• Anne Ternus-Bellamy

Swanson seeks return to Council in District 5

Former Davis City Councilwoman Rochelle Swanson is ready for another round. Courtesy photo

When Rochelle Swanson decided not to seek re-election to the Davis City Council in 2018, she never intended to walk away from elected office forever.

Rather, after two terms on the council, she wanted some time away to focus on her youngest son, Cameron, and his approaching graduation from high school.

“I called it my semi-retirement,” she said last week, “because I would be willing to step up and serve again in the future.

“Little did I know it would be so quickly though.”

A combination of factors landed her back in the hunt for a council seat. Her son graduated, for one. Then the switch to district elections, which would enable South Davis to finally have a representative on the council, prompted community members to approach her, she said, to get her thoughts on running.

Of the three districts up for election in November, only District 5, encompassing all of South Davis, would have no incumbent on the ballot.

“Then the pandemic hit and the economy was already getting shaky and I had more folks asking, ‘Would you consider coming back?’” Swanson said.

There’s a reason why, she explained: the learning curve that comes with becoming a City Council member is steep.

There was an enormous amount of reading and learning that came with the job when she first joined the council in 2010, and ultimately Swanson helped steer the city through a recession and recovery, while also forming regional partnerships and collaborations.

And getting through what lies ahead, she said, will require all of that experience.

“It’s a perfect storm of things that have come together that I’m uniquely qualified for,” Swanson said. “I understand the budgets, I’ve been in front of them, the regional collaborations … and that’s what it’s going to take.

“This is a very different recession. It wouldn’t surprise me if we lost 25 percent of our local businesses. So we have to look at things fresh, and understand the core responsibility of local government.”

The top issues, she said, are economic sustainability and viability.

“I think that’s going to be very important: what must we retain, what must we provide and how are we going to pay for it?”

The good news, she said, “is we did a good job (back in 2010). We kept the city employee pool small, we lived through furloughs.”

At the same time, said Swanson, “there’s only so much we can do.”

Much will depend on UC Davis this time around, and how many students return to Davis, supporting local businesses.

But regional partnerships, seeking out grant funding, infrastructure funds could help.

“It’s really looking at best practices, working hand in hand with regional partners and state partners…. looking at what funding is available. I’m hearing a lot of talk about infrastructure projects as a way to work out of a recession. We need to go through our projects, see what would be available, how do we maximize our existing resources.”

There also needs to be more focus on economic development, Swanson said.

“Are we adequately addressing and supporting economic development? I think that answer is still No,” she said.

“This is an old story we’ve been talking about for a decade,” Swanson noted, adding that the need for diversity in jobs remains.

The Davis Innovation and Sustainability Campus, she said, “is an inflection point.”

“No matter where somebody is on that project, we need to make a decision one way or another and move on. There’s a lot of hopes pinned on that (when it comes to city finances),” she said.

“We’ll come out of this recession… but we need to look at what we do best, what we do right. Are we being supportive of the businesses that want to come out of UC Davis and the region?” asked Swanson.

“That’s going to be a key conversation with the new council and council goals need to reflect the current time.”

In addition to the current economic crisis, there was something else that drew Swanson out of her semi-retirement: Being the mother of two Black sons during this moment in history.

“This one hits pretty close to home,” she said of America’s current reckoning with racism in America, including in the context of public safety.

“We need to have conversations and depoliticize it,” she said. “We need a Davis solution that reflects Davis.”

Swanson supports a crisis intervention training model in police departments, with trained social workers available to go out on calls when there is a person in a mental health crisis. There will still be calls when a police officer needs to be present, Swanson said, but even different training for dispatchers could make a difference.

“We need to have somebody there in dispatch who is taking calls,” said Swanson, and can ask the questions needed to determine whether the call is a “legitimate call of concern or based on some sort of bias or racism.

“I’d like to make it a priority in our budget,” said Swanson. “An assessment of current services, of current needs, of figuring out what we want and what we need and identifying those funding sources. And this needs to be elevated at the council level much sooner. We should have already been having these conversations at council.”

She believes her unique life experiences lend themselves to this moment.

A Davis resident since 1993, Swanson is a mother of three whose history in Davis has included everything from serving those eight years on the City Council to spearheading the effort to build a new stadium at Davis High School. She is a graduate of both UC Davis and McGeorge School of Law

“I know what’s like to live in Davis and be poor,” she said. “I know what it’s like to live in Davis and be successful. I know what it’s like to go to the store with the child who looks like me and be treated one way and go into a store with a child who looks different and be treated differently even by the same people.

“I think that voice is really important because we are at this time, this unprecedented time here where people across the spectrum respect the need for us to address equity.”

Her vision for the next four years: “Doing our best to navigate this new economy and making sure we are in the best position to remain resilient through it; and that being done with knowledge and compassion and with both the long- and mid-term in mind.”

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— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy.

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