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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Valley Oak Charter Plan Moving Forward Rapidly

On Wednesday evening, around 30 parents gathered at the Valley Oak Elementary School multipurpose room to discuss the future of Valley Oak and the steps needed to take in the formation of Charter School.

The presentation was led by Mike Egan, who is a California Teacher's Association (CTA) representative whose job is to help facilitate the creation of a charter school. For me this represents a vast sea-change over where the teacher's union was in the mid-1990s on the issue of charter schools when they were generally hostile to the notion.

One thing that is clear now is that the formation of a charter school at Valley Oak Elementary School will not be opposed by the Davis Teacher's Association (DTA) and has some strong support from both teacher's at Valley Oak and elsewhere. It also has the personal support of the president of the DTA. That is a very important hurdle in the formation of a charter school--to ensure that you have teacher's willing to take part in the process.

It is important to understand that under the rules of a charter school no teacher can be required to work in a private school. However, a teacher does have the right to request to work in one and the right to return to their district when they are done working in a charter school.

Likewise no student is required to attend a charter school, but students are allowed to return to the district if they so desire.

Part of signature requirement appeared to be from my understanding of the presentation that around 50% of the teacher's who would be proposed to teach at the charter school must sign the petition. Also 50% of the parents who believe there is a reasonable chance that their child will attend the charter school must sign as well. In the application they must specify the number of teachers and students that will comprise the charter school. Something on the order of 70 students is a minimum for viability.

Under the California Charter Schools Act of 1992, the school cannot discriminate against students for any reason, it cannot charge tuition, and it cannot be sectarian.

There are five reasons that can be bases for denial of charter status--otherwise the district must accept a properly chartered school petition. First, a district can deny a charter on the basis of an unsound educational program. Second, if they deem the petitioners unlikely to successfully implement the program described. Third, if the petition does not have the required number of signatures. Fourth, if the petition does not included the required affirmation (see the previous paragraph with respect to what the school cannot do). Fifth, the petition does not include a comprehensive description of 16 required elements.

As one can see from that list however, it gives the school district a good deal of latitude for judgment calls especially on on the first two aspects and probably the fifth aspect as well. What it comes down to is that if a district is dead-set against the formation of a charter school they can make it difficult and throw up roadblocks. As Mr. Egan suggested on Wednesday, there have however been successful charters with hostile districts and boards.

The suggestion was made however that the interim superintendent was at least not dead-set against the formation of the charter school and that in general he had a favorable disposition towards charter schools. However, he would likely need to see the specifics of the proposal before supporting this particular charter school.

California would then pass Proposition 39 in the year 2000 by a 53-47 margin. In addition to lowering the requirements for local votes to 55% from two-thirds, it also requires school districts to provide charter schools with reasonably equivalent facilities to those provided to students in the area where the charter school students reside. This measure took effect on November 8, 2003, generally requiring all California school districts to provide facilities to charter schools that meet the requirements of the regulations. The deadline to apply for facilities for a given school year under Proposition 39 is October 1 of the previous fiscal year for an existing charter school and prior to December 31 of the previous fiscal year for a new charter school.

Basically school district have to make available to charter schools facilities sufficient to accommodate all in district students "reasonably equivalent to schools they otherwise would have attended." It requires a minimum of 80 in district students. It is substantially rent free, however there is an oversight percentage of 1% of 3% (depending on certain factors). The charter pays operations and maintenance costs. The district is not responsible for out of district students--however, any inter-district transfer is additional money for the district. And finally if there is any facilities encroachment on the general fund, the charter may have to pay for that. The district shall make a reasonable effort to accommodate a request for location, size, and the facility being contiguous.

Finally, it requires a very strict timeline.

  1. Charter petition must be submitted before November 15, 2007 (by November 14)
  2. Must submit facilities request before January 1, 2008 (by December 31)
  3. Must be able to demonstrate meaningful interest from 80 in-district ADA at the time the facilities request is submitted to the school district
  4. Charter petition must be approved before March 1, 2008

That timeline basically puts a huge impetus on a contingent of people to help draw up the charter and get this process moving by this summer. As such they created a tentative timeline for charter organization and submission. Please click here to read it.

Finally any community members interested in volunteering should do so by clicking here.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, April 27, 2007

HRC Gets an Earful on Race Relations at the High School

For the first time since the Davis Human Relations Commission was disbanded and then reconstituted, the HRC listened to members of the public talking about their concerns about race relations at Davis High School. While the topic started out focusing on the Black Student Union (BSU) suspension, it broadened into more general complaints about racial issues at the high school and in the broader community.

The unfortunate aspect of this meeting however, was the lack of presence by the school district, which is the authority with jurisdiction over the matter. The HRC meeting coincided with a special board meeting across the street. That meeting prevented Climate Coordinator Mel Lewis from attending the HRC meeting, despite the pertinence of the issue and despite his position as liaison and ex-officio member of the body. (Update at 8:20 am 4/27/07: It was reported last night that Lewis could not attend due to the school board meeting, but we have gotten word that the meeting only dealt with the issue of the Superintendent hire and Lewis was neither at that meeting nor is he involved in that issue).

Instead, Mel Lewis and Kevin French submitted to the HRC a two-page statement that purported to summarize the events that led to the suspension of the BSU. The complaints included a number of parent who attended the BSU meeting on March 1, 2007 who did not check-in or out of campus per the requirements. Moreover he charged that "negative race-based comments were directed at the principal and coordinator of school climate activities..."

A number of attendees at the HRC meeting had been in attendance at the BSU meeting. They took issue with the statement released by Mel Lewis--calling it one-sided and distorted. They claimed on the contrary, that there were never any race-based comments. Moreover, the statement claimed "the principal suspended BSU club meetings until parties offered apologies and held reconciliatory meetings. To date, no apologies or meetings have taken place." On the contrary, members present at the meetings disputed these facts suggesting that there was never a request for such apologies or meetings as a precondition for reinstatement of the BSU. Moreover, even if true, why are they punishing the students for the actions of the parents?

While it is difficult to ascertain exactly what happened involving the BSU and a number of parents have suggested that media accounts in the Davis Enterprise and Sacramento Bee were distorted and inaccurate, some of the commissioners perhaps got too bogged down in the specific facts of this specific issue. One of the members, suggested specifically that they did not have the facts of this case and therefore it would be difficult to take any action.

To a large extent this was true, however, the point was also made that this specific incident is part of a larger problem and that the issue of race and race relations needs to be considered as a whole rather than through one specific issue. Police Ombudsman Bob Aaronson who was attending the meeting, made the point that if there is a burning building, you cannot create a subcommittee to figure out what the facts are, if you do, it will simply burn to the ground long before you get the hose there. In these cases, sometimes you must act not on the specifics of the case, but rather on the overall picture.

Interim Superintendent Richard Whitmore also sent the HRC a letter outlining the steps that the district has been taking--mostly in the form of new programs.
"We are taking steps to evaluate those existing programs and determine when and how to improve them... We will explore additional opportunities to develop and articulate a curriculum that addresses diversity, but I would caution that curriculum does not change overnight, nor does it change without appropriate training and a cycle of evaluation and improvement."
While I can respect the Interim Superintendent's difficult position, I have a number of concerns that I do not think are addressed by curriculum changes. First, I am very concerned that the district and the HRC could not coordinate on this meeting. Frankly, Mel Lewis, Ginni Davis, and Richard Whitmore needed to hear what was said at this meeting. I do not understand why there could not have been some kind of cooperative effort here, but that is what needs to happen in the field.

Second, Mel Lewis is the climate coordinator however many of the parents and students believe that he is part of the problem (along with Ginni Davis). I have not witnessed this personally, but many believe the entire situation was mishandled. Mel Lewis purportedly was going to assume the role of adviser when the previous adviser, Courtnay Tessler, stepped down, however the students wanted no part of that.

Third, the primary problems I see are not curriculum based. I have very serious concerns about the high school administration. While it seemed that the school board and superintendent did a good job with the suspension of the student involved in the Malcolm X incident, that situation has still not been resolved. Apparently the teacher has refused to return to class while the student is present. That has left the students themselves without a qualified instructor right before their AP Calculus exam. Moreover, now the district is trying to get the student to transfer classes to the other calculus class, which would cause him to rearrange his entire schedule. They have not rescinded his suspension and that may lead to him getting a poor grade in a class where he missed an exam. In short, the high school administration completely mismanaged the situation there. That has nothing to do with curriculum.

Along the same lines, many parents and community members complained that the BSU situation was mishandled. Others complained that there are no African American teachers at the high school Courtney Tessler, a white woman, had reportedly not wanted to be the adviser again, but the BSU Students came to her and told her that no one else wanted them. This sounds like a horrible message sent to the students, and something that the administration at the high school could have handled much better.

Furthermore there are four years worth of survey data of high school students that show that the perception of the high school students--even those who are white or Asian--believe that black and Latino students are given harsher punishments for the same actions as their white and Asian student counterpart.

None of these problems it would seem can be resolved by new programs or curriculum changes, they all require tough choices by the upper management of the district and the school board. Unfortunately, it seems that according to some parents at least, Mel Lewis, the person who is supposed to be solution to these problems is instead part of the problem. One of his suggestions that apparently greatly angered many in the minority community when he suggested that they take the "B" out of BSU.

Then there is the issue of the Human Relations Commission itself. Leaving aside the handling by the council of the police issue last year, what was clear watching this meeting is that the people who were on the HRC were those in the room with the least experience and knowledge about these issues. On the one hand it was good that they got to hear these stories from long-time activists and community members. On the other hand, most of the members probably had no idea that this type of thing had been happening and for how long. What the community lost when the HRC was disbanded, was a tremendous amount of collective and institutional memory.

A number of long-time and esteemed community members at this meeting provided invaluable background and insight on these issues. People like former HRC Chair Rick Gonzales who not only described a number of first-hand incidents but also described some of the things they did 20 years ago on the HRC to look into these kinds of issues. Gonzales also brought forward 35 years of educational history. Desmond Jolly, has been in this community for 35 years and spoke about some of the issues that his son faced. Dick Livingston taught at the high school for years, talked about people like former HRC member Bill Calhoun who was for a long time the only African-American teacher in the High School and now there are none at the high school.

What resonated most with me was Ombudsman Bob Aaronson's warning that this is indeed not just a school issue, but a community issue. And that if these things did not get dealt with at this level, it would quickly filter down to the incidents that he does handle. Michelle Stephens, an HRC member had probably the most forceful advocacy of action, and she mentioned that she works with adult education and that these problems just carry right on to the people she works with.

In the end, the HRC was too limited in its power to do much. There will be a joint Council-School Board Meeting on May 23, and the HRC is going to draft a statement.

The old HRC could have played a much larger role in this matter. In 2003, the issue of bullying arose. That HRC held a community meeting where the Superintendent David Murphy himself got an earful from literally hundreds in the community including parents and students, many of them in tears, many of them angry on the bullying issue. This forced district action. Even as a mere educational body, the HRC could play this type of role. But instead they will make a mere statement and a recommendation.

My own personal issues aside with the HRC and my wife's role, it was never more clear to me how much this community has lost by the changes to the HRC.

Right now this situation is starting to boil with a number members of the minority community increasingly concerned about the climate in the schools. The stories we heard last night were the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately those with the actual power to enact changes were not there to hear them. The HRC was created in the aftermath of the murder of a Davis High School student. This is an issue that they have taken up in the past repeatedly. And now they have been strafed of their power and the community as a whole is worse off.

It was a very frustrating night but I left with a bit of a smile on my face as I know that at least for one night, the HRC members got to listen for just a few minutes to stories about the dark underbelly of the People's Republic of Davis.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Analysis: Asmundson's Attack on the Mayor Unfounded

The notion of civility was floated by Don Saylor in his Op-ed a few weeks ago. At the time, I pointed out in this space that Saylor was very quick to complain about incivility when he was on the receiving end, but he never ever said a word when it was either he or one of his council majority colleagues who were being uncivil.

Tonight the Human Relations Commission at 6:30 pm outside of council chambers will take up this issue at the behest of chair John Dixon. I am not certain how this relates to the charge of that commission, but it is quite apparent that for whatever reason Dixon is carrying the water on this for the council majority.

