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Three petitions = three frustrated and unheard constituencies


By Roberta Millstein

What do trees being cut down at Sutter Davis Hospital, the Mace Mess, and Cannery traffic safety have to do with one another?

At first glance, not much.  They are in three entirely different parts of town.  Two of them do have to do with traffic and safety in part, but each has its own features.  For example, residents near Mace Boulevard are concerned about the addition of over-engineered road structures they were not consulted on, and in light of increased traffic and other problems, would like them removed.  And neither traffic safety at the Cannery nor the Mace Mess seems to relate to the removal of mature trees done without any input from the relevant City Commissions.

But those who have been following the Davisite might have noticed a commonality: in all three cases, citizens felt strongly enough about the issue to create a petition, as described in the following articles:

When citizens are moved to create and sign petitions, it’s a signal that they feel that their voices aren’t being heard through normal channels, such as comments at the City Council or letters to the editor of the local newspaper. With a petition, citizens are trying to speak loudly, with one voice.

Consider, for example, these excerpts from the Mace Mess petition:

As two years’ experience has demonstrated, if we don't tell the City what we want, heaven only knows what they'll do.   If you are a south Davis resident and want the Davis City Council to fix Mace, please sign.  


I have advised the City that south Davis residents require adequate lead time before this meeting, that is, at least a week advance notice.  It is not reasonable to expect residents to study and understand a cryptic road diagram during a 2-hour in-person or Zoom meeting, then comment on it in two minutes.  In addition to posting on Nextdoor and the City webpage, the City should email people from the email addresses on the sign-in sheets from public meetings from the last two years.  The City must post copies of the plans to be presented on the City webpage, on Nextdoor, on Facebook, and attach them to the emails sent out to the mailing list at least a week before meetings, so people will have time to understand what is proposed.

These are words of frustration, of not feeling informed and included, of not feeling heard.

The truth is it is always difficult to get many people to speak with one voice – people want to quibble over the wording, or it’s too strong or not strong enough, or they disagree with one part, or one part is missing.  So to see hundreds of people speaking with one voice about each of these issues should really make us pay attention.  Something is going on.

A slightly less recent, but still ongoing example of citizens not feeling heard: the growing calls for police reform and the establishment of a department of community safety, which represents a fourth group that formally petitioned the City Council (in April 2021: link).

This is not the first time that there seems to be a number of issues concerning which citizens feel unheard.  I venture to say that it is an ongoing problem with the City Council that has persisted across several changes of personnel. 

It might be tempting to dismiss online petitions, but we should remember that the right to petition the government for redress of grievances is a fundamental component of democracy.  Its origins can be traced in England to the 1689 Bill of Rights and the even earlier 1215 Magna Carta. In the United States it is included in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (emphasis added).  A series of court decisions has made it clear that this right applies at all governmental levels, including local government.

In today’s world – especially during yet another COVID surge – online petitions are the best way for citizens to exercise that right.  And the City Council should respect these expressions of democracy with the seriousness that they deserve.

Will these be the issues that finally wake the City Council up to the problem?  Will the City Council work with citizens on these issues, or will it just barely pay attention to a stream of recorded comments – the 2 minutes each of us gets – and then continue business as usual?


Colin Walsh

This is a powerful article.

I think you could add the Oakshade neighborhood association to the list of disparate groups of Davis residents who are petitioning the City Council and feel like they are having a hard time being heard. They even created the new neighborhood association (not an easy task to create a City recognized neighborhood association) to try to better have their voices heard .This letter from Tracy DeWitt captures the ongoing frustration with the process:

You could also add the Commission initiative that grew out of the problems with Bright Night.

Is there a tipping point when the sum of all of these frustrations will lead to real changes?

Roberta L. Millstein

Thanks, Colin. Yes, those are other groups who are feeling unheard.

I remember not so long ago when the City made a big to-do about improving communications. But those communications don't seem to include making efforts to hear citizens, e.g., by holding more meetings that concern specific topics.

I'd love to see some real changes, but it starts with the City Council acknowledging that there are problems, and I haven't seen signs of that yet.

Sharla Cheney

I think each neighborhood has issues that are troubling or troublesome and the gathering of signatures is not an indication of greater or lesser need or burden. My little neighborhood park is maintained at a significantly poorer standard than the other parks to the North and East of us. There are other issues regarding the placement of services for the homeless, along with the tolerance of drug use, public nudity, loitering and the creation of trash and vandalism which impacts my neighborhood’s quality of life. I assume that money will be spent on solutions for other things where people complain the loudest, which will mean there won’t be money to address issues in my neighborhood.

Roberta L. Millstein

Sharla, I didn't say that these petitions were indications of greater need or burden than others. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't. What I said is that they were indications of citizen frustration -- of people feeling like they aren't being heard. Since petitioning the government is part of a functioning democracy -- democracy being far more than just voting -- I would encourage you and your neighbors to do likewise if you feel as though there is a problem in your neighborhood that the City can and should do something about. Not because the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but because those who are most local are best in a position to know what the problems are, and with that information, the Council can realize the extent of issues that the City faces and prioritize. I think a functioning City really does require the participation of its citizens, in more ways than one.

Ron O

Seems to me that one of the most-obvious "petitions" is the one filed in court by those opposed to Trackside.

I've noticed that city councils (including those in Davis) are consistently more-supportive of development than their constituents are. There's examples of this throughout the region and beyond.

One can also see this phenomena in regard to the peripheral proposals that the Davis council supports (and sometimes campaigns for).

Of course, outside of Davis - they essentially don't even ask what their constituents prefer in the first place. Unless you count developers as their primary constituents.

Sharla Cheney

Roberta, Our neighborhood works continuously with City staff and the Police department on improving conditions in our park and in the neighborhood. My frustration is when issues in other neighborhoods are amplified by in collaboration with local media in an effort to elevate the importance of their issue above the issues of other neighborhoods. I compare what we are dealing with with the apparently critical concerns of other neighborhoods and I am discouraged, especially since a part of the conditions were foisted on us in response to other hysterical neighborhoods.

Donna Lemongello

Yes communication is important, but the reason people need to petition is such poor decisions are approved in the first place. Mace and the Sutter trees take the cake.

Davis Lorax

I can't comment on brightnite, mace mess or cannery on if their process allowed opportunity for stakeholder involvement, but the denial of any chance for public input for tree removal /mitigation at sutter i.e. on removal of 100 tree for solar makes me concerned for my city.


There is yet chance for a redo as the tree are not yet cut,

The best thing for all concerned- esp. city council -- is for the City manager to do it admit he made a process mistake and run this thru the tree commission. City Council & staff should be focusing on housing and policy reform, not trees,

or Maybe the city can encourage Sutter to meet and negotiate a settlement with community tree leaders off-line.

I note none of this would delay Sutter even a week beyond 9/21 tree hearing before council.

Russ Kanz

The installation of solar panels at Sutter is a violation of the California Environmental Quality Act. The City prepared an Environmental Impact Report in 1992, 29 years ago, for the expansion of the hospital. That EIR did not include solar panels. The EIR is old and now considered stale. There have been major changes in the area since the EIR was prepared. The City must prepare a supplemental EIR. I will soon be providing some addition information on the emergency helicopter landing pad that is being installed. The City Manager and City Council are aware of the issue. Just don’t walk down Covell when they are landing next to the sidewalk…. This issue is ripe for litigation.

Alan C. Miller

Apparently too late - cutting began according to Hirsch in the Davis Vanshard - unless someone wants to chain themselves to a tree. This really sucks. And no, I'm not chaining myself to a tree.


More comments today on the Davisite than the DavisVanguard. Let’s keep it up.

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