Friday, November 28, 2014

Community wizardry on chopping block

From page A1 | May 21, 2014 |


Bob Bowen, city of Davis public relations manager, rides a highwheeler bicycle in the 2010 Picnic Day Parade. Bowen’s position could be eliminated as part of budget cuts that would be necessary if Measure O fails at the polls on June 3. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise file photo

If you want to put a face on what could happen, what might happen, who could lose their job if Measure O fails at the polls on June 3, worry about who will do Bob Bowen’s job.

It’s not for sure and it all relies on a sequence of hard decisions, but if the City Council abides by a series of budget cut recommendations, Bowen’s position as the city’s public relations manager may be eliminated. And if that’s the case, the new Davis may not feel so much like the old Davis anymore.

Bowen’s office in the Hunt-Boyer Mansion at Second and E streets is a mess, but a terrific mess. Bowen knows where everything is in the stacks of papers and swag. It’s been part of his job for a long time. He’s worked for the city for 37, maybe 38 years in different capacities. Most of his current job has been organizing, brainstorming and collaborating.

Davisites know that Davis isn’t your ordinary town. There are public parties like Celebrate Davis! There is the huge Davis Farmers Market twice each week, there are the multitudes of favorite culinary and retail haunts downtown. There are bicycles everywhere. And, of course, all of these things are right next door to UC Davis.

But it’s often the icing on the cake that can come to dominate the pastry, and that’s where Bowen’s job comes in. If Bowen’s position is cut, he may be forced to retire four years early.

Come fall, when the cuts might come, he may be preparing his last big trick, no doubt conjuring something like the community-building wizard he is.

Every day is different for him.

One day he’s meeting producers for the KVIE Channel 6 show “Rob on the Road” as they come to Davis to film a segment. Another day he’s out replacing downtown twinkle lights with the help of Steve Wilkinson of Original Steve’s Pizza.

Or he’s handing out free yogurt coupons to students riding their bikes to school at Davis High School, joined by members of the DHS Student Government class. Or he’s organizing “Harry Potter” nights downtown — complete with an outdoor screening of one of the movies — when the release of the next book in the popular series drew lines of fans of that other wizard.

That’s right, native Davisite twenty-somethings: Bowen helped create your childhood memories.

Then there’s the history. Bowen’s been part of it, practically or realistically part of every memorable city-run event since the early 1970s. He also studies local history. He talks about the Hunt-Boyer Mansion and the local cultural scene circa 1890, 1970 and 2014.

He talks at length about practically everything related to Davis life. His job has made him a local expert of sorts.

Let’s get back to the office. There is hardly a place to move around if you’re not Bowen. There’s no place to sit, because the chairs are stacked with swag or binders or some souvenir of a job completed.

“We’ve got all kinds of promotional stuff going on,” Bowen says, pointing to stacks of T-shirts. And how.

During a recent visit, he’s wearing a U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame shirt, which goes with the sign stacked behind something else on top of a filing cabinet behind him. (Bowen was integral in bringing the Hall of Fame to Davis, the “bicycling capital of America.”)

On the floor, next to where you might accidentally step, is a spool of extension cord rudiments Bowen and Wilkinson use to make the downtown twinkle-light magic happen.

Speaking of which, the map of power sources and light fixture locations is well-worn, on top of a pile of something on top of a foot locker full of costumes for holiday events. It’s accompanied by a map of 2014 Picnic Day porta-potty locations.

Bowen reaches over to a bookshelf — packed with old VHS tapes of city events and DVDs of things like a memorial for two Davis teens murdered in 1980 — and holds up a squeezable blue miniature porta-potty, like one of those stress balls.

“You have to earn these,” he says.

And what Bowen has earned over the years is a place of respect among Davis residents for his creativity, organizational skills, enthusiasm and work ethic. He is Davis.

And his position as the city’s No. 1 booster is on the chopping block if voters fail to approve a half-percent increase in the Davis sales tax. There’s no way to put a promotional spin on that.

— Reach Dave Ryan at or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @davewritesnews





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