Quizzed about a ban on plastic bags, all 10 applicants for the vacant Davis City Council seat were open to the idea.
All backed efforts to save Picnic Day with a team effort of city, businesses, university, student leaders and police.
Public input? Loved that, too.
On Tuesday, the council will begin deliberations and, by March 1, choose one of the 10 to replace Mayor Don Saylor, who resigned after being elected to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors. His replacement will serve until June 2012.
Wednesday’s two-hour League of Women Voters event at City Hall found little light between the positions of those vying for the job. It best managed to reveal their priorities and, perhaps, understanding of the issues facing the city, following an audience question about financial stability and economic development.
Paul Boylan, a 54-year-old attorney and negotiations professor, and Walter Bunter, Jr., a 73-year-old retiree who spent his career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service, focused on getting a handle on the city’s unfunded liabilities.
Boylan said they threaten to “swamp the city.”
“Honestly, I’m going to say something that’s probably going to offend a lot of people here that want to bring businesses so they can employ people — if the quality of life in Davis is good, people will come here. They really will,” he said.
“The city can actually preserve that and improve it by the amount of discretionary funds they have at their disposal. If unfunded mandates eat all that up, the city can’t do that — all they’re doing is writing checks and sending money out .”
The mounting pension concerns are “giving us fits,” Bunter said.
“We need to develop a new pension system (under which those) hired after we do all that would not cost us as much,” he said.
Most of the applicants focused their answers on bringing jobs to the city and, with them, revenue.
Kerry Daane Loux, a 55-year-old landscape architect, said that tough times have caused a “paradigm shift in Davis.”
“I think the most ardent no-growthers are realizing that there does need to be some growth … that we need to provide for the community services to bring businesses here,” Loux said. “I think that we need to look at large packages of working with (companies) such as (Mori Seiki, a high-tech Japanese machine-tool manufacturer) and others that might follow them and make some incentives for development in a limited way.”
Or as Robert Alfred Smith, a 78-year-old music teacher and piano tuner, put it, “The way to have (stability) is to encourage new businesses to come in to the city. I’m talking about all-size businesses — from the one-person, sole-proprietor to, well, maybe not Walmart, but some other fairly large employer other than the university.
“I don’t know where it’s going to come from but maybe if we looked around and tried to get some other fairly large employer to come to the city it might possibly be a help,” he added.
Kari Fry, a 36-year-old insurance agent, and Sherelene Harrison, who is semi-retired and works in health care insurance sales, agreed with Boylan’s concern about unfunded liabilities, but said that city’s leaders, in Fry’s words, “can’t just sit around and wait for people to come to us because we love our town and we think it’s a fabulous place to live.
“I think we need to be more pro-active than that, and I think we need to have a plan…,” Fry said. “I think we need to market our city. I think we need to go out and make strategic relationships and think about what kind of industry we want here and go out and search for partners in the private sector and bring them here. As far as what we can offer (in incentives), I think we should be really open-minded and flexible….
“As far as fiscal stability …, we need to have a very diversified portfolio of income; we need to think about using our (redevelopment agency) funds to increase our sales tax revenue; we need to think about getting senior housing built so we can get some of these people out of their Prop. 13 houses so we can increase our tax base.”
Said Harrison, “Seventy percent of all the money that comes into our general fund comes from things like real property tax, sales tax, business license fees, motor vehicle in-lieu tax, transit tax, which is our hotel tax, and municipal service fees. There’s no growth in there. We’re facing zero growth in the biggest revenue (areas) that we have.
“We need to find a way to measure growth and to bring it. If we cannot as a city get our sales tax up, how are we going to convince a company to come here?”
Steve Williams, who at 67 is semi-retired after 32 years with the California Energy Commission, complimented the city’s efforts to cut costs. Financial stability will depend on two areas out of the city’s hands — the state budget and economy — and one it can do something about: attracting business.
“I think the businesses that we are mostly likely to attract are those that work with UC Davis,” he said. “I would encourage the city to go out and solicit those types of incubator businesses and perhaps help fund them with some starter money to encourage them to locate here in Davis.”
Dan Wolk, a 33-year-old water and public finance attorney for Solano County, said the council’s efforts to lure Mori Seiki, which will employ about 200 people, “could be a model for us moving forward.”
“It’s my understanding that 58 percent of our sales tax revenue comes from automobiles and restaurants,” he said. “So I think it’s important to create not only more economic development but also more economic diversity.
“There’s been talk of streamlining our approval processes. I think that could be good. … UC Davis has talked about putting a business park in the community — we need to make sure that ends up in Davis.”
Linda Parfitt, a 58-year-old child development consultant for the policy office of the California Department of Education, also seized on UCD’s business park idea.
“There is a tremendous amount of research activity that’s going on there that’s really exciting,” she said. “I think it could bring in some more entrepreneurs. We could set up mentorships for UCD students and graduates if we had more opportunities for them.”
Like Harrison and others, Vincent Jerome-Wyatt, a 53-year-old student and activist, said he would focus on recruiting high-tech businesses with a big economic upside and relatively small footprint.
Jerome-Wyatt said he also liked the look of ConAgra’s mixed-use development proposal for the former Hunt-Wesson cannery property, which includes 610 residential units.
” I think that’s great, because people are not going to be able to live and work in a community unless they have a place to stay,” he said. “I also think that the university needs to do a lot more to bring the rental rates down for students. Because even though you have a place like West Village, the rents are still high.
“My point being that if we had more young people here who could live within the city and afford to go to UC Davis, they contribute to the economy also.”
The council is asking residents to help in the decision-making process. Public input forms, as well as information about the applicants, are available on the city’s website, http://cityofdavis.org/cmo/2011councilappointment, and at City Hall and the Senior Center.
To read more from The Enterprise about each of the candidates, go to http://www.davisenterprise.com. Click on “local news,” then “election news.”
— Reach Cory Golden at email@example.com or (530) 747-8046. Track him at http://twitter.com/cory_golden