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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Christopher Cabaldon and Jim Provenza Endorsed by the Sierra Club

This week Assembly Candidate Christopher Cabaldon and Yolo County Supervisor Candidate Jim Provenza earned the endorsement of the Sierra Club, one of the seminal environmental organizations in the country.

The organization cited Cabaldon's role in the development of the SACOG Blueprint Project. He has also sat on the Central Valley Water Board and consistently has taken strong positions to protect water quality.

Christopher Cabaldon wrote on his website:
"Our district is unique in how much we value our special natural heritage, open spaces, farmland, rolling hills, creeks, and the Delta, and how committed we are to environmental protection and sustainability, as well as clean air and water.

That's why I'm so proud to report that the Sierra Club has now endorsed my candidacy."
He went on to say:
"The Sierra Club only grants its endorsement in a handful of legislative races, and only after a grassroots vote of confidence by the progressive environmental activists working at the local level inside the district."
Delta Protection is one of the most important environmental issues in this district, along with transportation emissions, and protection of agricultural land.
"They know how important it is that we win our fight to rescue the Delta, tackle the causes and impacts of climate change (including my national battle against the Bush Administration on vehicle emission standards), stop pollution of our air and water, put an end to sprawl and the disappearance of our rural legacy, and make trains, transit, biking, and walking real alternatives to more time in our cars. And they know I will continue to be an environmental champion in the Assembly."
For the Yolo County Supervisors race, the Sierra Club acknowledged that both candidates have demonstrated a strong environmental commitment.

The deciding issue revolved around a proposed initiative for Yolo County to protect agricultural land and to continue to limit development to existing cities.

Jim Provenza was a strong advocate against the proposed developments on the periphery of the city of Davis. He opposed Covell Village. And strongly supports Measure J. He vowed to support an initiative at the county level similar to Measure J, according to the Sierra Club.

It is nice to see that land use policies were used as the basis for a Sierra Club endorsement. Too often the protection of agricultural land and defense against peripheral development are overlooked. But from an environmental standpoint, once you pave over farmland, it is lost. I was talking to someone the other day who was raised in what was known as the Santa Clara Valley before it became known as the Silicon Valley. Some may remember that those were some of the best soils in the state and they are now permanently lost by urbanization and sprawl development.

It is a bit disappointing that the Sierra Club apparently will not be endorsing in the Davis City Council race.

Sydney Vergis endorses herself

Could not resist adding this here. This one jumped out at me last night. There is an organization known as the Yolo County Young Democrats. It is a small group that has little to no background. Sometime at the end of last year or the beginning of this year, Sydney Vergis became the President or Director, not sure which, of this organization. There is no web presence so it is difficult to ascertain just how many members there are of this group, but I've heard there are six including the chair.

In the Enterprise last night, Sydney Vergis announced that she had obtained the endorsement of the group that she heads up. I should hope so. Next thing you know, Cecilia will be sending out a press release saying that the Vanguard has endorsed her. Maybe people have not heard, I am married to Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald. Oh and despite what the Davis Enterprise said last year, I am not married to Sue Greenwald.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, May 09, 2008

Letter to the Vanguard

Every so often I get letters to the editor, I post them as I get them if they relate to Davis and Yolo County politics or issues. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Vanguard.
Don’t Trust Cabaldon

Statements from his brochures:

Prevent flooding. Rebuild the levies.

Fact: West Sacramento hasn’t received the state/federal funding that he said we would get to do the work.

Protect water quality.

Fact: As a member of the state's Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, he didn’t vote to fine Hilmar Cheese Company for their wastewater polluting the groundwater. As mayor of W. Sac, he voted to poison our water with Hydrofluosilicic Acid.

Preserve open space and wildlife habitat. Resist the spread of urban sprawl into agricultural land.

Fact: Come take a look at Southport (W. Sac). The latest developments have ended many acres of ag land into urban sprawl, but they are stacked on top of each other and next to each other. River Park (743 acres) and Yarbrough (710 acres) is in the works now to be built on. He is bought and paid for by developers and caters to their interests.

Expand community college campuses in Woodland, Davis, West Sacramento, Fairfield, and Vacaville.

Fact: Campuses are already in each city mentioned.

Freeze tuition at public universities and community colleges. Expand Cal Grants. Forgive student loans in exchange for service in areas of great public need.

Fact: Where will the funds come from? The State is broke. It takes a majority in both the assembly and senate to pass these items.

Comments Cabaldon has made about his constituents in West Sacramento:

The bridge is about economic opportunity, not about unleashing "the hordes of the unwashed" on nice neighborhoods.

"The pressure and the stigma and sometimes the all too casual bigotry in this town made it painfully clear when I first ran for office that I could either serve this community or I could be a gay man. But I could not be both,"

Calls us “fat” and “unhealthy.”

Says our children are “illiterate.”

He wants us to walk, ride a bike, or take public transportation. You don’t see him walking, riding a bike, or taking public transportation. In fact, it is only 1.1 miles from his residence to City Hall, but he chooses to drive his 350Z.

Cabaldon was mentioned in the 2005-2006 Yolo County Grand Jury investigation of the Washington Unified School District (WUSD) in West Sacramento.

“Issues of Public Trust

The Mayor of West Sacramento is employed by EdVoice, an advocate for charter schools through Aspire Public Schools, Testimony indicates that after a presentation by Aspire Public Schools at a WUSD Board meeting, the mayor announced, the entire City Council supports this.” He has apparently also repeatedly stated that there will soon be several charter schools in West Sacramento. While a high school may be “the hub of the community” and “it’s hard to divorce that from the city,” concern was expressed to the Grand Jury regarding the mayor’s apparently overlapping interests. Further, the Aspire presentation was conducted in collaboration with U. C. Davis and Sacramento City College, the latter being the employer of WUSD Board Member Mary Leland.”


5. Witnesses expressed concern that the Mayor of the City of West Sacramento may be exercising undue influence in advancing the development of charter schools in the area while employed by Ed Voice and that a sitting Board member is employed by another charter school proponent, giving the impression of a hidden agenda.”


06-40 The Mayor and WUSD Board Members should discontinue utilizing city and district functions to promote the agendas of their other employers.”

Is this the person you want in the 8th Assembly District?

I don’t.

Mary Lasell

West Sacramento

League of Women Voters Hold Candidates Forum Last Night

Last night, the League of Women Voters held their candidates forum at the Davis Community Chambers. It was an interesting format in that they allowed for an opening statement of three minutes, three prepared questions, and then after a break, five one minute questions from the audience.

This time instead of recording the entire forum and then transcribing portions of it, I took notes throughout. I have few quotes, a lot of observations and paraphrasing.

The opening statements by the candidates are pretty much the same statement each time. Don Saylor went first, he laid out his professional background, his arrival at Davis and then a litany of accomplishments. One thing that really struck me this time, that I had not quite picked up on before was a line in his statement: "we brought to the voters the first test of Measure J." This was listed in a long string of accomplishments by him. The first test of Measure J was Covell Village that was rejected by a 60-40 margin.

Sydney Vergis talks about her background and her passion for land use planning. Within that she cites herself as someone "who has the land use and community consensus building experience" and that she is "offering the community [her] professional background as a land use planner." She says it as though she had twenty years of experience in it rather than less than one.

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald talks about her values. The fact that she was raised in Chico, the changes that have occurred in Chico since she left, and her commitment to preserve the character and small-town feel of Davis.

Stephen Souza cites his back ground and offers for the voters his platform of green, safe, and smart. One the accomplishments he has cited is an annual balanced city budget. He says that they have had four years of a balanced budget with a fifteen percent plus reserve. As we shall see, this is disputed by three of the candidates.

Sue Greenwald talks about her love for city planning. She is driven by that love rather than aspirations for higher political office. She cites her background in a variety of other cities and states that she is happier in those cities that have a sense of community, accord, and a center. She sees this as a great town that she wants to maintain. Her goal is to bring jobs closer to housing and housing closer to jobs. She would like to see a major infill condo development at the PG&E property. Finally she wants to break from the sense of being a sprawling bedroom suburb from the 1950s that recent peripheral developments have created such a feel.

Rob Roy is also worried that Davis not become more of an anywhere USA. He stood against Measure X as a student. Was a student coordinator on No on K. Helped on Measure L--Choice Voting, and want to continue and renew Measure J as a means to protect open space and agricultural land. He believes that Davis has for too long rested on its laurels as a great progressive community. He stands for renters rights and bike safety and wants to increase bike riders from 14% to 25% where it was in the 1990s. Finally he wants to keep Davis unique with businesses and what we do.

The first question asked the candidates to describe their experience working with large budgets and multiple departments and also how might their budgetary experience help with meeting rapidly rising prices for gasoline and goods needed to run our city?

Sydney Vergis went first she said this was something she feels passionate about as a professional financier. Wants to bring the kind of perspective and experience that we need to meet financial challenges. There is a tenuous nature of sales tax which is heavily reliant on automobile sales and gas sales tax. She wants to Work to diversify tax base, but this is only one piece of the puzzle. She claimed, “Currently our budget is balanced.” Range of long term needs that we need to start thinking about specifically capital improvement and transportation. We to think about about longterm.

Cecilia cited her experience as a representative for state workers in 53 different departments. She has a growing concern about the wage and benefit scale among high level employees and management in city government. The city has agreed to sign on to very generous contracts with a number of these top level employees and the resulting contracts along with generous pension plans are threatening to break the system.

The city of Davis provides its residents with a high level of city services. Given the current structure of these salaries, the city faces the prospect of tax increases to its residents. Already in 2006, the voters of Davis approved a parks tax. In the coming months and years, they may be asked to shoulder more of the tax load with the possibility of an additional public safety tax, a sales tax, and other taxes—this on top of a recently approved parcel tax for the schools and one for the libraries. This fall, the school district which is in fiscal crisis may ask the residents for additional help through another parcel tax. These possible additional taxes may occur on top of a rate hike for water as the result of a new waste water treatment plant and water supply plan.

As councilmember, she is not opposed to taxes, but it is clear that we cannot continue to rely on the generosity of our resident to bail us out of past fiscal mistakes.

Stephen Souza cites his experience working wit the city budget. He claimed the general fund portion of the of the budget was balanced and that they have put aside money into a reserve. "We have a strong fiscal budget, but we do have unmet needs that we started planning for two years ago with quarterly meetings." He described those needs and talked about looking into ways to deal with those unmet needs. Suggested that we need more revenues--all cities do. Not just by taxes but by economic growth as well. Looking toward a green technology plant to produce high paying jobs and revenues. However, also listed some other forms of revenue generation through fees and taxes--9/11 fee; property generation tax; .25 cent sales tax.

Sue Greenwald made a passionate argument that experience itself is not the most important question that we should ask. She then cited numerous examples of leaders and budget directors who had tremendous experience and yet led their cities, counties, or companies into ruin. She argued that rather than a balanced budget we have an all-fund deficit of nearly $1.5 million. We have unmet needs. We have basically used a shell game to claim that we have balanced the budget. She flatly stated that she disagreed with her colleague on the shape of the budget--"it's in bad condition."

Everything is called an unmet need rather than part of the budget. There is no capital replacement fund--she thinks that is a time bomb waiting to go off. She says she had the courage to stand up to political pressure and special interests. Voted against lowering retirement age of desk workers to 55. She saved money when opposed demands for pay increase to fire fighters. The plan provided for no new fireman and yet would have cost $400K.

Rob Roy is also concerned about the benefit packages for city employees--specifically the fire fighters. Does not believe that the lack of increase to the wage and benefits package will reduce either the quality of service or our competitiveness. He supports the living wage for the lower level employees. On the other hand, he believes the fire fighters should earn a comfortable wage but points out that they are public servants and that that wage should not harm the city's ability to meet the needs of its citizens. For many state and city employees, their retirement benefits are 2% at 55 or 60, but for fire fighters it is 3 percent at 50. This is one of the reasons that Vallejo recently declared bankruptcy. Talks about the term unmet need as another word for deficit. He said that if he doesn't get enough money to live by his means, and decides not to pay rent this month, he has an unmet need, which means he gets kicked to the curb.

Saylor cites his budgetary experience in the workforce and as a school board member. He also claims we have a balanced budget--a balanced budget and a 15% reserve. Yes there are things that we are not spending money on. When he came into office, we had a $2.2 million deficit, we don’t have that today. We have taken steps to take that away—budget reforms, quarterly budget reviews, personnel cuts. He believes the budget can be balanced in the future with money from economic development. He hopes to have some new state revenues—barring state budget cut. We will face the expiration of parks and sales tax will need to be removed. He argued per capita sales tax revenue is in bottom third statewide.

The next question asked about cannery Park and the prospect for a housing development.

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald expressed her concern that development at Lewis Properties might facilitate development at Covell Village. Overall there are several aspects of residential development at Cannery Park that are appealing. First, it is already paved over, so we would not be developing on prime agricultural land. Second, it is located within the current city limits, which means there would be no Measure J vote necessary. Third, it is in a location that is relatively near the core of downtown.

That being said, any new development, in order for me to support must have several key components. First, it must pay for itself. Second, it must be on the cutting edge of green building urban design. Third, it must be extraordinary. To use the words of one of my fellow candidates—there needs to be an extensive “wow” factor along with it. "We need housing that meets the needs of the middle-class and workforce citizens." We do not need a continuation of past sprawl developments that cater to the wealthy by building McMansions that could be found in any city.

Stephen Souza said Cannery Park’s proposal is going through the process of determining whether it is a site for high tech use. The plan that he has seen has a third of it which is a business park development that will enable high tech development. He spoke about the loss of high tech jobs. In order to have revenue from a high tech project which will have housing next to it, we need to make it environmentally friendly.

Sue Greenwald said while there are nice features of the housing proposal see wants to keep it zone as high tech. She was responsible for that land use designation to begin with. Cited the loss Genotech who is building a research facility in Dixon, halfway between Davis and Dixon. Would have liked to have Hunt-Wesson as a possible location for high tech. She has concerns about the cost of the land which she said no one will lower the value of the land as long as they believe they can get housing which would be more lucrative. Wants to turn Davis into a high tech center.

Rob Roy was against Measure X but he understands the need for development of housing communities that live and work in Davis. With Cannery Park they can put housing in. We need to put pressure on Lewis to avoid $641,000 housing and call it affordable. Wants to put housing in back of a high tech facility. He believes we should have enough space for both. He believes that we should have community driven, not developer driven housing.

Don Saylor sets about in general his vision for when we have housing some of which includes it must address true community needs, the benefits outweigh the costs, no costs to existing residents, mitigate traffic costs, it must be green and good affordability. The housing element committee determined Lewis met some desirable elements including a close proximity to downtown. They ranked this site 21 out of 37 which put it in the middle, but it was the second highest preferred site that was 25 acres of more. Saylor also cited problems: traffic is a problem; land locked with railroad tracks on one side and empty field on the other, and it has limited bike access. Saylor never committed either way on this issue, he simply stated his general principles.

Like Don Saylor, Sydney Vergis never stated her actual view on the issue. She laid out a bunch of general principles and wants to study it to see if it viable. "Good opportunity here to meet a range of housing needs and business needs."

The final question was one of civility. The moderator introduced it by citing numerous examples in this community of non-civil discourse.

For Stephen Souza he said when 11 pm strikes at the council meeting there tends to be a shortness with all of the council and there becomes a disconnect between the civility that all carry in their everyday lives and the activity on the dais. There is a tendency to think that each and every one of us has the truth on growth. This leads us to denigrate the opinions of others. We need to at times agree to disagree. All of us love this town. We cannot ask of others what we cannot ask of ourselves—how can we ask people to get along when we cannot get along on this one issue basic to humanity on all issues. How we get there—that’s the age old question—first and foremost he says 'I respect what you may believe and we may have differences.'

For Sue Greenwald she believes we have actually come a long way toward civility. That there have been rougher times and democracy has survived. We need to avoid lecturing since that has the implication that my behavior is good and yours is bad. The public can make up their own decisions about who is right and wrong. Each of us should concentrate on our own behavior. She is proud of fact no complaints about shoving and hissing when citizens come to the microphone. It is important that we find that balance between carrying out a vigorous debate and not carryover it over to personal reactions. She also believes that it is important to question staff very hard--that's the tough part of job but they get paid very well. We need back and forth debate when there is disagreement. The important thing at end of day is to separate personal from political.

Rob Roy joked that the Enterprise and Bob Dunning might be supportive of a less civil council since it would sell more papers. He says that there are passionate folks in Davis and he tries to get along with everyone. They all have their theories on how we get along in our community but at the end of the day we need to get along even when we disagree. He then cited common ground with each of the other candidates.

Don Saylor argued that this was an extremely important topic for our community. He wrote an op-ed piece a year ago on it and he had tremendous response to it. Never had that kind of response and agreement. He said he was humbled that in the Davis Enterprise endorsement that it cited his attention to civility. Then cited two books to read. He feels that this is a different world than 100 years ago, and that we are very isolated in our every day life. We need to improve the tone and interactions in council chambers. People should not be afraid to speak one's mind.

Sydney Vergis believes that civility in community needs to start in the council and really with the council race. She has run a clean campaign with no ad hominen attacks. Cited her professional experience as extensive experience working with diverse interests.

Cecilia believes one should always treat everyone with polite deference even in the face of disagreement. She intends to uphold the best standards of conduct, as epitomized by the behavior of Councilmember Lamar Heystek, a strong supporter of mine.

The candidates then took a brief break. They answered five brief questions. I will briefly outline the candidates positions and when possible refer people to other sources of information.

The first question was on improving the downtown parking situation. Sue Greenwald argued for the mixed-use redevelopment parking lot on E and F between 3rd and 4th. Rob Roy agreed with that and also liked the idea of timed parking lot in the E Street Plaza. For Don Saylor, this was a long process that may bear fruit down the line but he favored a parking structure across from the railroad station with access from Olive Drive. Sydney Vergis did not want to make parking more accessible because she wanted to avoid the incentive to do more parking and instead wants alternative forms of transportation. Cecilia cited her proposal for a multilevel parking structure by Design House which could go over the tracks. It would take traffic from going under the Richards underpass and put pedestrians within a few blocks of all of downtown. Stephen Souza looking toward UDASH, a shuttle between the university and downtown during the lunch hour as a means to reduce traffic in the downtown.

There is a better discussion on water in the forum that was posted yesterday. The one minute format did not do justice to this issue.

They were then asked about choice voting. Saylor believes most people in town have difficult time understanding what choice voting is. We have a lot more work to do to define and how it will work. The education of voter is a critical factor. He is not sure that problem will be fixed by choice voting.

Sydney Vergis was not in favor of choice voting because it would lead to us becoming a charter city. She was concerned with this since it might remove prevailing wage and competitive bidding requirement.

Cecilia said that once she understood choice voting, she supported it. Saw it as the will of the people. She would ensure to minimize the impact on binding arbitration and prevailing wages.

Souza has been a strong supporter of choice voting for years. Cited numerous examples of its successful use. Sees it as the next step in the democratic process.

Sue Greenwald favors district elections with instant runoffs--a form of choice voting. She was skeptical of choice voting, she joked, until she had two Greenwalds on the ballot, now she felt this would force people to look through the ballot more than once.

Rob Roy favors choice voting and believes we can educate people about how we operate rank preference of voting.

There is a fuller discussion of bicycling in the previous forum.

The last question was about housing. I tie in her a statement that kind of struck me during the closing statements, Sydney Vergis suggested that if people want zero growth, she is not their candidate. What struck me about this statement, is that while some of the candidates opposed adding housing on the periphery of Davis--namely the two Greenwalds and Rob Roy--none of them talk about no new housing.

Sue Greenwald talked about utilizing existing cites and likes the PG&E site and talked about on-campus location at Toomey Field as a bookend counterpart. Cecilia talked about looking to meet our housing needs within our current boundaries but also toward expanding on-campus housing, working with the university to provide housing for students and faculty. For Saylor we cannot have affordability with only 44 units and he seems to disparage Sue Greenwald's plan as interesting but neither cheap nor easy.

Sydney Vergis during her comments talked about having community discussion on the detrimental impact that occurs from limited growth. She wants to ease the no growth demand. However, she does not favor sprawl.

There is a clear difference between the candidates on the issue of housing and growth, that I do not know is accurately or adequately treated through these discussions. Everyone it seems wants or at least talks about a compact urban city, smart growth, and new urbanism. No one is for sprawl. No one is for zero growth. Or so they say. Three candidates supported Covell Village, three opposed it. For me and many others, Covell Village is sprawl, aligned with what we saw at Wildhorse or Mace Ranch. There are competing visions for growth--one of which looks at more housing at a rate of 1% per year and a willingness to consider peripheral projects. The other offers a slower rate, looks toward our existing boundaries to fill our immediate housing needs. In the end the voters must decide which is for them.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Sierra Club and Davis Neighborhood Coalition Candidates Forum

Last week, the candidates for Davis City Council participated in a candidates forum sponsored by both the Sierra Club and the Davis Neighborhood Coalition. For a variety of reasons it has taken an unusually long amount of time to compile the answers from this forum. The group asked very detailed, very tough, and very penetrating questions that required lengthy and thoughtful response. [One note, since I am pulling out what I found interesting, do not assume that a short answer or quotation reflects lack of detail by the candidate on a particular issue. Due to the length of this entry, I have divided the debate into sections so that readers can more easily jump to issues that are of most interest to them].

Measure J

Measure J is a question that will likely be asked at each and every forum. There is a basic alignment on this issue where four of the candidates: Mayor Sue Greenwald, Councilmember Stephen Souza, Rob Roy and Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald all basically favor retaining Measure J as it is written.

Within that there are some differences.

Stephen Souza still would like to see some sort of sunset:
"The duration of Measure J should be consistent with the time horizon of the General plan update horizon."
Cecilia has consistently argued for Measure J's permanence:
"I am in favor of keeping Measure J in its current form and making it permanent."
Sue Greenwald discussed why it is not permanent:
"The reason that Measure J is not permanent is that at the time Measure J was written, our City Attorney felt that it would not stand up in court if it outlasted our General Plan. This is the reason that a sunset was written into the measure. I would be interested in obtaining other and more current opinions on this matter."
Both Don Saylor and Sydney Vergis want some sort of modifications to the policy.

For Ms. Vergis:
"I am also supportive of transparent government and feel that the document itself is cumbersome - My suggestion is that we take a look at Central Valley versions of Measure J, that convey the same information, mandates, policies, and objectives- but do it in a more efficient and succinct way. My position is that if we can non-substantively make any of our public documents more readily available for community dialogue, we should do so."
Don Saylor:
"By the time this ordinance sunsets it will have been more than ten years since its drafting. In considering the language of the successor measure, we should thoughtfully review our experience over the past decade and the potential for changing needs of our community. It is possible that the community may want to strengthen the language in some manner."

As the point was raised earlier, the writers of Measure J wrote it in such a way that it would be difficult to find loopholes, that's one of the reason that the document is lengthy (but I would argue not technically complicated). Any attempt to streamline the process would likely result in a weaker document that is more easily circumvented.
Neither Saylor nor Vergis seem to favor making Measure J permanent.

"I think there is wisdom in the initial concept of a sunset of Measure J and in having it its successor tied to the timeline of the next General Plan."
"On making Measure J permanent- we have only had one exercise of Measure J. I am interested in seeing its application more than once before passing deciding that in its current form that it is ready to stand the test of time."
City-County Relations

City and County relations formed the backdrop of another question. Here the candidates discussed past problems with the county and the pass-through agreement. This is an issue where there is more agreement than disagreement reflecting the unity that we saw last year among the council on the issue of county imposed peripheral growth on Davis' city edge.

" there have been concerns that the existing Pass-Thru-Agreement, passing on a portion Redevelopment funds generated by property taxes in South Davis and Downtown that would otherwise be used for various improvement projects, to the County as a way to provide a financial disincentive for the County to develop on the City's periphery) do not provide enough incentive to protect the City sphere from County controlled commercial/residential growth- these concerns were heightened when the County considered looking at land use "Study Areas" within the City sphere of influence.
As the County struggles with its own finances and takes on new, unexpected State-mandated costs (like parole costs)- it is important the City leadership work closely with the County to reach solutions that benefit all."
"During the County’s General Plan Update the relationship between the city and the county was strained to say the least. What I liked about this process was that the city’s concerns were heard. What I would not like to repeat is the lack of good communication through both the city/county 2 x 2 and staff to staff about both bodies’ concerns. We could have worked jointly to create constructive solutions for the county’s need to finish its GP update and the city’s need to determine the destiny of what happens to land next to the city’s borders. There is always a need to have engagement through dialogue before action is taken. We have 2 existing means of exchanging information but those meetings have not been taking place on a regular basis."
"A backdrop for City/County relations over the past four years has been the County’s work to update the Yolo County General Plan and the ongoing struggles the County has faced with mandated services and diminishing revenues. In the course of this update, several sites were considered throughout the County for residential, commercial or industrial development. Four of those sites were located within the Davis Planning Area and were identified as “joint study areas”. This situation presents the clearest example of competing underlying interests over the past four years; the County’s interests in revenue generation and reconsideration of some land use planning policies came into conflict with the City’s interest in controlling our own future within the planning area.

After considerable public input and deliberations, these four sites were removed from active consideration. However, it is clear that similar issues of this sort will continue to emerge. It is essential that we strengthen the ongoing communication between the City and County on these and other critical matters."
Sue Greenwald:
"It was distressing to see the county talk changing its general plan to include growth on the borders of Davis. This was a violation of the terms of the City-County pass-through agreement, which is a legally binding document. If the county were approve that general plan change, we could have kept about $50 million dollars of redevelopment agency tax increment and, as I said at the supervisors’ public hearing I politely pointed out that we could sure use $50 million, but it would put us in a very adversarial relationship."
Rob Roy:
"I would rather not see the great periphery scare of 2007 repeated. The county needs to uphold the statutes of the “pass-through agreement.” Essentially we pay the ransom of a couple million dollars in tax revenue so the county needs to let the city of Davis do the planning for urban development and not pressure us with invasion. I do not want to see something like the Mace Ranch debacle of the 1990’s repeated, except this time on Davis’ Northwest quadrant.

The city must work with the county to be sure that our sphere of influence is respected. I am of the camp that believes Davis only needs to go as fast as the demand we have from within. We should not build just because we can. Slow and steady wins the race and the race is to be the best city we can be."
"I believe that the relationship between City of Davis and Yolo County was unnecessarily strained. Davis and Yolo County have signed the pass-through agreement which transfers over $2 million per year from the city’s redevelopment agency to the county in exchange for the county to leave all land use decisions—particularly development decisions—in the hands of the city. I strongly support the pass-through agreement and the principles behind it. The county did not communicate with the city about their intentions or what was meant by the term “study area.”

An issue that had a great deal more disagreement was the issue of water--water supply and waste water treatment. The Souza, Saylor, and Vergis position is that we need to embark on a waste water treatment facility and the water supply project simultaneously.

"The major challenge is meeting the strict regulations set forth in the current 5 year permit without excessive customer rate increases or consumption of natural resources. The water standards have been established by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board. These standards are established in order to protect birds and aquatic habitat. If we fail to meet these standards with the needed wastewater plant and water source upgrades, we could face fines or regulatory action against our city.

We currently do not meet the standards when it comes to bacteria and discharge into the Willows Slough and the Yolo Bypass. In order to meet these bacteria, salinity and selenium standards, the city needs to upgrade to a tertiary treatment method. This cost is a challenge but the Regional Board does not take the cost into consideration. The main source of our water is intermediate aquifer wells. These wells are old and need to be replaced with deep aquifer wells. At the same time we are proceeding with acquiring surface water rights."
"With regard to water- our trade-offs will be the decision between significant cost versus the risks relating to groundwater capacity, future costs of construction, time (it has taken the City over 15 years to get to this point- how long will it take to get back here again?), and probable increases in permitting costs and complexity."
"Provision of clean water and compliance with waste water discharge requirements are core service issues that have reached a critical point in history on our watch. There are several variables at play in this set of issues. I believe that we must ensure that the water supply for our city is reliable and meets acceptable quality standards. We must ensure that the water we discharge meets minimum standards set by state and federal agencies and does not harm wildlife habitat or endanger downstream human users. These state and federal standards have become more and more stringent based on scientifically valid assessments of the contaminants. We are on a timetable to meet the current standards and would face severe financial penalties (fines calculated on a per day basis for each type of violation) if we fail to advance toward a compliant process.

Water conservation programs are a central component of these efforts and are part of the plans under consideration. Finally, we must work to contain costs for rate payers and be sure that they have complete information about these projects. Davis is not alone in this. Cities throughout the valley are facing similar needs and costs. In fact, the Davis ratepayers currently enjoy some of the lowest rates in the region and will not be out of the range even after these improvements are implemented."
On the other hand, Sue Greenwald, Rob Roy and Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald are also concerned about the costs to the public and the need to embark on both projects simultaneously.

Rob Roy:
"Yes these are interrelated. We need to work on educating Davisites about how to have drought tolerant landscaping. Lawn maintenance uses an excessive amount of water. I think it is going to be expensive to buy all those water rights. We need to treat this problem with preventative steps and not with an expensive cure. There is nothing wrong with bringing back the old “if its yellow let it mellow” policy. I look at a place like Australia that is facing severe water shortages and they are facing a draught after they guzzled up their pristine water sources on bad irrigation and swimming pools. We need to educate our citizen, encourage conservation, and reward those that do so by using a tiered pricing scale for water use.

While some may say that we are put in the tough position that we must act before the costs rise eve more as we at a projected $300 million. We also have to figure out our options. We have to understand that technology may improve so if we go ahead with this project haphazardly will be stuck with a $300 plant that is already an antiquated system.

Our aquifers have never failed so this push for more water supply is the wrong direction. We need to curtail demand. As a councilmember I will not be voting yes on anything that drastically increases water demand."
Sue Greenwald:
"About 20 years ago, the city built a wastewater treatment facility that no longer meets regulatory requirements. Hence, we must build a new wastewater treatment facility – we have no choice. We are, at the same time, planning to proceed with a project to import surface water. If the city of Davis goes forward with both the water and the wastewater projects, the costs are currently estimated to be over $360 million, and climbing. This cost is staggering. It will double, or perhaps triple, our current sewer and water bills. Compare a $1,300 to $2,000 dollar annual increase in our water/sewer bill to a school parcel tax of $200 a year, or a public safety tax of $150 dollars a year, and you can see what I am talking about.

Paying water/sewer fees this high will severely hurt the ability of our schools to pass the taxes that they need, and the city the pass taxes needed to maintain a high level of city services.

First, I fully understand with and sympathize with our public works department’s commitment to undertaking these two staggeringly expensive projects. Their job is the provide us with the best possible sewer and water service. But our job as City Council, and a time of fiscal crisis, is to make hard decisions and prioritize.

I have talked with leading University experts in surface water, groundwater, water conservation reuse and water economics, and a top government official in water rights and wastewater permitting. I posed the question: would it be possible to phase in the two projects, i.e., postponing the surface water project until the wastewater project is paid off. The reaction that I got was that this option would certainly be worth exploring, if the ratepayer is really looking at project costs of over $360 million."
Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald:
The City of Davis is facing the unenviable task of having to deal with a water supply issue and a water treatment issue. These two projects will be very costly to ratepayers down the road; therefore, it is incumbent upon the city to study all available options. I have been concerned at the current trajectory of talks and the implication that the city will undergo a water treatment capital improvement at the same time that it develops a new water supply system that diverts water from the Sacramento River to the city of Davis."
Cecilia wants to see:
"The feasibility of deep well aquifers as an interim solution to prevent the simultaneous expenditures to hit ratepayers."
She continues:
"There are serious concerns about the water supply issue. The current quality of water is problematic not so much on the supply end, but on the discharge end. However, there are also problems with the Sacramento River solution. It may not be available at all times, and certainly not in dry months, and perhaps not at all during dry years.

That means that this may be an illusory solution. The amount of water we would have under ideal conditions would be enough to water a city twice the size of Davis, which makes one wonder if the goal here is to accommodate future growth beyond current needs."
Fiscal Issues Involving the City of Davis

There are also considerable differences on the view of the city's fiscal situation.

Sue Greenwald:
"What has happened to the school district could happen to the City. We need more straight talk about the city’s fiscal situation. Davis currently faces a $1.5 million budget deficit, in addition to a $6 million shortfall in identified unmet needs, including over $2 million in annual roadway, bike lane and sidewalk maintenance.

Revenue generating options are important, but are limited -- even cities dominated by freeway malls are facing fiscal crises. The net sales tax revenue between Davis and Vacaville is under $100 per household per year– a drop in the bucket compared to the $1,500 per year or greater increase in our sewer and water bills year if we go forth with the wastewater and surface water projects. And remember, we couldn’t be Vacaville even if we wanted to –the market isn’t there.

We have to start prioritizing our expenditures, and making responsible decisions. And sometimes, we have to learn to say no, even if it costs us a few votes in the next election."
Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald:
"I am very concerned about the financial situation of the city of Davis. Contrary to claims that we have balanced the budget, we are running large deficits in terms of the overall budget and also in terms of unmet needs. Sales taxes will not solve all of these problems. Most concerning is the growth in pensions and other funds that are producing a structural deficit.

The city is looking toward a series of new taxes which will coincide with rate hikes in water and new parcel taxes for the schools and library.

The city has rising needs for law enforcement and fire protection, and public safety is a top priority to keep our city safe. The city has made a continuing commitment to keep our parks, and continuing commitment to provide good city services. Something has to give at this point.

We cannot continue on our same trajectory in terms of new spending without finding additional sources for revenue. As a councilmember, I will be very reluctant to continue to ask the tax payers of Davis to pay more in terms of taxation. "
Rob Roy:
"The obvious challenges are the retirement packages of city employees. We are going to have to negotiate a new deal that we can afford so we don’t turn into Vallejo.

Sales tax leakage is not a fatal problem for our city While I want diversification of retail to increase sales tax revenue I still have the Target project on my mind. It is a sad state of affairs for our unique city that a bigbox store was used as the catalyst to declare victory on retail diversification."
Don Saylor argued that if re-elected:
"I will continue to be a voice of fiscal responsibility on the Council, insisting on another tenet of sustainability: living within our means."
"The primary role of the City Council is to assure that our basic city services are operating effectively. We have a strong appetite for high quality city services and must pay for those services. Over the past four years we have devoted significant energy to making sure our city works and I am heartened by the strong satisfaction levels shown in our recent survey of Davis residents.

Our city’s continued fiscal stability hinges on increased economic vitality consistent with our community identity as the home of a world class research university and a great place to live. As a community, we have made conscious decisions to forego many of the common approaches cities in California have taken to generate revenues. The ongoing challenge we have is to generate sufficient economic activity to sustain our service levels."
Meanwhile Souza argued that:
"We have adopted budgets that begin to address these unfunded unmet needs. Some of the options are: restructuring of departments, economic redevelopment, high tech business recruitment, options for park tax renewal/replacement with Real Estate Transfer Tax, 911 fee, renewal of sales tax as is or with a ¼ cent increase for streets, roads and bike paths, Municipal Service Tax, Public Safety Tax, program cost recovery, and excess fund set aside."
Finally Sydney Vergis:
"Currently, our budget is balanced; which means that under existing assumptions, the City will be able to provide the services this year that it provided last year with expenditures not exceeding revenues. However, the City has a range of unmet needs including: transportation and bike infrastructure upgrades, public safety service staffing and infrastructure needs, required upgrade to our wastewater treatment plant, and probable need for new water infrastructure as conjunctive use is explored."
For her the solution lies here:
"The most 'obvious solutions' are in the form of our upcoming renewals of the Parks Tax and Half Cent Sales Tax; examining all of the City's internal operations and determining how to make use of existing resources more efficiently prior to asking the community for more money; and compliance with recent changes in reporting law- GASB 45 requires that governmental entities include a valuation of unfunded retiree health liabilities at the start of next year- the City has implemented GASB 45 early. Raising our internal awareness of our unfunded liabilities (our obligation to provide payments or benefits – but have no funds for all or part of those obligations) will help us to better plan for future expenditures."
Historic Preservation

The candidates were also asked to create an ordinance relating to historic preservation and creating incentives to avoid demolition by neglect.

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald:
"One of the biggest problems we saw during the debate on the Anderson Bank Building, which was ultimately saved from renovation that would have destroyed its historic integrity was the use of deterioration of the building as a reason to justify renovations. This is akin to awarding property owners for allowing their property to degrade. We do not have much in the way of historic buildings left in Davis."
Sue Greenwald:
"With the exception of the tank house, which was not built to the same standards as our other structures, I don’t see evidence of demolition by neglect. The cottages that are in bad shape could all be rehabilitated. I would prefer to see an ordinance forbidding the demolition of specific older structures."
Rob Roy:
"All property owners must maintain their homes. Preserving the charm and architectural culture of Davis is very important to me. I do not want the city to become a gentrified Anywhere USA.

The loss of the Terminal Hotel was a severe blow to the preservation of cultural history in Davis. The building itself containing the mural of the original Davis arches as an attempt to mitigate the loss of the actual arches. The Chen building, while not horribly unappealing with his mix use and second story set backs."
Don Saylor:
"I am reluctant to create an ordinance from whole cloth.

Our community has a number of historically significant structures. We have sound policies in place at the local, state and federal levels for review of the use and adaptive reuse of those structures and we have a very strong process for review of any proposed demolition or relocation of such structures. We also have a very strong code enforcement ordinance in place.

While some general discussion of the phrase “demolition by neglect” has occurred within our community, the Historical Resources Management Commission has not to my knowledge actually defined this or considered alternative approaches. I would look to that Commission and the Planning Commission for advice on whether an additional ordinance would be helpful in this area."
Stephen Souza:
"Balancing historical preservation, property rights and environmentally progressive planning decisions is a complicated act.

Consensus can be reached if our entire community is aware of the trade-offs involved in these difficult decisions.

To issue a blanket code for the preservation of structures that may not be historically relevant nor adhere to the spirit of environmental progressivism would be a mistake. However, there is a place for minimum maintenance in the context of voluntary neighborhood associations, deed restrictions, Historical Resource Commission designated structures and rental units."
Sydney Vergis:
"One of the difficulties with implementing a Historic Minimum Maintenance Code for the City of Davis is that enforcement would be based on complaints as opposed to pro-active City efforts to nurture budding historic communities. One of my overarching interests is in how a local jurisdiction, how the City of Davis, can provide incentives for individuals to move in positive directions- whether it be encouraging residents and businesses in a greener, more energy efficient direction, or in other policies such as historic preservation.

I propose an alternative that strengthens the City's existing policies on historic properties- The Mills Act is legislation that allows cities the power to enter into agreements with property owners of historic buildings. The Mills Act encourages preservation, maintenance, and restoration of designated historical properties through property tax savings. An Agreement has a minimum term of ten years and specifies what preservation, maintenance, and respiration efforts will be made by the property owner; and the County Assessor determines what the property tax relief will be."
parking, street safety and transportation

The next question asked about parking, street safety and transportation. Each candidate had their own focus.

The most interesting debate here was over the issue of street safety on fifth street.

This led to a discussion about re-striping of fifth street.

Sue Greenwald's discussion of the issue triggered an interesting exchange between herself and Don Saylor.
"I would like to see synchronized traffic lights at all intersections on 5th street, with pedestrian crosswalks and pedestrian and perhaps bicycle traffic lights. I favored restriping 5th Street for a trial run. I carefully read the consultant’s report, and the consultants determined that the restriping would not slow down East-West traffic."
She went on to say that she had voted for restriping but the measure failed.

Don Saylor then said that he too had voted for restriping but Sue did not remember him doing so. Don Saylor was adament.

That night, I received multiple emails to check on this assertion since it did not gibe with people's recollections from that meeting. Someone sent me the minutes from the meeting and according to the minutes from the meeting in July of 2005, Sue Greenwald proposed restriping fifth street and received no second to her motion.

Decline in bicycling

The candidates were asked as well to address the issue of the decline in bicycling:

Don Saylor:
"I believe that this reduction in the percentage of work commute trips by bicycle is correlated with an increase in the number of work commute trips overall and an increase in the percentage of commute trips involving people driving from Davis to destinations in other cities and people driving from other cities to work in Davis."
Stephen Souza:
"Since the early 1990’s, Davis has had more growth farther away from the core than any other time in our history. At the same time, the percentage of those who both live and work in town has decreased. Many argue that our bike culture, that we hold so dear, has not been successfully passed on to new residents. While that may be a contributing cause, we must also consider the overwhelming success of Unitrans.

According to Geoff Straw, General Manager of ASUCD Unitrans, yearly per capita (of enrolled UCD students) ridership has increased from 58.52 in ‘90/’91 to 141.55 in ‘06/’07. Although students may be riding their bikes less, that does not translate directly into more car trips. We now have a successful transit system in place that has replaced some bike ridership.

However, there is still work to be done to get our residents out of their cars and onto bicycles. We must do a better job of convincing Davisites that it is possible and safe to take care of household and family errands and tasks on a bicycle. Part of this cultural shift begins with the city. The bikeway system in our community is continually being improved (a new bike and pedestrian tunnel under Covell Blvd to Mace Ranch has its Grand Opening on Friday!) There is still much work to be done in the city including double striping a majority of bike lanes around town."
Sydney Vergis:
"Bringing the Bike Back is one of my personal passions... To re-establish biking in Davis, we could focus on these three areas: Educating, Encouraging, and Enabling bike usage."
Her plan looks toward safety, access, and celebration.

Rob Roy:
"The obvious answer to this question is that the Mace Ranch and Wildhorse subdivions are more likely to cater toward “bedroom community” individuals that work outside of Davis. It is a shear mathematics’ problem: if the population expands with a disproportionate amount of people that live in but do not work in Davis then the cited statistic in this question is going to keep decreasing. If this trend keeps going, at one point will we have to change the city’s logo?

Our bicycle culture is following the same trend as our environmentally innovative developments and rejection of nation change, we blazed the trail, rested on our laurels, and now other communities have usurped us. I do enjoy the new Covell pedestrian/bicycle underpass and I already see many Harper Junior Highers using it on days that I work on that campus. I still believe that bikes are treated as an afterthought as to how our roads are designed."
Sue Greenwald:
"As we have grown in a suburban fashion, it is not surprising that we have more auto trips. The further people must travel, the more likely they are to use autos. Manys residents are commuting to work. I believe that we could do a lot more to make calm our traffic and to make street safer for bicycling. I would like to see a safe routes to schools program, and more driver and bicyclist education. We need more bicycle parking and continued investment in our bicycle infrastructure. At the Yolo County Transportation Board, I have been advocating for the Woodland/Davis bike lane for better bicycle connections between Davis and Sacramento. I need to finish the green waste line striping and to enforce it.

In our land use decisions, we should build more houses near our jobs and more jobs near our houses. Currently, I believe we have two good options for achieving this goal. One is to keep the Hunt-Wesson site zoned for high-tech, residential- compatible zoning, as it is in easy biking distance of so much of our housing... The best current site is the PG&E site at 5th and L Street. This large 27 acre parcel could bring a lot of much needed high-density urban housing to downtown in biking distance to campus, without harming the character of the historic sections of downtown."
"As councilmember the first thing I would do to promote bicycling in the City of Davis would be to make a concerted effort to maintain what we have—bike lanes, bike paths, and greenbelts. These are the pride of this community and a priority to maintain.

As previously mentioned, creating easy access to key locations in town and linking them up will encourage more people to bike rather than drive.

I have a concern about our green waste dumping into bicycle lanes. This creates havoc for cyclists who have to both dodge potential hazards from tree clippings and potential hazards from motor vehicles. Unfortunately the green containerization pilot program drew widespread complaints from citizens in affected areas. Most communities have already gone to a containerization program. I will work with the residents of these affected areas to find a good compromise. The double lined bike lane is a good start, but there is more that we can do and bicycle hazards are not the only reason for containerizing our waste. However, as councilmember, I will never impose things on residents and neighborhoods. People have put their hard earned savings into their homes and we need to respect that...

As councilmember I would work to have additional bike loops added to encourage cycling by having various loops such as the Green Loop (5 miles) and the Red Loop (3 miles) and the Blue Loop (1 mile) added to the existing, approximate 12 mile Davis Bike Loop."
neighborhood shopping

Finally the candidates were asked about neighborhood shopping.

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald:
"As a neighbor of the West Lake shopping center, I have experienced first hand the loss of a neighborhood grocery store. For many, Rays and Food Fair were poorly run and small grocery stores with high prices. The owner of this facility allowed the shopping center to degrade and has since tried to use this as an excuse to change the square footage and put in a convenience store rather than a grocery store. Once again, we cannot reward people who allow their properties to degrade and then complain that businesses cannot succeed.

The loss of this store has meant more trips two miles away to Safeway. More car trips. More gas used. More carbon released. From a human perspective it takes a minimum of half an hour to do a simple trip to the store that could have been done in ten minutes before with a brief walk—even when there is only a handful of items needing to be purchased.

As councilmember I would strongly support not only maintaining our neighborhood stores, but encouraging more neighborhood stores as a means by which people can do at least some of their shopping for key items. I believe that grocery stores can succeed in West Davis if they are well-run and fill a niche. I believe the same can occur in other parts of town, such as East Davis and Central Davis."
Sue Greenwald:
"The City has limited options. We can refuse to rezone the land, and hope that the landlord lowers the rent and recruits actively and succeeds in finding a grocer, and we can help, to the extent possible, recruit. I believe that the council should not rezone the current grocery store site unless the West Davis neighborhood decides that this is the right thing to do.

I am interested in listening to ideas that the West Davis neighborhood might have concerning how to bring shopping to the area.

I have tried to be pro-active, but obviously have not had much success...

The profit margin is small for grocery stores, and they have to do a lot of volume to survive. When the city approved so many larger supermarkets, it was clear that it was likely to hurt the peripheral markets. I am looking for good ideas that might lead to a solution."
Rob Roy:

"It is very important that every Davisite should have access to local grocery shopping. Grocery shopping is a task that can be done via bicycle easily if the distance is not too vast. No part of Davis should suffer at the expense of another and it is frustrating to see West Davis loose its grocery store and have their junior high sitting in limbo on the cutting block while everything is shiny and new on the on the side of town. When West Village there is going to be a big demand with a desire for easy access to grocery shopping so it is pertinent that the council help to bring the supply. Trying as best as we can to follow the community written general plan is my policy.

I’m still upset that State Market left its last store in University Mall as it left people living on campus practically far from grocery stores and leaving many to resort to Rite-Aid. Allowing neighborhoods to go without grocery stores is a bad sign for the community orientated and bike friendliness of Davis. While the folks near the Davis Manor shopping center are relatively close to the Nugget or the Co-Op the folks in West Davis are high and dry.

There are issues with current landlord at Westlake and the council should work closely with him to be sure that his property upholds the city’s zoning and contain grocery stores. The city’s governance should not let prime space sit idle. If a rising tide lifts all boats then the businesses sitting next to blighted empty space unfairly sink and this harms the neighborhood, and therefore the community as a whole."
Stephen Souza:
"Under direction from the City Council, City Staff and the Business & Economic Development Commission we should continue to work towards fulfilling the intent of the General Plan’s neighborhood grocery store policy.

More funds should be directed toward a robust market analysis that would help determine exactly what types of stores, and goods sold therein, would be profitable in each location. The determination of realistic lease terms for these spaces should also be considered. That analysis could then be used to lure and convince the right business to begin operations.

The City must also make it uncomfortable for owners to sit on an empty store site and neglect its upkeep. It has recently come to my attention that the owners of Westlake Shopping Plaza filled in their grocery store loading dock with dirt. They may have also violated the City’s Nuisance and Abatement code by neglecting the parking lot and lighting. I have asked staff to look into this matter. I have also expressed to staff in the clearest terms that if violations of our municipal code have occurred, the offenders should be fined the maximum amount until they are in compliance. This process should be standard operating procedure in all neighborhood grocery centers."
Sydney Vergis:
"These centers not only offer us a sense of community and diversity, but also can help us lead greener lifestyles. As energy prices rise due to peak oil, proximity to basic services such as grocery and retail stores will become more and more valuable as a way to reduce our vehicle trips, carbon footprints, and consumption of non-renewable energy sources. We need to ensure that our neighborhood centers and downtown core remain viable and vital.

We need to plan for the future- consumer interests are already shifting away from vehicular travel as a preferred mode of transport- but as a community, we need to ensure that we have the infrastructure to promote and support alternative transportation modes (walking/biking). Neighborhood shopping centers are a vital component to supporting a more environmentally conscientious future.

The City Council can play an important role in fulfilling the intent of the General Plan's neighborhood grocery store policy. The neighborhood shopping center in West Davis is struggling without a grocery store anchor. This is one of my main areas of interest."
Finally Don Saylor:
"Westlake is the site of three failed attempts to operate a small supermarket. Various factors contributed to these failures, including store management, poor location of the center with little street traffic, competition from larger stores in Davis, and customer loyalty to other stores in Davis. At any rate, it is arguable that the market does not support a small supermarket.

That does not mean that a grocery store would not be possible at this location. I agree with many that a store larger than a convenience store and smaller than the failed stores has not been given adequate consideration."
---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Strange Vote Leads to Drastically Reduced Sphere of Influence

It seems likely that when Lamar Heystek made his motion to exclude a large number of properties from the city's sphere of influence, that he never expected to prevail.

In light of discussion at the LAFCO meeting at the end of March, the City Council agreed to have new discussions on a proposal by the city to dramatically expand the city's sphere of influence (SOI).

My question at the time of the LAFCO meeting was whether a larger or a smaller sphere of influence provided more protection of agricultural land and gave the city more control over its future growth. Originally, the city felt that having a larger sphere of influence would maximize the city's ability to grow. However, points made at the LAFCO meeting undermined that philosophy, particularly two points. One that a larger SOI might contribute to the need for an expanded provision of services. Second, that an expanded SOI might contribute to greater pressure to grow from those developers who owned the lands now included in the SOI. The thinking was that this would facilitate a move down the line that would include these properties in a future General Plan for development considerations.

Finally, there is the fact that the lands considered for development by the county last year were in the SOI, and the SOI did not appear to grant the city any additional growth protect. A point reiterated later in the evening by City Manager Bill Emlen.
"In other areas, a sphere of influence has not stopped counties from approving development right next to a city."
In a good discussion that ensued, City Planner Katherine Hess suggested that growth pressure would probably occur regardless of the size of the SOI. The main tools that the city of Davis has as protection are the pass-through agreement and Measure J.

Even after this discussion, it was not entirely clear what the city would gain either way by changing their SOI.

City Councilmember Don Saylor said:
"I don't hear us having an overwhelming case one way or another to change it frankly, and I think the value of our other land use tools is far in excess of whatever happens on this decision. I'm fairly neutral on which way we end up coming down on individual cites in the list or not in the list because I think the real issues are going to be ongoing in discussions between the city and the county on the pass-through agreement and with the voters on Measure J. And the next general plan with the city and the county. I don't see this as a make or break decision."
Now this is what we were told by City Staff and by Stephen Souza. However, during public comment--and we are talking about public comment at midnight--representatives from developers of Oeste Ranch, requested their property be including in the SOI.

Councilmember Don Saylor moved that that the city request LAFCO to add Mace-Covell Gateway to the SOI, the staff recommendation.

"We ought not to apply too much emphasis or importance to this. As I understand from the discussion tonight this is not something that we can achieve many objectives doing."

Then Lamar Heystek spoke:
"I don't see this as merely a ministerial action of the council, because personally I will speak very frankly, I don't feel that I received enough information from city staff to be able to make a decision. I understand that LAFCO has made a recommendation that certain sites be excluded, but I have not received information for our staff as to why certain sites should be included."
He continued:
"I don't understand and I haven't heard from city staff, why we have to include other areas such as the northwest quadrant, such as covell village, such as the Nishi site, when we know we already have Measure J, when we know we already have the pass-through agreement, and we know that those are really the strongest protections from unwarranted or undesirable development on our borders."
LAFCO's report warns that adding such areas would lead to land speculation on those sites for the purpose of development.

As Councilmember Heystek pointed out, it appears in the next five years we neither intend to expand city services into these areas nor develop in these areas--so why include them in the SOI?

He then made a substitute motion to exclude Covell, the Northwest Quadrant, and the Nishi site from the recommended sphere of influence. It was seconded by Mayor Sue Greenwald.

As Mayor Sue Greenwald pointed out, we have reduced our growth from a 1% growth guideline to a 1% growth cap.
"These should be areas that we are realistically considering for growth in the next five years."
When Councilmember Heystek made this motion, it is unlikely that he believed it would pass. However when both Councilmembers Souza and Saylor abstained, the motion passed 2-1 with Ruth Asmundson the dissenting vote.

The reason this motion was made and considered important by Councilmember Heystek is that inclusion of areas within the SOI could lead to their inclusion in the 2010 General Plan. These are sites that were ranked relatively low by the Housing Element Steering Committee and thus the inclusion in the SOI could lead to the owners of the properties (such as the Northwest Quadrant) to push for inclusion in the General Plan. As mentioned during the LAFCO meeting, this may not directly lead to development but could potentially be the first step along a path that leads down the road to development of these sites.

Why both Councilmembers Souza and Saylor decided to abstain is an open question. What the vote means, is also unclear, however, council is now recommending that the Covell Property, the Northwest Quadrant and Nishi Propety all be excluded from the SOI.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

UC Davis College Democrats Endorse Cabaldon for 8th AD and Escamilla-Greenwald for Davis City Council


The Davis College Democrats (DCD) followed up last week's City Council Candidates' Forum and Candidate Questionnaires by providing a huge splash for one candidate. After intense and heated debate on the subject, the organization came to a near-unanimous decision to support the campaign of UC Davis alumnus Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald.

The support for Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald came from her commitment to preserving the vibrant downtown, maintaining open space, and her stance as a strong advocate for student and renter interests. Jack Zwald, Freshman Outreach coordinator, said, "I support Cecilia because she is the best candidate for students' rights."

"I'm glad that our club was able to come together and reach a consensus on endorsing one qualified candidate," said Don Gibson, Vice President of Membership for the organization.

Though the discussions pertaining to the forum, questionnaire, and endorsements have been particularly fiery and at times contentious, the organization is excited about investing their time and energy into electing their preferred candidate.

"It was a very difficult decision for most club members," said Brandon J. Craig, Vice President of Internal Affairs.

That wasn't the only endorsement DCD made, though. The organization also voted to support Christopher Cabaldon, Mayor of West Sacramento, in his bid to represent the 8th Assembly District. They plan to campaign on his behalf in order to secure the seat, which is being vacated by Assemblywoman Lois Wolk as she aims to become the State Senator for the 5th District. She, too, has been endorsed by the club.

Brandon Key, a Vice President of Finance for the club, as well as a student intern on the Cabaldon campaign, said, "As a member of DCD and a staffer on the Cabaldon campaign, both Christopher and I are very happy to have won the support of every young democratic organization in the 8th Assembly District, along with a few across the river as well. Christopher is incredibly well prepared for the position and will be a strong leader for affordable education in the Assembly."

Davis College Democrats President Max Mikalonis is looking forward to campaigning for these great candidates. "We are excited about taking an active role in our community, and by campaigning on behalf of these student friendly candidates we hope to further raise the profile of student and young voter issues. College and Young Democratic voters will be the margin of victory come November, but we are mobilizing our peers for June in order to create positive change in the City of Davis and around the State."

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Commentary: Clean Sweep of Support for Developer Candidates by the Enterprise

It would be appalling if it were not so predictable. On Sunday, the Davis Enterprise endorsed the pro-development slate for the Davis City Council. Yesterday, in perhaps an even more shocking move, the Davis Enterprise has endorsed John Ferrera over Jim Provenza for the 4th Supervisorial District.

They admit that Ferrara "is a relative newcomer to Davis." In fact, he's a newcomer to Davis politics. Indeed, they have selected Ferrera over a much more experienced public servant who recently finished a four year stint on the Davis School Board. But there is nary a word on that in the editorial--in fact, Jim Provenza is not mentioned at all in the editorial.

The Enterprise writes:
"Budget challenges will be paramount as California - and, by extension, its 58 counties - learns to live within its means. Ferrera's experience as chief of staff to state Sen. Denise Ducheny, chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, gives him keen insight into the challenges Yolo County faces as it tightens its belt to the tune of $12 million."
As school board member Jim Provenza has had to deal with school budgets for the last four years. I certainly do not see anything in their records that would give John Ferrera insight over Jim Provenza.
"He's pledged to help repair interagency relationships, believing Davis and the county can both be better neighbors, and he promises to lead all parties in working together toward well-understood, collective goals."
Because Jim Provenza has not? During Jim Provenza's tenure on the Davis City council the relationship between the city of Davis and the school district improved dramatically. Following the obvious problems with the city following the debacle of King High and the ill-fated Grande deal, Jim Provenza led the way to make changes to district policies.

He brought in a new Superintendent and a new Budget Director. He and his colleagues would work with the city on the planning of both the Grande Property and Nugget Fields to insure cooperation rather than the secretive nature in which King High was planned and demolished without city input. This led to an overlap of the structure onto city property, the surprise discovery of a storm drain, and the destruction of cherished community trees.

As school board member, Jim Provenza became alarmed at the conflict of interests surrounding the operations of CBO Tahir Ahad. In the first two years on the board, he was routinely out-voted 4-1 or 3-2 regarding such issues. However, in the final two years, he helped to draft the language of the conflict of interest code, so that such conflicts would never arise again.

Unfortunately, the Davis Enterprise does not do justice to Jim Provenza's record as a school board member.

But Davis Enterprise columnist Bob Dunning does.

Back in March of 2007 Dunning writes:
"RUN, JIM , RUN … while it's still early and many names are being tossed about as possible candidates, if Jim Provenza decides to run for county supervisor, as expected, the rest of those considering a shot at working in Woodland would be best advised to take a pass … no point in forming an exploratory committee, dipping your big toe in the water or launching a trial balloon … all exercises in futility …

Forget the politics, forget the potential issues, forget what your mama taught you about seizing the day, if Provenza runs, he's a lock … no one else is even close … like Helen Thomson, one of the most revered political figures in this town's history, Provenza has never been a candidate for City Council, which means his reputation remains untarnished … put simply, his solid-citizen, agenda-less work on the Davis school board makes him hard — if not impossible — to beat …"
A few days ago, Dunning reiterate that confidence:
"Provenza is the runaway favorite in a campaign that has attracted little or no media attention to this point … I rest my case … since Jim leads the field in name ID, he probably hopes this remains a low-profile race right to the finish … no matter your politics, Jim 's a hard guy not to like …"
Apparently Mr. Dunning ought to talk to his bosses a bit more.

John Ferrera is a good person, on statewide issues and national and international issues, there is probably very little if anything on which we disagree. However, as this race has gone on, it has become clear to me that he is in the other camp on local land use issues which remain the key hallmark of the County Supervisor race.

Recently, both candidates were asked about land use issues. Jim Provenza was publicly against Covell Village. John Ferrera has recently acknowledged he was for Covell Village, although according to my sources he has also stated his opposition to it.

Second, Jim Provenza strongly supports Measure J. John Ferrera took more of the Don Saylor position, the public likes it, but he was less succinct about his view.

Third, when the county threatened to develop on Davis' periphery, Jim Provenza came to the meeting in July and argued strongly against such development. He referred to the proposed developments along I-80 as the congestion corridor. John Ferrera as far as I can tell was not at that meeting and certainly did not speak at that meeting.

While both candidates promise to handle city-county relations better than they were handled in 2007, only Jim Provenza has flat out supported the pass-through agreement.

When I interview John Ferrera last fall here was his response to a question of would he support the current pass-through agreement:
"The pass-through agreement is twenty years old. It’s only received minor updates and discussions and I think that the changing relationship between the state and the counties and the state and the cities, with the growth of the university, with other things that have happened in our world that have changed over 20 years, that we really need to take a hard look and make sure that it’s doing what it need to do for the county and for the city."
Once again, the Davis Enterprise does the public little service here. They give an endorsement to an individual without much discussion if any of the issues involved in the race. There has been almost no coverage of the race itself. Bob Dunning is absolutely correct that this is an extremely low-profile race. There have been no candidate forums, little newspaper coverage, and almost no way for the public to learn about who these people are.

In fact, the public knows even less about the third candidate for this race, Cathy Kennedy.

However, the Davis Enterprise has at least been consistent on the local races in each case supporting the pro-development candidate, often over more experienced slow-growth candidates.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

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

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Commentary: Fire Fighters Spend $25,000 to $30,000 in City Council Campaign to support Saylor, Souza, and Vergis

Saturday afternoon I opened my door and leaning against my door was a manila envelope with my wife's name on it (Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald for those who do not know). It seemed a bit odd, so I opened it up. It was not sealed, but rather closed with a clasp. In it, was an 8 1/2 by 11, full color, glossy, on heavy cardstock flier done by the Davis Firefighters supporting their chosen three candidates for the Davis City Council.

The whole thing seemed a bit odd to me, but I really did not know whether it was a friend or foe who left it on our doorstep. That is until I spoke later with both Rob Roy and Sue Greenwald and they both had the same experience. At this point there was little doubt in my mind that the fire department had actually left the flier on my doorstep.

The Davis firefighters have already directly contributed nearly $12,000 to their three endorsed candidates. Davis Enterprise columnist Rich Rifkin deserves great credit in doing a lot of the legwork on this issue. While Vanguard regulars know that Mr. Rifkin is often in disagreement with the Vanguard on a good many issues, we also share a bit of common ground on the issue of the budget. It was his piece from April 16, 2008 that laid out exactly how much the firefighters were spending on this race.
"In a recent front-page story in The Enterprise, Claire St. John reported that "38 people identifying themselves as city of Davis firefighters" gave $100 each (the maximum allowed by law) to City Council candidate Sydney Vergis. Of the $8,450, that Vergis has raised for her campaign, 45 percent of that came from this one group.

What that story didn't mention is that the Davis firefighters have also contributed heavily to the re-election campaigns of incumbents Don Saylor and Stephen Souza. In Souza's case, 39 gave him the maximum. Saylor received $4,200 from members of Local 3494."
He goes on to add:
" In addition to the $11,900 firefighters have directly contributed to candidates, the political action committee of Local 3494 has raised $11,536 from its membership. Presumably, that money will be spent to help elect the candidates favorable to the union. "
It is pretty clear that Mr. Rifkin was rather prophetic on this point, because this mailer has to be a $10,000 to $15,000 mailer... AT LEAST. So basically the firefighters are giving $25,000 to $30,000 to their three endorsed candidates.

We can argue over influence peddling, but there is a very clear agenda here by the firefighters. They already know that councilmembers like Sue Greenwald and Lamar Heystek have opposed efforts to add things like a fourth fire station and that they have been a strong advocate of holding the line on salaries and pensions for management level employees.

Rich Rifkin's research and article from December of 2007 is very informative and instructive.
"Last year (2006-07), the city spent $124,183 more than it took in. This year the deficit is $146,376. And next year the shortfall is projected to be $349,464. Yet during that time, the city's revenues will have increased by more than $2.1 million.

No segment of Davis' labor force is gorging at the trough more voraciously than the Fire Department. Every one of our full-time firefighters in 2006-07 cost us more than $100,000 in salary, benefits and other expenses. The average was $147,488.

For every $100 in regular salary we gave them, we paid out an additional $29 in overtime. And that was not, according to what Davis City Manager Bill Emlen told me in a phone conversation, unusual. "
He goes on to warn the public that these practices are unsustainable and the worst aspect of it from the standpoint of fiscal responsibility is the retirement age of 50 and 3% at 50 pension.
"When the new contract was signed the following year, Local 3494 agreed to a 36 percent increase in salaries over four years. Their $100 checks paid off. They also got a fat retirement deal, called 3 percent at 50.

What that means is that a firefighter can retire at age 50 and for every year he worked he gets 3 percent of his final salary to start his retirement. A firefighter who puts in 30 years gets 90 percent of his final salary. And because many firefighters finish as battalion chiefs and captains, those final salaries are especially lucrative."
As Rich Rifkin points out, this year's election is particularly important to the fire department because their current contract expires in 2009.

Moreover in his December article, Rich Rifkin gave us the example of firefighter H.
"Added together, the total cash out for this one firefighter was $213,741. Yet that figure is not all-inclusive. The city estimates that H's unfunded liability for his retiree medical benefits will cost the city an additional $7,417. So to pay this one person, the final bill in 2006-07 was $221,158. "
Due to the lucrative overtime, many of these firefighters actually receive more combined money and benefits than the City Manager, Police Chief, and Fire Chief.

I also read some of the angry responses to Rich Rifkin's two columns criticizing the salary structure and campaign tactics of the firefighters. I think there are three key points that need to be raised:

First, I have the utmost appreciation for what the firefighters do. I have been rescued by fire fighters from various situations twice in my life. In addition, I went on a ride along with the fire department in Davis last summer it was one of those hundred degree days and in addition to sweating out several pounds in the heavy suit, I was knocked around pretty good by the fire hoses. And folks if you have not met me I am a pretty big guy.

Second, there is an argument that comes from some of the councilmembers supporting these kind of wage structures that asks how much a life is worth as though the expenditure of $250,000 were justified by the important job they perform. The problem with that argument is that it assumes an infinite city budget. However, the budget is not infinite and at some point it may become zero-sum as resources become tighter and the public becomes less willing to continue to pay increasing taxes. How much of a jeopardy is it, if we cannot afford proper maintenance of our streets, proper upkeep of our infrastructure, if we put the public at risk because money that should go to other things instead goes to the firefighters personal salaries and benefits (firefighters making over $150,000 in these wages to begin with)--how many lives would be in jeopardy then? Why is fiscal responsibility suddenly going to put lives in danger?

And the third point follows from the second and that is the serious damage that we are doing to the fiscal stability of this city caused not only by the immediate costs of pay and benefits, but also the structural problems of having lucrative retirement plans like 3% at 50 extended to other public employees. I do not wish to balance our budget on the backs of those making 60,000 but we have to hold the line at those making 150,000 to 250,000, do we not?

Lest we believe that this is a fabricated danger, we have the example of the city of Vallejo which is bankrupt.
"The fiscal crisis, which comes more than three years after the state took over the city's debt-ridden public schools, is a result of snowballing police and firefighter salaries and overtime expenses coupled with plummeting tax revenue from the weak housing market, officials say. (San Francisco Chronicle February 21, 2008)."
Meanwhile in Sacramento last week, the Bee reported:
"Despite facing major deficits and worker layoffs, the city of Sacramento is on the verge of approving nearly $15 million in additional pay for firefighters and paramedics over the next two years. (April 28, 2008)."
It would appear that Davis is hardly alone in facing both the problem and the pressure of firefighters for ever-increasing shares of the city budget, even amid severe budget strains. Davis over the course of the next few years will be facing a variety of new taxes, despite claims of balanced-budget, in order to meet to ever-increasing unmet needs of spiraling salaries and pensions to those city employees who are making among the most in salaries to begin with.

It is thus unsurprising that the firefighters have put so much time and effort into the latest city council campaign. It is up to the voters of Davis to determine what to do with this information and this influence peddling.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting