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

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

First Candidates Forum For City Council Shows Some Clear Differences

The Davis City Council candidates met in a forum for the first time yesterday for the Davis Chamber of Commerce Candidates' forum. The forum was moderated by Debbie Davis, assistant publisher/ editor of the Davis Enterprise.

Each candidate was given a two minute opening question that they were given in advance. Then it was rapid fire, with two candidates getting one question that they had one minute to answer.

The format meant that the questions were the luck of the draw and it also in general precluded specificity. Often the candidates simply did not answer the question directly and instead gave vague and rough answers.

Questions about housing and growth dominated the format. In what follows are some of the highlights from the discussion.

The first question suggested that many on the council are purported to be no growth proponents, Don Saylor and Sue Greenwald were then asked about their position on growth. Both suggested that they were not no growth proponents. Don Saylor argued that the community and the quality of life matter. He then went on to talk about the closure of schools and the lack of apartment vacancy. He wants to provide housing for seniors and students.

For Sue Greenwald, housing should be limited to those projects that fill specific needs. We need to look at the type of housing that we are building and ask if it is really serving the people in Davis. She further argued that there was no relationship between the price of housing and the amount of housing that we have built.

Stephen Souza and Sydney Vergis were both asked if they support zero-based budgeting and to explain why or why not. Neither of them answered the question. Stephen Souza suggested that we cannot rely upon the auto industry as our tax base. He then suggested that we need to look at industry that is green in nature. Of course, his big economic initiative to date has been Target, an industry that is inherently non-green by its nature.

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald and Rob Roy were asked whether they supported the general plan provision on senior housing. Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald spoke of the need to prioritize the preservation of open space and agricultural land first and then to have community discussion about whether and what types of senior housing that we should provide. Rob Roy suggested he supported the general plan provision on senior housing.

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald and Sydney Vergis were asked about the middle income housing ordinance and the internally generated needs for housing. Sydney Vergis was concerned that there is a large range of different kinds of people living in the city and the price of housing makes it difficult to live here. Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald talked about working with the university to help develop housing for faculty and students as a possible remedy to some of the housing demands.

The debate then turned to state mandated fair-share housing and whether the city can meet those mandates without rezoning land or approving any new peripheral developments. Don Saylor argued that RHNA was only part of what we needed. He focused on the internal needs assessment and argued that we need to take a look at our own planning regardless of RHNA requirements.

Sue Greenwald on the other hand suggested that the numbers were not interesting to her. She was concerned that if Davis went beyond the SACOG allotment that this would lead to increased SACOG numbers in the future. She then shifted to talking about her desire to look at projects on an individual basis and the need to pursue interesting projects like her proposal at the PG&E site.

Stephen Souza and Rob Roy were asked what they learned about Measure X. Stephen Souza basically suggested that the community did not understand Measure X. He said this was the first exercise of Measure J and that a project as big as Covell Village takes longer to explain to the community, that it has to come with its impacts mitigated, and that the affordable housing component has to be explainable to the public. Finally we have to totally be engaged in a process that we are expected to vote on. This is basically the Ruth Asmundson answer rehashed, Souza simply does not understand the opposition to Measure X and argues that the public did not properly understand it rather than take from the lesson that the public is not supportive of huge new develops on the Davis periphery.

Don Saylor then declared victory on retail development and expansion with the addition of Target and Trader Joes. Now he is looking toward the university providing the area with green energy and high tech development.

Sue Greenwald and Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald were asked about fresh ideas about fiscal stability without raising taxes.

Sue Greenwald argued that we are in a box right due to contract and expenditures on city desk workers. She said that she has taken the long view when it comes to planning, and has said no when it comes to expenditures.

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald then discussed retail retention. She pointed out past failed businesses in poor locations and at the same time argued that we have two major shopping centers that do not have anchors right now. She suggested that we have a commercial real estate agent work with the city to try to determine the retail deficits and try to recruit what is complimentary to the city instead of predatory to the city.

Stephen Souza and Sue Greenwald were asked if our housing needs during the next six years can be met exclusively with infill development. Sue Greenwald questions what the housing needs really means and wants to find ways to insure that when we develop we are filling our internal housing needs rather than external ones. Stephen Souza on the other hand argued that we could not fill our internal housing needs with infill. He felt that we could meet the majority with infill but not all. Not everyone wants to live in a small condo or in the core. The strongest opponents of new infill are the neighbors. We can, he argued, provide for those who want to downsize however.

Rob Roy came out in favor of choice voting. Don Saylor on the other hand was nuanced. He said that he supported advisory measure on the ballot. He felt like the city hadn't really explored the idea and ramifications very much. Then stated it was a "solution looking for a problem." Most people don’t understand what it is and there will be problems the first time there is change of outcome due to choice voting. Places where been in place, the process is actually being challenged.

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald and Sydney Vergis were both asked about economic development and how they define it.

Escamilla-Greenwald examined the factors that impacted economic development and then picked one to explore--the problem of parking and the disadvantage that businesses face currently with reparking laws.

She then went on to discuss her idea for dealing with the parking problem. Her proposal would be to use city redevelopment money to construct a multilevel parking structure near the Design House with an Olive Street entrance. The parking structure would only have access on the Olive Street side, however, it would have a ramp over the train tracks meeting up with the existing lot along first street. It would then have a pedestrian ramp which would put pedestrians within two or three blocks of nearly all of downtown.

This proposal would have the advantage of encouraging people to park outside of the core area and then walk to the core. It would greatly reduce traffic flow under the Richards Overpass. And finally, it would be a regional draw as people would have easy access to parking and shopping from the highway.

Sydney Vergis defined the concept of economic develop as the retention of new businesses. She then talked about a BEDC quantitative survey to determine what works and what doesn’t work; and then coming up with measurable objectives.

The funniest moment came when Stephen Souza admittedly got a bit carried away when asked what green meant to him. He went off on a litany of "green means" statements until Don Saylor practically fell out of his seat laughing. Don Saylor then talked about his church community creating a green sanctuary and each individual changing their life styles. For him it was removing his swimming pool and changing his washer to a low flow.

On Measure J, Sydney Vergis asked people if they had read it, complained it was complicated, and suggested that she would support renewing it with "non-substantive changes." Sue Greenwald flatly said she was in favor of renewing it.

Don Saylor and Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald were asked about sales tax leakage and broader shopping in Davis. Don Saylor again declared victory on retail with Target and Trader Joe's--wants to build them out and call it good. Suggested the downtown needs more attention and wants to focus on parking.

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald talked again about making sure the shopping centers have key anchors and then proposed a Residence Inn at the Vacant lot near the train tracks on Richards as a possible lure for those individuals who do extended work at the university and need extended lodging.

Finally, Sue Greenwald and Sydney Vergis were asked about declining enrollment and what changes in our community if any would you support to reverse this trend.

Sydney Vergis argued that this is tied to housing availability and we need to dialogue for major housing needs in Davis.

Sue Greenwald suggested there is a disagreement over the decline in enrollment in Davis. That this is also a statewide phenomena. She argued there is not a problem with a declining enrollment but rather a question as to how we absorb and plan for it. She argued it was difficult to build schools in perfect increments and that new subdevelopments actually exacerbate the problem because of life cycle issues.

Overall it was an interesting forum. The format made for a quick, rapid fire, dialogue. However, specificity and substance sometimes was a bit lacking. The Vanguard will be closely following the council race and reporting far more in the coming weeks.

Disclaimer: Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald is the wife of Doug Paul Davis.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting