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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Commentary: The Issue of Race Relations Reaching a Boiling Point on the Davis High Campus

On Wednesday, I received a request from Bernita Toney to have space to present her case for a Boycott of the STAR Test. Concurrently with a People's Vanguard of Davis appearance Ms. Toney, who was the subject of a feature story not long ago, would also have a letter to the editor that appeared in Friday's Davis Enterprise, in addition she spoke before the Davis Joint Unified School District school board meeting on Thursday night. My policy has generally been to grant space to most people who request it. In addition, while I will not take a public position on the boycott itself, I support the larger cause.

Ms. Toney's letter and support information would appear in Friday's Vanguard at noon. What I was not prepared for was an email from Interim Superintendent Richard Whitmore requesting a response. Again, I was more than happy to allow Mr. Whitmore a chance to respond. One of the reasons I founded this blog was the ability to have these kinds of community discussions.

I am very concerned about the trajectory of events at Davis High School, I shall lay that out much more fully shortly. However, I also believe that this Superintendent and this school board are committed to getting things right. I think they showed that in the manner in which the suspension of the DHS Student recently was handled. And I think they are committed toward rectify many of the complaints that Ms. Toney has laid forth. As one key person reminded me, Mr. Whitmore was brought on for the purpose of fixing a lot of this stuff, but he has only been on the job for a little over a month.

I will further say, the fact that Mr. Whitmore was so proactive in responding to the call for a boycott was viewed universally as a positive and important step. It demonstrated concern and commitment. Mr. Whitmore acknowledged the place that boycotts have had in assisting social movements. However, he has also played the role of the establishment by suggesting that a boycott here would cause a good deal of harm to the students.

As I said, I am not here to argue that it would or it will not.

What I will suggest is that it is time for the larger community of Davis to take heed to these concerns, because right now I see frustration and tension rising.

The issue of suspensions is of particular concern here because it reflects a broader concern that students of color--Latino and African American--are disciplined much more harshly than white and Asian students. In fact, survey data from that a huge percentage of minority students believe this and even white and Asian students believe that Latino and African Americans are disciplined more harshly and suspended more frequently and for longer terms than white and Asian students. There is a strong and abiding belief--and I do not know if it is true or not--that there was a racial component in the suspension of the Davis High Student, who happened to be Muslim and happened to be accused of posting a "terrorist message." Can this be coincidental? Perhaps. But it is a cause for questioning.

The district can certainly look at the specific suspensions that Ms. Toney listed, but I think it might be more helpful overall to look at discipline policy and suspension data to see if the actual punishment trends match the perception.

The issue of the suspension of the student organization the Black Student Union has become a flashpoint for all of these problems. The students felt like this was the organization that really helped them and represented their needs and interests. This was a dispute that seemed really spawn from outside of the students and was probably mishandled by staff who overreacted. The loss of the adviser was crippling. The decision to suspend it in the wake of problems perhaps even more so.

The issue of achievement gap has merited strong concerns. This gap is of course reflective of other gaps in society and this country as a whole. But I would suggest if we cannot deal with this gap in Davis where we have ample funding and resources, the rest of the country seems likely to fare much worse.

Furthermore the issue of hiring practices and the utter lack of African American and other minority teachers has long been a concern of many in this community, even more in the minority community, and recently of the school district under the leadership of the current school board. One of the reasons that David Murphy was replaced with Richard Whitmore as Superintendent was the need to address this issue--but there is mounting frustration and any solution is going to be long and difficult. The chief problem may not be merely the schools and their reputation but also the growing reputation of this community.

And that is the broader concern here--the problems in the schools are reflective of broader problems in our community. Last year the issue largely focused around police-minority community relations. And that area is still of a large concern. But it was part of a broader problem as was this.

Some have suggested that a STAR testing boycott will only hurt the district. What I have found interesting since the issue arose yesterday is how controversial the STAR testing program is in general--many people have opted out of the program on their own. In the past and in other communities, similar issues have arisen. I was particularly interested to here from my wife, that they had boycotted the testing in the mid-80s in Chico.

But what I want to suggest most here is the notion that somehow and in someway the broader community needs to become aware of the problems that the minority community believes it faces. In many ways, unfortunately, it seems the only time the community becomes aware of these problems is when these controversies also affect their children.

This community needs to have a long and difficult discuss on racial issues in general. Unfortunately that discussion was short-circuited last year but the problems have only been buried, they have not disappeared. These issues have arisen from time to time for the last thirty years and they will not go away unless we are aggressive and proactive. I just do not know that this community is ready to deal with these problems. However, one way or another, it may have no other choice.

At this point, I would like to thank the Interim Superintendent Richard Whitmore for his willingness to engage on this issue. I honestly believe that he and the school district have the intention of dealing with these problems. At this point, perhaps I would like to see strong public statements from the school district that demonstrates that they are taking strong actions to rectify many of these problems. I think that type of approach would largely reassure many of the parents and other community members involved.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, April 20, 2007

Guest Commentary: Interim Superintendent Richard Whitmore Response to STAR Boycott

Interim Superintendent Richard Whitmore has written this response to Bernita Toney's call for a boycott of the STAR testing.

Dear People's Vanguard Readers,

I have been asked in several forums about STAR testing over the past two days. I want to make it very clear that the boycott will serve neither the organizer's goals nor the individual students' academic needs.

In my short tenure here, I have been happy to meet with community groups about their concerns with the district. We do have issues of differential student achievement, and we do need to address them. A boycott only keeps us from collecting important information about achievement; it hampers us rather than helps us in addressing the issues because we won't know at what grade levels or in what strands of the curriculum we are failing certain groups of students. It's a mistake to boycott.

Other bloggers are correct about the possible outcomes of not meeting the state's and federal government's testing requirements. If we don't test 95% of our students, in the aggregate and in each subgroup, our Title I schools and the district as a whole will be designated as "Program Improvement" eventually. This means state-ordered reviews with the possibility of sanctions if it happens over multiple years.

The state and federal accountability issues, though, are a secondary concern. We need current data about each child, for that child's sake, so we know if there are critical skills and knowledge that haven't yet been acquired in the classroom, and that we need to remediate so that child can go on to success for his or her stay in our district. We need it so that we can evaluate our curriculum across groups of students, for instance at a certain grade level or at a certain school. Maybe the textbook is not providing coverage. Maybe we are not covering the standards that are being tested effectively. Maybe we are not reteaching the students who "don't quite get it" the first time. If we are going to offer our children a successful educational experience, we need the information about what they've learned.

With respect to Ms. Toney's requests of the district, many of them could become the basis for a reasonable discussion. I have already advocated that we review our discipline policy and make sure we are using best practice in a way that separates behavior from academic success. I'm also happy to take a look at the data with respect to disproportionate suspensions. I think some of the suggestions regarding language accessibility of our district documents are good ones, too.

We are already underway with other of these suggestions, such as the training regarding unconscious bias. I will be meeting with a trainer in the next several weeks and we currently plan to offer the training to all administrators. We are also actively seeking new venues to recruit teachers of color.

In summary, we are already making a concerted effort to respond to these concerns, and most importantly, the concerns about student achievement. A boycott will set us back with respect to the data we use to evaluate that concern. A boycott also won't move us forward on the other issues. Meetings, and developing a common understanding of the issues, and setting out a mutually understood work plan, will move us forward.

Please don't boycott the STAR test. Boycotting the test is not a child-centered decision.

Thank you for your time and thanks to the People's Vanguard for creating a forum in which the community talks about education.

Best regards,

Richard Whitmore

Richard Whitmore is the interim Superintendent of Schools for the Davis Joint Unified School District.

Guest Commentary: Parents Call for Boycott of STAR Program

Parents of Black children and other parents supporting justice for all children are asked to have their children boycott the upcoming STAR testing next week (starting 4/24 in most Davis schools.). We are protesting the inaction of the Davis school district in remedying racial disparities in discipline and other schooling experiences and the lack of African American and other underrepresented teachers of color throughout the district. Out of nearly 500 teachers, there are less than 6 African Americans. The largest school, Davis High, has had no African American teachers for the last several years. We will not participate in a testing process that labels as “adequate” the current educational environment for Black and other children.

We are asking the district to immediately investigate the March suspensions of three African American students for a verbal altercation that involved no racial slurs and no physical contact. The White girls involved, one of whom initiated the conflict by bumping an African American student, were not suspended. The first Black student was suspended for the verbal altercation. The district tells us the latter two were suspended for disrespect to administrators.

A fourth African American girl was believed by administrators when she said she had not insulted the White students on a separate occasion. Why wasn’t the truth of all the White girls’ accusations called into question when this lone African American student was believed? At what point do you hold adult administrators responsible for students’ frustration and anger at being continually falsely accused and not believed?

We are asking for these 3 suspensions to be overturned, for the district to conduct in-depth case studies of each of these suspensions for racial bias and procedural errors that might lead to identifiable reasons for racial disparities in discipline patterns across the district. With a little courage and leadership, this could be a teachable moment for all district staff and parents, in the lives of all of our Davis children, and in the thus-far very slow district action in the quest for equity in our schools.

Your simple one sentence written note will exempt your child from the STAR exam next week. Include your child’s name, birth date and grade. Please help us accelerate the call for justice in our “excellent” schools by engaging in this time-tested, nonviolent strategy for social change. Call parents Bernita Toney (753-8393) for more information.

For further information, please click here to read the Star Boycott Options

---Bernita Toney, Davis, CA

What Lessons Do We Learn From Dixon Downs: Why are Some Development Projects Doomed to Failure?

We have not discussed Dixon Downs Race Track much here. For one thing, there have been more than enough Davis issues that have simply kept us occupied. For another, I sense the last thing that the good folks opposing the Dixon Downs Racetrack wanted was the sense that the liberal freaks in Davis were somehow pulling the strings.

That said, we must say something about this nice victory for the little guy over the big corporation. After all, the big back race track folks who angered just about everyone down in Dixon including other folks who are often big and bad in their own right like Campbell's Soup, spent over $500,000 to win the passage of the track. And let's face it, $500,000 in Dixon dollars is probably more like $2 million or more Davis dollars.

Let us not forget just how this started--a 4-1 vote by the City Council approved the race track. Not deterred, the grassroots folks down in Dixon started collecting signatures and forced the issue onto the ballot. And then they defeated it by a wide margin. This is Dixon's Covell Village vote. A great victory, as I said for the small guy.

At the end of the day, this gets me thinking about what all of this means exactly. Since November of 2005, we have seen three major votes on big development projects--two in Davis and one in Dixon. Target very narrowly passed and both Dixon Downs and Covell Village were handily defeated.

Why did Target pass and the other two get defeated? All three represented fundamental and large disruptions to life and we know it in their respective communities. The most interesting thing I have found is that even among those who supported Covell Village, there were concerns about size and infrastructure. Moreover, many of the people who opposed Covell Village were not what we might call knee-jerk zero growthers. Instead the fundamental belief is that that area could not support a massive influx of residents. Covell Blvd. had no easy access to the freeway and not easy way to expand to support another 6,000 residents and their accompanying traffic.

However, I think there is another factor at work in Covell Village, that helps us understand both the Target Vote and the Dixon Vote. The upside for Covell Village did not positively affect the average Davis resident. What does the average Davis resident gain from 2,000 or so housing units? If you live here, affordable housing is probably not a huge inducement. So for most who supported Covell Village there had to be some sort of business decision or philosophical decision that led to that support. There was no direct benefit to the average voter. So you had a calculation where most of the negatives of passing the development project--traffic congestion and other infrastructure problems outweighed any benefit.

Target passed by the skin of its teeth precisely because unlike Covell Village, a larger percentage of people could see an actual and direct benefit that could for enough of them offset the negatives. People wanted a large store where they could do a large amount of affordable shopping in town. People wanted a place (or at least enough) that they could purchase bulk amounts of cheap consumer goods. I am not saying that passage was inevitable, because I think Target could have been defeated under some circumstances, but Target at least presented a possibility of passage.

That leads us to Dixon Downs Racetrack. The people I have spoken to on this issue are of two minds. Some are strongly opposed to it because of environmental, traffic, noise, and congestion concerns (see the Covell Village arguments). Others (and these are primarily Davis people) simply do not really care. Either they moderately support it as a revenue generator or they do not care at all. I have not met a person who actually wants the track because they will attend horse races. And herein lies the point. The vast majority of people in Dixon were voting to approve or deny a project that provided a good that they would not consume and that many had no interest in consuming.

At the end of the day, the Dixon Downs vote came down to how much weight you gave economic development or how much you personally had to gain from such a project. For the average Dixon voter, like the average Covell Voter in Davis, the positives from this project without the personal appeal, just did not justify the disruption and the project failed. We are talking about a project failing in a town with many big box stores and no qualms about growth and development.

The lesson that we learn is that projects of this magnitude need to have a broader appeal to the residents other than--it is good for the economy. Because if that is all they have going for them, the measures will not pass. The easiest vote in politics is the status quo vote--embodied by a no vote on a referendum or initiative. You must convince voters to vote yes because their default is to vote no. To pass, they must entice voters with actual goods and services that the average person has a desire to consume. Dixon Downs failed much like Covell Village because the average person in Dixon probably had little desire to go to the race tracks.

The Woodland Daily Democrat is already suggesting Woodland as a location for the race track. Not sure that is as appealing a location to have it off of I-5 as it was on the I-80 corridor.

As they write:
Davis residents won't mind the horse-racing facility going to Woodland - even through they were opposed to Dixon - because Woodland is generally out of sight and out of mind to Davisites. The Davis City Council was worried about increased traffic on I-80. They most likely won't worry about more traffic on I-5, Highway 113, or even I-505, let alone Woodland's Main Street.
While they are probably correct, they had better hope that Woodland residents do not try to place the issue on the ballot, but we all know what would have then.

A few weeks ago I took issue with the suggestion that Measure J was not a growth inhibitor. The data clearly show that it is. One of the outcomes of Measure J is that they will need to design projects that do one of two things. Either they need to not draw criticism and strong opposition or they need to provide a good that the majority of residents of Davis think they want to consume at some point.

The former point requires that the project not threaten to displace existing business nor threaten to jam the local streets with traffic. In other words--no major disruption to the lives of the average resident. Neither Covell Village nor Target succeeded in this respect. Target however was able to pass by the skin of its teeth because it provided just enough people with the inducement of goods they might want to consume.

In the case of Target, that was just enough inducement to outweigh concerns about a whole variety of issues. For those thinking that this is license to try to bring in another big-box, I would think again. Target was in many ways a perfect storm in Davis--it filled a niche in the economy that did not exist and Target while to many of us was anti-progressive, it was also not Wal-Mart. I am not certain that another big-box fills quite that niche and so I would think it would be difficult to bring in another--unless the council simply does not bring it for a vote in the future.

In the end, Dixon Downs was doomed to fail because once again, the average person was not excited by the prospect of convenient horse racing. All those people could see was more traffic and more growth on their border and that was not worth the trade-off. Democracy prevailed in Dixon this week, it was a victory for the little guy over the big guy.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, April 19, 2007

City Power Vested Strongly in Unelected Public Officials Harms Democracy

Towards the beginning of Tuesday evening's Davis City Council meeting, Mayor Sue Greenwald made note that City Manager Bill Emlen had produced a long agenda and done so over her objections. It was another potentially explosive situation on the City Council however Bill Emlen diffused it somewhat by suggesting that he felt it was necessary to cover these items at this time and that he took full responsibility for any length of the meeting.

Whether the mayor or the city manager was correct in this exchange, one of the important things that this incident reveals is where the power resides--and it is not with an elected official such as the Mayor. Rather it is the unelected City Manager.

A few weeks ago, the issue arose where the question was asked who had the power to write the agenda. My understanding is that the procedure is generally for the city manager to write the agenda in consultation with the mayor. In practice however it seems that the city manager writes the agenda and anytime he and the mayor disagree, he says that this is what the council majority wants.

At times it is not even clear that the city manager was getting his direction from the council majority. For example there was a long range budget workshop. The mayor wanted this workshop televised, as it took place in the council chambers, and yet purportedly the city manager was insistent that the council majority had wanted no television. And yet, when I actually spoke to a number of members of the council majority, they had no idea that such a decision had been made.

So what happened? It is far from clear, but it seems possible that the city manager made the decision on his own and when confronted simply assumed that the council majority would disagree.

Worse yet is that there seems that the mayor has little recourse other than to bring the issues forward in public--and if the mayor does that, she would inevitably lose more often than not.

Formally however, it would appear the presiding officer under Rosenberg's Rules would have much greater latitude:
"The presiding officer is responsible for preparing the agenda and order of the meeting, conducting the meeting and maintaining order."
If the Council Ground Rules is the authorizing document, the presiding officer would be responsible for preparing the agenda. There may be a more fleshed out version however that more fully explains this power. But using this right now as the document, I do not think the city manager is in compliance.

In practice it seems that the mayor does not have the power to agendize items at her discretion. This is in part a function of the city manager model. It is also in part a function of this being a minority mayor. However, at least according to the ground rules, this is not a formal arrangement of power.

The question I pose though is who should really have such powers to determine the items on the agenda--the elected mayor and elected body of the city council or the unelected staff and city manager?

We see this issue arise time and time again. For example at this past meeting, there was a proclamation to award PG&E recognition for their generous $10,000 contribution to the Street Smarts program. The proclamation read signed by Mayor Sue Greenwald. And yet in actuality, it was written by a member of the staff who obtained an agreement with PG&E in order to secure their donation. Did council have a say in this matter? No.

At the recent swearing in ceremony of the new police Chief Landy Black, we saw the city manager rather than the Mayor conduct the ceremony. A number of people who witnessed this event asked why the city manager was doing this? It is a small issue to be sure, but it is illustrative of just who has the power. Generally ceremonial tasks such as these, even in a weak mayoral system, fall to elected officials rather than city staff. That's part of the few actual powers that the mayor ought to have in such a system. I've never seen a city manager perform such tasks.

As I have mentioned on this blog many times, I also think it is problematic that the city council does not have their own staff. This means they must rely on the guidance and counsel of staff that has no direct ties or loyalty to them. This too becomes very problematic at times, especially for members who are in the minority on council.

There have also been several points when city staff has failed to properly advise and council the mayor and city council on public matters. Two such incidents come to mind--again both of these in and of themselves are minor things, but they are illustrative of the broader issue and problem.

At the Police Chief Landy Black swearing-in ceremony, the Mayor made some introductions of elected officials--which is a traditional courtesy at such public events. However, the mayor herself had to walk around and figure out who was there. This was clearly a job that staff should have done. This should have fallen to deputy city manager Kelly Stachowicz who was in attendance. Moreover, there were six visiting police chiefs from other jurisdictions at this event and no one informed the mayor so that she could introduce them on behalf of the city. This is staff's job. The mayor was not properly staffed. An elected official cannot be responsible for figuring out who is in attendance, that is what staff is there for. The staff should have ensured that these dignitaries were properly recognized officially by the city.

On a related note at the recent city council meeting this past Tuesday evening, the new Police Chief Landy Black was in attendance for the first time, officially as the Police Chief. Yet, somehow staff did not think to let the Mayor know that she ought to formally introduce him to the community as Police Chief. Moreover, not one councilmember thought to introduce Chief Black to the community at the meeting.

These types of errors are minor, but they are a bit embarrassing for the city.

This leads me back to my concern about ability for councilmembers to place items on the agenda. Councilmembers can request items on the agenda. The council can actually prevent these items from coming on the agenda. Informally so too can the city manager. What this means is that those in the council minority do not have the full ability to agendize items with staff support and preparation. Often they have had to place items on as city councilmember items--which means they must prepare and staff themselves. A portion of the Davis community who voted for these members is essentially somewhat disenfranchised because their elected representatives lack the ability to place items on the agenda.

While I understand that cities the size of Davis invariably use a city manager model of government which is a very weak mayoral system. It seems that more power is vested with staff than most cities I have seen. It seems that the mayor has very little power to create an agenda and even under the council handbook listed on the city's webpage, the Mayor ought to have more power to do so. Unfortunately, as a member of the council minority, it seems that the Mayor has little recourse other than to make a statement in public acknowledging her dissatisfaction with the current arrangement.

My question remains who should have the power, the elected council or the unelected staff? My position remains that wherever possible, the elected council who must face the voters should retain the power and direct staff to achieve their ends. Perhaps this is what is happening, but if it is, it is not happening in the public light and that is where these decisions need to take place.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

In Tribute to Mel Trujillo

My friends, as many of you know, Davis lost a dear and treasured resident of its community last Friday, Mel Trujillo. Mel was not just a community leader but he was also a very cherished personal friend of myself and Cecilia. We did not always agree with Mel. There were times when he was decidedly on the other side of the fence, such as he was with the issue of Covell Village. But Mel was always a person of profound conviction and character.

In the past year I have grown to know Mel Trujillo very well. He became incensed at the handling of the police issue, the Buzayan case, and the Human Relations Commission. Many a day, he would call me up with his unique voice, "hello David, this is Mel Trujillo." He would proceed often to long and frustrated monologues about the state of things. Other times he would call me up and pump me for information and I would have to figure out what I wanted to leak to his other confidants he spoke.

I will very deeply miss his calls and our conversations. And I will deeply miss the sound of his voice.

I copy and paste a couple of other statements that I have seen in the paper. Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section.

From Bill Ritter (special to the Vanguard):
The passing of Mel Trujillo brings back a flood of memories. Mel was a champion of the underdog. Mel was a strong voice for civil rights, human rights and social justice always willing to come to the aid of those in our society who are victims of bigotry and racism in all its ugly forms. One of the most endearing traits Mel had was the ability to disagree without being disagreeable. I will cherish the many wonderful conversations we shared over the years. I will miss my friend.
From Bob Dunning:
Mel Trujillo made our city a better place

AN INCREDIBLE LOSS . . . if you look up "passion" in the dictionary, you'll find a picture of Mel Trujillo . . . Mel, who worked tirelessly for Years on a variety of human rights issues in our town, died Friday after a brief illness at the age of 77 . . . while Mel worked hard for Concilio of Yolo County and dedicated long hours to the Martin Luther King Jr. dinner and awards ceremony, at any moment he was intimately involved in more issues in town than most of us care about in a lifetime.

Mel and I frequently agreed and just as frequently disagreed on the proper approach to a vareity of issues, and he generally called much later at night than I would have preferred, but I always knew the guy on the other end of the conversation had something meaningful to say. Mayor Sue Greenwald said Mel Trujillo's death is "an incredible loss for the town" and no one can disagree with her...

Thanks, Mel... you made this town a much better place for all of us... your legacy will live on in the many valuable projects you saw through to completion and in the many friends you leave behind.
Letter to the Editor from Reverend Tim Malone
Rest in peace, Mel Trujillo

Me1 Trujillo died today (Friday). He was the co-founder of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Fund here in Davis. At this time, I am stunned into silence as I remember my friend and brother.

Mel was a man of action who always kept his word. He volunteered many hours, days and weeks to help deserving students to attend college. Mel was a brilliant man who worked hard to make this world a better place for everyone. He raised thousands of dollars to give to deserving students for scholarships.

For four years in a row, Me1 dedicated his life to make the MLK Dinner one of the best and most diverse positive events in Davis. The next MLK Award Dinner will be held on Monday, Jan. 21, 2008. We hope to see you there. We will honor our friend and brother, Me1 Trujillo.

Rest in peace, Mel.

The Rev. Timothy T. Malone
---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Davis City Council Delays Proclamation to PG&E While Woodland "Studies" Public Power Issue

PG&E had a representative waiting in the audience to receive their award for donating $10,000 to the Davis Street Smarts program. But they will have to wait at least until the next meeting to receive it because Davis City Councilmember Lamar Heystek made a motion that would result in a delay in the proclamation presentation until a future meeting when the council could concurrently offer up a resolution similar to Woodland City Councilmember Art Pimentel's to support future efforts to develop public power.

The move began at the start of the Council Meeting Tuesday night. Mayor Sue Greenwald asked for the approval of the agenda. Councilmember Heystek instead introduced a motion to approve the agenda with the exception of the proclamation to recognize PG&E's contribution. Mayor Greenwald seconded the motion. And Heystek explained that he thought the council since Measures H and I passed overwhelmingly in Davis should join Pimentel's efforts by affirming their commitment to public power at the same time they award PG&E, the city's present provider who spent millions to defeat the public power initiative last fall.

Councilmember Don Saylor looked visibly shaken by the turn of events but eventually caught himself. When Ruth Asmundson spoke in support of Heystek's motion, it was all over and the motion passed without dissent. Coucilmembers Heystek and Stephen Souza will be submitting resolutions that dovetail on Pimentel's Woodland resolution and staff will iron out any differences. When the vote comes back to council, we can expect it to pass unanimously.

Unfortunately things did not go as smoothly last night up in Woodland. Instead of passing a rather simple resolution, the council has directed the formation of a subcommittee composed of Art Pimentel and Skip Davies. The passage of it will be tenuous as best as it is clear that neither Jeff Monroe nor Bill Marble will support public power again. Mayor Dave Florey may hold the swing vote there.

This is a rather disappointing turn of events, as just a few months ago, the Woodland City Council had been unanimous in their support of Measures H & I. However, the City of Woodland overwhelmingly voted down the measures on the November ballot. I am very disappointed with Jeff Monroe. Monroe is supposedly a Democrat, who has future ambitions for higher office--some have suggested possibly sheriff. Too often he is not reliable in supporting core Democratic principles. Supporting public power over the massive corporate entity of PG&E should be a no-brainer. But that might require Jeff Monroe to take a risk now that the Woodland voters so overwhelmingly opposed H & I in the wake of the disinformation campaign put on by PG&E to confuse the voters. Instead of fighting to educate his community, Monroe is playing it safe.

It may seem like a small victory, but the actions by the Davis City Council loom large as PG&E who had been pounding on the Woodland City Council and using the full force of their power and influence to prevent the passage of the resolution, were denied an honor the same night down in Davis. They will get their turn, but only as the Davis City Council renews their professed commitment to public power.

The PG&E representative, obviously caught off-guard by the actions on Tuesday, was forced to give a brief statement during public comment expressing support and commitment to safety issues.

It was not a perfect day for advocates of public power, but the Davis City Council stepped up and did the right thing. Now it will be interesting to see if PG&E wants to expend the same efforts to pound on the Davis City Council that they did to the Woodland City Council. I will go out on a limb and say they will not because they see the writing on the wall.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Why is the City of Davis Recognizing PG&E?

Last fall Measure H & I, a measure that was unanimously supported by the Davis City Council, was placed on the ballot. In a rare showing of unity, the councilmembers came out in support of public power as a mean not only save money but to produce cleaner energy not subject to windfall profits.

In response, PG&E waged an expensive, dirty, and misleading campaign.

As Stephen Souza co-wrote a letter to the editor in November with County Supervisor Mariko Yamada:
"Davis voters sent an unmistakable Election Day message about public power — we want it! The twin SMUD annexation Measures H and I passed here by a nearly 62 percent margin despite PG&E's unprecedented $11 million disinformation campaign to defeat us. Unfortunately, their efforts to frighten and confuse Sacramento SMUD ratepayers and West Sacramento and Woodland residents were too great to overcome — this time."
Because of these deceptive efforts, PG&E decided it needed to do damage control. After all there was a good deal of bitterness in this community and PG&E recognized that it had to mend the fences--otherwise it would only be a matter of time before the next Measure H & I was proposed.

After an $11 million campaign to keep their stake in Yolo, the company basically threw down some chump change to contribute to the development of the Davis City Street Smart public education program at the platinum level. Hey if they were willing to spend in the tens of millions, what is $10,000 to them.

Now the city of Davis has a contract with them to honor them in exchange for this contribution to the Street Smarts program. This is not something that the City Council wants it is being dictated to them by non-elected staff decisions. Who runs this town again?

Meanwhile as we have seen in the last few days, PG&E in response to a resolution before the Woodland City Council sponsored by Art Pimentel has set up a full-blown answering service to direct calls in the Woodland City Hall opposing the rather innocuous resolution.

The resolution declares,
"The City Council of the City of Woodland supports the continued assessment of power alternatives that would lead to less expensive, more reliable and more earth-friendly electric power for the citizens, businesses and property owners of Woodland and throughout the Yolo County region."
So tonight at the Davis City Council, PG&E will be honored for their community contribution. At the same time, at the Woodland City Council they will be intimidating and browbeating the Woodland City Council in opposition to a resolution supporting the concept of public power.

If PG&E wants to donate to Davis Street Smarts that is fine, but we do not need a proclamation honoring them.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Commentary: School Board Makes It Right in Contrast to the City Council

As the issue of the Davis High School student gets resolved in a rapid and largely acceptable manner, it is easy to look back upon the arrest of 16-year-old Halema Buzayan in 2005 and wonder what if it had been resolved as quickly and amicably as this incident.

Few except those intimately involved in this situation realize that the chain of events that the Buzayan arrest on that June night now nearly two years ago was entirely avoidable. For Dr. Buzayan's first call was not to a lawyer, but rather to his elected representatives. His first move was to go before the Davis City Council and explain his situation. His first action was to file a formal complaint with the department. Somewhere between that point and now things went horribly wrong.

In retrospect it is easy to find faults in the manner in which this was handled by the police officer involved, the city, and the district attorney's office. No one quite understands the reason that Ms. Buzayan was arrested in her home for misdemeanor. No one quite understands the reason that Ms. Buzayan was taken to the police department rather than a probation officer at juvenile hall. No one quite understands the need to arrest anyone for alleged bumper damage to a car.

It was only when the process failed that Dr. Buzayan felt compelled to seek out legal counsel. It was only when his complaint was rejected that the Human Relations Commission felt compelled to create a civilian police review board. Had the process worked, none of these things would have happened.

Certainly no one understands why this situation was catastrophic enough to take down a City Manager, a Police Chief, and the City's Human Relations Commission. But just over a year later it had done exactly that.

And while publicly you still may hear some apologists for the department attempt to argue that things were handled correctly, no one when pressed in private is willing to do so.

Frankly, I have not spoken to a single police officer outside of the Davis Police Department who upon hearing about this case would have handled it as Officer Ly did. No one would have arrested the minor in her home. Some may have had her father bring her down to the police station. Most would have let it go after the damage was paid. Once the victim was made whole there was simply no compelling reason to pursue the case. That is the purpose of the law to begin with--to ensure that people own up to the responsibility of their actions. That was the judge's ruling as well.

I will not get into the further arguments here about the evidence that the vehicle the Buzayans drove did not strike the Wonhof vehicle (and if you saw the pictures, you would be very strongly convinced on this point). Nor will I get into the actions that occur after the decision to arrest Ms. Buzayan.

The bottom line here is that the decision was made by Officer Ly to arrest Ms. Buzayan and the decision was made by the Police Chief, City Council, and District Attorney's office to complicate matters by failing to hold the police officer responsible for his actions.

We flash forward now to an incident that we have been following involving the suspension of a Davis High School student that is very similar except it involves a teacher, the Vice Principal and the school district.

In my opinion, mistakes were made at several different levels in this case.

First, the teacher made the decision to pull down a Malcolm X poster. This is the teacher's prerogative and fully reasonable--even if we might quibble at this. However, the manner in which the teacher reportedly handled it was unacceptable. The correct action would be to inform the student that the teacher had concerns about the appropriateness of the poster in a math class. The course of action the teacher took was to publicly embarrass and berate a student and to proclaim their poster a "terrorist message."

Second, the student was asked to give a speech, the speech was approved, and then after the fact the Vice Principal determined that this student should be suspended for three days for giving the speech. The official text of this speech is available on this blog.

Now here is where history was changed. The school district's upper administration and school board were clearly not happy with the handling of this matter and likely did not believe the punishment was appropriate. So instead of digging in their heals and blindly backing the teacher and Vice Principal, they forced a resolution of the situation which resulted in the suspension being ended, the student going back to school and back to this class.

Additional efforts to rectify this situation may happen in the future, but the major point here is that the school board took a leadership role and resolved this situation likely without any legal action. Because of that there will be no lawsuit against the district. Furthermore, there will not be a slew of upper administrators who will lose their job--although this situation should be viewed as wake up call for the district to look at their on-site administrators and teachers and better structure how punishments should be doled out and for what reason.

Finally, this situation will likely fade away rapidly whereas the Buzayan case is going to federal court. Just yesterday, the federal court judge heard motions to dismiss the portion of the case that is against the Davis Enterprise. That judge will rule on that shortly. Judge refused to dismiss the portion of the case against the Davis Police Department or the District Attorney's Office. So that case will continue for at least another year or so, while the most recent case will soon be forgot.

The moral of this story is for public agencies to take responsibility early and it will avoid problems down the line. It is a lesson that the City Council needs to learn from the Davis Joint Unified School Board.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, April 16, 2007

DHS Student's Suspension Ends Early

Apparently Davis School district's upper administration and school board have stepped up in a large way to rectify the situation that began when a Davis High School student was suspended for three days after giving a speech before an assembly of students. The speech discussed an incident where his Malcolm X poster was removed by the teacher. On the poster, the words "by any means necessary" were prominently displayed. The teacher reportedly removed the poster because she felt it conveyed a "terrorist message."

According to reports, the student is now back in school. The student served only two days of the three day suspension before being reinstated this morning following a meeting with school administration.

Last week was spring break for the school, however, there was apparently a large amount of progress made as the school board and district personnel moved very strongly to put an end to this situation.

The teacher in question had asked that the student not return to class, however, that has also been overruled. The student will be able to attend their class and make up any work and time missed, including two days prior to the actual suspension that the student was kept out of class.

The one issue still remaining on the table is whether or not the district will rescind the entire suspension--a move that the family is pushing for and a move that could occur later this week.

One thing is clear, on this issue the school board moved clearly and decisively to force an end to this situation and probably prevent any legal action from being taken against the district. This is the type of leadership that should be commended and expected in this community.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Conflict of Interest Disclosure Request Drew Ire of Best Uses of Schools Task Force Member

Following the closing of the Valley Oak Elementary School, the People's Vanguard of Davis made a formal request to the Davis Joint Unified School Board to obtain public records in the form of communications between Best Uses of School Task Force (BUSTF) members and the school board and school district. The public documents we received were very revealing in many ways. This article is the first of several that will appear in these spaces that will reveal some of the thinking behind those who served on the BUSTF.

On January 5, 2007 Davis OPEN member Baki Tezcan presented concern about a development project in the Valley Oak area and wanted to ascertain that none of the members of the had a financial stake in this development project.

He wrote:
"Now if you add on top of the available space the acreage that would become vacant once Valley Oak is closed, you get a much larger area to develop/infill, a very attractive investment opportunity. Hence my request for public conflict of interest disclosures. Both the Board and the Task Force include members who work with developers, so my neighbors in the Valley Oak area would sleep better if they knew no other interests got in to the choice of our school for closure than those of our kids."
Task force Vice Chair Jan Bridge, herself a former school board member and longtime community resident who should have been well-versed in conflict of interest disclosure requirements complained vehemently about such a requirement. She fired off an angry email to school board members, administrator Penny Pyle, and Baki Tezcan himself.
"I can only begin to tell you how completely and totally offended and insulted I am by the DEMAND that the members of the BUSTF be required to file conflict of interest disclosures.

As a 26 year resident of Davis, a school volunteer since 1983, and a retired Trustee, I find the implications of this letter to be completely with out merit. YOU can easily imagine where the adoption of such a requirement could lead in a District that has long depended on the goodwill and generous donation of time and talents of the many citizens of Davis.

Should the trustees adopt such a requirement, I will resign the task force in protest."
My reaction to reading this is the lady doth protest too much.

First, really some background. As many are aware, the city of Davis requires all commissioners to fill out and sign standard conflict of interest forms. In fact, right now they are approving updates to their conflict of interest rules. So rather being some type of extraordinary requirement, this is actually a standard disclosure. In fact, it is shocking that the district at this time did not require such disclosures on their own. There was a long debate on the city general plan housing element steering committee about the level of conflict of interest papers that should be required.

The City's ordinance reads:
"Pursuant to Government Code Section 87302, the code will designate employees and officials who must disclose certain investments, income, interests in real property and business positions, and who must disqualify themselves from making or participating in the making of governmental decisions affecting those interests."
Should not the school board whose members sit on a task force that might have just as much stake financially in their decisions be required to do no less? If indeed there are development projects impacted by the decision to close a school it seems to me perfectly legitimate that task force members who were highly influential in the decision to ultimately close the school fill out forms disclosing whether this was the case. For most of them, the answer would undoubtedly be, "no."

Second, the district has since passed new rules pertaining to conflicts of interest. And now they would require all members of any newly appointed task force to sign them.

So Bridge's comments seem totally out of line. First, the requirement should not have been taken as any sort of insult. It was not personally directed at her (or it should not have been). Second, if the task force was formed now, guess what, she and the other task force members would be forced to fill out conflict of interest forms.

So it appears from the stand point of policy that her complaint made very little sense. It certainly made little sense for her to take it as a personal slight.

But I think the most stunning thing was the level of her outrage for what appears to be such a minor issue.

She is "completely and totally offended and insulted" to the point where she would "resign the task force in protest." That response seems totally and completely out of line. The request itself was not only reasonable it should have been standard. Had I read this response by Ms. Bridge, my response would have been, what do you have to hide?

That might not have been fair, and perhaps this was just a principled objection, but to me it raises some red flags. Why don't you want to have to fill out a conflict of interest form? Do you have vast financial stakes in this property? We know that Ms. Bridge was one of the leaders in the Covell Village campaign. Her picture and quotes appear in numerous fliers and quotes supporting the project. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but does that mean she has development interests in the area that may be impacted by a school closing?

Sadly we will not know the answer to those questions. However, this public record seems rather revealing about the mindset of some of the commissioners, that she would be personally offended by the requested signing of a standard form is rather appalling.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Fight for Public Power Continues Post-Measure H and I

PG&E last fall spent over $11 million in Yolo County to turn back a several year movement to bring public power to Yolo County. They did so by overwhelming the more modest efforts of those supporting public power. They did so by turning back the rare united effort by Yolo County elected officials. And they did so by confusing the issues in the voter's minds making them believe or at least doubt the financial outcome of such a change. In Yolo County this lead to the barebones defeat of Measure I. In Sacramento County it led to the massive defeat of their companion measure that would have authorized expansion of SMUD.

However, the fight for public power was not a short-term battle by any means. Measures H and I were several years in the works and the result of hard fought efforts by a number of activists, public officials, and local efforts. Those efforts did not die at the ballot box last November. PG&E may have defeated that effort, but now they will have to defeat future efforts as well. And at some point, PG&E is going to be the one that ends up on the losing side.

This Tuesday, April 17, 2007, the Woodland City Council is taking a very modest step toward public power by sponsoring a resolution that basically demonstrates their commitment to public power.

The resolution declares,
"The City Council of the City of Woodland supports the continued assessment of power alternatives that would lead to less expensive, more reliable and more earth-friendly electric power for the citizens, businesses and property owners of Woodland and throughout the Yolo County region."
Art Pimentel, Woodland City Councilmember is one of the key supporters of this resolution.
"We need to look at all options and alternatives to PG&E and bring this issue back to Yolo County voters in the near future."
PG&E if you can believe this, has already hired a company to defeat the resolution--a resolution that is very basic and does not mention SMUD as the alternative to pursue. They have actually created a call center that will link callers directly with Woodland City Hall.
"The resolution was not even made public until this afternoon and already had around 50 calls into City Hall to oppose a Resolution "supporting SMUD" As you can see the resolution has nothing to do with SMUD, but looking at other alternatives/options to bring Public Power to Woodland and Yolo County."
As the Realist writes:
"This has nothing to do with bringing SMUD back on the table. It just says we should be vigilant and keep exploring other alternatives. A monopoly in my opinion is not the best alternative. The control is out of our hands. PG&E may in fact be our best solution to power, but it will hurt nothing to investigate it."
Supervisor Matt Rexroad lended important support to Councilmember Pimentel and the cause on the Woodland Journal Blog:
"I support Art in this effort. Look -- whatever you think about Art -- he is standing up for what he believes in. You have to respect that. It is really easy to just try to make everyone happy all the time. That is not leadership. Art is out making things happen proactively. He is not out there waiting for things to come his way. This resolution has nothing to do with SMUD. It has nothing to do with the guys in the blue trucks. It is about public power and exploring that option for Woodland."
Pimentel and other supporters hope that other communities will pass similar resolutions supporting public power.
"I hope, West Sacramento, Davis, Yolo County, and others can pass the same resolution and be committed to the cause."
To view the full resolution see The Woodland Journal.

From the comments on the Woodland Journal, Mr. Pimentel could use our help and hopefully the Davis City Council can look at a similar resolution. Davis helped to pass Measures H and I overwhelmingly, and we need to help communities like Woodland continue the fight.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting