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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Commentary: A Recall is the Wrong Response to Threat of County Development on Davis Periphery

The Vanguard has learned that in response to the county's push to create three study areas for development on the periphery of Davis, that papers for recall have been taken out on the two Yolo County Supervisors from Davis, Helen Thomson and Mariko Yamada. On Saturday, we reported that the county staff was recommending that three areas on the Davis periphery be placed in "study areas" and studied for possible development. These areas include the Oeste Ranch on the Northwest Quadrant, the Covell Village Property, and the largest of the three a 1500 acre tract along I-80 east of Mace Blvd.

While the Vanguard shares a deep concern about these proposals, which seem to be tantamount to pressure from the county to develop on Davis' periphery in violation of the pass-through agreement, the Vanguard believes that a recall is the wrong response to this threat, for a number of reasons.

A recall will take up valuable resources, time, and energy from the progressive movement. Progressives ought to focus their energy primarily on winning the seat that Supervisor Mariko Yamada is vacating in 2008 and gaining the majority on the Davis City Council. As we learned in 2005, it was an expensive and exhausting endeavor to have to fight Covell Village. And, even though No on X prevailed, it ended up costing much in the way of energy and time in organizing for Lamar Heystek and Stan Forbes. In other words, if progressives were to succeed in recalling both Supervisors, but were to ultimately lose the seat and the council majority, they would ultimately be far worse off in terms of local land use policies.

The best way to insure good land use policies at both the city and county level will be to work hard in the spring of 2008 to win the fourth district county supervisor seat and defeat Councilmembers Stephen Souza and Don Saylor. Diverting resources toward a recall effort would severely jeopardize that. Moreover, it would introduce a great deal of uncertainty into races that have enough uncertainty to begin with.

Furthermore, such efforts would threaten to divide the progressive movement between those who are supportive of the recall and those who are not. As we have seen from the discussions on this blog, progressives are split on Supervisor Yamada to begin with. A recall will cut more deeply since many will view a recall as an illegitimate approach.

A recall is also a very risky strategy. In order to get a recall on the ballot, it requires a relatively small number of signatures, somewhere on the order of 10 percent. However, that is the beginning and not the end of the process. It does no good to merely place a recall on the ballot. You have to actually vote to remove the targeted individuals from office.

Several people, speaking from experience, have suggested that that is a dangerous strategy, because if you do not succeed in your removal, you actually strengthen the hand of the targeted individual(s). This happens because an unsuccessful recall means you have failed to sell the public on the idea that the elected official deserves to have their term cut short. The effort may be seen as petty and vindictive and that could lead to sympathy and a strengthened hand. For example, history tell us that San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein faced a recall back in the 1980s. When the recall failed, her hand was strengthened to the point where she became the Democratic nominee for Governor in 1990 and when she narrowly lost to Pete Wilson that time, two years later she became Senator.

Many of the big players that progressives rely on to help mobilize and organize the community are not supportive of a recall action either. This effort appears to be done in haste and without sufficient discussion within the movement or the broader community. In order to be successful, there needed to be sufficient organization and action prior to this step to ensure that structure was in place and that there was a broad commitment made to take on such a weighty task. The failure of those who took out papers to have proper discussion within the community, will doom this effort from the start.

We remain very concerned about the land use policies coming down from the county, but do not believe that this is the correct remedy to such actions. In the end, it is our hope that cooler heads will prevail. Davis progressives need to unite against the threats to this community from the outside as well as the inside. This, is the only way we can prevent land use policies that threaten our periphery. The recall effort will actually take away focus from these policies and turn attention and scrutiny on the recall effort itself.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting