The Vanguard has a new home, please update your bookmarks to

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Commentary: Tearing Down our City's Character

It took me a long time to realize why the vote on Third and B Street "Visioning" Project upset me so much. After all, there has been a long string of votes, most of them these days 3-2, that have upset me from this city council led by Stephen Souza, Don Saylor, and Ruth Asmundson. In fact, the only time I can remember prevailing on a contested vote was with the Anderson Bank Building, when Stephen Souza uncharacteristically switched sides. Other than that, it has been a loss after devastating loss. But this one really hurt in a way a lot of the others have not. This one as they say, was personal and unfortunately I've felt personal before from this council. But at least the last time it felt personal, I understand fully why it felt personal. This one was more elusive.

Then as I was driving past the neighborhood, I realized what was eating at me. This was my neighborhood. For many years, I spent more time in that neighborhood than I did where I actually lived. Everyday I would walk from either Central Park or Old North down to Third Street and from there to the Social Sciences and Humanities Building. I'd walk by Ciocolat, Navin's, Roma, etc. I'd eat lunch at Rajas one of my favorite restaurants in Davis. I can see that journey in my head all the time, because I walked through it several times a day, almost everyday, for years.

And these days I talk to a lot of people and hear from a lot of people on various things in Davis. Honestly, I have not met a single person who does not have a financial stake in either the neighborhood or in the business community that supports this. I've even heard from people who do not follow Davis politics who start shaking their heads and asked a series of questions as to why the promoters would want to do this. Nobody gets this other than the council majority of Asmundson, Saylor and Souza, a few developers, and a few merchants. And I mean nobody.

This is a neighborhood that few live in, but most know and most like if not love. I think the comment made on the night of the council sticks with me most--why are we rewarding people for the failure to take care of their property? Because when you walk through the neighborhood you see some very nice old homes that have simply not been cared for. It's not the students' fault who reside in these homes. It is the fault of the absentee homeowners. And yet now they can go tear them down and rebuild and make a nice profit because the city council majority of Ruth Asmundson, Don Saylor and Stephen Souza wanted to "improve" the area.

There are lots of little things about this that bother me as well. Maria Ogrydziak is President of the DDBA and a property owner in the neighborhood. She was quoted in the Davis Enterprise as complaining that the 38 foot height restriction for her building was too restrictive.

Maria Ogrydziak said she would like to build either retail and offices or a townhouse project, depending on the zoning the council approves for her properties.

For her, the 38-foot height limit is restrictive, she said.

“With something like this, I think it’s important to be creative and when you’re so stringent about the height, you’re going to end up with that apartment building down the block from me,” she said. “It’s just like a pancake, one layer right on top of another, maxing out the height. If you want to have interesting roof lines, it completely disallows that, and it makes the parking very difficult to design underneath.”

Fortunately for Ms. Ogrydziak, her friends on the council specifically allowed her to build to 45 feet. And when some objected to the unseemliness of it, Asmundson was inclined to make all of them 45 feet in height.

How tall is 45 feet? 45 feet in comparable in height to the Chen Building. That's how we want that neighborhood to look with a bunch of 45 feet buildings. If you want to know how that might look, walk up to G and Fifth and look at the Roe Building that is under construction and decide if that's the vision that you have for Davis' residential and historical neighborhoods.

It's not my vision. I've grown tired of defending my Davis against this kind of encroachment. I've grown tired of people who want to completely remake the image and character of Davis. I believe most people in Davis would like to preserve that character. And frankly I have been tired of being accused of opposing all changes to Davis. I'm not. Give me something that I can support and I will, but this is not it. I think there are great things we can do in Davis and great changes that we can make while preserving the character of key places in Davis. But not here, and not this way. I think there are densifications even in this neighborhood I would support, but not three and four story condos, not tearing down these beautiful if falling apart bungalows.

One last point to make about the vote on Tuesday--the meeting went until 1:45 a.m. Now if you watched the meeting, you saw a series of questions from council to staff that really should not have been asked in public. I mean some of the questions asked were just baffling. And yet they went on and on for hours.

Now I point this out because Mayor Greenwald was not presiding over this meeting. Furthermore, Mayor Pro Tem Asmundson presided over this meeting. Asmundson complained a month or two ago that Mayor Greenwald did not know how to run a meeting, therefore that was the reason that the council meetings went so long. Well anyone who painfully stayed up and watched this council meeting will realize that Asmundson has no clue how to run a meeting or move it on. It was absurd. There has to be some kind of focus and some kind of structure to meetings, and this one just went on and on long past the time it should have stopped.

Unlike the meeting where Asmundson complained about Greenwald, this one was mostly on Asmundson. Because not only did she fail to take control of it, she contributed to its length by asking a series of questions that she should have asked staff in private. So should Councilmember Souza. Souza can at least be excused for asking questions that made no sense as he was suffering an allergic reaction to a wasp sting and was struggling along. Asmundson has no such excuse.

In all, it was a disappointing night and a very disappointing performance from council. The public got up and spoke and it was very clear that the council majority was paying little attention to them. They were too busy writing notes about what they were going to say in their concluding comments. If there is one thing that irritates me, it is when councilmembers have gone through a long process with the public and then they read their closing statements. Taking a note or two to remember points you want to raise is one thing, sitting and reading them is insulting to the public and it gives members of the public the impression that the elected official has no interest in public input. If you have your mind made up going in, at least fake it better.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, June 15, 2007

Column: View from West Davis

This is going to be my new weekly column of thoughts and tidbits from the week that has passed. A little bit lighter and more playful than the usual serious and hard-hitting coverage.

The end of weird Davis?

Professor John Lofland in his chronicle of Davis describes the transition from Davis as eco-city and a hero to progressives across the country to "weird Davis."

He writes:

"By the early 1990s, Davis was receiving little media attention... But then something odd happened. In 1993, the media spotlight shone on Davis again. However, this time it was negative. Instead of being a hero, the town was treated as a weird and quirky fool. Other negative labels included goofy, odd, eccentric, and flaky."

Chief among these "weird" ideas was the idea of creating a tunnel under the Pole Line overpass to serve as a corridor by which toads could safely pass.

The Sacramento Bee this week reports on a study that was undertaken.
"No record occurs of the tunnel ever being used by a toad," said John McNerney, Davis wildlife resource specialist. "It was well- intentioned but not successful."

The toad tunnel, installed a dozen years ago this summer under a new over-crossing ramp, was intended to prevent the amphibians from being squished by cars.

Apparently, the toads never used the tunnel enough, if at all, and the population of toads that once hopped around the area has died out.
Since we have now symbolically put to rest the stereotype of "weird" Davis by burying one of its chief iconic embodiments, perhaps we can get back to the Davis of 1970s and early 1980s as being on the forefront of environmentalism and civil rights. I suggest we start by not gutting the city's 23 year old anti-discrimination ordinance, but that's just me.

Saylor's Freudian Slip

It's election time. Okay, not election time in the sense that elections are imminent, but election time in the sense that people are acting like they are candidates.

Anyone witnessing the last three plus years of the city council, is under little illusion that Don Saylor is any sort of liberal. And yet, he's now trying to at least look the role.

Sources told me that just recently Saylor has posted a "war is not the answer" lawn sign on his property. This from the man who abstained from the council's anti-war vote back in 2005.

More recently, Saylor has been on the forefront of the health care campaign. This past Sunday he spoke before the Davis Democratic Club's Champagne Brunch and trumpeted the new movie, "SICKO," by Michael Moore. One problem is that he kept referring to him as Roger Moore. Someone finally had to correct him and point out that Roger Moore was one of the bad actors who replaced Sean Connery as James Bond. Saylor quipped, "it's a good thing I'm among friends." Indeed. I know, Michael Moore did "Roger and Me." But come on, Saylor is not a Michael Moore fan.

It's a good thing for the rest of us that we are not fooled by such transparent overtures.

My Day as a Fire Fighter

I arranged with the Davis Fire Department to go on a ride along. Unfortunately, I fell pray to the notorious "ride along" jinx. This jinx apparently besets all ride along people and means that you get almost no action the day of your ride along. Indeed I was shown the log on the days leading up to my ride along versus the day of my ride along.

I had one call and that was to the police department. I'm thinking, I've already seen the police department on my police ride along.

Anyway, it was a very enjoyable time. Thanks to Fire Chief Rose Conroy for helping arrange it. And thanks to Captain Bobby Wiest and his crew for a good time. They let me dress up and spray some water, which was fun and gave me a new appreciation for the job, especially putting that heavy gear on in the heat. And I got lobbied as well on the needs of the fire fighters. I'm sympathetic to their needs, but a bit concerned about the city's budgetary problems and those concerns.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Souza and Asmundson Propose to Strip Civil Rights Protections from Seminal City Ordinance

The Davis City Council in 1986 passed one of the most sweeping anti-discrimination ordinances in the country. This ordinance put Davis on the forefront of civil rights protections in the nation. The ordinance would then be re-affirmed by a vote of the public.

The ordinance protected individuals on the basis of “race, religion, color, ancestry, age, national origin, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, disability or place of birth…” It granted “The fundamental rights of citizens include the right to live unfettered by unreasonable discrimination and this right is consistent with the American ideals of individual freedom, liberty and responsibility for one's own actions.” Moreover it placed the responsibility with government “to take action to prevent such discrimination.”

In addition to the sweeping scope of the protections, it provided three core enforcement mechanisms to ensure that this ordinance was not merely a paper tiger. In 10.06.050(a):
“any person whose rights are violated pursuant to this chapter may bring a civil action against person or persons engaging in such violation. Upon a finding of liability, the court shall award actual damages…”
Second, (b) allows:
“any person who commits an act in violation of any of the provisions of this chapter” to “be enjoined therefrom and from future violations by any court of competent jurisdiction.”
While both of these provisions are essential, they both require court action. Court action has two fundamental drawbacks. First, it is not a speedy process—meaning it may take a period of years for the court to issue a finding. Second, it is an expensive process, thus people of modest means have difficulty retaining quality counsel and even more difficulty following through on the lengthy and expensive court process. However, the city of Davis, visionary as it was, created a third option that would mitigate this problem. They empowered a government body—the Davis Human Relations Commission with the power to investigate and mediate complaints of discrimination.
Section 7A-15 (c)Any person who believes he or she has been discriminated against in violation of the provisions of this ordinance may file a request to have the human relations commission investigate and mediate his or her complaint. The commission may adopt rules of procedure to accommodate the needs of such investigation and mediation. A complaint to the commission shall not be a prerequisite to filing a civil action under this section, and the findings and conclusions of the commission issued in response to such proceedings shall not be admissible in a civil action. (Ord. No. 1359, § 1 (part).)
When the current Davis City Council reformulated the Davis Human Relations Commission, they sought to strip much of the previous power that they once had. As a result, they passed a resolution making the HRC strictly an advisory body, without the ability to investigate complaints. It was pointed out last fall by Councilmember Heystek that the resolution passed by the Council by a 3-2 vote (with Mayor Greenwald and Councilmember Heystek dissenting) was at odds with the anti-discrimination ordinance.

Council again by a 3-2 vote, decided to send the question back to the subcommittee of Councilmembers Ruth Asmundson and Stephen Souza (rather than staff) to determine what to do with the anti-discrimination ordinance. On Tuesday, they will take up the issue as a full council.

The report concludes:
“The subcommittee recommends that Section 7A-15(c) of the city’s Anti-discrimination Ordinance should be deleted.”
Furthermore, they argue that this is not a fundamental problem for civil rights enforcement:
“The Subcommittee believes there is an adequate web of resources available to individuals.”
This view is actually based on a very limited understand of the ordinance and the scope of protections under the ordinance. In effect, the council decision (and there is little doubt what the council decision will be given that Councilmember Saylor has been the most fervent about abolishing the powers of the HRC and oversight), will strike the major enforcement mechanism in the ordinance, leaving only judicial remedies as a possibility for an aggrieved individual. As we discussed, due to the prohibitive costs and general lack of ability for individuals to file suit, there is no legitimate recourse an aggrieved individual of modest or even moderate means possesses.

To understand this, we should look toward the Buzayan case, which is now two years old following the initial incident in June 2005. And yet, a full two years later, the federal trial has not yet begun. Moreover the family has already spent in the hundreds of thousands of dollars on court costs. While the Buzayans can afford these costs (with a great deal of strain and burden even on their finances), the average person simply cannot, which means they are effectively without remedy.

The council subcommittee is arguing that there are other available remedies. In fact, I can think of one and they really cite only one, the police ombudsman, an entity which is completely untested and not codified into the ordinance. The anti-discrimination ordinance intended to look well beyond the scope of police activities. In fact, that was likely only a very minor perceived role for the HRC. Over the years, the HRC has been involved in a very wide variety of cases most of which were not directly related to police activities.

There is to my knowledge no other such mechanism to fulfill the role formerly played by the HRC. What avenues are available for some of the other complaints that arise other than going to court? Does the council insist that the court and litigation is the only remedy? Wasn’t the HRC created precisely as a means to avoid court action?

The HRC was the only body existing that had the ability to both listen to complaints aired in public and investigate and report their findings publicly. The city council has claimed that they have such powers, but the city council does not act as an investigatory body. Their job is primarily a policy making body that acts on recommendations from the various commissions that do the leg work? Does the City Council really want to subsume the role played by the former HRC to both hear and investigate complaints of discrimination not just against the police, but throughout the community? This does not seem a practical stance and yet this is exactly what Steve Souza claimed last fall when this issue arose during the time at which the commissions were reformulated.

Some have suggested that there should be a private/ independent HRC to fulfill this function, but the force of government is precisely what is needed to mediate and resolve issues and complaints of discrimination and there needs to be an available remedy outside of the courts which are costly to both plaintiff and the city and lengthy. In fact, in the language of the anti-discrimination ordinance cited above, the ordinance SPECIFICALLY charged government as having a primary role to play in the enforcement of these provisions.

As it stands now, there is no remedy for complaints in the ordinance. The council has not codified the ombudsman into the anti-discrimination ordinance. And there are no remedies for discrimination complaints outside of police complaints.

Imagine Brown v. Board of Education without the ensuing civil rights legislation to give that decision and subsequent decisions actual teeth that can be used by federal, state, and local governments to enforce civil rights legislation—that is precisely what the current council majority's subcommittee is recommending doing with the Davis Civil Rights ordinance—it lays out provisions but offers no enforcement mechanism outside of the costly court system.

The council majority is in effect making the civil rights ordinance exactly what the authors of it sought to avoid—making it a paper tiger ordinance. For the average person who charges discrimination, there is now no effective means by which to redress their grievances outside of the lengthy and costly court process.

The saddest part I think is that this is a huge step backwards in the fight for civil rights. Davis was once on the forefront in the nation on civil rights, just as it had been on the forefront of a number of progressive issues during the seminal progressive era. One by one the current council majority of Asmundson, Saylor and Souza is undoing the great work of the giants who came before them. And the citizenry of Davis to this point have offered hardly a whisper of protest. Unfortunately it may take a major case to re-infuse our commitment to civil rights in Davis and that is the saddest part. Many in this city believed that this was a hard-earned but accomplished victory. Now the very members who claim to be liberals, are about to undo this victory.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Council Expands Open Container Ordinance

At Tuesday's City Council Meeting, the Council voted to extend the Open Container Ordinance to greenbelts and bike paths and also add the N Street Park to the regular open container ordinance. Eventually it is likely that all parks will require a permit in order for visitors to have alcoholic containers.

Undoubtedly many probably view this ordinance as a common sense approach to create a safe family atmosphere at the park. In fact, one individual asked for a complete ban on alcoholic beverages at all parks.

On the other hand, the ordinance disproportionately effects two population groups--one being the homeless and the other being students.

The impact on students is on convenience. During my years as a student, we would at times have BBQs in the park. Sometimes we had these BBQs impromptu, sometimes we would have them planned in advance. On a hot day after being couped up studying, sometimes it was just nice to get together in the evening at the park and have a few beers. Requiring a permit would take away from those kind of events and force that all such BBQs be planned in advance and permitted. It is a matter of convenience of course, but I think that the rule would take away from the ability of otherwise harmless and law abiding citizens to engage in recreational fun in the parks and that would be a shame.

The far bigger impact is on a population group that most in the city of Davis probably have little sympathy for--the homeless population.

Advocates of the homeless such as Richard Cipian came out on Tuesday night to speak against the extension of the open container ordinance.

As Cipian explains there are a number of reasons for the homeless to engage in alcoholic consumption:
"A majority in the homeless community drink alcohol for three reasons. The first reason is that many in the homeless community do not have jobs. The second reason is that the homeless do not have a motivation to get shelter because there are long established waiting for affordable housing along with the other barriers to housing that I do not have to mention. Just refer to the 2007 Homeless Yolo Homeless Summit document. The third reason is that mental illnesses and painful physical disorders run very high in the homeless community and like students and housed community members, we turn to alcohol consumption to reduce stress in our daily lives."
I understand the concerns of residents who complain of large numbers of people drinking in the parks. In fact, I spoke to residents about the N Street Park, many of them warned the homeless who had used that park that they should alternate parks in order to prevent one neighborhood from becoming tired of their presence. The homeless did not heed this advice and the result is now another park where they cannot drink.

I understand the concerns of parents who fear sending their kids to the parks when people are there drinking. There is no doubt in my mind that these are legitimate concerns.

On the other hand, I suspect that this solution is more of a band aid than a cure. The results of the early bans on alcoholic consumption were simply to shift the drinking population from one park to another. It is undoubtedly clear that this pattern will continue until the city bans all drinking at all parks without a permit.

I also understand that law enforcement prefers to be able to stop people from drinking than to respond to problems that result from people drinking.

But I wonder what the ultimate outcome will be of this ordinance. At the end of the day, the homeless that reside in Davis, many of whom will continue to drink. The only question is where.

And in some ways, banning public drinking might make the problem worse rather than better. For example, there is a good deal of evidence that a youth curfew does not reduce crime, it merely forces youth from public city centers where they are visible to neighborhood houses where they are not. The same will likely happen with homeless. In some ways, it may be easier to deal with a few problem people in a visible public area than a less visible area. It was even suggested that a specific drinking area be created where the police could fully monitor the activities.

Ruth Asmundson at the council meeting on Tuesday suggested that if people could purchase the alcohol, they could purchase a permit. Assistant Chief Steve Pierce agreed and stated that he had not heard of the price being prohibitive. Only Councilmember Heystek seemed sympathetic to this problem.

Cipian, however, as a homeless advocate sees the picture differently.
"A key issue brought up at last nights meeting was about the fact of homeless people not being able to afford permit's in order to consume alcohol beverages in Central Park. A person from the Davis Police Department suggested that if a homeless person has the money to buy a beer at a liquor store, they have the money to buy a permit to consume alcohol beverages in the park. This can be the furthest from the truth. Homeless people rarely have money for money beyond money for a drink of alcohol at a liquor store. If the former was the case in the Davis PD's eyes, why would homeless people panhandle? There is no need to panhandle if a homeless person has a abundance of income to pay for a permit fee."
Many Davisites will undoubtedly lack sympathy for this situation, implying paternalistically that homeless people need to stop drinking. While that is undoubtedly true, that simplistic approach overlooks a variety of factors that lead to drinking problems to begin with, the difficulty for people who have homes and resources to stop drinking, and the lack of social services available to aid the homeless.

I mentioned previously that this was a band aid to the problem rather than a solution. One reason for that is that drinking is not the problem, but a symptom of a much broader problem that leads a sizable number of people onto the streets. If the city, county, and community were serious about addressing this problem, they would be looking toward social services and housing solutions in addition to open container laws. While fully recognizing that the city and county governments lack such resources for many services, it is also true that creating and providing basic services to help the homeless including homes and treatment services are very low on the list of priorities. It is far easier to pass open container laws and hope that you shift or pass the problem elsewhere.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Food Service Worker Protest in Front of Vanderhoef's Residence Revealing

Last night in front of Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef's residence, a number of students gathered in support of Sodexho Food Service Worker's campaign to become university employees with full university wages and benefits. So far, the Chancellor has failed to negotiate in good faith and at a meeting last week refused to allow union representatives to come and speak on behalf of the food service workers. Instead Vanderhoef and Vice Chancellor Dennis Shimek, met with two students and a food service worker--two of whom complained about disrespectful treatment and intimidation tactics.

As far as protests go, this one, planned at the last minute and held during finals week was not huge. Certainly not in comparison with some of the recent protests held on May 1 and May 23, 2007. Nevertheless, the twenty-five or so students who gathered on Tuesday evening in front of Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef's residence served an important purpose. The Chancellor was holding his annual Luau and had invited many university folks and community leaders--most of whom ignored or were indifferent to the efforts of the protesters to pass out fliers. Some were downright hostile.

More interesting was perhaps the reaction of leaders in this community--some of whom have expressed open support for the food service workers. For instance, Assemblywoman Lois Wolk had sent a letter to the chancellor in March urging him to negotiate with the students in good faith. She was also supposed to be meeting with the Chancellor in hopes of pressuring him to resolve the meeting. Given that, it was surprising to see the Assemblywoman walk right past the protesters, along with her husband Bruce Wolk, and say nary a word.

Davis City Councilmember Don Saylor exchanged pleasantries with me, however, he did not attempt to talk to the students despite his earlier letter of support. Nor did Councilmember Ruth Asmundson. Nor did former Mayor and current Judge Dave Rosenberg. Nor did Congressman Mike Thompson's representative Eli Faircloth.

There was but one exception to that list--County Supervisor Mariko Yamada. Ms. Yamada walked up to the protesters, offered words of support and hugs, and made the determination that she should not go in, in light of the protest. The students talked her into going inside, however, it was clear from the student's reaction that her support was very meaningful to them. Nor was the fact that several other leaders in the community had walked right past them without a word lost upon them.

Vice Chancellor Dennis Shimek at one point intentionally and deliberately walked right through the marching picketers--and for really no apparent reason as he walked through some grass in some open space and then returned to the Chancellor's residence. I caught up to him at the park, and told him that my mother had taught me never to walk through a picket line.

He asked me, "why is that?"

I responded, "it is the ultimate sign of disrespect."

He said, "they were in the path, I had the right to walk there, so I did."

He could have easily walked around them. He was attempting to intimidate them and bully them, just as he had up in his office during negotiations. This is a university employee's disdain for students who were exercising their lawful right to assembly.

Finally, what perhaps disturbed me the most was the treatment of the protesters by the UC Davis police. There were at least six police officers there for a pretty small protest. But that's understandable given the size of previous protests. What concerned me was that the police were taking pictures of the protesters.

These students were not breaking the law. This hearkened me back to a time before I was born when the FBI would routinely photograph and keep files on protesters for the purpose of intimidation and a whole lot more. These are the tactics used by the university police against their students? What are they going to do with the pictures?

The picture above is an officer taking a picture of me taking a picture of him. Now I don't know exactly what the officer thought he was going to accomplish by taking of a picture of me. But he can tell his bosses, he got a shot of...

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Council Approves Zoning Change to Allow Densification at Third and B

The Davis City Council decided early this morning by a 3-1 vote to approve zoning changes to allow densification at Third and B with Councilmember Lamar Heystek the sole dissenter and with Mayor Sue Greenwald conflicted out of the process due to her residence within the neighborhood in question. This vote occurred despite numerous concerns raised by neighbors and community members about changing the character of the neighborhood and the core of downtown. There were also a number of concerns raised about parking and traffic. Finally a number of people have argued that Davis lacks much in the way of historic buildings and resources. Those historic buildings that have remained beyond the purging in the 1960s and 1970s are in need of protection.

There were many crucial points of opposition that were aptly raised by various members of the public. Many people also came and spoke in favor of the project.

John Hall, a neighbor who collected around 20 petitions, called the original proposal "OTT" or "over the top." He told the council that this was densification, not infill and implored them to scale back the project. They had come forward with a number of proposals, some of which ended up being integrated into the project, some of which were not.

Rand Herbert, chair of the historic resources commission, referred to a 4-0-3 vote by his commission to use the current design guidelines.
"The HMRC is not against densification, only how it would impact historic resources."
Mike Syvanen, husband of Mayor Greenwald, illustrated the impact that a 38-45 foot building height would have on the character of the neighborhood. He did not reject the notion of redevelopment or even densification of the area outright, but simply suggested that this is the wrong approach.
"I think this plan should be just rejected and sent back to planning so that we can come up with something that is consistent with the character of this residential neighborhood."
Allan Miller from the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association was disturbed by this process. He brought up a very crucial point:
"I continue to be amazed that either intentional or careless neglect is rewarded on property owners who want to redevelop. On this wall we have five scenes, one is gone, it is the one in the middle, the Aggie Hotel, which went through criminal neglect, and then that was given as an excuse as to why redevelopment had to occur."
Mr. Miller's point was a very strong one as we saw a few weeks back with the Anderson Bank Building, another old, historic building that is in need of upkeep and renovation. The appearance of the Bank Building was one of the reasons that the owner asked for changes in the window design. The appearance of the older bungalows in the current neighborhood are among the expressed reasons why some of the owners asked for zoning changes to enable densification and redevelopment in this project and in this neighborhood. Perhaps the council ought to require upkeep as a condition to even consider allowing for zoning change and redevelopment. Because otherwise as both Mr. Miller said, and Councilmember Heystek would later state, we would simply be rewarding people who are failing to take care of their property.

Teta Olna provided some of the most emotional public comments of the evening. She had bought her lot on University as an R2 lot. She was told by city leaders that she lived in an historic neighborhood and was asked to save it. "If you take your R2 property and turn it into an R1 property, we promise you that while this general plan is in effect, this will stay a residential type of neighborhood." And she convinced her neighbor to do the same thing, which probably reduced her property value by $100,000. They accepted a denser neighborhood back in 1990.
"This is just how the council is treating people in the historic neighborhood. Me, who I wanted to save an historic neighborhood, I gave up a lot. I said no I'm not going to develop, I'm not going to do the R2, I'm going to the R1. I'm going to stay here, I'm going to live here. And I put all my nest egg in there. And now I'm left holding the bag, now I'm the fool. So I'm really sorry that this is happening and I feel very unfairly treated. I feel there is a double-standard on this city council. There's a double-standard of protecting the rich peripheral neighborhoods, quality of life issues, ignoring those of us in the historic core that have really given a lot to this city."
Sue Greenwald spoke as a private citizen and a resident of the neighborhood.
"I thought that we had a shared vision, of careful sensitive infill that preserves the historic nature of our most visible and defining historic neighborhoods. We have very little of our historic flavor left. When people visit Davis, or when they walk from campus to downtown, they are always commenting to me that they are amazed that we managed to retain a little history and a little charm. We had a vision that was a really wise vision, it was a vision that we would densify the commercial core with taller buildings, we would scale it down somewhat in the mixed use areas of C Street and D Street, and transition it to leave a village ambiance in the little neighborhood between B Street and campus. It's a very small neighborhood. That vision is exemplified in the existing zoning. Staff has underestimated the number of units that can be built under the existing zoning in this neighborhood and actually overestimated the number that can be built under the proposed zoning."
Some have suggested that opposition to this project is tantamount to opposition to all densification or infill development. I do not believe that this is true at all and I do not think this is true of my viewpoint. Part of the reason for that perception is that the Vanguard tends to focus on controversies rather than points of agreement. However, I would tend to support those who last night suggested that there are better locations for densification and infill.

There were two good alternative proposals put on the table last night by members of the public. First, retired professor Dennis Dingemanns suggested densification on the Old North Davis spot where the school district currently has its main offices but from which the district wants to move and sell their property for future development. Greenwald suggested that there are proper places for infill such as the 25 acre PG&E parcel at 5th and L. She also mentioned other underutilized sites around downtown. "Infill at sites like this will not destroy historic neighborhood." Moreover, infill at these sites can be incorporated into the existing infrastructure rather than imposed upon it. Finally, infill at these locations can be made to reinforce rather than alter the existing character of the community and the neighborhood.

Councilmember Heystek questioned the scope of the EIR, the fact that it did not, in his opinion, test the impact on adjacent areas. Staff disagreed with that assessment, as did his colleagues, who ended up voting 3-1 to approve the EIR. This limited EIR remains a concern to me as well, I do not think it adequately examined the impact of traffic and parking on adjacent areas. The Old North Neighborhood Association remains concerned about their generous parking arrangement, whereby they allow non-residents large use of their parking spots without time limitations. Will this new development force more parking into that neighborhood? Souza speculated on a new parking structure that would ease that problem, but in the meantime, I think that is concern.

Councilmember Lamar Heystek after midnight weighed in on why he ended up opposing this project.
"I believe that this process is a referendum on our current development process. I believe there is something to be said about densification through demolition in this particular neighborhood, where the council has opposed densification in other areas of this town, specifically on the peripheral areas near our city limits. I don't want to unjustly punish this neighborhood for the fact that this current council for whatever reason refuses to accept higher density in other areas of town... Just as the rich or the low density neighborhoods, the members of those neighborhoods claim, that they are entitle to preservation of the integrity of their neighborhood, I believe that those who live in and near the project are similarly entitled to some semblance of neighborhood integrity. And that is why I think it would be unfair not to push the envelope in other areas of town of low density, and yet cram what seems to be high density, what is high density, into this neighborhood."
Councilmember Heystek continued by criticizing the level of neglect of some of the property in this neighborhood.
"I walked through the alleys with Sara, I've walked through the alleys with neighbors, I've walked through the alleys myself, and there seems to be and must be admitted to, if we're going to be honest here, there is some element of neglect on those parcels, on the lots, that abut the alley facing east on B street. Who bears the burden of the responsibility of the lots, of the fact that a lot of the lots have not been very well maintained, it is very popular to say that it's the tenants, it's the student renters who are running this neighborhood down, I'm not saying the renters have been angels, because I've walked down this street on picnic, I've walked down the street on weekends, but we must be honest and say that the owners of these lots also bear responsibility. I don't want to say that if we cannot achieve some semblance of what we want to accomplish in that neighborhood because of the activities of the occupants there, the renters in this case, then that means we have to cover, we've got to demolish, and we've got to build on top of it. Because I'm not willing to reward that. If you run your properties down enough... But also the property owners bear responsibility."
In the end, the council majority supported this project as part of what they consider their vision of the core. They spoke in terms of a transition between the university and the core downtown area. They spoke in terms of commercial development in that transition in order to connect the university with the core areas of town.

And in the end, I simply do not share that vision of the council majority of Councilmembers Saylor, Souza, and Asmundson. I share a very different vision of this city and especially that neighborhood.

There were consistent and persistent concerns about parking and traffic in that part of town. There is legitimate concern about such dense residential development along B Street which serves as a main artery for traffic heading from Fifth Street to downtown and I-80. Large amounts of vehicles pulling out from driveways will inherently disrupt the flow of traffic. Nevertheless, both traffic and parking while legitimate concerns, can be mitigated through good planning. In the end, neither of these were reasons to reject the project in my opinion--though they may be valid reasons for further planning and altering the project.

For me, the reason for opposing this project is based not on principles of growth, but rather the ideal of what our city should look like. I have mentioned before that one of the chief reasons I originally moved to this city to go to graduate school was that this neighborhood and this mix of residential development and commercial development along Third Street drew me to Davis. It has the feel of the college town. And it is precisely because the houses and businesses are older. It is precisely because the businesses seem to seemlessly flow out of the neighboring homes. It is precisely because there is little to distinguish a business like Navines or Ciocolat from the adjacent homes. This is what a college town should feel like.

And when I think of them razing some of these homes and these businesses to build bigger, taller, and more dense units, it really cuts to the core of what I believe our community should be. That neighborhood is a transition from the university to the city. It houses old time residents and students alike. There are faculty members and businesses. The students frequent the businesses in heavy doses during the week. And it has the feel of a real college town with people bustling about, riding their bikes on their way to classes or sitting down and having coffee or lunch out on the street front. To me, that is what a college town should look like. Having three or four story condos with owner-occupancy can be saved for another neighborhood. I am not suggesting that we do not need more housing.

I am not suggesting that densification as a rule is a bad practice. I agree with conservation of agricultural land on the city periphery and recognize that a chief way to do that is to pack more people into less space. However, there are places to do that and in my view, this is not one of them.

I feel like last night, my Davis, my town where I have lived for almost 11 years, was taken from me and that it might never come back. This character once destroyed, I fear will never be restored. I can only hope that in the near future, we can have a council majority that does a better job of mixing the needs of development, growth, and business--all of which are essential to this community--with the character and the soul of this community. I do not oppose all growth, I do not oppose the concept of densification, but I very strongly opposed this growth, this densification, and this demolition of one of my favorite aspects of this great community.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Cabaldon and Yamada Square Off in First Debate

The Northern Solano Democratic Club hosted a debate for the Democratic Nomination for the 8th Assembly District between Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada and West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon. It was very well-attended, with the conference room at the Courtyard Marriot in Fairfield near capacity.

The two candidates agreed in principle on far more issues than they disagreed. In fact, Cabaldon in his closing remarks said as much.
"As you can tell, Supervisor Yamada and I agree on 98, 99 percent of the policy issues that are challenging California. And that is because we are both good Democrats... We understand the priorities of our party, and I would expect, that we would see very similar voting patterns in the capital for both of us."
Where they differed was in terms of emphasis and priorities. Cabaldon spoke at length on issues such as the environment, transportation, and education. Some of the key issues included developing the capital corridor transit system, protecting the delta and talking about delta smelt. He used West Sacramento as a model for the Democratic Party.
"We have proven you can be a strong advocate for the environment and still get good economic development in your community, that produces good clean green manufacturing jobs at a rate that is unmatched anywhere in our region."
He also mentioned his sexual orientation:
"We have proven you can have a gay mayor and still have a socially cohesive powerful place that we believe in community in a place like West Sacramento."
In contrast, Mariko Yamada stressed social issues and social services such as health care among other services. She spoke of her background as a social worker and creating a different approach to solving our problems.
"I come from a set of core values that are essential to our profession, those are service, social justice, the dignity and the worth of all people, the importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence and the desire to change life for the better. These values are, or I think should be, the core values of the Democratic Party."
She added:
"I believe that, and we all share this, that something is wrong with the direction that our society has gone, our values have been subverted, both at the federal level and sometimes the state level, as a social worker and a Democrat, I expect to be an advocate for the poorest of the poor, but what we're seeing now is an erosion of the effects of misplaced priorities of our nation and state, and I believe it is time for really all of us to stand up and question the values that are being carried forward at the highest levels of government and sometimes at the state level."
Cabaldon spoke in favor of extending term limits, through the ballot initiative. Yamada, spoke out against term limits in principle, and in favor of granting the electorate the right to decide.

Both candidates were in strong support of single-payer, universal health care.

Yamada spoke first, passionately, in favor of health care reform.
"The social work profession has been on national record in favor of the single payer, universal health care system for some fifty years. I think we were called 'communists' then, but now we're just regular people."
Cabaldon also strongly favored single-payer universal health care, citing the support of Sheila Kuehl for his candidacy and her pressing the health care issue in legislation. Cabaldon is "hopeful" that health care will not be an issue for when he or Yamada are seated in the legislature.

Where they differ on this issue, is in their perception about the prospects for single-payer health care to pass in the near future. Yamada was somewhat less optimistic about the prospects of the Keuhl bill. "I am not very encouraged by what's happening at that committee. I think there's still way too many politics that have been infused into the dialogue. I am in absolute support of Kuehl's bill..."

They differed on the question of reducing the majority required to pass a budget. Yamada supported keeping the current two-thirds requirement as a means to protect the minority and out of concern for being the minority in the future. Cabaldon supported reducing it to a simple-majority, out of the need to pass legislation now. "With a majority vote, you can hold us, the Democrats, accountable for the budgets that we propose as an expression of our values for California."

The subject to turned to protecting and maintaining agricultural lands. Yamada talked about the Yolo County Supervisors and the general plan process. She also talked about balancing protection of agricultural land with providing enough housing to keep prices down.
"I think that it is always a balance approach, if we don't have, no farms, no food. So we need to make sure that we are protecting agricultural land. I have taken firm positions on my board on development projects that I did not think were in alignment with our core values of preserving and protecting agriculture and open space. I think we have to base our land use decisions on smart growth principles."
Cabaldon responded with a sharp criticism of current discussions for county development on city edges.
"Solano County and Yolo County are the state's two premier counties in terms of growth management by doing one thing, saying growth is going to occur in existing cities." He then pointedly added, "They are under assault today. The scenario where I've got some real concerns about what's going on at Yolo County and the approval of thousands of housing units outside of the incorporated cities on farmland in our county. We can't afford that, what might seem like a good, expedient, financial decision for government is a bad decision for the environment, for the health of our rural economy, and for public health. This is the number issue facing our whole region, is the assault in both counties on longstanding policy of city-centered growth that vitalizes our cities and protects our agricultural and rural places."
Overall, there was far more difference in terms of emphasis and priorities than in terms of policy disagreement. Yamada in her closing comments again called for running a good, clean campaign. For the most part, both of the candidates adhered to that, there were few attacks. The most pointed criticism was probably offered by Cabaldon in his veiled yet pointed criticism of Board of Supervisor policy on land use. While Cabaldon effectively and subtlely was able to criticize the county on that issue, an issue of vulnerability to Yamada especially with her base in Davis, Yamada missed several opportunities to counter by criticizing Cabaldon's development record in West Sacramento. More importantly, she failed to point out that several of Cabaldon's key supporters have also supported development on city edges. This is an issue that has already drawn a lot of attention in Yolo County and it appears that it will continue in the Assembly District race.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, June 11, 2007

Lt. Governor Garamendi and Many Local Candidates Highlight Champagne Brunch

The Davis Democratic Club had its annual Champagne Brunch Sunday, drawing around 80 people from Davis including two statewide officials and many local officials and candidates for local others.

The key note speaker was Lt. Governor John Garamendi, who represented Davis for eight years as a State Senator. He described Davis as home.
"It's good to be back in Davis, it's always good to be in Davis. Why? I don't know of another community in California that cares so much about the future, not only of its community, but the city, the county, and the state and beyond. And your caring and your concern about where we are today, where we're going to be tomorrow and beyond, really makes this an extremely important community, not only for California but really across the nation. You are leaders in many many ways. This incredible university here, the research that's going on, the educational facilities, and the opportunity to have three of my daughters go through this university makes this home."
Garamendi spoke about four key issues--calling these security issues as he talked about issues that go beyond simply what he called the horrific debacle of Iraq. Issues that are key to our well-being.

First he talked about the climate crisis.
"It is absolutely crucial that we immediately engage in reducing not just as far as we can, but even more than we can the greenhouse gases. If there is ever a community that has led the way it is this community with some extraordinary urban planning, and the community here with its awareness of climate, its awareness of urban planning. If there is ever a community that has led the way it is this community. But that is not enough, we have got to move beyond carbon based fuels, and we can."
He also talked about the water system, "the water system is not going to work as it has for the last century."

The second issue was education.
"This economy will not continue to be the strongest and the most robust in the world, giving us an opportunity to share the great wealth, with all of our people, if we don't have the best educated workforce in the world and we're not there. We have to talk about this as a national security issue, because it is. If the economy falters all sorts of bad things will happen in this nation and around the world."
Next was health care.
"Again this is a national security issue because the economy of this state and nation cannot continue to put money in this wasteful system. And it is a wasteful system as it puts a full 30% into administration costs... It is not just an economic problem, it is a human problem. One job, one illness, and you are out of luck."
He spoke in support of a single payer system. "When people say we can't do it, tell them we have done it." He was referring to Medicare. This is a system that has worked for fifty years, it is a single payer system. He talked about simply expanding that system to the rest of the country in order to provide the uninsured with affordable health care.

Finally, he spoke of the need to protect civil liberties and civil rights from government encroachment.
"The security of this nation is in fundamental jeopardy, when we forget the bill of rights, when we forget to fight each and every day for every one of the bill of rights. And what's happened the last six years with the Bush administration is incredible erosion of our civil liberties, in ways that most of us don't understand yet."
Garamendi's speech highlighted the day, but we also got a visit from Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who said a few brief words late in the event.

The other important aspect of the day, was the number of local candidates who came, some of whom spoke briefly, others did not. The Vanguard will be the top place in the coming year for local campaign and election information. There will be feature interviews with several of the local announced candidates in the coming weeks.

We start at the top of the local ticket, State Assemblywoman Lois Wolk was there introducing Lt. Governor John Garamendi, which is of some intrigue because John Garamendi, Jr. was also at this event, although he did not speak. The younger Garamendi is widely expected to run against Assemblywoman Wolk for the State Senate seat that his father previously held.

Both candidates for the 8th Assembly District spoke, Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada and West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon. These two will face each other this evening in Fairfield in their first debate.

Two of the three candidates for 4th District Yolo County Supervisor were there. Jim Provenza, currently a school board member. And John Ferrera was there with literature and endorsement forms. Ferrera is State Senator Denise Ducheny's chief of staff and this was almost his formal announcement.

Three likely Davis City Council candidates were there--all incumbents--Mayor Greenwald, and Councilmembers Stephen Souza and Don Saylor.

Two school board candidates were there, Richard Harris who spoke and Bob Schelen who did not speak.

Undoubtedly there will be more candidates for these offices as time goes on, but here we are in June of 2007, and we already have a large slate of candidates lined up.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Guest Commentary: Old North Davis Neighborhood Association Opposes 3rd and B Street Vision

Regarding the City Council Hearing of Tuesday, June 12, 2007 3rd & B Street Vision or zoning changes to the Central Park West Conservation District

Old North Davis Neighborhood Association (ONDNA) does not support the 3rd and B Street Vision.

The 3rd and B Street Vision violates The Davis Downtown and Traditional Neighborhood Residential Design Guidelines, a document written by citizens in a democratic process to protect the few Conservation Districts that exist in Davis. For many years, development within the Conservation Districts (Old North, Old East and Central Park West) has been shaped by The Design Guidelines, which imposes a rational set of rules to sustain the historic, medium density, small scale, pedestrian friendly, shaded neighborhoods that residents love and the citizens of Davis and visitors enjoy. The 3rd & B Street Vision proposes rezoning a portion of the Central Park West Conservation District. Presumably in order to forward this proposal, the EIR makes only a partial effort to evaluate impacts to the remaining Central Park West neighborhood and to the other Conservation Districts. The proposed change over time from low to high density residential construction looking for more commercial and retail space, so consequently the permitting of much taller structures along the 3rd Street corridor looks as if it will generate tremendous impacts on the Central Park West neighborhood as well as Old East and Old North by way of attempts at circumventing the Design Guidelines.

We have yet to see studies or evidence that retail along 3rd Street is even desirable or would be successful. The "vision" was initially sold as densification to accommodate student housing at the City/University interface, but that vision has now fallen by the wayside and densification is being promoted as "owner occupied" high end townhouse units. This is in defiance of the Design Guidelines that the rest of the Central Park West neighborhood would still have to conform to. The planning staff notes significant impacts to the historic character of this neighborhood, parking, traffic, loss of urban tree canopy and likely loss of context for other historic structures, i.e. "redevelopment" will occur in a piecemeal fashion, causing the initial demolition of a few original structures, but the eventual loss of context and appeal of the remaining structures and the unraveling of the historic fabric of the current neighborhood.

Additionally, the EIR did not evaluate the impact the densification would have on the traffic and parking in the surrounding neighborhoods. OND fought hard to establish a unique parking district which is community minded and allows for unrestricted parking on 2/3rds of our street space. We currently share our parking with students, downtown workers, and shoppers. About half the commuters who park in Old North come from 15 to 50 miles from Davis and have no other place to park. The "vision" currently allows for intense densification but does not require developers to provide adequate parking (the EIR would allow for in-lieu payments to the City instead), potentially pushing the parking and traffic problem into the surrounding neighborhoods, already over-full.

City Council asked to look at rezoning the 3rd & B Street area to see what could be done about "blight", as well as to superimpose zoning that would take the place of overlapping and contradictory directions for development there. This rationale is not a valid one, or else it has not been demonstrated. In order to justify requests to demolish, rebuild and sell, B Street South of 5th is being termed an "edge" area with problems common to all arterial streets in the Conservation Districts: exposure of residents to heavier or commercial use across a bordering arterial, multiple needs of a more diverse population (students, residents, landlords, homeowners, developers looking for "infill" lots on which to build new housing.

Developers and property owners, some absentee landlords, are arguing that along B Street, deterioration of the original structures is so severe they are no longer useful or profitable properties and for that reason the same owners want exemptions from The Design Guidelines. Project proposals originating with property owners on B Street have been made with the expectations of special treatment with rewards for poor or no sense of stewardship and long deferred maintenance should they build the high end townhouses they propose, and sell them at substantial profits. The vision while proposing infill is actually setting the stage for demolition and redevelopment of most if not all the historic structures sited within the proposed zoning.

Davis's other Conservation Districts also border city arterials. Old North has 5th Street on its southern border, G Street on the East and should the ball fields between City Hall and Martin Luther King High School be developed, B Street on its west. Old East shares 5th Street to the north, L to the East and H Street off the downtown. [Along with the residents of the University-Rice Lane neighborhood, we in Old North too frequently find ourselves attending meetings where developers attempt to promote similar treatment for our arterial borders. These areas of high visibility are not just of huge importance in exposing all the passerby to our architectural history, they set the context for the rest of our neighborhood structures and serve useful lives as affordable housing.

If City Council entertains exemptions for proposals to develop B Street properties, it will increase pressure on Old North and Old East to allow the Design Guidelines to be put aside in favor of building high density four story commercial and high end residential structures in our neighborhoods as well. Developers are already buying up properties in these neighborhoods, hedging their bets that they can tear down the historic houses and maximize the profitability of the property.

Old North recommends scrapping the 3rd and B Street Vision in favor of consistent application of the Design Guidelines to all development within the Conservation Districts.

We have had significant successes using the Design Guidelines, have seen solid gains in resale property values and turnover of housing from rental to owner occupied. In the last five years along C Street alone, five alley accessory structures have been added, three houses once rentals are now owner occupied, eight houses have new coats of paint, new landscaping or both. Other streets in the neighborhood have experienced similar revitalization. Student renters are integrated into the social fabric of the neighborhood by renting our accessory structures, instead of being balkanized into apartment complexes. Our neighborhood is seeing innovative architectural strategies developed: finished basements in new construction that add space without adding a second story, revival architecture, drought tolerant landscaping. We are benefiting from historical research and publications from John Lofland and Valerie Vann that contribute to our sense of identity as people who value modest homes, solid workmanship, irreplaceable materials, the generational time line of houses now approaching a century old. The residents of Old North Davis are sinking hundreds of thousands of dollars into improving their existing structures and are offended when we hear that such old houses are good for nothing more than demolition or removal to somewhere else, just because they need

Our Neighborhood Association resists the removal/demolition of contributing structures.

ONDNA has the responsibility to review all proposals for major remodeling or removal/demolition of Old North houses. We work with the owners to comply with The Design Guidelines. In addition, it has provided information to realtors, potential buyers of properties, new owners and developers who benefit from understanding the parameters that apply to the Davis Conservation Districts. We aim to prevent unsuitable plans -- inappropriate demolition or inappropriate scale--from being pursued into the drawing stage, in order to prevent wasted effort and dollars. We have a neighborhood with a positive attitude toward adding appropriate density -- the original house with perhaps an additional bedroom, bathroom or perhaps an accessory structure on the alley or at the back of the lot.

ONDNA supports research and nomination of eligible structures for Merit Resource and Landmark Designations.

We support such efforts because we take the attitude that our significant old homes are Davis public space. They are palpable contact with sidewalks built by the WPA, homes built by previous generations with small energy footprints, grass and trees buffering contact with cars in the streets. They make real to the touch the history of the founders of our town and our great university. When we repair, maintain, live and work in the spaces occupied by the earlier activists and visionaries who shaped Davis we pay respect to their efforts. Tearing down the places they built seems narcissistic and unimaginative to us. Relocating them is little better than archiving their photographs , their histories then setting fire to them. City Council members should encourage property owners along the B Street and 3rd Street corridors to repair their homes, add alley accessory structures, rent to students where appropriate and maintain some our most visible, historically important sets of addresses. The Turtle House, just restored to adaptive reuse by Michael Harrington, is a terrific case in point.

We urge you to attend the Davis City Council Hearings on Tuesday, June 12 after 7:30 PM, and resist the developer vision for B St. high density.


Sheryl Lynn Gerety, ONDNA President
Kathleen Groody, ONDNA Treasurer
Steve Tracy, ONDNA Member-at-Large
Dennis Dingemans, ONDNA Member-at-Large
Angela Wilson, ONDNA Former President