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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Yolo County General Plan Proposes Three Massive Developments on Davis Periphery

Late Friday afternoon, the staff report for the Yolo County General Plan was released (click here to read the full report). This report contained three specific proposals for special study areas that recommended large developments on Davis' city "edge." These proposals are likely to alarm many residents in Davis as well as the city of Davis. They will be discussed by the County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, July 17, 2007.

(click on image to enlarge map)

While officially labeled as "special study areas," in reality both the description and the map appear remarkably like the other development proposals in the plan. Additionally, Davis is the only city where the county has proposed "special study areas."

The first of these study areas is the Northwest Quadrant at Oeste Ranch. This area is to the west of Sutter-Davis Hospital and north of Covell Blvd. The recommendation is for "revenue generating opportunities and special needs housing (e.g. seniors)." The property totals roughly 650 acres and would encompass roughly 2000 units. It would connect the Binning Tract with the rest of Davis.

The second of these study areas is what they are terming the I-80 "Innovation Corridor." This is a 1520 acre development that extends from the city limits, east of Mace Boulevard to the Yolo Bypass levee. They are looking at this for both research and biotech uses as well as commercial development.

The third special study area would be the "Covell Village" property that is north of Covell Blvd, east of F Street and west of Poleline. This would include roughly 383 acres of new commercial and mixed uses. The existing general plan designation is industrial and it is the largest available piece of industrially designated property within the county.

Each of these properties are subject to quite a bit of controversy. The Northwest Quadrant has been discussed in the Davis General Plan Housing Element Update as well. At a recent joint meeting between the Senior Citizens Commission and the Social Services Commission, the view was expressed by a number of commissioners that Davis really is not in need of any more senior housing and that this project would simply import seniors into the community where the county would have to provide a large amount in social services.

The county is arguing that this development would be a revenue generator, but it is not clear how they have figured upon that, and in fact, recall that the original staff report recommended against development on this property because it had questionable revenue potential.

This was the initial recommendation from county staff:
"On the residential side, staff is recommending against the addition of 2,100 residences within the unincorporated area near the northwest quadrant of Davis, as these units are not likely to have fiscal benefits for the county that would justify the growth given concerns regarding inconsistency with long-standing growth policies, provision of infrastructure and services, and effects on the city/county pass-through agreement."
So how did this become part of staff recommendations for study areas? And what role did Davis' supervisors play in this? Why is the county now looking to go away from long-standing growth policies and possibly violate the pass-through agreement which would endanger $2 million per year and possibly as much as $72 million over the course of the life of the Davis Redevelopment Agency.

The Covell Village property is also problematic in that Davis voters less than two years ago overwhelmingly rejected development there by a 60-40 margin. Now the county is proposing development there? By what authority?

Finally, the massive development along I-80 is just the tip of the iceberg. The county also plans to take up the Tskaopoulos proposal that includes not only a stem cell research facility but also roughly 7500 housing units. There was a good article on that proposal in this week's Sacramento News and Review.

The article makes reference to this blog:
Yamada, who is chairwoman of the county board, already has emerged as the target of criticism on a community Web site, with accusations that she has moved from being a “slow-growther” to a politician more accommodating to development. While passionately defending her commitment to preserving Yolo County’s farmland and open space as top priority, Yamada is running for the state Assembly seat being vacated next year by Lois Wolk. Campaign professionals suggest she will have to raise at least $500,000 to be competitive with primary opponent Christopher Cabaldon, the mayor of West Sacramento. But, Yamada firmly asserts, “I don’t practice checkbook politics.”
Discussion on this issue figures to be intense, with much concern in Davis about the massive scope of these three projects and concern as to what the county means by "special study area." As one Supervisor suggested, the proposals for special study areas in Davis do not look different from the development proposals in the rest of the county. Davis residents should be very concerned about these proposals as a means to impose growth on the periphery of Davis.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, July 06, 2007

Thoughts and Commentary on Special Council Workshop

Yesterday at the Veterans Memorial Hall, the city council had a workshop on Improving Transactional Effectiveness with Lisa Beutler from the Center for Collaborative Policy as the facilitator. I think Ms. Beutler did an outstanding job of facilitating discussion and on some of the smaller issues that arose the workshop might be helpful, but with the big issues, I just do not see a gap that can be bridged. One of the big problems with this sort of format--and in this session the city council only had discussion they took no action--is that change does not occur without ownership of the problems and I saw a lot of finger pointing, but little acceptance of ownership of the problem.

The council met for four hours to discussion a variety of topics. The general theme was that on most issues there was a large amount of agreement. Areas of disagreement are however well known and "based on known, stated, philosophical perspectives. This divide is representative of the community and the discourse in the Council is echoed by the public in multiple settings." There are unproductive interactions. Personality conflicts were the most frequently cited issue.

This article will discuss five of the more heated themes, it is not an exhaustive list, and I will be largely laying out the parameters of the dispute and then my take on the issue itself.

The first topic is the notion of civility. There are two aspects of this that make up the five themes. First, the idea of questioning of fellow council members' motivations and the second will be the treatment of staff.

Councilmember Don Saylor suggested that it was "uncivil" to question the motivations of fellow councilmembers. He suggested that the councilmembers could disagree on the issue but there was a general notion by all of the councilmembers that each one was doing what they thought was best for the city. Honestly, I do not disagree with this viewpoint.

What I have a problem with is that Councilmember Saylor should begin the discussion with the suggestion that he is as guilty of this as anyone--if not more so. The confessional approach here would be more sincere and less of a morality lecture.

This all dates back to a February city council discussion when during the course of debate that was far from heated Saylor said,
"I feel disrespected and treated without dignity when my motivations are questioned and it is assumed that I am leading to something that I have not said."
And yet we can point to at least two prominent examples where Mr. Saylor was on the other end of this debate. On September 19, 2006, during a discussion on a living wage ordinance, Mr. Saylor questioned the motivations of Councilmember Heystek bringing up the discussion:
“To bring it up as a discussion is appropriate. To bring it up as a full-blown ordinance for a first reading, that’s not talking about policy, that’s talking about politics in a lead-up to an election.”
In May of 2006, Councilmember Saylor also characterized a presentation on the passage of a resolution by ASUCD in support of civilian police oversight as "at best ill-informed and at-worst and probably at the heart is malicious, cynical, and politically motivated."

I welcome a discussion of civility, but I think it has to start from the place of introspection. What I see here is that Mr. Saylor is trying to use this as a campaign issue. Indeed, the Democratic Booth on July 4, Mr. Saylor, a non-partisan candidate, placed two of his campaign pieces on the table, one of them was a photocopy of his article in the Davis Enterprise where he talked about civility. As such, it is difficult to accept this discussion as anything other than politically motivated, but of course, then I am questioning his motivations and that would make me uncivil.

The second point brought up and this one was transparently aimed at Mayor Greenwald, was the treatment of staff. City Manager Emlen, who is of course in charge of city staff, suggested that the staff does the best they can to produce the reports that they do and their recommendations represent their best assessment based on the information that they uncover. There was a general consensus that the staff should go to greater lengths to provide all sides of the argument in their report, even if they end up recommending against it.

The suggestion by council is that councilmembers are free to question the staff. They are free to disagree with the staff. Mr. Emlen made it clear that they do not take it personally if a councilmember or even the entire council disagree with their recommendation. That is part of the process.

The complaint was that some members did not treat the staff with the professional courtesy that they thought was due. It is entirely acceptable to question staff, but not to publicly berate or embarrass staff.

I can see both sides of the story here. On the one hand is the need to maintain professional courtesy to individuals. However, I do not think the counterpoint was as well articulated as it needed to be. From where I sit, there are times when the staff is either unprepared or they get tunnel vision. The councilmembers have a severe disadvantage in this system. They do not have their own staffers. They also lack the time and expertise to research on their own. So it is easy to suggest that the councilmember is free to disagree with a staffer, but when there is an information asymmetry that disagreement becomes more problematic.

I recall the water discussion from January. Water is an issue that is so complicated, you almost have to rely on experts for information. Mayor Greenwald asked questions of staff, staff said several times on the question of deep well aquifers, that they did not recommend it or could not do it. But Mayor Greenwald was not asking them that question, she was asking about quality and supply. The staffer three times refused to answer her question without editorial comment. Finally Mayor Greenwald forcefully pressed her point and Councilmember Saylor and Mayor Pro Tem Asmundson complained that Mayor Greenwald was harassing staff.

In an ideal world you would not have to do that, but there are times when a councilmember is trying to get an answer and they do not have the information to agree or disagree, and staff is editorializing rather than answering the question. It may look rude and disrespectful, but the staff is not doing their job. This was not thoroughly discussed yesterday and it needs to be.

The third point was Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson complaining about the term "council majority." There was the suggestion made that the votes often entail a variety of different configurations. That may be true. But there is a general 3-2 split on the big polarizing issues and with very very rare exceptions, it is a stable majority. In fact, when the Anderson Bank Building received a 3-2 vote, that was the first time I can remember on this council where a major vote had Councilmembers Saylor and Asmundson on the minority side. The council majority is a fact and it is a useful fact to describe the cohesiveness of that particular coalition of Councilmembers Saylor and Souza with Mayor Pro Tem Asmundson.

Along the same lines there was disagreement as to how to proceed after a 3-2 vote. "Some members felt that once the Council had voted then the body should move forward as a team, leaving the conflict behind."

However, as Mayor Greenwald pointed out, that is not how politics works. Councilmember Souza countered that once a law becomes a law, no one cares what the vote split was.

Both of these viewpoints are correct, but let us be realistic here. The fact that it is for instance, official US policy that we are fighting for Iraq, does not mean that the minority simply gets behind the policy. Rather the minority fights against the policy and consistently reminds the public as to who voted for this policy and who voted against this policy. There is no way around that. And the council is not going to be any different. The council majority does shape the direction of policy and it is incumbent upon the minority to disagree and try to rally public opinion against a given policy. That is the way politics works.

On the other hand, it was pointed out that it was good strategy once a policy is passed to attempt to make it as palatable as possible. The example that came up was the work that Councilmember Lamar Heystek made after the Third and B Street project was passed. I agree that it is a good idea to mitigate unfavorable votes as much as possible, but that does not mean that someone should have to accept a policy and move on. That's just unrealistic.

Finally, a heated debate occurred over the issue of Rosenberg's Rules of Order, in particular the structure of debate. The current council policy is for staff presentation, questions, public comment, a motion, and then discussion. The set rule is that you cannot have discussion without a motion and the concern is that there could be discussion about the motion which could potentially shape the motion and also save time.

Here, Councilmember Saylor was most adamant in support of the current rule. He argued that this would lead to an attempt to filibuster. However, as Councilmember Heystek pointed out, filibusters in local government do not lead to halting policy, they lead to getting home later at night. Therefore it is not in the best interest of the council to filibuster or to speak overly long. Moreover, as several suggested, there was nothing in the current policy that prevents someone from speaking for a considerable amount of time on a given subject. Mayor Greenwald argued that the relaxation of the rules could reduce the length of time spent on questioning.

There seemed to be a reluctant agreement that they could relax the rules with the chair having the discretion of moving the process along if the discussion got too long-winded.

In the end, this council is half-way through their term together and 11 months from the next council election. The one thing I would like to see would be a formal discourse, where everyone refers to each other not by first name but by title: "Councilmember," "Mayor," "Mayor Pro Tem." That may bring about more formality which would lead to be better civility.

However, overall I wonder exactly the utility of this discussion. Unless people are willing to be introspective and admit to their own shortcomings rather than pointing fingers, it seems unlikely that these things can change. And it was most distasteful for me to view some of the rank hypocrisy of given councilmembers who evidently do not believe their stuff stinks.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Davis Democrats Come Together To Celebrate the Fourth

On a day that began hot and ended even hotter, the Davis Democratic party came together to celebrate the Fourth with a booth at Community Park that contained an epic display of buttons and bumper stickers from every Democratic Presidential Candidate from Hillary Clinton to Mike Gravel. Where the Democrats were united however, was behind a decidedly anti-Bush theme as there were literally hundreds of buttons and bumper stickers with the anti-Bush theme. Sayings such as, "More trees - Less Bush;" "I support our troops, that why I question our leaders;" "Somewhere in Texas a village is missing an idiot," "Bush: Like a rock only dumber;" and "Support our troops, impeach our President," were just a few of the many bumper stickers and buttons available.

There was also a push for the upcoming Measures P and Q. Measure P is the library tax, that will enable the Davis library to maintain its current hours in Davis. And Measure Q, is the Davis Joint Unified School District's Parcel Tax, that will end up funding huge amounts of school programs. Both will require two-thirds votes in order to pass.

It was not a day for the feint of heart however, but large amounts of water and the shade of the city's non-functional photovoltaic cells helped get us through the day.

The crowd was sparse until around 5 or 6 pm, then it began to pick up greatly. By the time the fireworks display began, the park was completely packed.

It was a long and hot day, but ultimately a fun day at the park. Click here for some of the sites of Davis' Fourth of July Celebration--Davis Democratic Style.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Special July Fourth Commentary: Taking Back the Concept of Patriotism

Liberals have allowed conservatives to both steal and co-opt the concept of patriotism over the years. The conception of patriotism put forth by some contemporary conservatives seems at times to be a very narrow form of love for country embodied by the slogan: "my country right or wrong." And symbolized by unquestioned loyalty and such overt acts such as flying the flag or draping oneself in the national colors. We have the flag burning amendment and yellow ribbons to support not just the troops, but the war itself.

The liberal opposition to war and refusal to be caught up in the superficial symbolism have caused them to be labeled unpatriotic. I would however argue that an adherence to empty symbols is not patriotism, rather it is jingoism.

Liberals need to press harder on conservatives on this point because true patriotism is not the adherence to blanket symbolism and support, but rather love of country that should be embodied by the notion of the very principles on which we have been founded.

One does not support our troops by supporting a war that is killing and maiming them in vast numbers. In fact, the continued support of this destructive war undermines the troops rather than supports them. I support our troops by wanting every single one of them out of Iraq. I support our troops by wanting to provide them with jobs, job training, financial security, and good medical coverage when they come home. I support our troops by never wanting to see another Veteran on a street corner begging for money. And I support our troops by never wanting to see another one come home dead or severely injured.

I do not believe that my country is always right. Rather I hold my country to higher standards--the standards embodied in our foundations of social justice, liberty, freedom, and the due process of law. I oppose acts in this nation that tear away at the fabric of freedom and liberty. I oppose acts that strip away the protections of due process of law. Those who hide behind slogans as they destroy our nation's principles are not patriots, but rather traitors and cowards.

Jefferson tells us,
"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."
Franklin warns us,
"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty nor security."
Why are conservatives so afraid of dissent? Our nation was founded on dissent. Our founding fathers believed in dissent with every bone of their body. The hallmark of freedom is the freedom of speech.

This freedom is embodied within our nation's first amendment:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
Within the first amendment we have the right to free speech, the right to a free press, and the right to protest and dissent against the government. The founders knew full well that without the right to dissent, the freedom to speak meant nothing. Freedom is not tested when we all agree on something.

In the movie "The American President," Michael Douglas' character, the President, exemplifies the true meaning of free speech:
"You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating, at the top of his lungs, that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours."
The core the statement is true, as writer Nat Hentoff explained, most Americans are willing to allow free speech only when they agree with what is said. That is not freedom of speech. Are you willing to allow the KKK to march through town in their white robes and hoods and say everything that you oppose with all your heart? Are you willing to allow a man draped in the American flag to proclaim that we need to be a country of white Americans? Those are the tests of freedom.

President Bush frequently talks about the Muslim world hating our freedom, but in many ways, I think the President doesn't know what our freedom is. He curtails it every step he gets. When people complain about the war, they are labeled as unpatriotic, told that they are not supporting our troops, and at times told that they are providing aid and comfort to the enemy. The latter is a charge of treason--dissent has become not just un-American but treasonous.

I would argue that dissent is our strength not our weakness. It is what holds us accountable. It is what forces us to seek to attain a higher standard. Criticism and dissent force the other side to be more careful, to do a better job. And they hold us accountable when we make errors. Without dissent, there can be no accountability.

Finally on this Fourth of July, I will take issue with another popular myth, that the left "hates" America. I love my country. They misinterpret criticism for hate and blind obedience for love. I love my country, like people love their children. People love their children no matter what they do. However, they do not stand by and approve of everything their children do for the sake of love. To do that would be bad parenting. To do that for a country would be a bad citizen and a bad voter.

Instead people criticize, punish, and teach their children how to properly conduct themselves in the world. When they err, they get punished and reprimanded. They are instilled with values and when they transgress against those values they are admonished and scorned. Parents do not stand idly by and allow their children to misbehave or to undermine their values. Nor should citizens of a nation stand by and watch their nation undermine their values.

But more than that, I hold my country to a higher standard than I hold others. I hold my nation to the due process of the law even as others summarily execute their criminals. I hold my nation to the doctrines of the Geneva Convention, even as the enemy tortures, maims, and kills its prisoners of war and civilians with malice. I hold my nation to be above such tactics as torture, recognizing full well that many others will not. And I hold my nation to be an agent of peace even in the time of war.

I do these things not because I hate America, but because I believe in America and American values. I hold these values and principles above the temporary expediency of security. And because I wish to adhere to those values, I will criticize my nation even in the time of war. For just as free speech does not exist without dissent, neither does patriotism exist without war protests and marches.

This is Independence Day, and it is time for a moment of reflection. But we should remember today above all else the values under which this nation was founded. The values of dissent and freedom. Of liberty AND justice. Of the rule of law over the rule of the mob. Of the ideal that all people were created equal. Of the ideal that we can rise up and transcend our limited condition. And finally of our commitment to peace and social justice. All of these are the embodiments of patriotism and those who threaten them are not patriots, they are merely jingoists.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Guest Commentary: Oppose Massive Development on Davis' Borders

Mariko Yamada’s spin-meisters have really been hard at work. In her submittal to the Davis Vanguard, she is now claiming that her “open mind” on a 2800 acre project proposed by Angelo Tsakopoulos is really about a stem cell research center. She makes no mention of the actual development proposal brought forth by Tsakopoulos. She states only that “the idea of a stem cell research facility in Yolo County is conceptual”, and that she is “keeping an open mind about the research, educational and life-saving potential such a facility might bring to the region.” Nowhere in her article does she reveal the actual full proposal or her apparent support for it as published in the Bee and the Enterprise last week.

In fact, Angelo Tsakopoulos did not come forward with a proposal for a stem cell research facility. What he is proposing is to develop 2,800 acres of prime Yolo County farmland along I-80 between Davis and the Vic Fazio wildlife area, just east of El Macero, into thousands of houses and commercial buildings. He has apparently been in negotiations with local leaders for some time on this, wining and dining them in back room private dinners at the Sutter Club. Has Yolo County surrendered to the high powered (and fancy dinner) politics of Sacramento?

Typically, he is offering a carrot in this deal, and that is a stem cell research facility on part of the property, and it looks like some of our supervisors are going for it. Thursday’s Sacramento Bee and Enterprise quoted three of our supervisors on the issue. Mariko Yamada, in whose district this parcel lies, appears open to this proposal! She is as quoted as saying, “We are in the 21st century, and we need to keep an open mind about how we are going to approach land use and the I-80 corridor from the Bay Area to Sacramento.” She goes on to refer to this as the “innovation corridor” and the importance of Yolo County being in the conversation when it comes to developing it.

Supervisor Mike McGowan also appears more than open to the proposal, but given his record on growth, this is no surprise. Apparently the only supervisors who want to protect this valuable agricultural land and wildlife habitat are Duane Chamberlain and Matt Rexroad. Matt is quoted in the Bee as saying, “The place where the Tsakopoulos family owns land is pretty good farmland….Would it be great to have a research center like this in Yolo County? Yes. Does it have to be located on that parcel? No.”

If Tsakopoulos and Yamada want to consider a research center, there are far better places for it than in the middle of farmland. The U.C. campus is one such location, for example. We would be 100% in support of such a proposal. But this is not about a stem cell research center. This is about thousands of homes and acres of commercial development on prime farmland, in a flood plain, next to a sensitive wildlife area. This is exactly the type of sprawl we do not support.

What happened to the process? So much for considerations of the SACOG Blueprint Process and preservation of habitat, open space and farmland. We have been told repeatedly that Yolo County’s new General Plan is a planning-based, not a specific-project-based plan. That does not appear to be the case here. This is poor planning at its worst. Why is Mariko supporting it? The answer will most likely come at the end of July when she reports her financing for the assembly race.

This is not the first time Davis’s own two supervisors have talked about changing direction and pushing for development in the county. Earlier this year they proposed to look into joint study areas on the periphery of Davis as possible locations for future development. This is in total violation of our pass- through agreement with the county. The agreement assures that cities retain the sole right to determine growth on their borders in exchange for passing through redevelopment funds to the county. In Davis’s case, this is more than $2 million.

Both El Dorado and Sacramento County turned down Tsakopoulos’ proposals for massive developments in their jurisdictions—carrots and all. Yolo County needs to see this for what it is: another attempt to pave over hundreds of acres of farmland and open space in exchange for a sea of houses and commercial buildings for a huge profit to the developer and a huge loss to the county and its residents.

Mariko says she is just keeping an “open mind”, studying the facts, and seeking input from all sides before making a decision. That is double-talk. There is no need to study this. Some proposals should be dead on arrival and this is one of them.

Contact Davis Supervisors Mariko Yamada and Helen Thomson and tell them we do not want this massive development on our borders. We want the county to honor our pass-through agreement, and leave planning decisions for development on our borders to our community.

Mariko Yamada. Phone: 757-5554 or 666-8624; email
Helen Thomson. Phone: 757-5557; email

Pam Nieberg and Holly Bishop

Pam Nieberg and Holly Bishop are Co-chairs of the Sierra Club Yolano Group.

Guest Commentary: Supervisor Mariko Yamada Responds To Vanguard

By Mariko Yamada, Yolo County Supervisor, District 4

Let me begin first by thanking the Vanguard for this opportunity to respond to the flurry of news regarding the conceptual proposal for a stem cell research facility in Yolo County.

The commentary, “Who Is Left to Defend Yolo County Farmland?” questions my record concerning land use decisions. My record, both public and private, is clear and consistent on the issues of protecting agriculture and open space, and fostering a safe and sustainable environment:
  • Conaway Ranch Eminent Domain – YES
  • Cache Creek Wild – YES
  • City of Davis Measure X – NO
  • City of Davis Target – NO
  • Southeast Quadrant - NO
  • The Old Sugar Mill – Sole NO vote on development in the Primary Zone of the Delta and behind uncertified levees in Clarksburg
  • The White Subdivision– NO vote on development behind an uncertified levee in Knight’s Landing
  • Yolo County Parks and Grasslands Regional Park Master Plans - YES
  • Measures H and I, SMUD Yes! – Campaign Chair
  • Yolo County Oak Woodlands Master Plan - YES
  • Inclusion of Dunnigan Hills in agricultural district program - NO
  • Williamson Act – YES, and I organized an unprecedented nine-signature Board of Supervisors letter opposing the Governor that included the Yolo County Farm Bureau, Sierra Club Yolano Chapter and the Yolo County Taxpayers Association
  • Department of Fish & Game In-Lieu Taxes – YES, and I am currently organizing a coalition of public safety and taxpayer groups to fight for back taxes owed to the County by the State since 2001 (an unacceptable DFG practice that places local fire districts – and farm acreage – in jeopardy)
  • Yolo Basin Foundation Board of Directors – 2004 to present
On March 27, 2007, I joined in a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors in choosing a general plan preferred land use alternative that balances rural sustainability with strategic joint study areas to be considered for potential economic development. The County remains hopeful that joint discussions will occur.

The idea of a stem cell research facility in Yolo County is conceptual; there is no specific proposal to be considered at this time. At present, I am keeping an open mind about the research, educational, and life-saving potential such a facility might bring to the region.

Consistent with my deliberative style, I do not make a decision on an issue until I have all the facts before me and have taken input from all sides. I am not a “one-size-fits-all” representative, nor do I place the threat of political liability above the soundness of good public policy.

I am proud to represent the second-largest agricultural and open space acreage in Yolo County and consistent with my record I will continue to engage in principled, informed, and deliberative decision-making on behalf of my constituents.

Thank you very much for this opportunity to share my views.

Mariko Yamada represents the Fourth District on the Yolo County Board of Supervisors which includes most of the eastern half of the City of Davis. She currently Chairs the BOS. She is presently running for the Democratic Nomination for the 8th Assembly District of California.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Commentary: Judge SLAPPs Down Buzayan Suit Against Newspaper

It was reported last week in the Davis Enterprise that a judge had dismissed the portion of the Buzayan suit that was aimed at sanctioning the Davis Enterprise for posting the audio tapes of the arrest of then 16-year old Halema Buzayan in 2005.

That suit was based on two key factors. First, that the District Attorney's office had leaked the tapes to the newspaper against the orders of Judge Thomas Warriner. And second, that the Davis Enterprise had failed to edit out specific personal information about the Buzayan children and their family, not to mention also personal information about the victim. The tapes containing that personal information were left up for five days, until the victim emailed Assistant Publisher/Editor Debbie Davis at the Davis Enterprise and the paper pulled down the tapes until they could edit them.

Of the 19 complaints filed in the Buzayan lawsuit, from the beginning this would appear to be the most problematic. Could a paper be sanctioned for knowingly publishing tapes that they had acquired from a government body--in this case the DA--that under most conditions they knew should be confidential by law.

If we think about it from another standpoint, the answer appears to be more obvious. Suppose this were not the District Attorney's office but rather a whistle-blower leaking this information to the press. Instead of a case against a juvenile, it involved some sort of corporate malfeasance about a major company and their CEO. The whistle-blower illegally leaks the information to the press and the press reports it as a huge expose. Do we want that company to be able to sue the newspaper under those conditions? I think the answer is simply that we do not. Therefore it is difficult for me to fault the ultimate ruling from Judge England.

However, from other angles this ruling is still a bit perplexing.

Judge England decided this case under SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). He writes:
"California’s Anti-SLAPP law is aimed at curtailing civil actions designed to deter private citizens from exercising their rights of free speech."
SLAPP primarily refers to the suits placed by large corporations or other wealthy entities against individuals who are practicing free speech activities. These large entities can simply use their vast resources to force individuals to defend themselves in the legal arena. The huge discrepancy in resources means that an individual is severely disadvantaged in the fight and therefore such suits create a chilling effect on the free exercise of speech.

In this case, you have a family suing the newspaper for releasing what they deem to be confidential information regarding a juvenile case and negligently posting private information that could end up being used by identity thieves against the family. The Davis Enterprise is not disadvantaged in their resources compared with a private family and so SLAPP in this manner seems to be used to prevent a suit for which it was not intended to be used.

In response to the verdict, Davis Enterprise Editor Debbie Davis proclaimed:
“We're very pleased with the judge's ruling. We were sued, basically, for doing our job - for covering a story of intense public interest and for making important audio files available to the public. We're happy that Judge England affirmed our constitutional right to do so.”
This is a misleading statement by Ms. Davis. The Davis Enterprise was sued because they chose to print and post material from a juvenile case that was supposed to by law and Judge Warrnier's ruling remain confidential. The Deputy District Attorney in this case, Patty Fong was explicitly told by Judge Warriner that the district attorney's office could not release information or discuss this matter because it was a juvenile case. The family is always permitted to release information and discuss this matter. As Judge Warriner explained when he denied Fong a motion to gag the defense, the juvenile laws were set up to protect the rights of minors not to protect the government from charges of impropriety.

It does create a burden on the government, but the law was set up to protect minors and juveniles from just the sort of abuse that Ms. Buzayan received from the DA's office. The DA's office used the Davis Enterprise to achieve their goals here and I think attorney Whitney Leigh was exactly right when he said that "the reporting and recordings were meant to embarrass, humiliate and cause hardship to the Buzayan family.” They clearly were.

The family was not suing the Davis Enterprise for doing their job. They sued the Davis Enterprise for working with the DA's office to violate a juvenile's right to privacy.

In the end, I think the Judge here made a tough ruling. It took him nearly two months from the time of the hearing to the time of his ultimate verdict. That indicates that he felt this was a very close call.

However, what the newspaper failed to note is that 18 of the 19 complaints filed by the Buzayan family have been allowed to go forward for trial. That includes the meat of the case against the Davis Police Department and the District Attorney's Office. In looking at this case, this complaint against the newspaper seemed to be the most difficult to sustain and proceed to trial because of free speech protections provided to newspapers and the unwillingness of most Judges (and rightfully so) to sanction a paper for reporting on something that they obtained legally (at least on their end).

In the end, the Buzayans will get their day in court. The Davis Enterprise will eventually have to own up to Debbie Davis' proclamation that the officer "was doing his job and doing it well." That will be the Buzayan family's ultimate vindication.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Column: View From West Davis

This is my 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.

Flying at Half-Staff

As much as I complain about City Staff doing a poor job in this community, there are some things that just make me scratch my head and blow my hair back.

Such was the case on Thursday Night at the Davis Human Relations Commission Meeting. Last month, a representative from the ACLU had requested the HRC place an item on the agenda to discuss the possibility of recommending to the city council that they pass a resolution to support SB 1019. SB 1019, as the regulars on this blog know, would enable police oversight commissions to conduct their hearings once again in public and report the results of sustained complaints to the public.

The membership of the HRC apparently agreed to the request by the ACLU and placed the item on the agenda for the June Meeting of the HRC on Thursday.

Well I go to the meeting to watch this, and the city staffer Kelly Stachowicz, acknowledges that she has not prepared a staff report for the meeting. She tells the commission some of the basics of the bill but leaves out key details.

I am only a member of the public, so I am not allowed to speak and have to listen for about 20 minutes as the commission goes back and forth with incorrect and incomplete details. Police Chief Landy Black for instance suggests that he doesn't think that Davis needs another layer of oversight.

Well, no one explains to them that this bill has no impact on Davis. All it does is restore local control on the issue, it does not impose any changes on communities that do not already have civilian oversight boards. So it would not impose another layer of oversight on Davis. All it would do, is if Davis in the future wanted a civilian review board, it would allow Davis to report the findings in public.

The ultimate decision made by the commission was that they needed more information. I cannot blame them for that. So they are bringing it back for their July 26, 2007 meeting--which is fine, but it might be moot by then at least for this legislative term as the Assembly Committee is meeting again on July 3.

There were two major problems with this meeting. First, the staffer failed to do a staff report and of course no one on the commission questioned that. Second, in the past, chairs have allowed members of the public with specific knowledge about the issue to speak more informally, but this chair did not. Commissions by design are supposed to be considerably less rigid in structure precisely for this type of scenario.

Moving Left

Two weeks ago in this space, we told you that Davis City Councilmember Don Saylor was heavily promoting the movie "SiCKO" from *Roger* Moore. Well I get word from the health care rally, that Mr. Saylor once again showed up and tried to get his picture taken with everyone holding up a health care sign--people that are not his allies and people that he has attacked in public and private. Must be election time and in Davis that means you move hard to the left to show that you are indeed a liberal.

People just need to remember his voting record while on council. I'm waiting for him to renounce his support for Target, Covell Village, 3rd and B, the lowering of the Anderson Bank Building Windows, his opposition to the HRC and civilian oversight of the police, his refusal to vote on an anti-war resolution, etc. You cannot run from your voting record.

And of course when everyone else was enthusiastically cheering for the speeches, Mr. Saylor was looking rather stoic. You can't fool us.


We were at Farmer's Market on Saturday getting the pulse of the town. The pulse of the town is outrage at the proposed development along I-80. It is outrage at the 3rd and B project. And it is outrage at the prospect of water rates tripling over the next decade.

The water issue is particularly pernicious because most people simply have no idea that their rates are going up. The water supply issue is particularly complicated because the people advising the city on the issue have a financial interest in the city constructing a bypass of Sacramento River water.

There is no such confusion on the Stem Cell Research Facility on I-80--no one we met was in favor of it. This is the classic Tskaopoulos approach, he's giving the carrot in the form of the research facility, but the real proposal is housing and commercial development on a massive scale. Other communities have seen right through the scheme, so Yolo is going to fall for it?

This would be DOA if Davis' representatives on the Board of Supervisors were doing their jobs of representing the needs and desires of Davis. Yolo County Supervisors Matt Rexroad and Duane Chamberlain are opposing this. And yet, we may have to fight this because Davis' two county supervisors Mariko Yamada and Helen Thomson favor it. Davis better look long and hard at the next Supervisor for the 4th District this coming election to insure that they will oppose development on the periphery of Davis. It is that simple.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting