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Friday, September 01, 2006

Saylor's Labor Moment

It was one of those awkward moments when Don Saylor got up before a group of Democrats in Davis on Thursday night and gave a rather long and dispassionate history of labor in this country. It was a strange moment and Saylor who has at times given quite good speeches, and is generally articulate, but here he clearly sounded flat and uncomfortable. Compared to speeches by John Garamendi, JR (son John Garamendi, Democratic Candidate for Lt. Governor), former Yolo County DA candidate Pat Lenzi and former Davis Human Relations Commision Chair Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald, it was a complete yawner.

People have good nights and bad nights, the surprising thing about Saylor’s comments is that he has a track-record that goes against labor. We can trace this back to his days on the school board of Davis. He was initially elected in 1995 with the endorsement of the Davis Teacher’s Association. However, in 1999, he was re-elected despite not getting the teacher’s endorsement. What changed? A few things. For one, the teacher’s felt that with his background as an educator for the CYA, Saylor would be supportive of programs for disadvantaged and at-risk youth. Instead he was primarily concerned with GATE and Spanish Immersions. Those are two very important programs, but he’s clearly in those instances catering to the establishment and the gifted rather than trying to help the lesser gifted students.

Furthermore, the teacher’s association felt he played games in his negotiations. Following a budget negotiation agreement with the DTA in 2000, Saylor strongly opposed a pay increase that had been negotiated and was approved by the school board with a 4-1 vote (Saylor the lone dissenter). In what would become standard Saylor fashion, he spoke from three pages of prepared remarks (something he now does on a regular basis): "noted that he has voted in favor of every contract between the school district and the DTA over the past five years, but said that "in good conscience" he could not vote for this one." (Source: Davis Enterprise). This of course followed his failure to gain endorsement in his reelection bid and during a time of huge budget surplusses for the district that the other members voted to pass onto the teachers. In short, he was not a great friend to the union.

More recently, the issue of Target came forward. Newly elected Councilman Lamar Heystek, wanted to have a discussion agendized on whether there should be union reuquirements for Target. Target is a notoriously anti-union corporation. They’ve strongly opposed unionization and have been union-busters. In the anti-Target campaign you will see Bill Camp and the Sacramento Central Labor Council prominently featured. They had requested a hearing on this, the majority on the council opposed agendizing this. Sue Greenwald attacked them as anti-union. Both Souza and Asmundson defended their opposition but stated their support of union. However, Saylor was silent on this issue.

Saylor of course, has aspirations for higher office, but you wonder whether a Democrat can win the nomination for Assembly without strong labor backing. We shall see. Regardless, Saylor’s labor record leaves a lot to be desired and the those listening to the speech had to be left wondering where his loyalties lie, because while he said the right thing, there was no passion and no conviction behind them. Regardless labor leaders will not forget his continued opposition to their crucial issues.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

The Disease of Big-Box Retail

Big-Box retail is like a disease. Like most diseases, it has symptoms that appear in a predictable progression after initial contraction. A town that has been newly exposed to Big Box can expect a marked diversion of consumer dollars and traffic followed by store closings. This effect will snowball as more Big Box arrives near the initial exposure site and vacancies spread through other retail centers like cancer. The entire economy then suffers as money once spent and reinvested locally is funneled off to Minnesota or Arkansas. The final stage of the disease is a blighted downtown, vacant neighborhood centers and total dependence on the Big Box for goods. This is the pattern that has played out in every small city that has allowed Big Box in. It is folly to think that Davis will be any different.

If Measure K passes the Big Box process will begin here. At 2.4 football fields in the Target store alone, this project will vastly change the scale of Davis retail. The current limit on retail is 30,000 square feet; this Target is 137.000. No existing business can compete on that scale and any future retail project will have to be able to match this new standard. Once the general plan restriction is discarded and the zoning is amended to allow this Big Box, there will be nothing to stop more Big Boxes from locating in Davis. The rest of the 72 available acres along 2nd Street will be bid on by the only businesses that can locate and compete next to Big Box: more Big Box. Sam’s Club joined the Davis Chamber of Commerce the same time Target did. Big Box begets Big Box. If you doubt the inevitable progression, ask yourself: Have you ever seen a Target store surrounded by idyllic fields and quiet grassland?

Just the huge Target will cause local business to close. With a massive expansion of the Target in Woodland, a new Target planned for West Sac and the Super Wal-Mart in Dixon, there is no reason for people in the outlying communities to come to a Davis Target. This Big Box will draw its expected $60 million annual sales almost entirely from Davis. Some of these sales will be from Davisites who previously went to out of town Targets, but you can bet that Target Corporation isn’t going to build here to get sales they are already getting in Woodland. So the majority of this Target’s sales will be diverted from existing Davis businesses. That is the only purpose to a store like this.

Let’s be generous and assume that only half of the Target’s sales will be diverted from existing businesses. This really is conservative; people aren’t going to have any more money to spend just because Target is here. But half of their sales is still $30 million per year! Many Davis shops cannot survive such a loss, even spread out, as it would be, all over town. Large groceries and pharmacies operate on small margins and count on much traffic. This Big Box center expects 10,000 car trips per day. That traffic also has to come from somewhere. One stop shopping is the Big Box motto, and it means that consumers don’t go anywhere else! With thousands of customers a day and millions of dollars a year being diverted, it is a certainty that local stores will begin closing soon after this Big Box opens. And the damage will increase geometrically with each new Big Box opening.

Once the retail outlets that Big Box competes with directly begin closing, other businesses will follow suit. The restaurant with vacant storefronts around it will not last long. After the anchor stores close in the neighborhood centers, the small shops will have to follow. Even the professionals will suffer as their small business clients go out of business. This progression will combine with the acceleration of more Big Box to cause eventual but inevitable blight. And once blight occurs, it is irreversible. Berkeley is hemorrhaging money trying to cure the symptoms of Big Box on Telegraph, to no avail. Once the Big Box disease is in its final stages of a blighted downtown and permanently vacant shopping centers, everything the city hoped to gain is lost. The taxes, jobs and convenience are all gone as the cumulative sales tax, employees and convenience once found in the closed businesses vastly exceeds that created by the Big Boxes. This is not a Chicken Little prediction; it has happened in every small town across America that has allowed Big Box retail on its outskirts. Go to downtown Woodland, Fairfield or Vacaville to remember why you live in Davis and why we don’t want Big Box here.

Cities everywhere are resisting Big Box because they see the damage it does to their communities. For 20 years Davis’ leadership had the foresight to block Big Box proposals. Now it is up to us citizens. The negative effects of Big Box are documented facts. Big Box is a disease for which prevention is the only cure. Preserve our community. Vote NO on K.

---Dan Urazandi, guest commentator

Dan Urazandi owns "Bizarro World" in Davis and is a member of the group opposing Target coming to Davis, "Don't Big-Box Davis"

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Part VII: Alternative Models of Oversight

This is the final installment in the seven part series.

I’ve spent the last six entries discussing the weaknesses and problems that the current Davis Ombudsman Ordinance faces. During the course of that discussion were some implicit and explicit suggestions for improvement. This final installment will put together a number of those suggestions into a final proposal.

Alternative Ombudsman Models:

Santa Cruz Model: This is very similar to the model that the current council has adopted and it seems to be one of the weaker models. “A complaint may be filed if you have concerns about specific Police conduct or actions. If a complaint is filed, it is forwarded to the Professional Standards Unit and a supervisor will be assigned to conduct a formal investigation. The final investigation is forwarded to the Police Auditor for review. The investigation is reviewed for thoroughness, objectivity and to insure that the evidence supported the finding.” In other words, the auditor, as they do in Davis, merely reviews the investigation rather than conducts the investigation.

San Jose Model: In this model the internal affairs division does the primary investigation just as the current Davis model provides, however, the Independent Police Auditor “monitors and reviews all stages of the complaint process from intake through final disposition of the complaint. One of the most critical stages of the investigation of Formal complaints is to ensure that officers accused of misconduct are interviewed objectively and thoroughly. The IPA participates directly in many of the officer interviews to ensure that this goal is achieved.” Here, the IAD does the primary investigation just as it does in Davis, however where it differs from the Davis Ombudsman is that the IPA monitors each step of the process, sitting in on interviews and ensuring throughout that the investigation is thorough and objective. That would be a great step up over the current law where the Ombudsman only comes into play at the conclusion of the initial investigation.

Boise Model: Boise has an even stronger model, providing flexibility as to who conducts the primary investigation. “The Community Ombudsman has primary responsibility for the investigation and case management of all complaints filed with the Office of the Community Ombudsman… Investigations, as determined by the Community Ombudsman, may be performed by …” any number of law enforcement agencies or by the Ombudsman themselves. “In determining the most appropriate assignment of a complaint for investigation, the Community Ombudsman will consider the following factors: (1) The wishes of the complainant, particularly any expressed fears or anxiety about interacting with the police during the investigation…” This model would seem to enable the complainant uncomfortable with the police doing the primary investigation to opt for other bodies. The advantage of this model is that it gives the complainant a choice as to who conducts the initial investigation and allows for an independent body to investigate rather than the police investigating the police.

There have been a number of proposals for a civilian review board. A civilian review board is generally composed of a professional investigator, who would fulfill the primary tasks that an Ombudsman or Auditor would fill, and there would be a body of appointed citizens who would hear complaints from the public and recommend investigations. That investigation would be carried out by the investigator and presented in public meetings to the review board who could then make recommendations.

A civilian review board would be a good ultimate goal for this community, but it seems clear that a good deal of the community right now and the police are not receptive to the ideal of civilian oversight.

As such, here are several recommendations made based on the examination of the current model and current problems.

  1. Strengthen the Ombudsman position by making it a full-time position. As we’ve seen, the City Manager has had difficulty finding a qualified person to take a part-time position and it seems clear at this point that the city needs a full-time position. In the future, we might be able to cut back on that as department practices adjust to avoid continued complaints and adverse findings.
  2. Give the Ombudsman a stronger role in the initial investigation. Both the San Jose and Boise models would accomplish that. The San Jose model would be a less drastic change but it would have a great impact simply allowing the ombudsman to monitor and participate in the entire investigation. The Boise model would change who conducts the primary investigation.
  3. Strengthen the PAC by using it to replace the Internal Affairs Department. This is drastic, but it seems very clear that the IAD cannot police or even properly investigate complaints against the police. The PAC is made up of legal professionals, a retired police chief and two attorneys. These are not amateurs. The current model puts them as mere observers; this change would put them into the forefront of the investigation.
  4. Strengthen the CAB by giving it specific advisory authority. Right now the CAB is not being used as a Community Advisory group. It needs to be given specific charges to advise the police on specific department policy.
  5. Improve Community Outreach. There needs to be forums for the public to participate to express concerns. Some of this happens already. However, in order for this to work properly, the department needs to go into the minority communities and actually interact with segments of the public who feel aggrieved in the current climate—that includes students, the African-American, Muslim-American, and Mexican-American communities.
  6. Improve Representation on the Boards. Find a way to get diverse opinions on these boards. Find students not heavily involved in student government. Find minority students. Find people who represent youth. Find representatives from the minority communities who may not support current polices. Give the public a true forum by which to express their views. And make the CAB meetings, public meeting.
  7. Re-instate the Human Relations Commission. When the City Council shut down the HRC, it shutdown the most effective body to register dissatisfaction with current system. By removing its membership, the Council chilled the possibility of a future Commission that would heavily voice its dissent of Council goals. That creates a very dangerous precedent for future interactions.
---Doug Paul Davis Reporting

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Part VI: Community Outreach and Transparency

In yesterday’s segment, I discussed problems with the lack of representation for specific communities most affected by the police. A reader made a good point that in addition to the lack of representation for minority UC Davis students and others in the minority community who have had the bulk of the adverse dealings with the police department, that there was a lack of people who deal with youth and at-risk children. Carlos Matos does deal with youths and at-risk children, but he’s an exception on the Community Advisory Board in a number of ways.

Compounding this problem is the basic weakness in the Ombudsman Model. On page 11 of the agenda item, city staff wrote: “Another downside to the contract police ombudsman function is that it is not structured to allow for much public outreach to the community.”

There are two separate but related problems that this raises. The first problem, dovetails from yesterday’s discussion and that is the lack of general communication between the police department and certain members of this community.

We can trace the foundation of this problem back to the initial response of former chief Jim Hyde to allegations coming from the Human Relations Commission. The HRC has in the past often worked very closely with the police department. Under previous chiefs and in the early part of Hyde’s tenure, the police and the HRC worked closely on hate crimes. There were liaisons and other contact between the police and the HRC. When the allegations began last summer, Hyde immediately cut off contact. His liaisons no longer attended meetings. He stopped meeting with the chair and other members. And as we’ve seen, he did more than that, he actually according to public records documents, waged a public relations campaign against the HRC.

The problem of communications goes beyond the conflict between the police and the HRC. The Chief would seek out only forums where the people attending would be supportive rather than critical of himself and the department. In much the same way that we see President Bush seek out only very supportive audiences for his speeches and announcements, the Chief operated in much the same way. The organizer of the May 23rd March Against Racial Profiling tried to get police representatives at an University of California wide conference on April 29 about Police-Community Relations and was turned down. He tried on a number of occasions to organize meetings and public forums and the chief had no interest. The line of communication was cut off.

Now the Ombudsman is going to be in a position to oversee the operations of the police department and yet there is no channel of communication set up in the current system to go from the members of the public who are aggrieved with the current process to the Ombudsman. To make matters worse, the HRC is now disbanded. They will likely reformulate the committee, but is it going to be a place where the public can air their concerns as it has in the past? The City Council has generally been unresponsive to public concern. The police department does not have a replacement chief. And the Ombudsman is part-time and will not be involved in any form of community outreach.

If there is one single area that could be fixed tomorrow and make a huge difference, it is in this respect.

The second problem, relates from the first. And that is the notion of transparency. There is a lot of talk about the word “transparency,” but what does it mean? As used in this situation, it implies openness, communication, and accountability. It is a metaphor from the sciences meaning a transparent object is one that can be seen through (source: Wikipedia). The article goes on to say: “Transparency cannot exist as a purely one-way communication though. If the media and the public knows everything which happens in all authorities and county administrations there will be a lot of questions, protests and suggestions coming from media and the public. People who are interested in a certain issue will try to influence the decisions. Transparency creates an everyday participation in the political processes by media and the public."

And that is the key. “Transparency cannot exist as a purely one-way communication…” The system set up at the moment is exactly that—one-way communication. There is a professional hired to oversee the operations of the police. The investigation process is a closed one. We are given the results of the investigation. The officer has a chance to have a hearing before an administrative law judge. The complainant gets no such luxury. The complainant’s only recourse is to sue the city if they do not like the process. The complainant has to under most conditions bare that cost themselves; whereas the officer is given a chance to appeal, funded by the taxpayers, and in most cases defended by taxpayer expense even in a civil trial.

There is no transparency in this system. We do not have any sort of public investigation of the facts or the findings. There is no part of this system open to public scrutiny. And they’ve even managed to create a system that closes down the lines of communication. So there is no public discourse.

Lack of communication leads to public distrust. Someone wrote me, that a person who files a complaint, has that complaint thoroughly and sincerely investigated, has the complaint found to be unfounded, will often still believe in the veracity of their charges. There is no way around that dilemma per se. However, compare two situations. One in which all investigations are conducted largely in secret and the rulings handed down with no public scrutiny. In the second situation, there is a public meeting discussing the allegations and charges. An investigation is conducted. They then present findings of the investigation (much as you would present an academic paper) in public, where the public can ask questions about the process and the findings. Which situation is the public more likely to have confidence in the overall findings—the secret one or the public one?

Everyone who opposes this forum of civilian oversight believes that those who support public oversight are against the police. I think this system would, if conducted properly, would benefit the police. The current system hides the process and the person who feels wronged is not going to be convinced that the police did their job when they are handed a letter explaining it to them. That leads to an inherent distrust of the police and the system. They are left to either expend vast amounts of money on a lawsuit (which will cost the taxpayers a lot of money as well) or they are left to accept it, often with a degree of bitterness. On the other hand, if you go through a formal process that is open and lose, but if you think the process was fair, you may not like losing, but you’ll at least accept it and have faith in the system. I think that strengthens the hands of the police and fosters rather than erodes public trust. I know a lot of people see this as an attack on the police, but it is really an attack on an ineffective system of oversight and unfortunately, the new system seems to be as lacking in this capacity as the old system.

Tomorrow, I shall discuss alternatives to the existing model in the final installment of this series.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, August 28, 2006

Part V: CAB: Representing the Community?

The following is part five in our series looking at police oversight in Davis. In addition to the PAC, the City Manager and the Police Chief have created a Citizen’s Advisory Board.

An advisory board of 12 people representing a cross-section of the community based on neighborhoods, businesses, schools, religion, race, gender, and other factors was formed the last quarter of 2005. The members are selected by the Police Chief with the City Manager’s approval. This board meets with the Chief on a monthly basis to provide input to the department regarding constituent concerns. Additionally, the CAB members will take information away from the police department back into the community. This Board has broad public representation and input into the police department. Most importantly, CAB opens and sustains on-going dialogue with key members of the community on issues of mutual concern. (Source: )

The goal of this body would seem to be relay constituent concerns to the police. From descriptions from some of the members it has generally been used to present information to the members of the board, rather than used in any sort of advisory capacity. Generally they have provided information about crime statistics and new programs that the police have implemented. It is less about solving problems within the police department and more about receiving information about the police department. I do not want to disparage this, because the people involved I have spoken to have found it useful. But we should not be under the illusion that this body is currently being used for any sort of critical inspection of the operations of the police department.

The question is about how representative of the diverse community is this body. And in some ways, it appears to be very diverse. You have people from various communities involved. Shelly Bailes, a gay/ lesbian activist is a member, Hamza Al-Nakal, a member of the Muslim community is a member, Carlos Matos, a prominent Latino, Calvin Handy an African-American former UC Davis Police Chief, representatives of the business community, and even two students are there. One thing you will notice though is that those involved in this group tend to be supporters of the current majority on the council. There are some exceptions, but that seems to be the case. But, that’s not surprising.

There is one issue involving the CAB that is of particular concern. And this extends beyond the CAB itself to include the UC Davis-Davis Police Liaison Committee. My concern comes from observing the largely minority student march on the Davis Police Station in late May. There were somewhere between 100-200 minority students. And let me tell you, if you have been a long time resident of Davis, the number of minorities, particularly African-Americans in this crowd was surprising in and of itself.

What particularly struck me that day was the level of anger I saw in the marchers. The level of frustration seemed to be at a boiling point. And a big problem was the lack of legitimate channels of communication open between these students and the police department but also city government in general. No fewer than 20 students came forward in a two hour protest outside of the police station following the two mile plus march and talked about their experiences with the police. Very naked and raw stories about being pulled over on very little pretense, asked if they were in a gang or on probation. They were asked routinely if they were from Sacramento or Oakland. Finally, they were released. Almost none of them received any sort of citation and almost none of them were accused of breaking any laws. For some this happened multiple times—to the point where some refuse to drive in Davis because they do not want to deal with this police.

The reputation of Davis for minority students is absolutely horrendous. There are almost two separate types of complaints about the Davis Police. One is the excessive force, violation of rights and procedures, and general intimidation. The other is the racial profiling. They’ve been lumped together at times, but in many ways, they are different and need to be addressed differently.

The police refused to have a spokesperson even talk with the students. A number of officers stood behind the glass, practically jeering and taunting the students. It would have been a marvelous gesture on the part of the police to send someone out there and try to have a dialogue with these obviously frustrated students. The organizer for this march tried on a number of occasions to meet with the Police Chief or Assistant Chief and was rebuffed.

But the other thing that struck me was to compare the students at this march to the students traditionally involved with student government. Those are the students now sitting on the CAB and on the Liaison Committee. And these students are not represented in this process.

Why is this omission important? Because there is no one on these committees that has gone through the experience of being pulled over for no apparent reason other than to ask questions to ascertain whether or not this is a criminal or someone dangerous. There is no legitimate reason to believe that this person is a criminal or someone dangerous other than the color of their skin. There is no one on any of these boards that can personally relay that to the police. And the police have refused to engage on this issue.

More alarming are stories I have heard relayed to me that indicate that otherwise liberal and progressive individuals are either oblivious to this problem or support these policies. A story was told to me that a woman, a self-described progressive, did not have a problem with racial profiling. That her primary concern was rising crime and she wanted to stop it at all costs. She was asked, if a black person committed a crime in Davis, should every black person be pulled over in an attempt to catch the criminal. Her response was yes. When pushed on it, she said, she didn’t care, all she wanted to do was stop the crime, she did not care how they did it or whether people’s rights were violated.

I find this not only alarming, but emblematic of the attitude of the Davis populace. There is probably only a 15 percent segment of the population that has had problems with the police, but this problem has gone on for years, and unless there is a way to get these communities represented on the CAB, the problem is going to continue. As presently composed, the CAB fails to address the fundamental problems that are going on in this community. I will warn you, watching these students in May, things were near a boiling point. Unfortunately, it may take a major incident to alert the general public to the treatment that a sizeable segment of the population faces each day.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting