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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Commentary: On the Politics of Long Council Meetings

The job of a blogger is never quite what one would expect. I've discovered this myself reporting on things at times that I would never have even thought about before. The issue of long meetings and civility are one of them. To be honest, I doubt the next council elections are decided on these scores. And I will go as far as to say, if they are, I will be extremely disappointed, just as I would be if national elections are decided on the issue of gay marriage when we are fighting a war abroad, oh wait...

Nevertheless it seems sometimes the role of the blogger is referee as much as it is reporter or commentator. This is because often public official make claims that are never really parsed by the reporters who report on them. And there is rarely any kind of public discourse centered around the dissembling of various claims. That is unfortunate, for in the public discussions, there needs to be some thing of a fact checker than can place issues in the public realm that the public can then weigh in on. At the end of the day, it may be that sometimes these issues are of little consequence, other times they turn out to be crucial for understanding the behavior and motivations of our elected officials.

This role comes to mind as I read the California Aggies' version of the "long meetings" dispute which of course followed the one by us and the one by the Davis Enterprise.

Right away, they are factually incorrect when they state:
"Greenwald insists meeting four times a month, Asmundson two."
In fact, Greenwald has insisted on "more" meetings per month, not necessarily "four." There is almost something Shakespearean about that error, that I cannot place. There kind of a poetic irony to that. Nevertheless, it is a somewhat crucial distinction since the responses within the article seem to dovetail from it.
The issue of whether city staff members have enough time to prepare agendas and reports for weekly meetings is also being debated by the council.

"We're not an overstaffed organization," said Davis City Manager Bill Emlen, who coordinates Tuesday night meetings. "We have been pushing our wheels and we have to work pretty hard."

Emlen said the current workload is manageable for his organization, but he would ideally like to see meetings every two weeks - enough time to produce reports without feeling rushed.
On one level I understand it, on another level, I really do not. In the fewer meetings, they presumably prepare for the same number of items, so staff would be doing a similar amount of work. Would they not? Perhaps I'm not understanding the math here. Is it not better to spread the work out over two meetings rather than have to prepare for a large amount of items for a single meeting? Why is staff preparation time an issue here unless the number of items really are not a constant.?

Councilmember Don Saylor was paraphrased as saying that "he supported going as late into the night as necessary to complete the city's business."

Legitimate questions I think have been raised about the wisdom of making important decisions late in the night. There is also the public to consider. Most people are not watching the meetings at 1 am. Nor can many who have to work attend these meetings on a regular basis. So Mr. Saylor's support for such meetings to go late into the night does not appear to be taking the public into consideration.
"He noted in an e-mail that the duration of a meeting wasn't related to how many items were on the agenda.

"The longest meeting in 2006-07 (8 hours 30 minutes) featured 19 total items, including 13 consent items and 6 regular agenda items," Saylor wrote. "The shortest (2 hours 58 minutes) featured 15 total items, including 10 consent items and 5 regular agenda items."
This statement really misses the point. First of all, the number of consent agenda items are almost irrelevant, even when those items are pulled they are generally (But not always) discussed fairly briefly.

The key issue is not number of regular agenda items, but the degree of complexity of those items. You could put 10 regular agenda items that are fairly quick, or three that are quite long.

In the meeting in question from April, a single agenda item was so complex it required much discussion, public input, and then multiple motions to sort through it. That item by itself took over three hours. On the other hand, there are other agenda items that may take 20 minutes, sometimes less.

The proper variable to discuss is not the number items. The point in contention is not therefore too many items, but rather too many of those long items that require hours of discussion. Many of these complex items are predictable in the sense that you know when you see the item that it will take much discussion. Thus meetings could be organized in such a way so that those type of items are spread across meetings, rather than having several very long items on the same agenda.

Regardless there is a final point to be made here and that has to do with civility. Don Saylor made it an express point during his op-ed to the Davis Enterprise and during several monologues from the dais to note the problems of incivility in council and community discourse. And yet at the point that Asmundson made her attack on Mayor Greenwald about Mayor Greenwald not being able to run a meeting, Councilmember Saylor feel silent. Where was his call for civility then? It is clear that he intends to use the civility issue as a platform to run for re-election, given his track record and uneven application of it, I'm not sure it will give him the kind of traction he expects it to. Then again, perhaps he figures if they are talking about civility, they cannot talk about his land-use positions.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, May 11, 2007

A heated Campaign Battle Underway Over the Issue of the Anderson Bank Building's Windows

On Tuesday Night at Stacy Mitchell's Presentation on the dangers of Big-Box Retail, it was announced that Jim Kidd, who is the current owner of the Anderson Bank Building, had a petition he was circulating to demonstrate support for the lowering of the windows in this building.

The petition supported by a large number of the downtown businesses reads:
"As downtown shoppers, we need more retail stores, not more restaurants and banks. We support the effort to lower the Anderson Bank Building windows to make this retail space more oriented to shoppers. We believe that this change is a step toward improving the vitality of our downtown. The downtown is the economic heart of Davis."
In the meantime, lawn signs have sprung up all over Davis, particularly in front of the property of key developers and property management companies. At times, to the complaint of some, these signs were placed in the public right of way rather than on public property.

The signs read:
"Better Windows, Better Shopping, Better Downtown... Lower the Anderson Building Windows... Keep our downtown vital... Citizens and merchants who care about Davis."
As the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) suggests,
"the purpose of the proposed project is to provide opportunity for visibility and display spaces within the building in anticipation of attracting viable retailers."
Meanwhile, the Davis Historical Resources Management Commission has been strongly in favor of historic preservation of the windows arguing that lowering the windows would severely impact the historic nature of the site.

The city’s 2003 Historical Resources Survey report reads:
“The City’s commercial history is represented by several buildings on G Street, already enumerated above. Of these the Anderson Bank Building, Masonic Lodge, Yolo Bank and the retail shops known as the Brinley Block, on the corner of 2d and G, have all been previously surveyed. The Anderson Bank Building has been designated as a Landmark. The Yolo Bank, the Brinley Block and the Masonic Lodge are recognized as Resources of Merit. All of these four buildings appear to be individually eligible for listing on the California Register of Historical Resources. In addition, there are two buildings not previously identified, that are associated with the city’s early commercial development, the Louie Young Restaurant (217 G Street; c.1915) and 238 G Street, originally part of the Davis Lumber Company (c.1935) and one of the city’s two examples of Streamline Moderne architecture.”

“Because the Downtown/Commercial area of the Conservation District has undergone such extensive change in the past fifty years, there is no single block or group of blocks that retain a cohesive and coherent group of buildings that clearly represent a specific period, a concentration of related architectural styles or are related by virtue of a development plan or design. The commercial corridor along G and 2nd Streets includes many fine individual examples of commercial buildings and presents a range of commercial styles common in small pre-World War II rural town business districts. With further analysis and more intensive research on the individual buildings it is possible that there might be a locally eligible or California Register eligible commercial district. The commercial area, as indicated in the discussion above, is certainly an area for special planning consideration. Further loss of historic commercial buildings or inappropriate remodels would render a district ineligible.”
According to the EIR, if the windows are altered, the site would no longer be eligible for the National Register of Landmarks--the alteration would be that substantial.

