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Monday, May 05, 2008

Commentary: Analyzing the Davis Enterprise's Choice

Last Friday the Vanguard reported that the Davis Enterprise would be endorsing Don Saylor, Stephen Souza, and Sydney Vergis for the Davis City Council. What we did not know of course was what the Enterprise would use as their rationale for their endorsement.

The surprising aspect of reading their editorial was on the one hand how subjective the criteria was--in most ways it comes down to ideology. On the other hand, it seemed almost pro forma--bearing little resemblance to reality. There also surprisingly little detail or context provided by the editorial, it is written more like a campaign brochure than any type of informative insight.

The editorial for example, argues:
"Davis will need council members who drive hard bargains with the city's labor unions, make fiscally sound decisions to live within our means"
Of course a large number of people based just on what we know from yesterday question both of those statements. The council majority has not driven hard bargains with the city's labor unions, they have pretty much given them what they have asked for. Fiscally sound decisions are few and far between. We are running up a structural deficit that will require a series of tax measures in order to balance the books. No explanation is offered for these sweeping statements. No context, no details, just blanket assertions.
"stand firm against housing sprawl while allowing enough growth to bring young families back to Davis"
It is ironic that the Enterprise argues that these candidates have stood firm against housing sprawl. Don Saylor and Stephen Souza were leading advocates for Covell Village, a measure rejected by the voters by a 60-40 measure. Sydney Vergis is an avowed proponent of Covell Village.

The Enterprise then shifts to blurbs about each of the candidates. Somewhere along the way, Don Saylor has become the voice of reason and civility. His work at the California Youth Authority respected.

It is interesting that they cite forging compromises and comes to consensus with his colleagues. The first two years on the council he had a 4-1 majority, and the next two years, he had a 3-2 majority. His voting record is consistently the most pro-growth of the five on the council. When he sat on the school board, he was notorious for be the one vote in a 4-1 decision. On the council, he has always had a majority to support him. The last council was marked by at times better contentiousness of the core issues and a series of 4-1 votes.

They do not mention his record on the issues particularly his support for Covell Village. He has worked hard in the last two years to re-work his image and the Davis Enterprise endorsement reads like a self-written bio.
"Stephen Souza has been a breath of fresh air during his four years on the Davis City Council. He's direct, honest and forthright about his positions. He doesn't offer fancy answers or slick cliches...

Supporters describe Souza as articulate and thoughtful, dedicating to serving the needs of the community at large over special interests, humorous, patient, respectful, practical, intelligent, consistent, trustworthy and tenacious."
Does Debbie Davis or the Enterprise editorial boards watch the city council meetings?

My favorite Stephen Souza moment was when he angrily yelled from the dais that they were the deciders.

As I said last Friday, realistically you could make a non-ideological argument to endorse the incumbents again. But adding Sydney Vergis to the mix is difficult to defend other than on partisan terms.

The Enterprise cite "her professional background as a land-use planner," but let's talk about that for a moment.

Sydney Vergis was hired to a senior level position with the Sutter County planning office. However, she was hired back in October 2007. Her professional background as a land-use planner? It was March 25, 2008, that's right just over a month ago that Sydney Vergis made her first professional presentation to the Sutter County Board of Supervisors.

The most interesting aspect is that both of Don Saylor and Stephen Souza's endorsement statements focused less on substance and more on personalistic attributes. We can agree or disagree with those attributes, but we ought to also look to the record.

As I stated above, both of these candidates supported Covell Village. The editorial mentions nothing about that.

Both Stephen Souza and Don Saylor supported Target coming to Davis. That was a hotly contested issue and it won narrowly.

Both Stephen Souza and Don Saylor support the 1% growth guideline.

Both Stephen Souza and Don Saylor have voted to implement fiscal policies like the raises to the firefighters that threaten to push our city budget to the brink. The difference between the city of Vallejo and Davis will likely be the willingness of the taxpayers to bail out the fiscal mistakes of the city council much as they will bail out the fiscal mistakes of the school district from past years.

The Davis Enterprise argues that they can make the tough choices with regards to the unions--if they are referring to the firefighters union, they have not so far. Not even close. Their toughest choice is deciding which tax to implement first.

On top of that the city is looking to simultaneously upgrade our wastewater treatment facility and develop a water supply project. Those are both eventually necessary endeavors, but doing them simultaneously will result in probably at minimum at $500 million project that will be transferred to the rate payers.

These are all very important issues--issues that this community is divided on in terms of how best to approach. The Davis Enterprise has chosen to back the pro-growth candidates who are being heavily backed by special interests that are seeking to profit at the expense of the tax payers of the city of Davis. It will be up to the voters four weeks from tomorrow as to whether or not they will support such policies.

The Vanguard will continue its in depth coverage of this city council election.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting