Alone among the five candidates vying for two spots on City Council, Councilwoman Rochelle Swanson has already been doing the job.
Her mission is not to convince the public of what she might do, but to assure them she will finish the job adequately.
“Progress has been made toward a more sustainable budget while preserving our quality of life,” she says in her candidate statement. “Our city faces great challenges, and now is not the time to learn on the job.”
When invariably complex issues come to the council, Swanson can be relied upon to get into the technical details, asking city bureaucrats about the inner workings of a staff report, dotting i’s and crossing t’s. It seems to be the hallmark of her work in legal issues — she earned a degree from the McGeorge School of Law.
But legal issues only pop up as part of her mission on council. Swanson has targeted her re-election campaign almost exclusively on fiscal issues, winning the endorsement of the Davis Chamber of Commerce PAC, the Sacramento Metro Chamber PAC, The Davis Enterprise and the Sierra Club. She also has been recognized as one of the Sacramento Business Journal’s “Women Who Mean Business.”
Occupation: Regional account manager, February 2014-current; land use consultant, 1999-2014
Education: Juris Doctor, 2004, McGeorge School of Law; bachelor’s degree in political science, 1996, UC Davis
Noteworthy: Davis City Council member, 2010-14; 2014 Women Who Mean Business honoree (Sacramento Business Journal); 2013 honorary co-chair, Metro Chamber Cap-to-Cap; president, Davis High School Blue & White Foundation, 2010 (member 2007-11), Paul Harris Fellow in the Rotary Club of Davis
Other candidates have focused on the $4.99 million structural deficit in the city budget and their support for Measure O, the city sales tax initiative (Swanson was one of its architects), but Swanson is focused on how the current City Council is trying for fiscal stability.
“What this past council did is we brought (infrastructure) back into the conversation,” she said. “To me, that’s a snapshot of the quality of life.”
Streets, sewer lines and public safety are essentials, she said, but so is a vibrant downtown; safe, clean parks; and well-lit roads.
More than a half-percent increase in the sales tax, and another $1.16 million in cuts to the city budget, Swanson knows the lifeline to the city lies in attracting business of many stripes. And it’s not just by building an innovation park, but by bringing new business to downtown as well. She said she’s been misquoted in some media as just wanting “growth.”
If Davis flubs and loses some of its marquee high-tech businesses, she said, it would signal to investors that the Davis model is just a quirky small town.
“It’s easy to say you have the ideology; can you pay for it?” she asked.
Swanson mostly telecommutes for her job as a regional account manager, allowing her time to talk to residents at the Davis Farmers Market and have coffee meetings around town.
Others have criticized the city’s leaders for taking on too much, but Swanson defends the current council as being placed in a difficult position by past councils.
“There are so many things that have been decision points we’ve made that have been talked about for years,” she said, pointing to yard waste containers, the budget and joint operations between the fire departments of the city and UC Davis as some examples.
People may think Davis will simply pull out of its economic doldrums through cuts and taxes, but the old way of looking at the city’s fiscal situation is not realistic anymore, she said.
“We’re not just dealing with a recession, we’re dealing with an economic shift,” she said, adding later, “We should be on the cutting edge of (innovation).”
Swanson wants a reassessment of how the city’s infrastructure is faring, focusing on roads, bike paths, city-owned buildings and its fleet of vehicles.
“Should we consider changing the kind of fleet we have?” she said.
It’s all part of looking at the economics, then bringing the Davis philosophy to bear, she said. The current council is also trying to be better at what Swanson calls customer service.
“The city government is to serve its citizens, not the other way around,” she said.
The Fifth Street redesign, a project that would add bike lanes from B to L streets and eliminate a lane in each direction for cars, is often a sore spot for some in the community.
Swanson said she was the driving force behind not making the initial changes permanent, simply re-striping for a few months to see how the new traffic flow works. That will allow the city to make adjustments if necessary.
“This project was always very popular and it was always going to move forward,” she said.
— Reach Dave Ryan at [email protected] or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @davewritesnews