The basic summary of the finding is that under option A

According to the EIR:
"With application of the recommended mitigation measures, the Anderson Bank Building would appear to maintain its eligibility as a City Landmark, and retain its inclusion/eligibility for inclusion on the California Register of Historical Resources. Implementation of Design Option A with or without Mitigation would likely preclude the building from future listing on or a future determination of eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places."
However Option B does not even have that possiblity.
"Even with application of the recommended mitigation measures, the Anderson Bank Building would no longer appear eligible as a City Landmark, or for inclusion/ eligibility on the California Register of Historical Resources, or the National Register of Historic Places."
The mitigations necessitated in Option A to preserve the Anderson Bank Building as an historic site are extensive and quite costly.
"Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) documentation shall be undertaken by a qualified professional at the expense of the project applicant as recommended in the Urbana Preservation & Planning report. The purpose of the HABS documentation is to create a permanent record of the Anderson Bank Building."
The requires a development of site-specific history and contextual information regard the particular resource, a comprehensive description of the resource, preparation of measured drawings for the resource, and photographic documentation of the resource in still and video format.

"Preparation of a Historic Structures Report (HSR) for the Anderson Bank Building that would serve as a preservation planning document for the building, documenting both the building’s history, existing material conditions, and providing treatment recommendations for future projects."
"Restore or rehabilitate the Anderson Bank Building to the extent feasible relative to retaining the high integrity of the building."
This includes a minimum of the following: remove all existing awnings on the southern and eastern elevations of the building "in order to expose the historic and character-defining arched windows original to the building." Repair and restore building's cornice along the street-facing elevations. Removal and replacement of existing second floor windows to match the original second floor windows of the building. Restore and replace all existing exterior lighting fixtures to match in-kind the original lighting fixtures. And finally repair and restore "the Grate for the Bank Bell."

"The property owner shall retain all removed brick to allow the project in a safe environment for future use to restore the building to its original integrity, should there be no use or reason to continue with the lower windows."
As one can see, the measures undertaken to preserve the project under option A are extensive.

As we reported on Monday of this week, on March 17, 2007, the Commission voted against both options and took an ultimate recommendation of no action. That article also contains some key background on this issue including the fact that Mr. Kidd has brought this proposal up on previous occasions. It also suggests based on some research by Professor John Lofland, that there is little evidence to suggest that windows have an impact on the viability and profitability of businesses.

The Final EIR hearings are slated to begin next week. The City Council will hear the EIR and will certify it. A heated battle remains whereby those who support historic preservation of Davis' rich history must defend it against a well-organized lobby including the downtown businesses that see historic preservation of a key landmark as standing in the way of economic gain.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Announcement: Vanguard to Have Booth This Saturday at the Whole Earth Festival

This Saturday from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. The People's Vanguard of Davis will have a booth at the Whole Earth Festival in the Quad at UC Davis. Members of the community are encouraged to stop by and talk about issues of the day.

In addition, anyone interested in volunteering to help staff the booth are encouraged to email us. We have a few slots that still need to be filled.

Fearmongering toward the Mentally Ill is not a Solution to a Broken System

Rich Rifkin's column on mental illness last week published in the Davis Enterprise, spawned an unusual amount of anger and backlash. This is not the first time that Mr. Rifkin has provoked this sort of response. However, I believe his writing suffers from some fatal fallacies that require a lengthy response. An examination of the complaints--three letters to the editor and a number of emails to myself shows that there are two basic problems with Mr. Rifkin's column. First, a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of mental illness. And second, the use of insulting and demeaning jargon to describe mental illness.

The substance of Mr. Rifkin's column begins on solid ground but begins to devolve in the middle when it comes to the crux of his argument. He asks:
"Why was it that Cho was allowed to walk around freely after a court determined he was dangerous? Why didn't the authorities in Virginia put him in a mental hospital where he could be treated by psychiatrists?

Crazy people are not responsible for their behavior. The fault lies with the rest of us who treat the mentally ill as if they are normal adults who can freely make choices for themselves.

We should not only keep madmen from purchasing, we shouldn't let them walk the streets without supervision."
The problem he suggests goes back to deinstitutionalization of the 1960s. The problem with institutionalization was that it categorized people according to assumed characteristics and our limited understanding both for mental illness and how to best treat it. Moreover there have been increasing breakthroughs with medication that have allowed a number of previously institutionalized individuals to live mostly normal lives.

Furthermore, Mr. Rifkin is correct to point out flaws in the mental illness system as many of the individuals who wrote to the Davis Enterprise made quite clear.

Mr. Rifkin's opinion aside, he then supports his opinion by making sweeping assertions that are backward in terms of both causation and induction. In short, he commits a fundamental fallacy in his reasoning.
"Closing down the loony bins didn't get rid of psychotics. It largely has put them out on the streets, where many become homeless and others wind up in prisons."
His evidence?
The Department of Justice estimates that one in six inmates in the United States is mentally ill.

The National Resource and Training Center on Homelessness and Mental Illness has found that 20 to 25 percent of homeless people in America suffer from serious mental disorders."
What he has cited is evidence that a sizable but still minority percentage of individuals who are in jail and homeless suffer from mental illness. While that may be true, the inverse is not necessarily true--that a sizable percentage of mentally ill end up homeless or jail. The reasoning becomes flawed because he views the phenomena through the outcome of a specific deterministic behavioral feature rather than by examining the entire population of those who suffer from mental illness to determine whether they end up in jail or on the streets. In short, he commits what social scientists would call the problem of selecting on the dependent variable (the outcome) rather than the independent variable (a cause). He has reversed causation in his analysis by undertaking his reasoning in this manner.

What the letters to the editor cite are the statistics that demonstrate that those who are mentally ill are rarely either dangerous or criminals. As one writer suggests:
"Fewer than one in 500 people with significant mental illness display violent behavior. "
As a NAMI-Yolo member suggests in a letter to the Davis Enterprise Tuesday:
"Most people who suffer from serious mental illness hurt themselves or become victims of crime. They lose jobs, family and friends. Very few become violent like Cho. Locked facilities are not a permanent solution. Medical parity, community support and education of the public about the biological causes of these illnesses and treatment that works is the answer."
So it may be true that a sizable population in prisons suffer from mental illness that does not mean that most mentally ill people are dangerous. This is very poorly constructed logic on the part of Mr. Rifkin. And he uses this leap in logic to justify his very draconian policy approach.
"Many mental disorders are treatable. If a patient can function in society under medication, he should be allowed to do so. But, at the same time, he shouldn't be treated like a regular adult. He should be kept under the supervision of mental health professionals for the rest of his life. That is for the good of the patient and society."
Thus even for people who show no signs of actually being dangerous, they "shouldn't be treated like a regular" adult.

The final point which I almost do not want to bring up because it will strike some as political correctness, but his use of language is both inappropriate, insulting, and ultimately counterproductive.
"Crazy people are not responsible for their behavior."

"Closing down the loony bins didn't get rid of psychotics."
Such jargons indicate a prejudicial mindset that Rifkin in other writing so deplores. Why does he choose such language? Does he think about mentally ill people as somehow being less than full people? He certainly wants to throw away their rights without the due process of law and without much more than prejudicial evidence to back it up. Perhaps it is easier to do that after de-humanizing them by providing such dismissive labels to describe people who suffer from mental illness.

Everyone involved in this unfortunate incident realizes that our social services system has failed many individuals who suffer from mental illness. There are fundamental changes that need to occur in order to better diagnose and get help for those in need. What we do not need however is fearmongering and bigotry towards those who suffer from mental illness, because it is the last thing they need. Most of these people are no threat to anyone and are desperately in need of good quality care so that they can live as normal a quality of life as possible.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

History Repeats: "Racial Climate Assessment Report" Reads as Though it Was Written Today

As we discussed last week, the school board listened to District Climate Coordinator Mel Lewis discuss the climate action report that he was implementing. Not surprisingly it called for a number of new programs, courses, surveys, and a number of other recommendations to deal with some of the issues of racism, discrimination, bullying, and harassment that the district has now faced for a long period of time.

As many in the room remarked, the programs suggested and the goals themselves are laudable. It was an impressive presentation. We already spoke at length about a pilot program called the safe schools ambassador's program. This was just the beginning of a long series of recommendations for improvement in the school climate.

We had expressed concerns about the Yale Survey that was mailed to the houses of parents and also sent home with students. As we discussed at the time, the survey really did not appear to address the key issues that were facing the school district. Our inquiry into the rationale by the district produced an explanation for this, but did not alleviate our concerns. The survey has been implemented as a generic survey that will yield the district some information that can be compared at the national level. The district personnel did not feel they had the resources or the expertise to design their own and more comprehensive survey. Still, as suggested at the time, this does not address the key issues of racism, discrimination, bullying and harassment and instead asks a series of generic questions that aim to ascertain the condition of the schools and rapport that the principals have with the teachers.

Nevertheless, those reservations aside, there was little in the school action climate plan that one can criticize. That is until Tansey Thomas stood up and spoke about the "Racial Climate Assessment Report" that was prepared for the Davis Joint Unified School District in 1990.

Ms. Thomas, a long time community activist, pointed out that this report made a number of great recommendations, but it was never implemented by the school district. In fact, the school district for the most part flat out refused to implement it or even adhere to its voted on policies. The result of this failure of follow-through and implementation is that the only thing that has changed since the report was written was the statewide passage of a law that prohibits affirmative action in public schools-—the finding and recommendations are all there and just needs to be updated to include Prop. 209 (end of Affirmative Action).
As Ms. Thomas said, “I don’t know why we want to start over again, everything that was a problem then, is a problem now. It’s like we’ve gone nowhere… That we form another study group, start another cycle, and it goes nowhere.”
Reading through the report, it is very easy to see where Tansey Thomas' skepticism came from.

Here are some of the specific recommendations that the 1990 made...
"The District should establish... no later than the 1990-91 school year, a district-wide multicultural curriculum committee... [that] should oversee and assist in implementation of the plan within the District. The responsibilities of the committee should include developing staff training programs, curriculum materials, and other similar matters."

"The district needs to employ a specialist in multicultural education who can provide assistance to the administrative staff in the areas of staff development and development of multicultural curriculum materials."

"To promote teacher input, a committee of teachers should be established at each site."

"Job responsibilities of all school personnel should include being knowledgeable of, and attentive to, the educational needs of students from diverse cultural backgrounds... Training should be broad, covering all aspects of human relations and multicultural education."

"The district should promote follow-through, such as peer coaching, where teachers can have other experienced staff observe, evaluate, and provide feedback concerning the implmenetation of teaching principles and methodologies covered in the training."

"A strong consideration in the selection of Mentor Teachers in the District for the next several years should be their skill in multicultural education."

"As part of its affirmative action program, the District should focus on strategies to attract and hire qualified applicants with diverse cultural backgrounds who are trained in multicultural education."

"The district should offer more kinds of programs such as Global Education in which teachers learn about different cultures within the United States and in other countries."

"The District needs to develop ways to help students realize their academic potential... a State task force recommended that local school districts review their policies to deliberately expose minority students to a strong academic background and prepare them for higher education."

"Assessments every two years or on an annual basis, as needed, should be made to evaluate the progress the District is making in improving the racial/ethnic climate in Davis schools."
This report also activated numerous committees and bodies with oversight power over the implementation most specifically the Davis Joint Unified School District's Human Relations Committee (NOT to be confused with the Davis Human Relations Commission chartered by the city). The DJUSD HRC was given the authority to oversee and implement these programs and changes and to monitor progress. None of these recommendations were ultimately followed and many of the recommendations on this list have been launched anew this year in the latest report.

There has not been sufficient follow-through on the racial/ethnic climate issues facing the district. By 2003, the district was forced to confront this issue once again in the face of an angry mob, the result of a long meeting between the Davis Human Relations Commission and the school district, where hundreds of students and parents came forward to press then Superintendent Murphy to deal with issues of racism and bullying at the high school. It was only then that the district would become serious again about these issues and it formed its Climate Coordinator position--a half time position--in response.

As we see currently, the district is doing the exact same thing in essence it did in the late 1980s and early 1990s--developing multicultural curriculum. Mel Lewis discussed last week the development of curriculum, programs, and in fact there is a new course that addresses this topic, “Race Relations and Social Justice in U.S. History,” that has been approved for next year. They are still trying to increase the diversity of the certificated staff--the number of minority teachers remains alarming low despite the acknowledgment of this problem 17 years ago. They are trying to implement and improve mentoring programs.

The achievement gap which will be discussed at length next week as the task force gives their report continues to be a huge problem despite the realization of the problem 17 years ago.

One of the major problems facing the 1990 report was the lack of historical continuity and institutional coherence. There is constant turnover in district personnel, elected officials, and even activists. At the meeting last week, very few seemed to be aware of the existence of this report, in fact, only five years after the report was written, the same could be said. The DJUSD Human Relations Committee was charged with overseeing and monitoring school progress on this report, but that fell by the way-side because by 1994, none of the members on that commission even knew of its existence.

In short, had the district simply implemented the policies from 1990, they would have been in much better shape much faster than they are now.

There is nothing wrong with the recommendations made last week, many of them were made in one form or another in 1990. The question remains will the school district have follow-through on these through changes in the elected board members and through times when this is not a hot-burning issue on the forefront of the public's consciousness. That remains to be seen, unfortunately, history has a tendency to repeat and in Davis, the history of race relations has indeed proved that aphorism to be true.

The one burning question we all must ask is how do we ensure that these recommendations--which all seem good and beneficial to the school climate--get implemented, enforced, and that future bodies engage in active fall-through? That seems to be the most daunting task that a collective of well-intentioned people in the school district and in this community must grapple with.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Commentary: When "Fair and Balanced" is Less Accurate

The other week at a school board meeting, Jeff Hudson, the Davis Enterprise beat reporter who covers the school district made the casual remark to me that it must be nice not to have space limitations for my stories. It was a factor that I had not given a lot thought to previously--however, as I have become aware of it, it has given great advantage to the ability of covering stories with tremendous detail that cannot be otherwise provided in newspapers due to space limitations that I simply do no have to deal with.

