Bob Dunning

Bob Dunning: Council hands power to the minority

By From page A2 | October 13, 2013

Before I turned this space over to the truly talented writers in this town for a few days last month so my sweetheart and I could look at vacation property in West Sacramento, I warned all who would listen that the Davis City Council would take full advantage of my absence to ram home all manner of legislation they wouldn’t have dared to consider otherwise.

Acting more quickly than even I had anticipated, on Day 2 of my “vacation,” the council, taking its marching orders from the Natural Resources Commission as usual, decided to treat residents who enjoy an occasional fire in their fireplace as common criminals.

Now, I know the council justifiably doubled its salary because of the long hours council members tend to put in, so it would make a whole lot more sense to cut way back on the number of weekly council meetings and just let the NRC run the show as it does anyway.

I’d suggest the council meet, say, once every three months to simply rubber-stamp by voice vote everything the NRC demands. Or maybe they could even mail it in and save everyone the trouble.

“The City Council is ratcheting up regulations on wood smoke in Davis,” began Tom Sakash’s front-pager in this very newspaper one day during my absence.

“Last year, the council passed an ordinance that stopped folks from burning wood only during ‘don’t light tonight,’ days when air quality is at its worst and enforced the regulation only on those days if a complaint was filed against a specific household.”

And, in response to that action, the good wood-burning citizens of Davis paid close attention to “don’t light tonight” alerts and as a result complaints during the so-called fall/winter “burn” season dropped to just eight households in the entire city.

Given that there are 65,000 souls in this town, all of them capable of striking a match, complaints concerning just eight households over an entire winter is what statisticians would call “negligible.”

Note, we’re not talking about eight households per night, but eight households total for the entire fall/winter season. A total of 23 complaints against eight households apparently constitutes a movement in this town. And, no doubt, many of those 23 complaints came from the same person.

That works out to approximately one household every two weeks for the entire town. Again, the word “negligible” comes to mind.
But, if you thought the council was going to reward the good citizens of this town for acting so responsibly on no-burn days, think again.

Adds Sakash’s piece: “If the council moves forward with the ordinance it discussed Tuesday, any resident who lights a stove not certified by the Environmental Protection Agency that emits visible smoke during the winter season could be cited by city code enforcement officers if a complaint is filed against them.”

So, if you can afford an EPA stove, you’re fine, even if it emits visible smoke. But if you don’t have an EPA stove and have a fire only on Christmas Eve, Santa himself will be deputized by the council to issue you a citation.

Noted Sakash: “Public works staff determined, based on last year’s data, that residents filed complaints against only eight properties in all of Davis. Staff, commissioners and council members all seem to agree the problem affects only a few localized parts of town.”

Based on the information in that statement, a reasonable mind might conclude it was time to put the issue to rest, but that infinitesimally small body of complainers is now dictating city policy for the rest of us.

So, if eight people complain about the road diet on Fifth Street, the city will have to scrap it. And if eight people complain about the plastic bag ban, the city will have to rescind it. And if eight people object to the surface water project, the city will have to call Woodland and throw in the towel. And if eight people protest building Cannery Park, the city will have to kill the project.

It’s a great precedent for running this city. Power to the people.

All eight of them.

— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected]

Bob Dunning

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