Threading the Needle

I often think of the work we do in local government as threading the needle. Over the years, there have been countless issues and decisions where the governing body, of which I was one member, had to choose among competing paths forward. Sometimes these matters were heated and controversial, with ardent advocates arrayed in apparent opposition. Not only did we need to navigate toward an agreement among the critical number of voting members – typically three – each of whom arrived at their own conclusions in their own way, but we also were often faced with the real possibility that a choice would result in a real or perceived harm to some, even though there was a substantial overriding benefit to the larger number or the advancement of an important goal.

In many of these situations I recall deliberately trying to understand the underlying interests at play and authentically work to minimize or mitigate the harms while still proceeding with the core decision. Sometimes (on a good day) we could find a path that addressed the concerns of affected parties – even if we did not decide the way an advocate might like. For example, years ago a proposal came forward to locate the Target Store on Second Street in Davis. The final decision to allow that was made through a citywide election. Before that election took place, the City of Davis worked for many months with all of our commissions and the community to arrive at a Development Agreement and Conditions of Approval for the project. As a member of the City Council, I visited the area with residents, read hundreds of emails, listened to the concerns of near neighbors and local businesses, and weighed the benefits and risks of the proposal. In response to the concerns, we required several conditions, including that there be a fence between the neighborhood and the site, that deliveries happen within prescribed hours, that lighting be directed away from the residential areas, and that intentional berms and landscaping be included in the design. All these points were in response to legitimate concerns. While the voters eventually approved the project, we were able to address the concerns and thread the needle in the best way we could.

It is always a good day when a governing body can find a path forward that captures what we can agree to, while maybe leaving aside for another day the areas upon which we cannot reach accord. Recently, I was able to advocate for Board of Supervisors adoption of a safe gun storage ordinance for home storage. The initial draft of the ordinance also included provisions related to safe gun storage in vehicles. Due to questions and concerns about storage in vehicles, I proposed, and the Board concurred, that we adopt the home storage provisions and bring back the vehicle storage topic at a later date. At our November 22 meeting, the Board will consider final adoption of vehicle storage provisions, based on additional discernment.

After 27 years in local elected office, I still believe that we can thread the needle on many issues when we genuinely listen, focus on the greater good, and commit to lessening harm to all concerned.