Who is La Verne City Council candidate Muir Davis, whose yard signs you’re increasingly seeing around town?
Let’s put it this way. When he was a teenager waiting in line at In-N-Out, he wasn’t thinking about what beverage he was going to order with his double-double and fries, he was wondering why all In-N-Outs didn’t offer sloping drive-through lanes so you could turn off your car to save gas and cut greenhouse emissions and coast to the pick-up window using the laws of gravity.
After speaking with him briefly, you get the feeling that if La Verne ever had to send a representative to Sacramento, Muir could hold a very high-level, high-concept discussion with Gov. Jerry Brown.
At California State University at Pomona, he graduated with a degree in Decision Sciences, when most of his classmates didn’t know a degree like that even existed. At the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Business in Claremont, he earned two masters, one in business, the other in financial engineering.
“When I was a kid, people always asked me, ‘What are you going to do with math?’” he recalled. “And my response was, ‘Anything I want.’”
For 23 years, he has spent his career in the energy field, 17 of those with Southern California Edison. Technically, he is a project manager. In reality, the utility tells him, “Muir, here’s something not working well or not working at all, now go fix the problem.”
And that’s exactly what he does. In the early 2000s, he helped Edison create a renewable credit energy market, in effect, helping companies understand that if you buy energy, there are negative externalities like waste and pollution for which companies should also help shoulder the costs.
Solutions, Not Slogans
With Muir in the room, if someone wants to put up a new factory, he’s going to see past the promised revenues and predicted jobs and ask about the unintended consequences the new project might also bring.
When he is given such assignments, he doesn’t feel any extra heat or responsibility, he welcomes the tasks.
“My favorite problems are the ones that don’t come with any back-of-the-book answers,” he said. That’s why his get-out-the-vote campaign emphasizes three words: “Integrity, Engagement and Innovation.”
His wife Michele, whom he met at grad school, overhears LaVerneOnline’s far-ranging discussion with Muir and adds, “He’s brilliant, he knows how to talk to you in a non-math-y way and make you understand. He doesn’t talk down to you, he brings you up to where he is.”
Muir knows he has at least one vote solidly locked up.
There have been lots of influences that have made Muir the thinker and problem solver he is today. His family goes back to the founding days of Lordsburg. His father was a professor at the University of La Verne. “I was a college brat, who watched the tents go up,” he said.
A college experience also had a profound impact on his way of thinking. “I had this tropical fish tank, but it didn’t seem colorful enough, so I started adding fish. The tank became overcrowded, with the fish banging themselves against the walls and trying to jump out of the tank. Several ended up dying.
“I don’t want to see overcrowding in La Verne.”
What he wants to see is logical, balanced, patient, inclusive and interactive growth where the entire community is engaged and working together.
“I’m not really interested in animus,” he explained. “It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game where there are winners and losers. I’m interested in how we can all work together to make our community stronger – where the solution will be more beautiful and more beneficial than any one idea.”
Muir’s thinking is clearly elevated – even in the clouds at its loftiest peaks.
“That’s okay, Muir noted, “I go in and out of the clouds quickly.”
As an example, at the mention that burglaries had seen a 60 percent year-over-year spike, Muir answered that reducing crime didn’t lie in simply hiring more police officers. “We can invigorate our community by walking and biking and getting to know our neighbors so we have more eyes in our community looking out for one another. Your home isn’t just your property line, it’s your street, it’s your community.
“If we just try to increase the number of police, that’s not going to solve the problem. Instead of having a limited force, we can have a community of thousands, with each of us having our neighbor’s back. Neighbors who care for one another won’t be pointing fingers at each other or punching each other.”
Muir holds the same inclusive vision for education.
“We can’t look to our teachers to solve all of our educational problems,” he said. “We need to be there to support the teachers and recognize that they need support from us, from the students, from everybody.
“So when I tutor a child in math, I feel I’m supporting the teacher,” said Muir, adding that he believes math equations must be worked out on paper and felt in your arms, hands and fingers.
With his abiding love of math, he envisions adding a math center to the University of La Verne’s literacy, where students can go on their own to expand their learning, the same way he used to ride his bike to the library when he was growing up in La Verne.
“I love the fact our schools are strong in academics, strong in athletics, strong in the arts,” Muir said. “Our bands and choirs are renowned. We have a Heisman in the trophy case at Bonita, but I would also like to see maybe a Nobel Prize winner or Fields winner [the highest scientific award for mathematicians] come from La Verne. Wouldn’t that be amazing!”
Muir’s optimistic view of the world includes a government that plays a significant role in setting agendas and platforms that inspire its citizens and businesses. “One of the most innovative periods in our nation’s history was the government’s decision to go to the moon,” he said, adding that our race to the moon is still spinning off scientific breakthroughs a half century later.
“It can’t be a fight between business and government, it has to be a collaboration.”
His collaborative approach also is consistent with his financial thinking. “We need to make sure that when we look at taxes, whether they are transactional or asset-based, they are not overburdening to either side,” he said.
As for economic development, he believes in holding out for the right kinds of businesses. “I think one thing you don’t want is a race to the bottom,” he said.
Nor does he favor using over the-top incentives to hasten the development process.
“I don’t think we need to give away the farm to get somebody to move in,” Muir said. “La Verne is a community where you want to be doing business, so we should let our credentials stand out and carry the day. We’re not in need of a quick fix.”
On the topic of the level of service that the city provides, Muir leans toward local control even when it can be more expensive. “We get more value out of having direct control than if we’re always trying to save a nickel,” Muir said. “People have to be comfortable with the fact that we’re not trying to be the discount community. And that emphasis on quality goes to support property values.”
Muir believes strongly in community service and volunteerism, but he doesn’t feel it has to be an all-or-nothing proposition. In that regard, he believes the city can do a better job in communicating needs, not just by posting volunteer opportunities, but by “fractionalizing” these opportunities, chunking them down into acceptable blocks of time that don’t appear so overwhelming – splitting head-coaching duties, for example, rather than taking on the entire responsibility yourself over the course of a long season.
Muir is running for office because he knows how a few committed citizens can effect change for the better, pointing to our nation’s revolution where a handful of activists were able to change the course of history.
On the local level, he sees a few cyclists becoming a community of cyclists once the city connects the nonsensical hodgepodge of bike paths that keeps La Verne from being a bike-friendly city.
If you call Muir a politician – after all he has thrown his hat into the political arena — he won’t embrace it, but he won’t run from it, either. He doesn’t really think much of labels or slogans.
“It’s the same as being a Christian,” he said. “That label has become kind of wonky, too. But, yeah, I’m a Christian, which tells me to live simply and to serve.”
Muir’s deep roots in the community have taught him to take the long view, to think generationally, to invest in vetted methods and models, not in three-month cycles. “If we continue to look at the right horizons, then we will have lots of new opportunities.”
With a mother and brother who are artists, it’s easy for Muir to see beauty all around him. “There is so many great things going on in this town,” he said. “I want people to look at that and say let’s make more of that.”
He wants to help lead that. At the same time, besides having his hands full with politicking, he and Michele are busy parenting their four children, Joshua, 24, Michael, 17, Marley, 14, and Emma, 10.
It was Emma, a 10-year-old, bike-riding fifth grader at Roynon, who recently spoke up inside city council chambers about the increasingly hazardous traffic flow on White Ave. Holding papers and a microphone, she shared how her bicycle commute to Roynon had become more dangerous. Muir had addressed the council and the audience earlier.
“Nobody remembers that I spoke but they all remember that she spoke,” Muir said, sounding every bit the proud father.
Emma may very well develop into the real politician in the family, but if the city should have to settle for Muir in the meantime, that might not be a bad trade-off.
Like daughter, like dad!