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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Supervisor Candidate Jim Provenza Talks About the Issues Facing Yolo County and the City of Davis

I sat down last night with School Board President Jim Provenza who is a candidate for the Fourth District Yolo County Board of Supervisors for a Vanguard exclusive interview about the issues facing Yolo County and the City of Davis. This is the first in a series of interviews with candidates and public and elected officials over the course of the next few weeks.

Why are you running for County Supervisor?

I’m running for County Supervisor because I feel it is essential that we protect Yolo County’s agricultural heritage, preserve farmland and assure the rights of cities to control their own destiny in terms of development is protected. I believe it is also important to bring economic development to Yolo County in a way that is consistent with protecting our environment and protecting our agricultural heritage. I’m also very concerned with the support that the county has been able to provide for mental health, services for senior citizens, as well as law enforcement services. I believe that Yolo County needs to do a much better job of bringing state funds and federal funds into our communities to support social services and law enforcement.

What accomplishment on the school board do you feel most proud of?

I think I’m most proud about changing the emphasis from one that focused solely on the high academic achievers to one that focuses on improving achievement for all students, emphasizing addressing the achievement gap and problems with English learners a high priority or one of the highest priorities in the district while maintaining the quality of educational services for all students.

What is your biggest regret about your time on the school board?

The biggest regret is that I’m going to have to go off the board in December. I love working for the schools and have wonderful colleagues on the board and wish that I could be in both jobs but unfortunately that’s not possible. So I will be moving on, if the voters decide that’s the best thing, to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors.

What are the biggest challenges facing the county?

The biggest challenges facing the county are really threefold. First, there are fairly significant budget problems in that Yolo County is being pressed on several sides. For one thing it gets a lower share of state funds back to the county than most other counties in the state. At the same time, the Williamson Act is being threatened. That is the act that is the act that provides for special compensation to farmers who continue to farm and that act is now being threatened at the federal level. The other is the pressure from other counties for sprawl type development. If you look at Placer County they just approved a huge, a huge development on agricultural land. Many of the counties surrounding us are growing so fast that it creates pressure here. We have some of the best agricultural land in the nation and there is going to be a tremendous amount of pressure on our county to become like someone else. It will be my job to ensure that Yolo County remains unique and that it develops in a smart and economically viable way, but that we preserve the land and we make sure that whatever we do that we keep in mind protecting the environment for our citizens.

What are your primary goals on the board of supervisors if elected?

One of my primary goals would be to do the same thing that I did on the school board which is to promote transparency in government. To show respect for the voters and the citizens by making sure that every decision sees the light of day. That when I make a decision that it is not the result of a backroom conversation. That is not the result of a backroom deal. That if there is a meeting, that the meeting be in public. That we consider the Brown Act to be the minimum standard not the maximum. In other words, that the Brown Act that prohibits secret meetings, that’s just the minimum standard, we should hold everything possible in public unless there is a very good reason not to do so. That’s the standard that we’ve had on the school board. If you have to have a personnel matter or making an offer in litigation of course that’s private. But aside from those very narrow exceptions everything should see the light of day and be done in public. Even though it is harder as a public official to do it, in the long run it gains a greater respect of the people and then when decisions are made, the public will supports those decisions.

How would you have approached the general plan discussion differently from how it was approached by the current board (if at all)?

I think really what needs to happen is that there to be much more communication. There were several public meetings, the public was pulled into the process, and this isn’t a direct criticism, but I think there is not nearly enough communication between the city and the county staff in terms of the direction of the general plan. The city had no idea what the county was planning. The city staff had no idea what the county was planning. And the city and county officials in many ways were talking past each other rather than to each other. If we are to have rational development in the city and the county, we need to have a rational discussion between public officials who share the same constituents. County supervisors, city councilmembers, school board members, we all share the same constituents. It’s essential that we work together, that we work in the open, and that we work in the common benefit for everybody. If we plan in that way, it’s a lot more work, but in the end we will have plan that will have the support of both the city and the county and the citizens who live in those areas.

Who ought to determine whether the City of Davis needs to grow and develop on its periphery?

The periphery, what is known as Davis’ area of influence, is set forth in the pass-through agreement between the city and the county. It is very clear in that agreement and I support the principal that each city should control its own growth.

You already answered the first part of the next question, which was “Do you support the current pass-through agreement?” The next part is, if so, how would seek to protect it?

I think every agreement, and that agreement has been around for a long long time, needs to be reexamined every so often. To the extent that changes need to be made. To the extent that the city has issues or the county has issues, we should always be able to sit down and negotiate and discussion how we should meet our mutual concerns. The county gets over $2 million in revenue each year from the pass-through agreement, if the revenue needs to change, if the revenue to be updated, that’s something that can always be talked about. If there’s ways to coordinate development ideas or planning ideas through the city and the county that’s always something that can be discussed. In fact, the agreement really has several options for the city and the county to talk to each other about development within a city’s sphere of influence. But ultimately the bottom line is that the county cannot run roughshod over Davis, over Woodland, over West Sacramento. Ultimately each city must be in control over its own sphere of influence. And working in a cooperative way, I don’t think that there needs to be conflict between the city and the county because I think if they can work in a cooperative way, everybody’s interest can be met in a win-win relationship.

What is the best way to address county revenue problems?

There several ways to address the county revenue problems. As I’ve stated, I think we need to go to the state and insist upon a more equitable sharing of revenues not just vis-à-vis Yolo County, although that’s important, but I think we need to get together with other counties and work toward a relationship with the state which recognizes the fact that the counties are the funders of last resort for mental health, for welfare services, for medical services for the elderly. And neither the state nor the federal government provides enough money to pay for these things. And over the years the amount of tax revenues that stays in the county has gone down. Every time the state has a budget crisis they figure out a way to take more money from the counties. I think ultimately all counties face the same fiscal concerns from the largest to the smallest. Ours may be more severe than others but I think it is a very similar concern. I think we need to work very hard with other counties to change that relationship.

Locally I think we need to look at how we are spending the money, make sure that we are using economies of scale, make sure that we are where we can obtain services at a better economic cost, for example using community non-profit agencies, we should do so. And then thirdly we do need to look at economic development. We need to look at programs that could be jobs and taxes into the community, and I don’t think that’s inconsistent with controlling sprawl or controlling growth, it’s just making sure that decisions that we do make are consistent with protecting the environment and protecting the land. I think we need to look at not just one thing, you can’t just look at bringing business, you can’t just look at bringing in housing, you can’t just look at changing the relationship in terms of taxes, you have to look at a multifaceted approach to budget issues. You also have to be willing to make cuts when you see inefficiencies. You can’t just keep spending, you have to look at if we are not getting our bang for the buck in a certain area, you have to be willing to address that and consider whether or not that money could be spent differently.

How do you differ from your potential opponents on the key issues facing Yolo County and the City of Davis?

I haven’t heard any positions from any potential opponents at this point so it would be difficult to answer that. However, I’ll say this, I’ve been an elected official in this county. I’ve represented this entire district on the school board for the last four years. I’ve been actively involved in the Davis community for the last ten years. I have a record not only on school issues but on city issues and many other issues of local concern. I would hope that any potential opponent would be able to point to similar accomplishments and similar activity in the community.

As County Supervisor, who do you think you represent first, your constituents or the county as a whole?

Constituents always come first. Your constituents sent you to the county to represent them. You work with four other individuals who are representing their constituents on the board of supervisors. So that is not an either/ or, it is not a conflict. When you are sitting on the board of supervisors, you are representing your constituents and working with four other people who represent theirs for the good of the entire county. In addition to that, and I think that this has to be true of member of the board of supervisors, you have a responsibility to make sure that those people with the least influence, the least wealth, and the least ability to influence government are taken care of. That is one thing that I have consistently done on the school board. If there is someone without a voice, whether it be a low income person, whether it be a farm worker, whether it be a victim of domestic violence, in addition to representing my constituents, whether that person is a constituent or not, it will be my responsibility to see that that person’s voice is heard.

You were endorsed by Supervisor Yamada, in what ways would continue her policies and in what ways would you be different from her?

Well we’re two different people. And when she endorsed me, interestingly, she didn’t ask any of my positions on issues, she was aware of my work on the school board, and the type of elected representative I am and said based on what she sees in me, I would be the right person to replace her. I’d very much like to continue her advocacy on behalf of elderly people and disabled people and people without a voice in government. She has been a stalwart in terms of advocating for people who really need the help of government in order to survive. I would very much continue that effort.

I think that we agree more than we disagree on development and environmental issues. I happened to disagree on the general plan issue of including the study areas. But I continue to support her for State Assembly and she continues to support me for County Supervisor, although there will be areas that we differ.

How do you get along with the Davis City Council (as individual members)?

I get along fine with the city council. One of the things that has changed I think from my first two years on the board to my second two years, has been that we have worked very closely with the city council on issues of mutual interest. For example the Grande Property. We are working with the city on an agreement that will allow us to sell the property in a way that the property can be developed consistently with the desires of the neighborhood as well as the desires of the school district. What we found is that when we look at our mutual interests, we get along very well. In the past there have been turf battles between the school district and the city council, turf battles at the staff level, turf battles at the elected official level. We have none of that. When we have an issue of mutual concern, even when it’s a member of the council that I might disagree with on other issues, I’m always willing to sit down and work things out as are members of the council. We have two former school board members on the council who are very concerned about the school district. I see myself continuing a similar relationship with the city as a member of the board of supervisors.

How can you help the city and county work together rather than against each other on future policy decisions?

I think the discussion has to start early on whatever we are working on. There is a tendency, and I think it’s a human tendency, to just work on things and assume that everyone knows what you are doing. One of things that I found out in being an elected official is that usually people have no idea what you’re doing until the very end when it comes up for public vote unless you seek them out and make them part of the public process. If the county is going to do something that affects the city or the city is going to do something that affects the county, we need to start discussions early on from day one. A lot of disputes aren’t really disputes over policy, they are disputes that arise because people haven’t communicated early and haven’t communicated throughout the process.

How can the county work better with the University?

Again it’s really about communication. Letting people know what you need to do early, bringing them in early. For example if we are going to be talking about stem cell research, and our county wants a facility, we need to bring the chancellor in at a very early date and let the chancellor know what we’re thinking and find out what the chancellor is thinking. And try to work together to make those things happen. And it’s not that hard to do. Where you run into problems is when one person goes in a certain direction for a long period of time before telling the other person what’s happening. That tends to have the opposite result that we’re seeking. I think that by having not only regular meetings but by having regular substantive meetings in detail and making clear to everybody involved—for example if you are going to be doing a project—you not only have the university and the county involved if you are the city, but if there’s neighbors, you bring the neighbors in early, hear what they have to say. If you don’t bring them in early, you’re going to bring them in mad about a year later even if they otherwise might have gone along. You need to bring people along each step. If you come in at the very end and say here’s what I want to do, whether it’s a development or a project, people who otherwise might have been supporters are more likely to be suspicious or opposed.

How much should Yolo County grow in the next 20 years (annual rate)?

I haven’t looked at a growth rate for the county as a whole; I think the one percent Davis growth rate is good for Davis. Other communities may want to grow faster than that and you’d have to look at community by community. But the basic principle is that when you do grow, you don’t take prime agricultural land away because once it’s lost, you never ever get it back. You can correct almost any other mistake, but when you take farmland away, and that’s a state and national problem. Congressman Thompson just wrote an editorial in the Sacramento Bee the other day. He’s talking about how Yolo County is one of the areas that has been really successful at preserving farmland where other areas have not. So that principle must underlie every other decision we make including the speed of growth.

What do you think about moving the BOS meetings to evenings?

It might be difficult as a practical matter because of the size of the staff. I could see occasionally doing it, but on a regular basis because of the number of staff people who have to come to meetings and to be available to the board, and the length of meetings it might be difficult on a regular basis.

If elected, will you continue to work for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office?

It’s possible that I would work part-time. One thing that I would have to do is make sure that there are no conflicts of interest and get a legal opinion on that. I expect that I would work full-time as a county supervisor and also have part-time work for either the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office or private law practice.

How does your experience with the DA’s office help you with regards to law enforcement and public safety?

I’ve been involved in public safety really the last 18 years. 14 years a member of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office in the legislative office in Sacramento and four years as counsel to Public Safety and the committee in the Assembly and the Judiciary Committee in the Senate where I handled criminal law legislation. Fundamentally what I learned is that in order to have effective law enforcement you have to have the funding to make that possible. For example, a few years back, the governor was proposing to eliminate money from witness protection, though that was a good way to save money in the state budget. That was money that went from the state to the local communities. That would have been a disaster, I fought tooth and nail against that and got the funding restored. That’s the money that goes to protect witnesses who are threatened basically with execution by gang members when they’ve been a witness on a homicide case. What it taught me is that the state often has no idea what the local government is doing. And no idea how important some of these programs are. The half cent sales tax for law enforcement in the early 90s prevented cuts of up to one-third in the budget of Sheriff and Police. One of the things that would have happened if we had made those cuts, is that we would have lost the ability to control crime because every study shows the more police and Sheriffs you have in particularly crime areas, the less crime gets committed. Instead you get a situation where a lot of crime gets committed and you have to incarcerate people, but you are not doing much prevention. I was able to intercede with the Democratic leadership in the legislature in the early 90s to establish that half cent sales tax that really saved local law enforcement in California. I was able to do that because of my contacts with the Democratic Party and the Democratic leadership at a time when other law enforcement representatives really weren’t being listened to.

I think I could continue that type of advocacy—now as a supervisor you are in a little different role—but understanding the state budget and understanding how law enforcement works I would be in a perfect position to argue at the statewide level to argue for local law enforcement including for our own county.

Do you plan to use blog and other technology during your campaign or as a Supervisor?

I’m working on it.

What do you think of the People’s Vanguard of Davis?

I think it’s a great way to get information out to the community. There are many mediums that people follow between the paper and TV and radio. But one of the nice things about a blog is that it allows for information to come out very quickly, in greater detail sometimes than newspapers can provide, and provides a way for people to give immediate feedback. Sometimes there’s views on the blog that I don’t agree with, but I always know that there will be someone expressing the opposite view about ten minutes after the article appears. So I think it’s a very interesting form of communication. I’ve looked at other blogs as well, such as one in Woodland that we all know about, I have enjoyed following that as well.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting