If there is one Davis City Council candidate who is not like the others, it is John Munn.
The former Davis Board of Education member, city water rates opponent, Yolo County Taxpayers Association president, past Republican candidate for the California Assembly and former soil scientist with the state Department of Forestry has a straight-spoken manner that is unusual in the political class.
No frills. No overarching vision of a grander reality. No bones about it.
His campaign, he says, boils down to one thing: fiscal sustainability and affordability in a city with a $4.99 million structural deficit, including millions in underfunded roads and other infrastructure needs.
“No shell games,” Munn said in an interview. “We need to lay the budget out, track revenues, track spending and see where the holes are.”
The city’s years of attrition were the wrong way to cut costs, he said, adding that the city staff has become top-heavy with not enough jobs filled by the people who do the grunt work. Further, there is no finance director in a city he sees as sorely needing one.
“We could assign people to tasks that are higher-priority,” Munn said.
Occupation: Retired soil and watershed scientist with California Department of Forestry
Education: Bachelor of science degrees in soil and water science and in engineering; master of science degree in soil science
Family: Wife Shelley of 41 years and three grown children
Noteworthy: President of the Yolo County Taxpayers Association from 2008 to 2011, former trustee of the Davis Joint Unified School District, former president of the Yolo County School Boards Association, past president of the Professional Soil Scientists Association of California
Munn is a conservative who sees himself fighting for the middle and lower classes in Davis, especially with regard to how much it costs to live here. Pressures include water rates eventually doubling or tripling from what they were last year, a sales tax hike eyed by the current City Council and a bevy of school parcel taxes residents pay every year.
“Eventually, it’s going to be more than a middle income can afford,” he said.
Key to that effort is his criticism of the Sacramento River water diversion project and his support of Measure P, which would toss out the water rates set in 2013.
“Paying for the new surface water project will increase the typical annual water bill for a typical single-family home by more than 300 percent, from about $510 to $2,100 by 2018,” Munn’s statement on his campaign website reads. “Because the full cost of the new water project facilities must be paid for even if water use declines, any shortfalls from projected revenue will cause rates to go even higher.”
Davis’ water rate architects have said they’ve calculated the math on the water rates to adjust for significant conservation, so that doesn’t happen.
Munn is controversial in his bid for council in one way: He is a party to a lawsuit against Davis’ water rates. It mostly lost in Yolo Superior Court — one other portion will go to trial in November — but if he wins a seat on the council, it could be that he would be suing the city at the same time he is expected to make decisions on the city’s behalf.
Of course, Munn would recuse himself in the face of any conflicts, but he wants to be on the council to help recommend new water rates if Measure P is approved. Munn doesn’t like the summer water use measurement in the rates that are due to go into effect in January. Instead, he is intrigued by a whole-year measurement that would determine what base rate customers would pay the following year.
One thing that separates him from some other water rate opponents is his admission that paying for a water system gallon by gallon is a losing proposition.
“You can’t get away from the fact that some charges are fixed,” he said.
Munn also disagrees with city officials that the well water is too contaminated — given current and future water regulations — to filter without significant investment. Munn sees the current drought and wonders how the city will fare with a similar drought once its water comes primarily from the Sacramento River.
“If we had to rely on the Sacramento River we’d be getting almost nothing,” he said.
Whatever generally liberal Davis voters think about his political leanings, Munn promises voters there is no secret agenda with him.
“I’m always a pretty open guy,” he said. “Just ask me and I’ll tell you.”
Plus, he says, he has the time to stop and listen because he is a retiree. He doesn’t have a high-powered job or kids at home to take to school, unlike many other sitting council members and other council candidates.
“Council is a lot of work,” he said. “I’m retired. I can do it. I have more time to focus on the business of the city.”
— Reach Dave Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @davewritesnews