Davis history, ‘Growing Pains,’ stops too soon

December 13, 1998
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@ dcn.davis.ca.us

At last, after years in the making, we have the history of Davis that took off where "Davisville ‘68" stopped. It is "Growing Pains: Thirty Years in the History of Davis" by former Enterprise staff writer Mike Fitch.

Immediately, the canny reader may suspect a bias on my part. Yes, Mike used to work at the Enterprise. He covered the city, mainly. And I used to work full-time at the newspaper, too, covering UC Davis.

So, I confess up front that Mike and I are friends. That might not be a good thing for Mike, because I know two things about his work habits that the city should have known (but never asked about) before they hired him to write the book. One, Mike never met a deadline that he didn’t miss. Two, Mike is a good writer – solid on facts and very fair – but not what you’d call a flashy.

Having made these two observations, I can now say honestly and fully what I think of Mike’s history of Davis: It’s great. Mike has taken a complicated period (roughly 1969 to the early 1990s – not quite 30 years) and tried to make sense of it. By and large I think he’s done an excellent job. I have some quibbles, naturally, and so will many readers. But bottom line, this is a good job, as far as it goes. That, I think, will be the main complaint about "Growing Pains." It left out a lot. And how can that be resolved? Only by making the book twice, three times, four times as long – and I’m sure that’s not a rewrite that Mike would relish or his publisher, the City of Davis, would even ask for.

Fitch’s unedited manuscript is available now on the Internet for public comment, so I urge the public to comment. Go to http://www.city.davis.ca.us to find the manuscript and Davis Community Network’s public discussion forum. If you want to read the manuscript the old-fashioned way, a paper copy is available at the reference desk of the Davis branch library.

But here’s my specific observation. Much as I enjoyed the chapter on "The Meyer Era at UCD," I wondered why there was no discussion of my favorite chancellor, Ted Hullar, other than the fact that he took over from James Meyer in July of 1987. Hullar’s rise and fall would have made for some interesting reading – a whole book could be written about the Hullar psychology -- and might have shed some light on the role the university plays in this community.

And I have to agree with a public comment posted by Jason Aller who suggests that a few more people profiles might have spiced things up. This is what Jason said, in part: "To leave out a selection of portraits of the non-political misses what I feel is a major part of Davis’ individuality." He wants to see more just plain folks and I think he’s right.

Others who posted comments are Kevin Johnson who wants to know if there’s a book out that sheds any light on Davis’ homogeneous race relations; Margaret Lirones who wants more mention of the late former mayor Sandy Motley, and David Springer who shares his historical observations of the same time span (1969 to date).

The book concept was proposed by the Davis City Council as part of Davis’ 75th anniversary of incorporation in 1992. They requested that the Historical Resources Management Commission oversee the selection of a writer who would prepare a book on changes in Davis since 1969.

Fitch was hired as the author in 1994. This is part of what he says in the introduction to "Growing Pains":

"My theory is that Davis is a city with an overabundance of middle-class, well-educated high-achievers out to save the world. Failing that, they at least want to save Davis from urban sprawl, suburban shopping malls, the nation's love affair with automobiles and other affliction of the modern world. That spirit gives Davis politics a distinctive flair."

It’s not clear what’s going to happen to the public comments that are made. Will more be written on topics people suggest or is this it? We’ll have to wait and see.

I give Mike credit for opening himself up to a potential barrage of public criticism – that takes guts and a thick hide. But I don’t think he made errors of commission, only of omission.

But don’t take my word on any of this – go check it out for yourself.

To inquire about ordering any of the above mentioned books from an independent bookstore,
Bogey's Books [ Click Here ]

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