What I had given considerably more thought to is the ability to write stories as I view the facts rather than at times artificially attempting to create balance out of the express need to adhere to the principle of "fair and balance." Unfortunately, I would suggest that such approaches at times lead one to actually bias the coverage. The freedom to write as one sees it, has a great deal of benefit at times--while at the same time running the risk of falling prey to criticism of bias. What I would suggest here is that bias can at times be a good thing, so long as you are willing to be upfront about it (and this blog certainly has been pretty open about its political bent).

All of this came to mind last night as I read Claire St. John's story in the Davis Enterprise, "Fewer council meetings but longer nights." Those who are regulars to this blog will recall my story from April 26, 2007 entitled, "Analysis: Asmundson's Attack on the Mayor Unfounded."

From the titles alone you can see that my story has a definite slant, whereas the Enterprise story obtains a more balanced approach. (I would be remiss if I did not point out here that there have been examples in the Enterprise where the title is less than fair and impartial, and that almost invariably those titles are negative towards the more progressive side of politics in Davis).

Remember that the usual assumption is that fair and balanced is more accurate. That is the mantra that mainstream reporting generally follows and what it affords is protection for the news agent against the charge of bias. (Although I suspect every reporter reading this will be screaming bs, and I understand.)

Let's delve into the story a bit to illustrate that this widely championed but rarely practiced principle can be misleading.

St. John reports on the exchange that we dealt with in our story from two weeks ago:
At the last three council meetings, Greenwald has asked her colleagues to keep comments succinct, avoid repetition and ask their questions of city staff members ahead of time.

"The public does not like it when our meetings go this late, and I am trying as mayor to do a reasonable job in pacing our meetings so they can be over by 11:30," Greenwald said, at the April 17 meeting.

The council has a policy that at 11:30 p.m., a motion must be passed to continue the meeting. Each time, the meeting has carried on by at least a 4-1 vote, but never without commentary.

On April 17, Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson responded to Greenwald's comments with a barb.

"It is just unfortunate that the mayor cannot run a meeting," Asmundson said. "If we have a more efficient meeting, we can finish these things. We can be more efficient if the mayor could just run this meeting more efficiently."

"I talked less than anybody at this meeting," Greenwald replied. "I would challenge anybody out there to take a stopwatch ..."

"You're still talking," Asmundson snapped. "Let's go."
What St. John does not do at this point, which I was able to do, was take Mayor Greenwald's challenge of keeping track of the time used by each member and chronicle how long each councilmember took when they spoke at the meeting.

That's precisely what I did in the April 26 piece and found that indeed, Greenwald spoke far less than any other councilmember and that Asmundson along with her ally Saylor had taken up the most amount of time. That was a lengthy endeavor that had me sitting down for a couple of hours and tallying up how long each member spoke.

Here were the findings:











That leads us to the very natural question of why is it that a Davis Enterprise reporter cannot report on the actual time used by each member?

The simple answer appears to be that such reporting may impart bias if their findings were as skewed and one-sided as the ones I found (and anyone watching that meeting probably would not have to use a stop-watch to figure out that Mayor Greenwald was speaking far less than her colleagues). It would take a side in the story. In short, it would not be "fair and balanced."

Now we can argue that perhaps the Davis Enterprise does pick sides at times, but let's assume at this time that they do not. Let's assume that they adhere to this principle consistently. What do we take away from it?

For me it demonstrates that fair and balanced is not necessarily more accurate. And that sometimes you need to be able to take sides to accurately report a story. The moment you accept even the possibility that there may be validity to this point, you have to look at media such as blogs in an entirely different fashion because the assumption has always been that bias equals less accuracy, but perhaps the truth is that sometimes bias gives you more information than artificial attempts to maintain the journalistic ethos of fair and impartial reporting. Sometimes, we need to get to the truth and the only way to do that is to take sides.

To me it would certainly be defensible to take the time to report on how much each city councilmember spoke if you are going to report on the broader issue of why the meetings are last as long as they are. Perhaps it is too much to ask a reporter to referee in a fight between elected officials, but perhaps that is something that the public ought to know as they weigh in on the accuracy of the claims made by each side in an attempt to come up with their own opinion.

To me giving facts is always in the realm of reporting and we should not shy away from reporting unfortunate and at times one-sided facts. After all, is it not still news if a given office holder makes a charge that turns out to be not backed up by the available facts?

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

"Big-Box Swindle" Author Speaks To DIMA Audience on Evils of Big-Box Retail

The Davis Independent Merchants Association (DIMA) held their first public event last night in the basement of the Davis Teen Center. Author Stacy Mitchell who wrote the book "The Big-Box Swindle" spoke before a good sized crowd about the problems that communities face with the arrival and proliferation of big-box retail.

Organizer Don Shor was very pleased with both the number and diversity of the audience.
"I was pleased with the turnout (I did a head count near the end, came up with about 70). Particularly interested and pleased with the diversity of professions in the audience. A couple of developers, the mayor, city staff, a real estate broker who specializes in highway commercial properties, along with some community activists, chair of DDBA, etc. An unusual and interesting mix, I thought."
Mitchell, who resides in Portland, Maine, works for an organization known as the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. She went around the country as she wrote the book, interviewing some 200 independent businesses from across the country. What she found is that big-box retail did particular damage to the local community in a number of ways.

First, most money spent at a Wal Mart or another big-box store, leaves the local economy. As Don Shor said in his introduction, local dollars spent on local business will stay locally. However, money spent on Big-Boxes largely leaves the community. A huge percentage goes to the corporate office that then spends their profits on out of area suppliers. Moreover, because the corporate office is based regionally if not nationally, there is lack of a connection to a particular community.

The intention of Mitchell was to write a book that put a face on the trend of consolidation towards bigger, larger, and fewer locally owned businesses being replaced by national chains. This overall trend has contributed to the continued loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. since 1990. A lot of this loss can be attributed by the pressure put on suppliers by big-box to reduce their rates and cut overhead in an attempt to save money. These manufacturing jobs have been the pillar of the American middle class. And as these retailers rely more and more on cheaper out-sourced production, avenues to the middle class have been closed off to many Americans.

In many ways, Mitchell describes this as a sort of colonialism. "This doesn't look a lot like progress," she said, "What it really looks like is colonialism." A new colonialism that sucks money and jobs out of a community--big boxes enter a community and plunder its resources, rather than adding value and enhancing the local economy.

As the push comes from a local level to develop cleaner and greener policies in an attempt to mitigate the effects of global warming, it is important to note the impact that big-box retail has on the environment. And we must question our leaders' priorities in this manner--as they at one point promote big-box retail development while at the same time speaking of their concerns about global warming.

One of the key impacts that Mitchell describes on the environment is the contribution that Wal-Mart and other big boxes have made to the carbon footprint. Not merely in terms of production and consumption, but in the form of transportation to and from the store. Mitchell describes a 40 percent increase in driving for the purposes of shopping. Americans drive more than 100 billion miles for shopping. There has been three times the increase in miles driven for shopping than for all other purposes combined. And this directly relates to the size and scale of the operation that has necessitated a move away from neighborhoods and other nearby locations and towards larger and more consolidated locations with the roads, infrastructure and parking to accommodate the number of people who would frequent a big-box store.

As neighborhood stores leave, people are forced to drive further and further distances to do their shopping. In addition, there is a link between the scale and the type of transportation that people use. People are more likely to walk or bike to smaller and more locally owned stores but they are most likely to drive to big-box stores.

Another key aspect in the rise of the big box retail giant is the perception by the public that locally owned businesses are more expensive, and that big-box retailers are cheaper across the board. According to Mitchell that is not necessarily true. She cited a Consumer Reports study from a year and a half ago where they looked at electronic consumer goods. What they found is that the best prices were not at the giant national chains like Best Buy or Home Depot or others, rather they were at smaller and more locally based stores.

Part of the way that big-box retail creates the impression of lower prices is by having a few goods that are quite cheap. Mitchell described goods that are essentially "loss leaders" that are used to create an impression of overall lower costs. For instance they may highlight a few items like DVDs and have them appear to be at very low prices, while most of their goods are around the same price you would get at a local business.

Finally Mitchell described three ways that we can fight back. She noted a trend of a lot of communities saying no to Big-Box. Even in Davis, where Target eventually won the election, they had to fight hard to gain a foothold. The first change she described was a policy issue; and looking for ways to change the way in which small business is undermined by local policy. And, she said to look at size limitation and changes to zoning policies. A lot of communities automatically zone all new development commercial, which allows retail stores to come in on the outskirts, leapfrog and undermine existing business, rather than developing business in areas that will support existing business. She advocated keeping business in the center of cities and towns and then developing mixed use zoning laws to support these city centers.

Second, we need small business development programs that will help build and maintain a local business base.

Along similar lines, we need greater public awareness about big boxes and the importance of local business. The public needs to know the consequences of their choices to shop at big-boxes rather than putting their money into local business. There have increasingly been "buy local" campaigns aimed at encouraging people to spend their money at local businesses rather than big-box retail. Mitchell described the summer tourist months in Portland, ME where the visitors go to the more recognizable and familiar national chains rather than local business. A member of the audience described the student population as initially going to the more familiar chains rather than local business. The public needs to be educated on the advantages of local business not just from an economic standpoint, but from a consumer standpoint.

After the meeting, I asked organizer Don Shor about some of his thoughts on what we should take away from the meeting.
"I would be interested to look in more detail into her comments about big box not always having the lower prices. I've frankly avoided that argument because it is hard to verify, but perhaps she has seen research. I'm very familiar with their use of loss leaders, not to mention predatory pricing."

"There are some practical policy issues she reviewed (rather quickly) which can be encouraged at the local level: maintain the existing downtown+neighborhood shopping focus, retain the store size limitation, avoid peripheral retail sprawl. Those are zoning and development issues, so they can be done. I liked her comment that it was 'surprising' to come to a community which had store size limits already, and had made such a key change in them, while other communities across the country are just now embracing them."
What role can DIMA play in helping to support local business in Davis? Mitchell mentioned a "buy local" mentality? In what ways can Davis promote this type of mentality?
"The things we've talked about, in addition to educational events like this, involve the 'branding' idea she mentioned: creating a visible way for people to find and recognize the locally owned business. Coop advertising, promotions city-wide and of course. continuing to support local groups that need donations, volunteers, etc.: building relationships.

The city itself, including the commissions, can stop focusing on sales tax leakage and start focusing on providing strong neighborhood shopping centers, and continue to support the events that DDBA and others put on (city staff does a great job on that; I don't think there's anything to complain about on that front). If the commissioners and councilmembers who supported Target had spent half as much time trying to find healthy tenants for the struggling east and far west Davis shopping centers, the people who live there would have strong, healthy neighborhoods. They wouldn't have to drive across (or out of) town to shop. They could do it right in the existing centers they already have.

Abolishing BEDC would be another possibility. At the very least, changing its guidelines to exclude 'leakage' (it's in there) and include 'encourage existing locally owned businesses'."
Don Shor mentioned that Yolo County Supervisor Matt Rexroad sent in a number of questions, most of which were addressed by Stacy Mitchell indirectly during the course of her presentation. One that really struck me though was his first question:
"Where does individual consumer choice come in to play in her view? If we assume she is 100% right then why not allow the consumers to vote with their feet once they are informed?"
I think there are good reasons as to why the local community should not allow consumers to vote with their feet, but I think given that big-box retail now exists--it exists outside of Davis within a reasonable driving distance and soon it will exist in Davis. The key is to educate the public and make them informed, because ultimately if one can change consumer behavior and give people reasons to shop locally both in terms of economic vitality, environmental awareness, and also from the standpoint of the consumer--good prices, quality service, and good selection, then local communities can beat back big-box retail in the market place. Now the problem is that big-box retail has a lot of advantages of scale and can often use unfair tactics to undercut competition. But that is at least where I think we need to start in addition to maintaining our current zoning and peripheral development practices.

Overall Don Shor said Mitchell's presentation was,
"Very thorough, good detail. It provided a good overview, with some sound policy implications."
I agree and would encourage people interested in this issue to take a look at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website which has links to a number of good articles and good information about big-box retail and what local communities can do about it.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Innovative New Junior High School Program Targets Bullying

At last week's school board meeting, Davis Joint Unified School District Climate Coordinator Mel Lewis discussed the innovative new program that is being piloted at the Junior High School level--the safe school ambassador program.

A partial grant in the spring of 2007 was used to implement this program at Holmes Junior High School. This was a one-time grant for the training and it is only at Holmes. Mel Lewis recommended it to the district for the use at all junior high schools.

This was an idea that Board Member Keltie Jones had picked up from the CSBA meetings.
"This actually one of the things that I got most excited about at CSBA and got on an email list and got an email about this grant and forwarded it to the district office and that's what got this going. This program was developed by someone in Santa Rosa... And it was developed in response to Columbine where he is a psychologist and an educator and really started examining why those kinds of things happen and how can we really effectively prevent the kind of abuse that our students go through daily in the hallways...

It's kind of nice, because at this point we are really benefiting from many years of what works at other schools and what works at other environments. And also I liked it because its individualized where each school, each community can kind of make it their own with families of teachers who are willing to be on board. So I'm very very excited that you're doing this work. And my own daughter at Holmes has noticed the changes as well."
The cost of this program was around $3900 for one-time training. Some of the follow-up training they can provide on their own. Certainly an affordable program that can have good benefits to the student culture. This is a program that is designed for grades 4 to 12.

A teacher and two ambassadors came to the meeting to give a presentation on the safe school ambassador program.

They had a training in March at the teen center--intensive training for two days. As the teacher explained, "What's really good about this program as opposed to others, I feel, is that we're dealing with students who are the first on the scene, who can react much quicker than teachers can, because we hear it from them if they tell us, and they are the ones that can quietly deal with the situations that arise on our campus."

They selected forty students with "social capital" in their peer groups, it is not just the straight A student or the perfect student, but rather students who have actual influence within their peer groups that have been selected. It is a broad cross-section of all groups. Five teachers have volunteered to participate--family leaders--who meet with eight students every few weeks to discuss any interventions that they have had with students. Each of the teachers have committed to be involved for two years in this program (if funding is enabled to continue).

There will be a follow-up training in the fall where the newly arriving seventh grade students will receive training to replace those who are ninth graders.

As the teacher made clear,
"This is not something where if there is a serious situation that a student had to deal with, they are not going to deal with it on their own. They know there are certain lines that they can get to and then they need to go for help. They can go to the family members, they can go to the counselors... They are not the undercover cops that can kind of deal with everything, they know when they get to the line and they need to pass it on."
Two students came forward to talk about their experiences. They work behind the scenes within their own groups to help stop bullying. For example, if they see a friend put down someone else, they intervene and try to tell the student it is not the best thing to do and they also help comfort the victim.

The big thing about the program is that students are there where the teachers cannot be. They see what the teachers cannot see and can be involved in that capacity.

One of the students witnessed for example an incident where one kid pushed another kid off his bike. One of the ambassadors confronted the kid to ask why he had done this, while the other ambassador made sure the kid who was pushed off his bike was okay.

The female student described typical types of interventions:
"Most of what we do also is just like put-downs like 'oh that's so gay,' 'you're so stupid,' 'what type of dress is that oh my gosh,' so what we usually do in those type of circumstances, talk about what we did last night, like that really good movie so that they stop thinking about it or talk about what that person might have that is good. But if it's something like 'that's so good' or something like that, we tell them that that's not right, you shouldn't say that, that's..."
Board Member Provenza asked:
"Do you find that effective in changing the way students are relating to each other?"
The male student responded,
"My view really changed after I went to that ambassador training. And when I went to that ambassador training, I realized how wrong that was."
The other student added that most of their friends have stopped using those kinds of words around them and she hoped that would change their habits in general and that would carry over to their other conversations as well to change the school.

Another component of the effectiveness of this program is that it is not a situation where the students are in uniforms and designated as authority figures. In fact, they have not told the other students about this program and instead are trying to work behind the scenes to change the culture of the school from the inside.
"I really do think that students, obviously they do have a lot more pull with their peer groups than teachers do. We're there to educate, we're there to be positive role models, but as far as interacting with each other, one we don't see it all and the students do and they can really do the on-spot corrections... These discussions between themselves can have a huge impact."
They have also had less than positive responses to their interventions, but the support group is in place that they can bring it back to their "family" and discuss better ways that they could approach a certain situation.

As Mel Lewis suggested:
"I like it because its relevant to what the kids are dealing with now. It's not a package program that just stays in an old binder, it really comes to relevancy of what the students are dealing with."
There were concerns raised that many of the Columbine type situations, and the most recent one at Virginia Tech are perpetrated by loners, who are not in any social groups.

As Tim Taylor said,
"I agree with that approach [finding leaders of the subgroups], that approach is easier said than done, so to the extent that they are accomplishing it, that's a pretty big thing to find the subgroups and all this who are out there. What it doesn't catch though is the individual, if you think of some of these incidents that have been so prominent in the news, and those are individuals that don't identify with any group."
Mel Lewis however suggested that one of their duties is to try to reach out to these type of students and hang out with students who seem to not have friends. They go and sit with them, and they have lunch with the students who do not necessarily eat with anyone else.

Tim Taylor agreed that was a good approach.

Will this program ultimately succeed? It is hard to say for sure, but there are several promising aspects of it. First, it works within the peer social structure. One key question is whether the knowledge of the existence of this program will work to undermine it, however, by working within that social network, it has a chance to succeed.

Second, it is not a police program, rather it aims to change the interactions of students through positive peer pressure.

Third and most importantly, we know from social psychological research that bystanders rarely intervene. In fact, there have been numerous studies on crowd's failure to intervene when a woman was attacked to the failure of people to prevent atrocities in Zimbardo's study on prisons. What this type of program does is empower bystanders to intervene. It gives them the tools to do so. The social support to do so. And more importantly, it raises the awareness that they need to do so, which would seem to be so vital.

In fact, one of the questions they had during their training at the conclusion was what would they change when they got back into campus.

According to the teacher, many of the students said, "I'm not going to be a bystander, so that was a powerful message because they are teens, they would view something that was happening and they would look the other way. They said they wouldn't be a bystander, and I think our ambassadors are proving that."

This program seems to hold some promise to help with situations of harassment and bullying that have been burning issues for a long time. It is not going to solve all of the problems, but it seems to be a powerful tool that can help.

For more information on this program, please click here.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

One Man's Protest Against Immigration in Davis

It was a sight to see, one person, a young man from the 101st Airborne, standing by himself, draped in his own torn flag, protesting against illegal immigration across the street from the Davis Commons on Cinco De Mayo. He was a simple person, not representing an organization, just expressing his own opinion and the love for his own country.

That would at least be the way he told the story. Like so many, he shares some sort of frustration and a burning anger toward illegal immigration that is often incomprehensible and inarticulate. But the nativist tones of this country run very deep and have a long and at times ugly past. And they are mired in an internal contradiction, for this is at its core not a nation of native people but rather a nation steeped in the deep traditions of immigrants making their way to this country, in droves seeking a better life.

This one-man tour de force quickly drew attention of other young people--many of whom disagreed with his message instead launched into a counter protest. Quickly a crowd gathered around him. Some arguing with him. Some agreeing with him. Many just curious of the spectacle that represents free speech. Davis' finest also took interest in the event that quickly grew, watching from a safe distance, making sure that nothing got out of hand.

It is clear that with a war waging on the other side of the world, that the passion on this issue continues to burn bright here at home in our own backyard. It was just last week, that the Davis College Republicans endeavored to play the satirical game of "Capture the Flag," portraying the dangerous and daily struggle between the INS and border crossing individuals into a theme to make a point about their perception of the absurdity of our border control policies and immigration laws. That game never got underway because a large mob stood in their wake, threatening their existence.

Unfortunately, while such shows of force may effectively deter free expression they do not make the problem go away. They do not make the sentiment wane. They do not make the fire and passion go out.

Last week, across the nation, there were protests and marches coinciding with the confluence of May Day and Cinco De Mayo for immigrant rights.

In Sacramento huge crowds gathered at the steps of the State's Capitol, waving American flags, arguing in favor of immigrant rights. Once scared in the wake of Proposition 187, many immigrants are not going to sit down this time. It was the backlash the followed Proposition 187 that led to a sea-change in the political system of California as many Latinos, most of the themselves either legal immigrants or even native born Americans, realized that such movements put us all at risk and decided to vote in large numbers for the Democratic party. Whereas prior to Proposition 187, the Hispanic population largely split their vote between the parties.

The power of the Latino vote is evident in California's legislature as a growing bloc of power. But it is also evident in the attempts by members of the GOP nationally to woo Hispanic votes. This has effectively split the party and prevented the more draconian nativists like Tom Tancredo of Colorado and others like Brian Bilbray, whose daughter was involved in the UC Davis counter-demonstration from passing tough new anti-immigration legislation.

Recognition for the rich heritage of American immigration sometimes lags behind the heated rhetoric. In short, there is no wholly American Culture. America is actually a conglomeration of various waves of immigration. Those waves have shifted over the course of America's history from Western Europe, to Southern Europe, to Eastern Europe, to East Asian and Latin America. The greatness of this nation comes from the meshing of cultures and identities into a vast melting pot not only of culture but of ideals.

The ideal that America is a land of hope and opportunity can be quickly dismissed as a myth and yet there is really something enduring about that image and ideal that forces us to reconsider.

Davis School Board Member Keltie Jones this past week opened the school board meeting with a reading from Emma Lazarus' "The New Colussus."
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame,
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
This is the vision of America that welcomed in many new immigrants with a hope and vision of the future. This is the vision of America that we must celebrate. Watching a tired and frustrated military person protest against this vision at the same time defiles this vision but it also vindicates it, for it is truly America that allows all people to speak free and from their heart. Free speech as we have learned is easy when you agree with the message. The true test of it is when you allow a person to scream at the top of their lungs that which they believe with all their heart, when what they say goes against every fabric of your own being. That is the true meaning of freedom of speech. And that is what this protest brings to my mind.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, May 07, 2007

Impact of Proposition 209 Continues to Hamper Minority Students and Educators, Locally and Statewide

In 1996, California voted to support Proposition 209, a measure that would end state mandated Affirmative Action programs.

In July of 2006, nearly ten years after Proposition 209, the UC Board of Regents approved a proposal to study how California's Proposition 209 has affected the makeup of University of California student bodies over the past decade. The results of that study should be out this week.

According to a 2005 San Francisco Chronicle articles, the number of African-American freshmen enrollees fell by one-quarter from Fall of 1997 to Fall of 1998. And the number of enrollees was already an extremely low number when the new law took effect.

While we await the new report due out this week, at a local level, we have been well aware of the impact of elimination of the Affirmative Action laws.

One of the biggest problems has been in the realm of recruiting--because under Proposition 209, one cannot specifically recruit minorities either as students or job applicants. Thus many good outreach programs were shifted and abandoned after the passage of the law.

As we reported last week, one of the approaches that the school district has tried to take to increase its number of minority teachers was to send out recruiting teams to various recruiting fairs across California—especially in diverse communities such as Sacramento, Carson, and Fresno. Locations where one would expect to find a sizable percentage of minority applicants.

As Board Member Keltie Jones mentioned at the meeting last week, even in such areas as San Francisco State, which has a much more diverse population than our local area, the number of African-Americans graduating from the teaching credential program is zero.

The Sacramento Bee this weekend featured an article on the lack of Latino/ Hispanic Teachers at Woodland Community College--a school where nearly 44% of students are Latino.

According to the article:
Latinos represent 44 percent of students at Woodland Community College, but the campus has never had a full-time Latino instructor during its 30-year history, according to the college's records.

Currently, there are 104 faculty members, which includes two Latino counselors and six part-time Latino instructors.

"We're not saying the professors we have are bad," Alfaro said. "But when you have Chicano professors, they know something that an Anglo professor might not."

College President Angela Fairchilds said the lack of Latino professors is not because of discrimination in hiring, but a lack of Latino applicants.

She supports students who want mentors who look like them and who better understand their situations.

"We share their concern about the lack of diversity among full-time faculty on campus, but we are constrained by law in how we can respond," Fairchilds said.
The basic fact of the matter is that as much as many people would like to believe that we are past racism and the effects of racism, we are not. Education needs to be the bridge for many young minorities to cross. However, many find a lack of support and lack of positive role models who can share their experiences.

As the Davis Joint Unified School District fully recognizes, we need a more diverse group of teachers who can help teach, guide, and mentor young minorities.

The results though are not promising right now. Despite concerted efforts, Interim Superintendent Richard Whitmore conceded:
"I think it would be fair to say that those recruiting fairs did not turn up a lot"
Moreover next week, the Achievement Gap Task Force will present its findings. Past findings have suggested that even when you control for the education level of the parents, minority students achieve at a considerably lower rate than white and Asian students. That holds even in the households where both parents are college educated.

While many in California in 1996 seemed to believe that minorities were somehow getting free handouts and being advantaged over other students, the facts are that even with considerably more resources at their advantage, minority students were struggling at all levels of the system--in school, to gain admission to college, and to gain access to the job market. Those tools have been obliterated by the passage of Proposition 209 and now it is left to dedicated professionals to figure out how to compensate. In the meantime, the achievement gap both locally and statewide is widening, not shrinking. Frankly, Proposition 209 is the last thing that minorities needed. It has been a decade since its passage, and there is yet to be any kind of indication that the outcomes that Ward Connerly predicted would come to pass with the removal of affirmative action, have indeed done so.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Historical Preservation Once Again a Burning Issue in Davis

At the May 15, 2007 Davis City Council Meeting, the City Council will have a hearing on the Anderson Bank Building EIR (environmental impact report) and a decision as to whether to forward one of the project alternatives.

The issue of the Bank Building has been an issue in Davis for a number of years. On December 18, 2002, the City Council denied owner Jim Kidd permission to alter the windows. However, as seems to be the case with many developers, Mr. Kidd is holding onto his property that he purchased with full knowledge that it could not be developed under the current regulations that regulate historical preservation. However, that has not prevented him from bringing the issue up once again with a different council hoping that a governing body will eventually get elected which would grant his wishes to do the alteration. Preliminary indications are that it may not be this council either. We shall find out the answer to that soon.

In March, the Historic Resources Management Commission (HRMC) voted unanimously to recommend the "No Project" alternative, after voting down recommendations for Project Alternatives A and B.

One of the guiding principles here is Chapter 16 of the “Goals and Policies” from the City of Davis General Plan:
“The City shall review proposed alterations to City designated historic resources and improvements within historic districts utilizing the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings and the State Historic Building Code.”
The Anderson building is one of the few historic landmarks remaining in Davis--one person in the minutes to the HRMC meeting suggested there are just 16 historic buildings left in Davis following a lot of the renovations that took place in the 1960s and 1970s where a number of historic buildings were bulldozed in the name of progress. The current owner of the building was fully aware that the Anderson Bank Building was a City Landmark when he bought it.

This is not the first time the issue of the Anderson Bank Building has come up. In fact, it came up just five years ago. The argument used by the owner then as now is that redesigning the windows are necessary for business purposes. The HRMC expressed the view recently that they were not convinced that the pursuit of Design Option A would improve the chances of retail success for businesses located in the building. Furthermore, as some commissioners suggested at their meeting, one of the single most important features on a building are its windows. The commission argued that "if the windows of this historic building are altered, the fabric of the historic structure will be altered irretrievably and unmitigably."

This issue arose in the newsletter of the Davis Historical Society in January of 2003. Retired UC Davis Professor John Lofland in his Op-ed, "Magical Beliefs, Small Retailers and Preservation" wrote:
"In Jim Kidd’s recent effort to add out-of-character windows to the Anderson Bank Building, we saw many small business people again and again proclaim that certain kinds of windows were critical to the success of the small retailer.

Curious about this, I went on the web and researched the topic of small business success and failure. This turns out to be a well investigated question on which there are a great many quantitative, scholarly inquires.

Signal to me, while there are some well-identified causes of failure and success, the nature of a store’s windows are not among them."
Professor Lofland speculates that the idea that windows are vital to business success as one of the magical myths, constructed to mitigate the uncertainty of business endeavors rather than rooted in any reasonable notion of scientific discovery.

Nevertheless Jim Becket, the volunteer director of Davis' Hattie Weber Museum, in his Davis Enterprise op-ed last week writes:
"The building's owner and the maverick Davis Downtown Business Association are urging the council to override the recommendation of the Davis Historical Resources Management Commission by selecting "Option B" in the recently completed environmental impact report. This option proposes to drastically enlarge the windows of the old bank building in an attempt to enhance its use as a retail outlet."
Mr. Becket following the commission also suggests that the owner purchased the building both knowing of its window limitations and its historical nature:
"I think owner Jim Kidd also made an error at the outset when he bought the building, which had already been designated with landmark status, with the evident intention of using the old bank and post office section for retail. It was a bad business decision, and I do not believe the council, the city or the public owes it to Kidd to bail him out of a bad business decision."
The building is a key part of Davis' rich history. As Mr. Beckett goes on to describe:
"I suggest that the downtown businesses should support restoring the Anderson Bank Building as a visible symbol of its vibrant, successful past. That is why the building was built — the downtown was generating so much cash that J.B. Anderson could not store it in the safe in his store anymore, so he sold his business and established a bank!

But the building was more than just a bank. Pause for a moment and look at the whole building and consider its significance. This businessman, who became the first mayor of Davis a few years later, had the business acumen and foresight to not only build a bank (with windows appropriate for the time period), he built the early-1900s equivalent of the beautiful, modern, present-day Chen Building that proudly stands across the street. The Anderson Bank Building makes a positive contribution to the framing of the contemporary entrance to the downtown."
The decision by the Davis Enterprise to run a computer generated graphic with a caption next to Mr. Beckett's column generated criticism and controversy among those in preservation community who believed it undermined and compromised the message of the author and therefore was inappropriate for placement next to the op-ed. Certainly even if the editors disagree with the opinions expressed in an op-ed, they could provide response or the picture in another location so as to not confuse the reader or dilute the message.

Instead, the caption asserts that the Option B window change would improve the property for business use. It also implies that the computer generated "photo" is attached to the op-ed. It neither states the source for the graphic nor indicates that neither the graphic nor its caption are the work of the author of the op-ed text.

In short, the complaint is that while the Davis Enterprise provided Mr. Beckett op-ed space, it used its editorial discretion and ability to control space to dilute his message.

And it is an important message. As I have become more and more acquainted with contemporary Davis politics, I have also learned in greater and greater detail about Davis' rich history. With so few buildings remaining from the time of Davis' founding in 1917, a founding that we are celebrating this year as a 90th anniversary of the incorporation of the City of Davis, it only makes sense that we fight to preserve not only the current character of our city, but also its heritage. That means we preserve whatever historical buildings remain from an era that in the scheme of things was not all that long ago. Hopefully in this year of the 90th anniversary of the founding of Davis, that fight can become just as pertinent as the fight to preserve our present character from large new development or the influx of national chain big box retail.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Davis Residents Face Double-Whammy of Water Rate Hikes in Coming Decade

The Davis City Council held a public meeting last Tuesday to discuss a planned rate increase for both water and sewage rates. The public had an opportunity to come out and protest these rate hikes--a few did, but not in sufficient numbers to warrant any additional action by the city council.

As a result the rate for Davis residents will rise merely for the new sewage system by at least 7 to 8 percent per year for the next 10 years--or double the projected rate of inflation.

Davis Public Works Director Bob Weir projected that these rates would end up costing the average single-family residence at least $102 per month in utilities.

The upgrade in the sewage system is necessitated by changes in state and federal laws regarding wastewater outflow. These laws currently place the city out of compliance in terms of organic and particulate matter in the water discharge.

In the meantime these rate hikes are just the tip of the iceberg for Davis residents. The other half of the story is the Davis-Woodland Water Supply Project.

This project as we have discussed previously is a $300-$450 million project.

According to the water supply page:
"The partners are pursuing this project to secure a new, high-quality surface water supply from the Sacramento River. Currently, groundwater serves as the sole supply of water for the partners. A new, treated surface water source is needed to improve water quality for Woodland, Davis and UC Davis to meet future wastewater discharge requirements. The partners also want to ensure that an adequate and diversified future water supply is available."
The project is currently in the environmental documentation phase, and Draft EIR has been prepared and available for review for a 50-day period ending May 31. Any public willing to submit comments may do so at the May 16, 2007 Davis City Council Meeting.

The project relies on a diversion of water from the Sacramento River, it will then be piped into an intake water treatment plant and connected with the cities. It has three primary goals: (1) "Provide a reliable water supply to meet existing and future needs;" (2) "improve water quality for drinking water purposes;" and (3) "improve the quality of treated wastewater effluent discharged by the Project Partners."

According to the EIR, there will be up to 46.1 thousand acre feet of water per year from the river for water use.

They argue that there will be no significant impact on fish, aquatic resources, and habitats, hydrology, or water quality in the Sacramento River or downstream delta. That may be accurate on the basis simply of the impact of this specific project's usage, but the broader concern would have to be the stress on this system as more and more community scramble to gain control over water from the Sacramento River in lieu of pending water shortages and changes in the climate due to global warming. Any one project's impact may be low, but it would be interesting to see what the combined or overall impact might be.

They argue that there will be short-term construction impacts such as dust and noise. However, they do not discuss the impact of building the pipeline across those miles of habitat.

Summer water purchases will not result in significant environmental impacts, however, as the presentation earlier this year suggested, there is likely not going to be water available to Davis during the summer months anyway. So it is unsurprising that the summer water purchases would not result in significant environmental impacts.

While I am far from a water expert, it seems to me that this EIR is inadequate. During the public meetings and workshop earlier this year, Mayor Greenwald suggested we have an independent agency and experts examine the water project for necessity. According to the EIR, the City of Davis is the lead agency for complying with the CEQA act. As I suggest, there seem to be a number of issues that are simply not addressed adequately in the report.

The key questions I have continue to have are the overall impact of a delicate ecological system of the delta. This EIR looked only at the impact of this particular project on the delta rather than any sort of cumulative impact. Second, would be the issue of availability of water.

As discussed previously, the main argument for proceeding with this project now is to gain a foothold on Davis' share of water from the Sacramento River before other communities that will likely jump on board. The problem with that viewpoint is that if there actually becomes a crisis, there is no guarantee we would be able to retain those water rights.

The final problem with the water supply issue that we are planning for urban growth for a city of 100,000 people within the next 40 years. A realistic view of the resources in California coupled with expected climate change, simply does not support those kind of population growths in this part of the state where water is seasonal and increasingly unreliable.

It would be nice if other alternatives for water supply would have been more thoroughly explored during the recent process, but that does not seem to be a priority.

In the meantime, the city of Davis is looking to embark on two very expensive projects and those on fixed incomes will take a huge hit. That means seniors and other people least able to handle increased costs of living will be the first to feel its impacts. The city needs to seriously examine how they structure these rates--right now they are proposing flat rates, which would be devastating to low income and fixed income people. That should be a top priority in rate structuring.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting