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

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Power Shift on the Council: Souza Emerges As Power Center

The 2008 Elections saw Councilmember Don Saylor win the most votes to ascend to the position of Mayor Pro Tem, Davis' version of the mayor-in-waiting as Mr. Saylor will take over as Mayor in 2010. However, since the new session began, we have instead seen Don Saylor increasingly marginalized on the council. Emerging as the most powerful member of the council was Stephen Souza, who has acted as the swing vote on numerous key contented votes since September 8.

It is a small sample to be sure, just 12 contested votes (i.e. non-unanimous votes), but the pattern is clear. Souza has shaped the council's agenda voting with the majority on 11 of the 12 votes. Not only that, but he has played the role of kingmaker, shaping the direction of the policy. It is not only the number of votes, but the importance of the votes whether it has been on living wage, the Ogrydziak project, Cannery Park, and last week on both J Street and Hunt-Boyer.

Meanwhile it is top-vote getter Don Saylor who have been increasingly marginalized on the council as the vote of extremity, voting on the losing side of contested votes 8 of the 12 times. Mr. Saylor has been the lone dissenter on three of the votes including the Cannery Park, the letter on the Grand Jury Report, and the New Harmony CEQA. In addition, the Mayor Pro Tem has voted with Mayor Ruth Asmundson on the losing end of a 3-2 vote five times. The Mayor herself has been on the short-end of the vote on six votes.

By comparison, Lamar Heystek has found himself on the short-end of two votes, Councilmember Sue Greenwald has been on the losing end of just one vote.

These numbers alone understate the impact of Stephen Souza on the council. For one thing, these are just final votes. A good example is on the Cannery Park proposal. Councilmember Sue Greenwald made a motion to keep the current zoning in place and deny Lewis Planned Communities' application to change the zoning. That vote failed by a 3-2 vote. However, Councilmembers Greenwald and Heystek would then join Mayor Asmundson and Stephen Souza in supporting City Manager Bill Emlen's recommendation to pursue an equal weight EIR.

In another example just this week, Mr. Souza forged out a compromise on the issue of the Hunt-Boyer building where the council had been split as to whether to turn it into a visitor's center or to pursue a restaurant. Mayor Asmundson and Mayor Pro Tem Saylor strongly supported the visitor's center option, while Councilmembers Heystek and Greenwald supported the restaurant. Souza worked out a compromise that passed by a 3-2 vote which would explore both options including putting forward an RFP on a restaurant.

Souza was also the deciding vote on the living wage vote.

Perhaps the most interesting vote was on an appeal of the Planning Commission's denial of Marie Ogryziak's project on B Street. Councilmember Souza abstained from taking a position in that vote. His abstention meant that the project would be denied for at least a year. After that vote there was a public exchange between Souza and Saylor.

Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor was not happy. He informed Councilmember Souza that due to his vote the project would be killed. The councilmember was well aware of the implications of his actions.

The councilmember said:

"I have a major conflict here trying to pit history against the environment."

Mr. Saylor responded:

"So you deny the project by not doing either."

What is clear here is that Councilmember Stephen Souza now occupies the middle ground on the council on most contested votes. His is the swing vote. But for the most part, they are centrist votes. On both the Cannery vote and the Hunt-Boyer vote, he opposed to more progressive position of Councilmembers Greenwald and Heystek and instead forged out his own compromise position.

But there is a notable point along those lines. On both of those votes (these are prime examples), Councilmembers Greenwald and Heystek did not get their preferred option. In both cases however they were willing to compromise and work with Councilmember Souza to get a project or an outcome that was closer to their preferred option than the alternative. In that sense both Greenwald and Heystek have been very strategic in their votes and willing to compromise to get things accomplished. As a result, both Greenwald and Heystek have been in the majority on contested votes 11 and 10 times respectively.

The same cannot be said for Mayor Pro Tem Saylor who has refused to compromise and move from his core position in order to get things done. Despite his rhetoric of moderation, his actions have placed him on the most extreme end of the council this term.

The main caveat to this pattern is that it is a very short period of time, since September 8, 2008 and only on a few votes, 12. But it seems, that a new pattern is emerging on the council and the sharp dividing lines that had existed previously are beginning to breakdown. This is to the credit not only of Councilmember Souza but also Councilmembers Heystek and Greenwald who have been willing to work with Mr. Souza to get things done.

---David M. Greenwald reporting