CLASH OF THE TITANS: Okay, so it wasn’t
Godzilla vs. Mothra, Alien vs. Predator, or even
the Mummy vs. the Wolf Man. But by Santa Barbara standards, it was
easily the next best thing: John Davies vs.
Marshall Rose. Or perhaps John Davies versus the
world, which is probably how it seemed at 7:30 a.m. just a few
Thursdays ago. What had been billed as a long-awaited PowerPoint
wonk fest on how best to get downtown employees to bus, bike, walk,
or carpool to work quickly degenerated into a verbal
worthy of the World Wide Wrestling
’s pre-fight theatrics. In one corner was
Marshall Rose, the big and burly head of the Downtown Organization
as well as the Downtown Parking Committee. Rose sits on the board
of every civic-minded organization in town, but his real claim to
fame is the new Granada Parking Garage. Were it
not for Rose’s lobbying — relentless and urgent — it’s doubtful the
new $26 million, 525-space Taj Mahal would have ever been built. In
the other corner was political consultant-advertising guru John
Davies, Santa Barbara’s version of Karl Rove and
the Wizard of Oz. For the past 15 years, Davies
has been insisting he’s getting out of politics, claiming instead
the practice of such ethereal abstractions as “branding,”
“imagineering,” and “perceptioneering.” Whatever he calls it,
however, everything Davies does is political. Over the years,
Davies’s talents have helped secure political approval for projects
like the Bacara, Ty Warner’s Biltmore renovation,
Bill Levy’s impending Ritzification of lower State
Street, various oil and gas projects, Westmont’s
expansion, Brooks Firestone’s many elections, and
most currently, Dan Secord’s campaign for 2nd
District supervisor. Because of this client list — and his penchant
for attack-dog politics — Davies has become the
man many liberals and Democratic activists love to hate.

Me, I’ve always liked John. He’s smart, enthusiastic, and
curious; besides, he stirs it up. On most normal days, Davies and
Rose are on the same side; the two are working together, for
example, on Cottage Hospital’s expansion project. But the Thursday
in question was hardly normal. On that day, Davies was scheduled to
appear at a joint meeting of the arcane but politically powerful
Downtown Parking Committee and the Transportation Circulation
Committee to unveil the results of a transportation survey City
Hall paid him $96,000 to get. Based on their understanding of
Davies’s contract with City Hall, Rose, his fellow commissioners,
and city transportation planners had expected Davies to find out
exactly how many people worked downtown. They also expected Davies
to conduct a survey to determine how downtown employees got to work
and what it would take to get them out of their cars. To this end,
they expected Davies’s crew to go door-to-door to get an accurate
employee head count. Up to now, no one has known exactly how many
people worked downtown; estimates vary from 10,000 to 23,000. That
gap could have significant implications for how much parking and
traffic the city needs to accommodate. But Davies never went
door-to-door, preferring instead to purchase employee lists from
Dun & Bradstreet, who reported that there were
17,323 workers toiling in downtown Santa Barbara. This seriously
pissed off Rose and crew. That’s not what the contract called for,
they objected. One downtown banker on the committee noted that the
Dun & Bradstreet figures drastically underreported the number
of people working at his bank. Others lodged similar objections.
They got angrier still as Davies sought to present the survey
results based on extensive interviews with 400 downtown workers.
The PowerPoint presentation was confusing, they complained. There
was no report they could hold and look at. One committee member
told Davies in no uncertain terms that his presentation flat-out
sucked. Davies responded by getting red, redder, and redder still.
About the time smoke started pouring out his ears, Davies began
lambasting City Hall staff as being incompetent, stupid, and inept.
He charged the real reason committee members were mad was because
he wasn’t telling them what they wanted to hear. It’s still not
clear what he meant by that. By the time Davies pulled the plug and
folded up his laptop, he vowed never to work for City Hall again.
It warn’t pretty.

Far more startling was Davies’s shocking finding that only 46
percent of downtown workers drove alone. That means 54 percent
carpooled, walked, took the bus, or rode their bikes. If this is
true, it qualifies as stop-the-presses news that would give Santa
Barbara environmental bragging rights it hasn’t had since the oil
spill in 1969. These numbers are roughly on par with UCSB’s, where
about 10,000 students ride their bikes everywhere. But in cities
throughout Southern California, the drive-alone rate is more
typically 80 to 90 percent. Although Davies’s survey work has
always been his strength, these results are so at odds with county
census figures and other surveys that you have to really wonder.
Certainly these surprising results served to heighten suspicion
about Davies’s work. Davies concluded that the ride-alone crowd
wouldn’t change its ways as long as so much free or subsidized
parking was available. Davies said you could get people out of
their cars if you charged more for parking. But if you charged
enough to chase away workers, maybe they would go get jobs
elsewhere. Or maybe you’d chase away shoppers, too. Maybe this made
committee members uncomfortable. Or maybe it was Davies’s
suggestion that if employers didn’t want employees to drive alone,
they should pay them to bike, bus, or carpool. I like that idea. It
might actually work. Cottage Hospital is preparing to pay its
workers $70 a month not to drive alone.

In the meantime, Davies has a serious problem of his own that he
can’t “perceptioneer” his way out of. Not if he wants to get paid
the $21,000 City Hall still owes him. Maybe John’s fracas with
Marshall Rose was just one of those male hormonal eruptions that
send otherwise sensible silverbacks into fits of fury. Or maybe
such anger is an inevitable consequence when you talk about weaning
people from their cars. In the meantime, I’ll be watching reruns of
Godzilla vs. Mothra on my car VCR while hanging out in the
basement of the Granada Garage. I hear it’s nice and dark down

— Nick Welsh


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