly say it’s been more positive.

What have you been most surprised by as far as the job itself is concerned?

Little has surprised me. If I mentioned something, people would probably say, “Why should that surprise you?” Nonetheless, I will say that the relatively minor influence certain councilmembers have on what the agenda regularly looks like continues to frustrate me. In a council-manager form of government, staff has enormous say as to what our week-to-week agenda looks like. As is to be expected, staff is informed by the direction of a majority of the Council. Since I cannot reliably count myself in “the” majority, I have considerably less influence on staff to shape our agenda. I have incessantly explained to the City Manager that I consider myself an “activist” councilmember – in other words, I see my ideal role as a legislator who proposes policies and laws. I should not merely exist on the Council to “vote my agenda packet” as a passive decisionmaker. I’m disappointed that many of the issues I’ve brought to the table for Council consideration have yet to make it to an agenda. It’s really quite a shame.

What are you most proud of accomplishing?

I’m proud of many accomplishments. One of my proudest achievements involves successfully lobbying (behind the scenes and in public) for more funding for street and sidewalk repairs. One of the most basic city services is the pavement, and now, in the current budget, we have over $100,000 more in funding for road rehabilitation. Right now, we’re finally seeing long-awaited improvements to the Alvarado/Anderson roundabout and the southern portion of Covell Boulevard. Several other accomplishments I am proudest of concern environmental responsibility. I’m proud that I proposed and successfully fought for the passage of the strictest agricultural mitigation ordinance in the state – one that requires the preservation of two acres of ag land for every acre developed. While I was the lone vote against the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District’s aerial spraying campaign last year, I’m proud to have successfully represented a significant portion of our population who felt that aerial spraying, in many ways, represented a larger public health threat. I’m proud that I successfully introduced a citywide goal of “conserving natural resources and preserving the environment,” leading to a sustainability project that includes a campaign to combat global warming. When I proposed an anti-global-warming objective at our goal setting session late last year, a few folks in the room (I won’t say who, but the only people who were there were councilmembers and department heads) laughed out loud. I was extremely shocked by this response. If we can’t be environmentalists in Davis, for God’s sake, where can we? During the same goal setting session, I proposed, albeit unsuccessfully, a goal to “ensure social responsibility.” To his credit, the only other person besides me to vote in favor of this goal was Finance Director Paul Navazio. Even though I did not succeed in having it adopted, I’ve worked in the spirit of this goal since my first Council meeting. I’m proud that I successfully fought to preserve the landmark 1983 civil rights ordinance. I’m proud that I proposed a living wage ordinance for large retailers, putting the issue on the map during my second Council meeting, and supported a visitability and accessibility ordinance to create more habitable housing for physically challenged residents, both of which were defeated by a majority of the Council. The living wage issue will continue to define what exactly our commitment to social responsibility really is, and I look forward to debating it in the future. Finally, I’m proud of my lone vote against the “3rd and B” project. Although I didn’t succeed in halting the project, I believe I successfully laid out the case for careful planning in our most sensitive neighborhoods.

What decision do you most regret?

This may sound cliché, but I don’t regret a thing. It’s not because I don’t believe in any regrets – it’s just that I haven’t learned any new information after the fact that would cause me to change my mind about a previous decision. When I ran for City Council the first time, in 2004, I was a student. A good student. And good students know how to do their homework. I’ve always done my homework as a councilmember.

What development has been most disappointing to you?

I’m greatly disappointed that other cities are eclipsing our commitment to the environment. When Vacaville and Roseville can claim they are doing more for the environment than Davis – and when the symbol of our environmental know-how is a set of broken solar panels at Community Pool that have never worked – I think we have a serious problem. We’ve been resting on our laurels for too long. We’ve been trying to figure how we can grow more rapidly when we should try to sustain the infrastructure and natural resources of our existing footprint.

Overall, do you think that the city is headed in the right direction under the current council?

In some ways, yes; in other ways, no. There is a sense that certain monied interests have too much control at City Hall. I’m not saying those who have a financial stake in the decisions we make don’t deserve a voice in the democratic process. I just wish that voice wouldn’t drown out the voice of the rest of the people. I’ve always argued that financial benefits can be outweighed by unquantifiable costs, and that financial costs can be outweighed by unquantifiable benefits. It’s like that song from “Rent” – "Five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes / How do you measure, measure a year?"

What are your goals for the next year and into the future?

Truly, my goals are to continue to do my homework and remain loyal to my principles and constituents.

If you could pass three things, what would they be?

A living wage ordinance for large retailers, a renter’s rights ordinance and everything I tried to pass in the first two years of my term but couldn’t.

What proposals should progressives be most concerned about coming down the pike?

I think an attempt to water down Measure J and the adoption of radically different General Plan should be the biggest issues for progressives. The voters should stand up in favor of closing various loopholes in Measure J to strengthen their right to determine our land-use destiny. And they should not allow the Council to adopt a new Housing Element that grossly alters the shape of our city.

If you could change one thing about Davis, what would it be?

I would seek to change the mentality of “limousine liberalism” that some people in Davis seem to hold. The hypocrisy of this philosophy is very damaging to our identity as a progressive community.

Regionally, what is the most pressing concern?

I think growth along the I-80 corridor is the most critical regional issue. As the growth of neighboring cities brings their borders closer to ours, we have to be increasingly vigilant of the impacts such growth has on the environment, our infrastructure and our quality of life. Much of the crime we experience in Davis can be attributed to our location on the I-80 corridor. Air quality and the condition of our roads have already been threatened as development pressures have increased.

Can the city of Davis co-exist with Yolo County? Is the pass-through agreement dead?

The City and the County can and must coexist. We are two agencies recognized by the State of California serving many of the same constituents, and these constituents count on both agencies to represent them. The County provides vital services to many Davis residents, and so does the City of Davis. I believe our residents rely mostly on the City, not the County, to ultimately determine the scope of development within our sphere of influence. To that end, the pass-through agreement is alive and well – at least as far as the City is concerned. To be perfectly honest, I’m not exactly sure what the County’s commitment to the pass-through agreement really is. That’s why I’ve personally lobbied supervisors to join us at the table to discuss land use within the context of the pass-through agreement. It’s one thing to talk about the joint study of targeted areas for development adjacent to our borders, which we’ve made abundantly clear we are unwilling to do at this time. It’s another thing altogether to talk about our basic relationship under a mutual pact that has existed for the better part of 20 years. It is imperative that w have this discussion before either agency embarks on any serious attempt at large-scale peripheral development.

Describe the funniest thing that has happened since you have been on the council.

I arrived at a closed session and saw what I thought were my shirts in a garment bag hanging in the conference room. At the end of the meeting, I asked everyone what my dry-cleaned shirts were doing there. Had I brought them in by mistake and simply forgotten? But why would I bring extra shirts to a Council meeting? Then I found out: apparently another councilmember had picked up my dry cleaning for me! Strange but true.

How has the People’s Vanguard of Davis changed Davis politics or has it?

I don’t know if the People’s Vanguard of Davis has changed Davis politics per se – it has endured no matter the medium – but I’m convinced it has changed political expression in Davis. Because of this blog, people are more engaged than ever in the democratic process. People are now more inspired to weigh in on issues they never would have read about in other print media. People are more freely sharing their views, and these views have a broader audience. The comments people leave are richer and more revealing than anything you would read on the heavily edited op-ed page of the local newspapers. The blog provides citizens with a genuine opportunity to be heard and therefore to shape public policy. As a decisionmaker, I appreciate reading the insights my fellow Davisites share. People underestimate the power of public comment. If more people spoke up at Council meetings and in other venues, the city would definitely look a lot different.

What question should I have asked but did not?

You never asked me if I got along with the rest of the Council. The answer is an emphatic “yes.” I can honestly say I interact well with each and every one of my colleagues on both professional as well as personal terms. I have strived to be as approachable as possible not only to my constituents but also my colleagues, who are human beings just like me. When I was elected, I was determined to be as much a positive presence on the Council as possible. I said during my “inauguration” speech that we should work with one another, even as we vote against one another. I never wanted to be seen as perpetuating anything negative that might have preceded my election. Since my age has unfortunately been a concern for some voters – I’m the youngest councilmember since Bob Black – I’ve strived greatly to behave in such a way that the issue can’t possibly be used against me in the future.

Since you used to work at Safeway, paper or plastic?

Believe it or not, I bring my own bags to Safeway. We (I mean they) give you a discount for reusing them. But what kind do I reuse? Paper. Ironically, I never liked bagging customers’ groceries in paper because customers who asked for paper usually were much fussier! To this day, whenever I run into a former customer, I can tell them exactly how they liked their groceries bagged. The “paper in plastic” customers stand out the most.

What is your favorite food?

I love haggis. What can I say – I’m part Scottish!

Do you have time to read a book these days and if so, what are you reading?

The only “books” I have time to read nowadays are City Council agenda packets, but there’s one book my boss at the Yolo Family Resource Center loaned me to read. It’s called Catalytic Leadership: Strategies for an Interconnected World. There’s also a book I bought at former Mayor Susie Boyd’s garage sale after the 2004 election. I still haven’t gotten around to read it. It’s called Who’s Running This Town? I’m curious to know...

Harry Potter or Sicko?

I have yet to see Sicko, but I’d choose Michael Moore over J.K. Rowling any day of the week. Sicko is on my list of movies to watch – if I can pull myself away from those agenda packets.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting