It was an ordinary Saturday afternoon in East Davis. Too hot to do much beyond chasing the kids through the sprinklers, yet too expensive to turn on the sprinklers for such frivolity.
The phone rang and a friendly chap named Darryl asked if he could speak to “Robert.”
Well, only my mom and my West Davis Elementary School principal can call me Robert and then only when I’m in trouble. Still, given that there was no one else in the household stuck with such a name, I let my guard down and said “This is Robert.”
Darryl allowed that he was conducting a survey regarding issues of importance to the citizens of Davis, California, and would I be willing to answer a few questions on this incredibly busy Saturday afternoon.
“How long will the survey take?” I asked.
“About 10 minutes,” he replied in what turned out to be an honest answer.
Although he admitted that he was calling from Las Vegas, he did not offer me three days and two nights at the MGM Grand in exchange for my testimony.
“How satisfied are you with the City of Davis and the City Council?” he began, wanting to know if I had interacted with anyone on the “city staff” in the last 12 months.
“Is the City of Davis conducting this survey with my tax dollars?” I asked before answering the question.
“I don’t know, Robert.”
“Who do you work for?”
“What does GRA stand for?”
“They don’t tell us. We just make the calls, asks the questions and record the answers.”
Realizing I had probably just extended the interview by an extra five minutes, I decided “GRA” stands for “Get Right Answers” and dropped my line of interrogation.
“Robert, what is the biggest issue in Davis?”
“Are you happy with police service?”
“Overall appearance of the City of Davis?”
“Brown is my favorite color.”
“Do you have a water softener?”
“No. I believe that Davis’ hard water strengthens my bones.”
“Would you support the city taking over PG&E if it could save you 25 percent on your energy bill?”
“Are you sure you aren’t working for the city?”
“Would you support a parcel tax for development of a new sports complex?”
“Only if the Kings agree to move to Davis.”
“Would you support a parcel tax of $199 a year for 20 years for parks, streets and greenbelts?’
“I don’t know about 20 years.”
“Would you support a parcel tax for 15 years?”
“How about 12 years?”
“I like 12 years better than 20 years.”
“Would you support a parcel tax for six years?”
“Now you’re cooking.”
“I don’t have ‘now you’re cooking’ as a possible response.”
“OK, just put down ‘somewhat support.’ “
“There are likely to be arguments against a parcel tax, such as ‘The City Council is responsible for this situation and we shouldn’t be giving them more money.’ Do you agree or disagree with that argument?”
“Somewhat agree, Robert, or somewhat disagree?”
“I can’t record both.”
“That’s the best I can do.”
“Another argument is that there’s no guarantee the money will be spent where the city says it will be spent. Do you agree with that argument?”
“I think you really should be talking with Mike Harrington.”
“Do you favor expanding city boundaries to accommodate new businesses compatible with city values?”
“Just as long as we don’t annex Woodland.”
“A couple more questions, Robert, and then we’ll be done.”
“Are you a student at UC Davis?”
“No. I’m afraid of pepper spray.”
“How is your household income?”
“Thank you for your time, Robert.”
“No, thank you for your time, Darryl. And give my best to all your GRA buddies down there in Sin City.”
— Reach Bob Dunning at firstname.lastname@example.org