One thing that strikes me is the thin skin of some of the members of the council majority who at times have found insults and incivility where it was not intended or at least would have been better left unsaid. At the meeting last week we have such a case. Mayor Sue Greenwald at several points in the meetings expressed strongly her dissatisfaction with the length of the agenda, fearing that the meeting would go well into the night--and it did. City Manager Bill Emlen was insistent throughout that the length of the meeting was necessary. At no point did the members of the council majority disagree with the city manager.

Finally at nearly midnight, the mayor complained in a brief statement about the length of the meetings and accused the council majority of insisting these late meetings by limiting the number of nights that the council would meet. While Asmundson, Souza and Saylor took umbrage at this accusation, back in August and September, it was in fact, the express desire of the city council to limit the number of nights that they would meet. Souza in particular complained that he had never made such statements, however, he did approve of the meeting schedule that was set last summer that included fewer meetings on the long range Calendar. This was chiefly Councilmember Saylor that pushed that through, but Souza went along with it.

Sue Greenwald stated:
The public does not like meetings that go past 11:30 and I don't think we can make good decisions past 11:30 and yet the council majority has been consistently insisting that we have fewer meetings and that they run longer and the council majority is also has also been to be frank about it been going on and on and on with detailed questions... But the public doesn't like it when the meetings go to late and I'm trying as mayor to do a reasonable job in pacing out meetings so that they can be over by 11:30 and the council majority is insisting that they go on until all hours of the morning.
This prompted a very angry response from Ruth Asmundson.

I'm sorry the council is not insisting it's just unfortunate that the mayor cannot run the meeting more efficiently... If we have a more efficient meeting then we can finish all these things.
Asmundson's charge led to a lengthy exchange in which heated words were said in all directions. The situation deteriorated at this point and I think needlessly so.

What I found most stunning about Asmundson's complaint that Mayor Greenwald did not run a more efficient meeting is that Greenwald had been consistently throughout that evening attempting to move the process along--pleas that for the most part went unheeded by any of the councilmembers--and that the vast majority of time was spent by the council majority and not the mayor.

This prompted me to do an analysis of how this meeting was spent.

I went back through the recording of the meeting and examined and computed the length of time that each council member took with their questions and with their comments and motions. Included in the respective councilmember's time is the amount of time a staff member spends answering their questions; however staff reports are not counted. I counted staff response to direct questions since this is part of the time being taken on each item that a particular member has control of.

I will also note that four consent items were pulled--two by Saylor that Souza wanted to pull as well, one by Asmundson and one by Heystek. The mayor did not pull any items.

Here is the total time spent on the consent items and then Items 5 through Item 8 at which point the dispute occurred.











As you can see, Greenwald probably was least responsible for the length of the meeting as she spent by far the least amount of time speaking during the meeting. Saylor and Asmundson were the most egregious in terms of their time usage. Both of them spent a considerable amount of time on the conflict of interest item.

In watching the replay of the meeting, there are three key things that used up a tremendous amount of time.

First, there was 30 minutes of public comment during the agenda item on Rancho Yolo.

Second, the Rancho Yolo agenda item was extremely complex requiring a number of different motions to approve and tease out the staff recommendations. That used up a tremendous amount of time.

Third, and this one is the one most attributable to a member of the council, Councilmember Saylor made a number of motions on the issue of conflicts of interest that cause that process to drag on much longer than it would have had they simply approved the staff recommendation.

None of these factors are attributable to the ability of Greenwald to effectively run a council meeting. Had the Mayor tried to interfere, the council majority would have given her a strong rebuke and rightly so.

Moreover, none of this should infer that any of these things should not have occurred or that councilmembers ought to speak less. I think the council needs to properly deliberate, my complaint would be simply that the agenda was too long and the items too complex to have as many items as they did.

Asmundson's complaint is simply not borne out by the facts as I compute them. The meeting did not go too long because the Mayor did not run an efficient meeting, the meeting went on too long because there were too many items and they were complex items and councilmembers took their time to deliberate.

The Mayor certainly at times does not run the most efficient meetings. At other times the Mayor is indeed combative. However, this attack upon the Mayor as being an inept presiding officer or taking up too much of council time is in this case simply inaccurate. The Mayor has had her good days and she has her bad days, but the criticism from the "Gang of Three" is unfair.

My reading of the council rules suggests that the Mayor should play a much larger role in the creation of the agenda than she has.

As I suggested in a blog entry last week, 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.

Regardless, if Councilmember Saylor is truly interested in civility, he needs to take charge and admonish his allies, not just his perceived adversaries. I do not see that occurring, which is why his plea looks more like a political tool than anything intended to create meaningful and more civil dialogue in community discourse.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Wednesday Briefs

Vacaville Councilmember Steve Hardy Named To "ABC" Board

For those who missed the news, Steve Hardy, a councilmember from Vacaville who finished third in 2002 in the 8th Assembly Democratic Primary was recently appointed to head California's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). The ABC is responsible for licensing and regulating 75,000 businesses statewide that sell, manufacture or distribute alcoholic beverages.

This move does two things. It ends his tenure as City Councilmember in Vacaville and it ends speculation that he would enter the 8th Assembly District Race. The council in Vacaville will decide in the next 30 days whether to hold a special election or to appoint a replacement.

Currently that race remains a two person field--with West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon and Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada. The other three potential candidates have officially now bowed out with Supervisor Mike McGowan and Davis City Councilmember Don Saylor both having endorsed Cabaldon.

To this point Mayor Cabaldon appears to have vastly outworked Supervisor Yamada, this work showing up largely in the lopsided endorsement totals. This would appear to give Cabaldon an edge.

Cabaldon at this point would be the prohibitive favorite, however, the race would change drastically should a strong contender emerge from Solano County where two-thirds of the vote reside.

Valley Oak Charter School Issue Tonight

There will be a meeting to explore the idea of creating a charter for Valley Oak Elementary School. All members of the community and school staff are invited to attend.

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007,

Valley Oak Multi-purpose Room

7:30-9:30 p.m.

More on the Gang Injunction Decision

For some reason unbeknownst to me I have read a few of the comments in the Sacramento Bee under the gang injunction articles.

This is kind of a typical comment:
"Liberal thinking has once again given the upper hand to criminals. Wouldn't want to offend any gang-bangers, would we?"
In some ways the thinking is so simplistic that it is hardly worth a response, but in other ways it is emblematic of a mindset that fails to really scrutinize government actions.

The issue basically came down to the fact that for whatever reason, District Attorney Jeff Reisig decided to serve a notice to exactly one individual and once he did, a number of other individuals were placed under the injunction.

According to the logic above, the Bill of Rights is obviously a product of that liberal thinking--and in fact it is liberal thinking--the kind of 18th century liberalism that our nation's principles were built upon. Perhaps that individual did not take a civics course and read the 5th Amendment to the US Constitution ratified in the 18th Century:
nor shall any person... be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law
This is as clear a violation of that principle as I have seen in some time.

Why are protecting the rights of the accused and ensuring due process of the law so vital? Because without those processes the law is bound to make mistakes. Mistakes mean innocent people get punished for crimes or actions that they have not committed.

Moreover, our system presumes innocence until proven guilty in a court of law. While this is not directly in the constitution, it is derived from the right against self-incrimination in the fifth amendment and the right to a jury trial of one's peers in the sixth amendment. The due process of law is what determines that an individual is guilty, not presumptions based elsewhere.

These are the bedrocks of our society and the safeguards that we have against an arbitrary and oppressive government.

Rather than worrying about offending criminals, our chief concern is with respect to due process of law and fear of punishing innocent people.

If these safeguards make it more difficult to prosecute criminal activity, that is regretful, but ultimately I believe that security and liberty do not need to be zero-sum games. They do not need to be mutually exclusive. What they do require is commitment to both--the ability to create policies and programs that can prevent crime while protecting everyone's rights. That should be the exact goal that we strive for in a free and open democratic society.

We all fear the lawlessness of criminal activity, however, I also fear the danger that failure to safeguard our liberties under the constitution may engender us. I know to call the police when the bad guys come for me, it is a little harder to know what to do when it is the law that is improperly prosecuting you and violating the law itself.

In any case, I am a proud supporter of the ACLU and I refuse to run from my beliefs in the due process of the law.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Commentary: Reisig Cowardly Passes the Buck After Setback

The decision by California's 3rd District Court of Appeal struck down an overly broad injunction against a West Sacramento Gang this week. This is not generally a court known for its activism or its liberalism. However, the violation of due process was obvious even to the more callous and cautious members of the community.

Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig intentionally attempted to circumvent due process requirements in order to get the injunction imposed by only serving one single individual. The fact that Yolo County Judge Thomas Warriner allowed it to stand after the initial challenge on the grounds that the individuals had no standing to contest the law, since they would not acknowledge that they were gang members, speaks volumes about his own judgment.

The attack on civil liberties here is clear--the court struck down the law based on a narrow issue--the lack of proper notification to affected parties. Reisig in his haste and attempt to impose the curfew on a broad range of individuals without anyone to contest the order, served merely one individual with a notice to appear. While he defended his decision based on a notion that they would relay the message through their informal network, the court easily threw that defense aside.

Due process of the law is paramount in any society governed by the rule of law and this policy imposed by Reisig when he was a Deputy District Attorney blatantly violated those norms.

Moreover there was not a requirement that anyone had to be convicted of a crime in order to be labeled a gang member. That combined with the failure to notice individuals about a court hearing created a clear violation of state and federal due process requirements. This was clearly a policy that threatened to sweep a number of innocent people in with hardened gang members. Those decrying this ruling have failed to take into account that a number of the individuals served here have strong evidence that they are not in fact gang members at all.

However, by far the most shocking and appalling act of cowardice was the buck that Reisig passed after the decision--for he promptly dumped the entire mess that he had created through his own laziness and attempt to circumvent due process, into the lap of the city officials of West Sacramento most particularly Mayor Christopher Cabaldon.

Reisig told reporters after the Monday decision that he would seek another injunction only if West Sacramento city leaders, including Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, wanted it.

Mayor Cabaldon of course has been a supporter of the gang injunction. He was quoted in Wednesday's Sacramento Bee as saying:

West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon said evidence from residents and police indicates crime is down since the injunction was enforced.

"From the beginning it has all been about achieving a balance between assuring public safety in the community and to protect the constitutional rights for all of our residents," Cabaldon said.

However, the measure is very polarizing. Many Latinos feel that the measure unduly singles out Latinos regardless of whether or not they are gang members--giving police broad discretion to harass any Latino in the gang injunction zone. Residents feel that it has a chilling effect on social and community activities. And some have accused the police of forcing gang confessions on them, placing them under the lifelong ban with no legal recourse or means to fight the charges.

On the other hand, many residents feel the opposite, that the gangs are a menace and that this is the only way to fight them.

Thus no matter what the Mayor does at this point, he will anger a large constituency as he faces a nomination fight in the Democratic Party for the 8th Assembly District. Reisig has done him no favors here by passing the decision making to Cabaldon. Cabaldon would be well served by dumping it right back into Reisig's lap by criticizing the District Attorney for trying to cut corners with the initial injunction and recognizing to the public that Reisig is the county's chief law enforcement officer and that Reisig himself makes such decisions.

Whatever one feels about Cabaldon here, there an issue of fairness and it was simply not fair for Reisig to dump this into the lap of the Mayor. Reisig is the one that made several crucial mistakes in the application of this policy that would be controversial enough even with proper notification. In other words, the court decision to strike down this injunction was completely and totally on District Attorney Jeff Reisig watch and instead of making a decision as to whether or not he should attempt to rewrite the injunction and properly notice individuals he dumped it on Mayor Cabaldon.

District Attorney Jeff Reisig was just seated this January as Yolo County's first new District Attorney in over 20 years. He was elected with near unanimous support from law enforcement and yet promised to make reforms and do things differently. However, this policy and the handling of this decision demonstrate that in fact it is still business as usual in the Yolo County criminal justice system. Civil liberties are still violated and responsibility and accountability skirted. At the end of the day, Yolo County needed a clean break in the District Attorney's office and Reisig will not provide that.

The Sacramento Bee had their own scathing editorial for the District Attorney who less than one year ago they had endorsed:

After the ruling, a disappointed Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig cited the brutal attack on an Amtrak conductor last week allegedly by members of the Broderick Boys as proof of the need for the gang injunction. But Reisig overlooks the obvious: The injunction was in place and had been for more than two years when the attack took place. It did not prevent that crime.

As the court's opinion makes clear, the injunction was too blunt an instrument. The order lacked necessary safeguards for those affected. In the tight-knit communities of working-class Broderick, the injunction posed the risk of sweeping too many innocent people into a very wide net.

The next time Reisig moves against gangs, he should consult first with local officials and residents to get their advice and their support, both of which appeared noticeably absent the first time around.

This was a point that was made yesterday in the comments section--the gang injunction did nothing to protect the Amtrak employee from being beaten. It is nice to see the Sacramento Bee call Reisig on that aspect.

However, it remains even more appalling to me that it took an appellate court to strike down this rather obvious and blatant violation of the constitutional right to due process which seems to shape the entire Yolo County criminal justice system.

It is Reisig who needs to make the decision to revisit the injunction and not Mayor Cabaldon. Proper noticing will require great effort on the part of the prosecutor's office and then it will involve a lengthy court challenge as the defendants and the ACLU challenge the constitutionality of the gang injunction itself. The court explicitly left open that possibility, however, the proper process will take time and expense. It would seem to us that there would be other ways to combat gang activity that do not infringe upon the rights of potentially innocent people without the possiblity of due process of law.

This entire episode has left an unfortunate smudge on Yolo County law enforcement, but even more unfortunately represents only the tip of the iceberg. Someone needs to come in and clean up Yolo County and unfortunately this case confirms what we already suspected, Jeff Reisig is not the man to do it.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


The Sacramento Bee this morning reported that a state appellate court Monday struck down the infamous "Gang Injunction" that imposed a curfew and banned public gatherings of accused gang members without the due process of law.

In a major slap to Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig, who began this process while he was still a deputy DA, Justice Fred K. Morrison ruled:
The district attorney knew of “veteranos” and “shot callers” yet served only Billy Wolfington, whose rank is unknown but who was characterized as a “soldier” at oral argument in this court; further, when served Wolfington disavowed any intention to appear. Thus, whether he would tell others was a matter of chance.

On this record, service on Billy Wolfington alone was insufficient under state law absent proof that he was of sufficient rank and character within The Broderick Boys that it is reasonable to infer that service on him effectively apprised the gang of the pendency of the legal proceeding.

As we explain, neither of the next two arguments tendered by the district attorney demonstrate that service on one gang member of unknown rank was reasonably calculated to achieve notice in this case, therefore such manner of service does not meet the Mullane federal due process standard.
(The full ruling can be read by clicking here)

In the February 20, 2007 Sacramento Bee District Attorney Reisig defended his policy:
Reisig defended the method police used to notify alleged gang members of the injunction.

"When you serve one street terrorist, they're all going to find out that the cops are coming," he said.

Reisig, who was at the time a Deputy District Attorney, gave notice of the suit to just one of the alleged gang members. When neither that individual nor anyone else showed up in court, Warriner granted the injunction.
In August of 2005, Cosmo Garvin of the Sacramento News and Review wrote:
"But Deputy District Attorney Reisig told SN&R that the Broderick Boys have an active communication network, through which the individual who was served notice of the injunction was able to spread word to the rest of the gang.

Reisig added that serving notice on each individual who would be subject to the injunction would have expended “a tremendous amount of resources.”

“The law simply doesn’t require us to do that. The judge even said it was OK,” added Reisig."
The State Appellate Court however has disputed that logic:
"Whether he would tell others was a matter of chance," Justice Morrison ruled.
The big problem here is that once Reisig served only the one gang member, the others did not show up in court to contest the injunction. Once that happened, Superior Court Judge Thomas Warriner simply granted the injunction. So in effect, Reisig's method deprived the defendants even the opportunity to challenge the injunction. This is the portion of the law that this court struck down.

The law itself--the notion of a gang injunction--is also in dispute. According to the three justices on the appellate-court panel, they saw enough evidence of gang activity in West Sacramento to potentially justify a gang injunction.

Attorney's for the ACLU such as Alan Scholesser have argued:
“A lifetime curfew for an adult is an extraordinary punishment. I think if people had their day in court, there would have been some serious legal challenges and some very different outcomes.”
That may be the next fight, but it will be Christopher Cabaldon, the Mayor of West Sacramento and candidate for the Democratic Nomination of California's 8th Assembly District who will make this call according to Reisig.
"District Attorney Jeff Reisig said he would seek another injunction only if city leaders, including Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, wanted it.

Cabaldon was out of town Monday and could not be reached for comment."

District Attorney Jeff Reisig instituted this controversial policy a few years ago. He argues that the policy has been successful. It may be. But he also likely deprived a number of people--some of them indeed gang members, some of them unquestionably not gang members--their right to contest these charges in a court of law. They were not served notice of this hearing. They were thus deprived their constitutional right to due process.

Whatever you think of this policy and this law, that action by Reisig is in and of itself a gross miscarriage of justice. In this country people, even accused gang members, are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. In this country, the rule of law must prevail even when it involves despicable human beings who perform despicable acts. Why? Because that is the only way we protect the innocent from an overbearing government.

What disturbs me most is first the arrogance of Reisig in pushing through and defending this policy when it seems to a layman so blatantly in violation of law. What was even more galling is that a Yolo County Judge, Thomas Warriner, would support such an obvious miscarriage of justice.

This case unfortunately illustrates all that is wrong once again with Yolo County's Criminal Justice System. It is not that we want guilty criminals to go free, it is that we want a fair process for all.

The ball is now in Mayor Christopher Cabaldon's court, we urge him to do the right thing and let this go.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Analysis of Test Scores Shows Room for Improvement for Davis Schools

As a member of this community for what is now going on 11 years, the mantra I have continually heard is how good the schools are in Davis. It is not something new for me however, because I grew up in a school district that was much like Davis', near the top year after year in school performance by most of the standard measures.

The question has always been whether the Davis schools are really as good as everyone has said and there is now data that puts that proposition to the test. To the credit of the school district, they were not running from it on Thursday when it was presented.

When evaluating the Academic Performance Index (API), most of the schools continued to excel by these measures. Each school obtained a score, that score was placed in rank order and placed into deciles from 1-10. All of the schools as expected scored within a range of the 8th to the 10th decile--the top of the scale. On average, the district as usual placed was in the top 90 percent range--befitting our expectations that this is one of the best school districts in the state.

And there is no denying that. But you might suggest that a measure that places Davis on a scale with some the inner city schools may be telling us more about socioeconomic factors and less about the actual quality and skill of the schools.

And so a school characteristic index (SCI ) was calculated which compared schools with similar SCI score--those 50 schools just above the SCI and those just below the SCI. The scores were then sorts from highest to lowest API and divided into deciles.

What characteristics were used to create the SCI? Student mobility, Student ethnicity, socioeconomic status, teachers who are fully credentialed, teachers who hold emergency credentials, students who are English learners, average class size, whether the school operates a multi-track, year-round educational program, grade span enrollments, number of GATE students, number of students with disabilities, reclassified fluent-English-proficient students, and students who participate in migrant education program.

In other words, instead of comparing Davis schools with all schools, or Davis schools with schools like those in the cities, you are now comparing Davis to similar schools and similar characteristics.

How do Davis schools fare when compared with similar schools? Not nearly as high. On the statewide rank, all of the schools scored in the 8th decile and above including seven that scored in the 10th decile. In the similar school rank, only North Davis Elementary school scored above average at 8. All of the others were five (average) or lower (below average).

Curriculum and Instruction Director Clark Bryant presented the data at Thursday's meeting.

"In our similar schools ranks, our performance is not as strong as it is for the statewide ranking so although we have high performing schools when we compare our schools to schools with similar demographics there is a significant decrease."

What does this all mean? One of the interesting aspects of these findings is that in the past they would not have been presented to the public--and in fact, haven't been presented in public. One of the differences with the new superintendent, is that these unpleasant findings are being discussed and not glossed over.

Mr. Bryant said:

"We would hope and expect that our schools are scoring in the above average range for similar schools--so this is something that we want to focus on."

This led to a lengthy discussion about what could be done about these scores. As some remarked, this discussion was breath of fresh air, not only to have a chance to discuss education but to see the staff not being defensive, not trying to play down these scores or findings, but rather accepting them and talking about ways to improve them.

That is perhaps the good news. The bad news is that the impression I got from the administration was that the problem was perhaps not enough focus on the specifics that would be on the exams. In other words, the solution was to teach better toward the test.

Call me old school, but I have never been a proponent of all of these tests. Back in 1994, when I ran for school board in San Luis Obispo, the trend was moving more tests as a means to measure school performance and hold schools accountable. The problem is that if you teach toward tests, what is on those tests get emphasized at the expense of things not on the test. Presumably if a test is good enough or varied enough, that would be alright, but in practice it does not seem to be.

As we have increased the amount of testing, I am not sure we have increased the amount of student knowledge. In fact, ten years or so of watching the performance of first year UC Davis students, might have led me to the opposite conclusion, it was my observation that the student knowledge base has declined if anything. Students leaving high school and entering a fine university still lack basic writing and critical thinking skills. One of the first lesson these kids learn is that what got them an A in high school gives them a C in college. Simply regurgitating all of the information from a class does not make for a good answer in college.

Nevertheless the testing trend is larger than Davis Joint Unified School District. Though it was heartening last night to read a letter to the Davis Enterprise that called some of this testing to task.

Finally I agree that it was reassuring to listen to a frank discussion about improvements that could be made in the local school district when the line for so long had been that the Davis schools could do no wrong.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, April 23, 2007

Art Pimentel's Flag Sighted in Washington DC

On Thursday Matt Rexroad reported on his blog that Art Pimentel's Woodland Flag was missing.
Woodland City Councilman Art Pimentel reports that someone has taken his City of Woodland flag. You can see it below. If you see anyone with such a flag please call Woodland Mayor Dave Flory at home. He is available 24/7.

It is also possible that Art misplaced it.
It has now been spotted outside of Congresswoman Lois Capps' office in Washington DC being held by County Supervisor Helen Thomson and Danielle Letendre, college roommates of Woodland Public Works Director Gary Wegener.

If anyone has any further information about the whereabouts of Councilmember Pimentel's flag or has any future sightings, please let us know.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

City Passes Tough New Conflict of Interest Disclosure Requirements Leading to the Resignation of Commissioners

The Davis Enterprise and reporter Claire St. John reported in Sunday's paper that three members of the Business and Economic Development Commission (BEDC) had resigned over the extension of article two disclosure rules to their commission--the most stringent of filing requirements for financial conflicts of interest. These resignations have left the BEDC without a quorum meaning it cannot meet until new members are named.

During the long discussion last Tuesday that ultimately led to a 5-0 vote supporting the changes, members of the council fretted that this would have a chilling effect on the willingness of individuals to volunteer to serve on commissions.

Councilmember Stephen Souza said,
“I concur, I think full disclosure may actually hurt recruiting”
Councilmember Don Saylor warned,
“I don’t think that this is going to be without a cost. I think there is a high likelihood that some members of our community will choose not to participate in commission appointments simply because of their concern about revealing information and what the information will, how it might be used. Those of us in government, we’re used to it and we understand it. Those of who are not, may not be used to it, and it may be a chilling factor.”
The Davis Enterprise reported yesterday that three members of BEDC resigned: Dick Dorf, Dennis Lindsay and Larry Dicke. They all cited the fact that the new rules were too stringent and personally intrusive.

Dennis Lindsay, the CFO for Nugget markets and a longtime fundraiser for Councilmember Don Saylor told the Davis Enterprise:
"I wasn't making any big statement, I'm not making a fuss, I just don't want to do it... They already know where I work; they don't need to know what I make here."
Dick Dorf who also serves as a columnist for the Davis Enterprise and is a long-time supporter of establishment politics told the Enterprise:
"They changed the commission for me. I'm quite willing to disclose, and I've done so, but I chose to be on a commission in a purely recommending role. I didn't intend to be the decider."
And that was one of the key aspects of the debate--the degree to which the commission was merely a policy making body rather than merely an advisory body. It was City Clerk Margaret Roberts who made it clear from council history that the council often would approve BEDC recommendations which would make the commission, de facto, a policy-making body rather than merely an advisory body.

As Roberts pointed out:
"Basically what that means is if the City Council regularly rubber-stamps recommendations, they are considered the decision-making body. Since 2005, that's basically what the City Council has done for BEDC. They make recommendations that are consistently approved by their body for businesses.”
Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson was deeply offended by this implication. Asmundson exclaimed:
“I don't think we rubber-stamp items that are brought to us for discussion—we have discussed it. I don't want to be called a rubber-stamper. I hate that word. If I approve it, I look at it, I approve it. I don’t rubber-stamp it. I look at it very carefully. I wish that staff would stop saying rubber-stamp.”
The words here do not convey the full passion she said this with. It is clear watching the meeting that she said this angrily, she scowled, and she slammed her fist down forcefully as she said the last sentence. To the point that City Attorney Harriet Steiner, who was taken aback, first laughed and then promised not to use the term anymore. This was reminiscent of the umbrage from which she took the term "surrogate" in a previous meeting.

Bill Emlen explained the thinking on the part of the city staff:
"The BEDC and there are maybe other commissions as well, really when you look at BEDC for example, they are dealing with decisions that are coming to the community in various ways. Obviously I think it is appropriate to have disclosure of folks who are on the BEDC in terms of their investments that may influence potentially their decisions or could and at leas the public should know whether that situation is occurring or not. So that is what the other factor that I looked at when I looked at ultimately deciding whether or not this recommendation should come forward that it has. That is really part of the reason that we did that. I'd say it is fair game to look at some of the other commissions as well, I think we are getting to the point where as Harriet mentioned, where I think this is broadening. I would rather err on the side of full disclosure than less."
Don Saylor would end up stating that he had some concerns about the chilling effect this might have on future volunteer applications, but he trusted city staff on this issue. Or at least trusted them enough to support the main motion and make two substitute motions that would threaten to undermine the main motion somewhat. The third motion was that they would re-examine the issue in a year. This prompted a brief but angry exchange with Mayor Sue Greenwald who accused Saylor of trying to dilute the power of full disclosure. Saylor retorted that she was reading things into his motion that he had not stated.

Saylor also pressed for the full-reporting requirements for all commissions and to have staff bring back a report on doing so. This despite by City Clerk Roberts that the FPPC had explicitly warned against overreporting requirements and in fact even including BEDC moved it into a gray area.

Mayor Sue Greenwald took a strong disagreement on the idea of all commission fully reporting:
I think it is absolutely critical that the business and economic development commission report. I mean they are making major decisions that could easily be affected by their economic holdings. I think it is really obscuring the issue to say that bicycle commission is at the same level. I’m afraid it might doom reporting by making it too burdensome. I think it doesn’t make sense. I’m willing to accept staff’s judgment on the commissions that do. It’s not because of some technical aspect of rubber stamping commissions. It’s along the lines of fundamental principles that some commissions deal with issues in which economic interest is affected such as commissions or committees that deal with growth decisions, and deal with business and economic development decisions. I think that we are trivializing it to say it should apply to the senior commission or the bicycle commission. And I do think this puts an undo burden on our citizens. I don’t think the reasoning is cogent and I think it will doom full reporting and full disclosure. And it is at odds with what the FPPC is asking us to do.

As many who read this blog regularly know, I am a strong proponent of open and transparent government. I believe strongly in full disclosure of financial interests by people who choose to serve as volunteers on commissions. The only way for us to ensure that these commissioners are acting in the public interest and not in their own personal interest is to have this kind of disclosure requirements.

There a couple of key points that I want make here.

First, as Councilmember Lamar Heystek pointed out, someone like him would not have to make many statements of disclosure since he owns no property and has no investments. The people who would have to make lengthy and cumbersome investments are those who own large amounts of property and have many investments. In other words, exactly the type of people for whom we ought to know what their financial interests are before they make decisions and even recommendations on matters of economic and business import that the city deals with.

That leads me to my second point and that is that the issue of rubber stamping, perhaps was unfortunately named to be caste in some sort of negative or even pejorative light that force Mayor Pro Tem Asmundson to become overly defensive (doth she protest too much?). However, there are many recommendations that many commissions make that the Council ends up approving.

What has become lost here is that even if the Council is making modifications to the proposals, the commissions play the role of gatekeeper by deciding which proposals to bring forward to the council and which ones they would not. Furthermore, it is clear in many cases that the council may never have acted upon these recommendations at all without the work and effort by the commission and by that mere fact alone the commission takes on more than a merely advisory role.

The mere fact that the council deliberates on recommendations, does not negate the power and influence of a commission and does not negate the fact that a commissioner has the power to persuade a councilmember to take a prescribed action. What the disclosure process ought to do is to let the council and public know when a commission is acting in an area that may advance the private interests of one of its members--even if the member is not a "decider" in the full sense of the word.

That leads me to my final point which is in direct response to the resignations. In some senses, I suppose these resignations are unfortunate. It does however seem odd that three members would suddenly decide to resign if they were not trying to make some sort of a big statement. This seems to be a decision that would affect only a small number of people who would have to disclose large amounts of seemingly personal information. Those affected as I stated earlier would look more like Dick Dorf and less like Lamar Heystek.

Dorf's statement is particularly puzzling in addition to being overly dramatic as he exclaimed, "I didn't intend to be the decider." In fact these disclosure requirements made absolutely no change in his role on the commission. As Ms. Roberts pointed out, since 2005 the City Council has basically rubber-stamped [some of] the decisions of the BEDC. Did Mr. Dorf complain when the council adopted the BEDC's recommendations in the past? So his stated reasons for resigning makes no sense.

Still without overly impugning the motives of these commissioners, I wonder really what these guys have to hide. I think our government is stronger when all the cards are on the table and we can operate from a standpoint of full information.

At the end of the day, I must commend the work of city staff on this issue--Margaret Roberts, Harriet Steiner, and Bill Emlen. I think they did good work in pushing these needed changes through and our city will be better for it. I hope that commissioners and future applicants to these commissions will recognize both the value of commission work and also recognize the importance of full disclosure laws. These laws serve to protect both the public and themselves from undo scrutiny.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Valley Oak Elementary Update: Movement To Create Charter School for Valley Oak

In the wake of the announced closing of the Valley Oak Elementary School, the school board has been looking into the possibility of passing a parcel tax that would provide the funding to keep Valley Oak Elementary School open.

This option was presented by School Board Member Tim Taylor as part of the motion to close Valley Oak following 2007-08 school year. At that time, fellow Board Member Keltie Jones pressed Taylor to weaken his motion by suggesting that the inclusion of the second parcel tax would doom the first one. The school district is now in the process of developing an implementing polling to test these concerns and if the polling comes back poorly--as some members expect-- the second parcel tax would not be placed on the ballot.

An option that the Davis OPEN would have preferred was including the additional $20 on the initial parcel tax. This is an idea strongly opposed by Best Uses of Schools Task Force member Jan Bridge. In an email from March 14, 2007 that we obtained via a public records request, Bridge wrote,
"Placing additional money in the parcel tax to support keeping 9 elementary schools open will doom the parcel tax--DJUSD will lose the 5.5% of the budget that is supported by the parcel tax--as well as having to close an elementary school in the process.

Please do not allow the parcel tax to become a vote of support or rejection of keeping valley Oak open--the community will lose too much."
Leaving the issue of whether a task force member should be lobbying the school district in this way aside, she raises an interesting but incomplete point. First, she makes the assumption that this would cause it to lose--but on what does she base it on? She ought to know that they will poll extensively, why not let the expert pollsters determine what is viable and what is not viable?

It seems to me that a combined parcel tax may stand a better chance at passage than two parcel taxes. It also seems to me that unless you are rigidly set on wanting to close the school RATHER than the expressed concern about finances or demographics, that you may want to explore all options to keep the school open. Statements like these however belie a strong motivation to close the school. Those who have suggested to me that Ms. Bridge did not want to close the school but felt there was no other choice, apparently did not read the volume of emails that she wrote in the last three months of the issue. Someone who had an interest in keeping Valley Oak open, would not have written that. Someone who had an interest in keeping Valley Oak open, would have continue to pursue other options. The task force claimed that this was a painful decision--and it may have been. The task force also claimed that they had exhausted all reasonable options--that does not appear to be the case as there are currently several options on the table that they would have had to dismiss. I do not know the motivations of the task for or Ms. Bridge, but from these statements it is very clear to me that she wanted to close Valley Oak Elementary. Her writings speak volumes.

That said, Bridge does bring up a key issue--she is concerned that having a Valley Oak option will doom the parcel tax and that if the parcel tax becomes a vote of support or rejection of keeping Valley Oak--the community loses out. It is not clear that the community as a whole would vote against such a proposition and again, it would be interesting to have actual polling results rather than assumptions.

However, if I were to make an educated assumption of my own, I might suggest that the opposite could just as easily be true, that if we do not have an option for keeping Valley Oak open and combined with a number of the other problems that have been covered on these pages regarding the school district and some of the issues that they are facing, that the Parcel Tax is in jeopardy. And the largest block of dissatisfied parents are those upset at the way the Task Force itself conducted their report.

We have covered a lot of the methodological problems of the task force report and some of the non-reported but key findings such as the issue of the walking distance and the assumption that schools of 420 students and larger are the only viable sizes.

However, one of my chief problems with the task force was simply their lack of professionalism. On Monday of this past week we reported that Jan Bridge became outraged and threatened to resign over the prospect of signing a conflict of interest disclosure form.

At the meeting, the chair Kirk Trost became incensed during a very mild exchange where he and the task force were criticized. However, in a March 18, 2007 letter Trost wrote the school board:
"I am, as I hope you are, appalled at Mr. Tezcan's letter. The attempts to impugn the character of members of the Task, the threats to us and to you, the distortions, and the potentially libelous statements are simply outrageous... These threats and allegations do not merit a response."
Of course the letter had no such threats.
"I finally figured out what happened between the first optimistic set of projections and the last one: it is not the move from Mobility # 3 to Mobility # 2, but the elimination of 2001 data at some point between September 25 and December 6, a period during which the BUSATF did not hold a single public meeting but the DDP was in contact with some of its members (I bet it was Kirk and Mr. Foster). 2002 was the last year in a long series of years during which our enrollments were going up; once the 2001 data is eliminated, the mobility factor goes down, and then the future enrollment projections follow suit. "
Mr. Tezcan then suggests:
"If you could persuade the former members of the BUSATF to withdraw their report until a new set of data becomes available, or if you can get together and make this decision among yourselves."
These exchanges demonstrate the high level of heat and emotions that bore down on this process both in private and in public. It is clear that the district needs to ascertain the level of anger and animosity that exist in this community at this point in time. The polls that will be commissioned can hopefully clarify the level of anger, frustration, and resentment in the community, but right now I would not be resting easy if I were in charge of making sure the parcel tax--even the original passes. And yet it is all too vital that it does. That is 5.5% of the funding at a time when even all the funding is not enough to fund all the programs that the school district and school board want and need. It funds vital programs.

Under these conditions it is little wonder that the folks who support keeping Valley Oak open have shifted their strategy to something that is much more in their control--creating a charter school.

Parents and teacher's at Valley Oak Elementary School are moving forward on plans to at least explore the option of creating a charter school.
There will be a meeting to explore the idea of creating a charter for Valley Oak Elementary School. All members of the community and school staff are invited to attend.

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007,
Valley Oak Multi-purpose Room
7:30-9:30 p.m.

For further information and future updates please check out the Valley Oak Charter School website.

It would serve the community well for there to be a large contingent of folks with good backgrounds in education and other vital areas to assist these people in planning their children's and their school's future.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting