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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Davis City Council discusses partnership with Caltrans I-80 project, thanks Councilmember Arnold for time as mayor

The city council discussed a comment letter regarding the Caltrans Draft Environmental Impact Report 


By CHRIS PONCE — city@theaggie.org


On Jan. 9, the Davis City Council held their first regularly scheduled meeting of the month. At their meeting, the council swore in Councilmember Josh Chapman as mayor and authorized letters of intent to partner with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) on their Interstate 80 (I-80) expansion project.

The meeting began with the transition of power from Councilmember Will Arnold to now Mayor Chapman. Chapman was sworn in by his two sons as he recited his oath of office. Chapman read a letter that thanked Arnold for his time as mayor and acknowledged the challenges he faced in 2023.

“Mayor Arnold led the city with conviction, courage, resilience and humor during an especially challenging year that included unprecedented storms, the stabbing deaths of local residents, bomb threats and more,” Chapman read. “And whereas Mayor Arnold was a stabilizing force for the community and was the right mayor at the right time.”

Yolo County Supervisor and former Mayor of Davis Lucas Frerichs spoke during the public comment section of the meeting to thank Arnold for his time as mayor. Frerichs shared that he has known Arnold for nearly 30 years, dating back to high school.

“Will Arnold was student body president of Davis High School when I was a brand new student at Davis High School, in my senior year,” Frerichs said. “Will was assigned to tour me around Davis High — so I have watched you and [your] love for this community for nearly 30 years.” 

Newly elected Vice Mayor Bapu Vaitla spoke at the end of public comment regarding the mayor transition. Vaitla said that Arnold served during “one of the most difficult years in the history of Davis,” specifically referring to the stabbings that occurred last spring. 

“It marked every one of us in different ways. For some of us, we may never think about it again, but we’re going to carry it around as a piece of us,” Vaitla said, referencing the stabbing incidents. “And for some of us, we’re going to think about what happened every day and it’s going to be in the air we breathe.”

Vaitla shared a confidential moment from the middle of the stabbings where the councilmembers shared their feelings and thoughts in the moment. Vaitla said that Arnold told each councilmember what kind of mayor of Davis they would represent.

“‘[Partida], I think of you as the mayor of social justice’ and [Arnold] went around to [Chapman] and I and gave us all our titles, mayor of something, some essential part of life in Davis he thought was our passion and what we were in the office for,” Vaitla said. “And then he started tearing up a little bit like he is now, and he said pretty quietly, ‘And I think of myself as the mayor of playgrounds.’”

Vaitla said that this title rang especially true since Arnold loves people and children. Arnold was willing to do anything to protect the people of Davis, according to Vaitla. 

The next major agenda item the council discussed was the proposed Caltrans I-80 expansion project.

Caltrans is looking to expand the I-80, as it runs through Davis, according to the Davis city attorney. The state has held multiple public workshops in the area to gather community feedback on the plan.

Some of the Caltrans proposed options to expand the I-80 are: toll lanes, high occupancy vehicle lanes (HOVs), high occupancy toll lanes (HOTs), express lanes, transit-only lanes and direct connector lanes.

Item 8 on the city council agenda addressed a comment letter response to the Caltrans Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) of the project. City staff drafted the comment letter about the DEIR in regards to The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) regulations. 

The DEIR was reviewed by the Bicycling, Transportation and Street Safety Commission and the Natural Resources Commission, according to Councilmember Donna Neville. The draft letter was presented to the council to gather their direction about the process.  

Vaitla expressed concern regarding the DEIR, specifically Alternatives 2-5 which propose building HOVs and HOTs. Vaitla also submitted a public letter to Caltrans with his criticisms of the DEIR, in which he specified that he was expressing his own views and not the city’s. 

“A few years after this project opens, the I-80 is going to be congested again, but it’s going to be congested with thousands more cars,” Vaitla said. “[…] We’re not adding lanes to Covell and Mace, so there will be no lag on the congestion effects on us.” 

Neville shared concerns that Alternative 6a, which would add a transit-only lane, would incentivize more use of public transit and said that Caltrans should study the effects closely.

“I do think there’s real value in asking Caltrans to study that alternative more deeply,” Neville said. 

After a discussion regarding the letter, the council authorized three letters to partner with Caltrans on the proposed project. Chapman expressed his support for the need for toll lanes to fund transit in the area. 

“I have been and continue to be in support of a managed toll lane on this freeway,” Chapman said. “There needs to be a way we fund transit.” 

Written by: Chris Ponce — city@theaggie.org


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