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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Commentary: Do not be charging me with NIMBYism When I Oppose Your 600K Housing Development

Recently I was reading an article in Mother Jones of all places that caught my eye. The title, "NIMBY Notebook: Habitat for Hypocrisy."

It is the story of Habit for Humanity in Marin County. "Housing advocates say Marin County's Bill Duane exemplifies a vexing irony: People support affordable housing with their labor, money, and votes—just so long as it's nowhere near them." Now Marin County is one of the most reliably liberal counties in country, but what you might call a "limousine liberal" community. The article tells the story of a man who was a strong supporter of Habit for Humanity, even volunteered for it, until "the group announced plans to build two affordable duplexes just down the street from him."

The article goes on to suggest:
"opposition to affordable housing in the county was so fierce in the 1990s that a Marin chapter of Habitat disbanded"
Furthermore they are not simply picking on Marin, they cite the same problem in other wealthly liberal communities such as Martha's Vineyard and Boulder, Colorado.

The article caught my attention for the date on the publication was July 17, 2007, the same day that Davis successfully fought back county attempts at massive development on the Davis periphery. The same day, that many liberal activists descended on Yolo County in hopes of the creation of a Stem Cell research facility. And indeed, on that day, many of the same Stem Cell research advocates were claiming the same thing about our opposition to development, it was simply about NIMBYism. That the liberals in Davis, like their counterparts elsewhere are a bunch of white elitists trying to keep the minorities and the families out of Davis.

I scoffed at the notion at the time because those making that charge obviously do not know me or why I have become an activist in this community, it was to defend civil rights first. In fact, on most days I would be on their side, leading the fight for Stem Cell research. On most days, I would be leading the fight for affordable housing. Heck, I will tell you this, if Habitat For Humanity had a project in Davis, I would be the one helping to build the houses.

Unlike the Mother Jones article, the charges against Davis was unfair. We were not opposing true affordable housing, we were opposing more McMansions.

The problem with that argument on that day, is that the projects that are being proposed will not bring more diversity to Davis. They will not bring more affordable housing to Davis. They will bring more limousine liberals and suburban Republicans to Davis. Covell Village had a set aside ratio of "affordable houses" but the bulk of the project would be houses in the range of $600,000 per unit. That was not going to help new families move to Davis. It was not going to help the children of Davis families stay in Davis. And it was not going to help people of color come to Davis. The only thing it would do is reinforce existing housing patterns while at the same time causing more congestion on our streets and reduce open space and farm land in our surroundings.

At the end of the day, if I saw a truly modest housing proposal that actually provided affordability to families and people of color, I would likely support it. But I have not seen one yet. All I have seen is more of the same, and if given the choice between protecting agricultural land and open space and building more overpriced homes, I choose the former. And if we want a true stem cell research facility, not built near the causeway, but built in a place that is more appropriate, I am leading the fight. But we have not had one of those and I do not expect to get one of those in the near future.

In the meantime, do not be charging me with NIMBYism when I do not support your 2000 unit proposal chalk-full of $600,000 homes with a small percentage of limited equity affordable housing set aside as chump change. I am not falling for that trick. Give me a real proposal for affordable housing for families and then we can talk.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, August 10, 2007

Davis City Council Remains Silent as Sacramento Presses for Answers on WNV Spraying

According to an article that appeared in the Sacramento Bee on Thursday, Sacramento City Councilman Rob Fong is asking tough questions about the aerial spraying of urban areas as a means to control the local mosquito population. The Sacramenento City Council took up the issue last night.

I find it noteworthy that the Sacramento City Council would be asking a number of tough questions about the effectiveness of the spraying and also questioning whether we in fact know enough about the environmental and health effects of the use of these chemicals.

Councilmember Rob Fong told the Sacramento Bee:
"They're telling us it's OK to use these chemicals because we don't know yet whether anything bad can happen as a result. I'm just not comfortable with that."
One reason I find this so interesting has been the lack of interest on the part of the Davis City Council to ask similar tough questions. Last year when the Davis City Council took up this issue, only one councilmember, Lamar Heystek, sought to oppose aerial spraying in urban areas. His motions died for the lack of second. It now appears that the Sacramento City Council has shown action where the Davis City Coucnil accepted the official findings of the experts.

However, when pressed by Councilmember Fong, Sacramento County's Public Health Officer, Dr. Trochet and Dave Brown, manager of the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District, were forced to acknowledge the chemicals are possible carcinogens and that they have no idea of the long-term effects because they have not done long term studies.

As I wrote last year, I am not a doctor or a scientist, so I do not know whether spraying presents a health and/ or environmental hazard. However, as always, I am concerned about the process. Particularly the lack of local control and the lack of clear scientific evidence that would dispel or confirm some of the concerns raised by activists and environmentalists.

The first problem I have with the process is that the mosquito abatement district operates outside of direct local control. Sacramento City Attorney Eileen Teichert for example has determined that the city lacks the legal authority to opt out of aerial spraying. However, the city could appeal a spraying decision to the state or file a lawsuit. The lack of local control by elected officials who have had their power usurped by an unelected bureaucratic body remains a very disturbing feature of this issue.

Second, unlike the case with the Sacramento City Council, I do not believe that the City of Davis asked tough questions and drew up satisfactory answers to two crucial questions.

The first question is the long term health effects. We do not have good answers to this question because long term studies have not been performed.

The second key question is one that we should have at least some data on--how effective is the spraying at reducing the adult mosquito population and reducing the spread of the West Nile Virus.

However, there are two different answers to this question depending on who you ask.
"David Brown, who heads the Sacramento-Yolo district, said he's convinced aerial spraying has greatly reduced the number of infected adult mosquitoes. That in turn has reduced the public health risk, he said."
However, according to a number of activists and environmentalists, "No studies show conclusively that aerial spraying eliminates or decreases the incidence of West Nile virus infections"

Jack Milton, a UC Davis professor and local activist with Stop West Nile Spraying Now, suggests that the evidence is much weaker than they are letting on. In response to questions in August of 2005, the experts presented evidence. However, this evidence amounted to something considerably less than actual scientific study.
"It turns out that this paper is essentially an administrative report of how one district spent its money as WNv infections grew. It is not a study in any way, shape, or form about efficacy of adulticiding. They had ramped up all vector control activities, and there was no way in what they did to measure the efficacy of adulticiding at all. There was no comparative study, there was no model, there was nothing in there to allow anybody to draw any such conclusions."
Jack Milton concludes from this response:
"I suggest that if this is one of their two best pieces of evidence (the other one was a study, not in a peer-reviewed journal, which scholars at the University of Colorado have thoroughly criticized), they have essentially no evidence whatsoever."
It is not clear to me then that we have compelling evidence of the effectiveness of the spraying program. It is also not clear to me whether we know enough about the long term health effects of spraying urban areas.

That leaves us with one final question--how serious is the West Nile Virus threat that we are willing to take potential health risks with uncertain benefits.

As the two graphics show, the health risk currently compared to other public health problems seems fairly low with only 54 deaths from West Nile Virus from 2004-2006 in California. Compare that to other threats and you see a very small problem at this time. Obviously we should not scoff at the problem, and certain individuals are at more risk than others. But given the relatively low mortality rate of West Nile Virus it seems to me more reasonable to work at reducing risk for high risk individuals, rather than working on large environmentally questionable practices for something that in general is not a large threat to the average person.

According to Jack Milton,
"The disease is a rare and mild one for most people, and it is headed into chronic endemicity now, which will mean fewer and fewer cases in upcoming years, with some small fluctuations from year to year -- a dampened sine wave, if you will. Vector control and public health officials have sensationalized the issue and have engaged in fear tactics in order to peddle their snake oil. They have largely ignored the risks to people and the environment of the spray, and they have not even attempted to measure the effect of applying this poison in the way they are. At the same time they have exaggerated the risks of WNv, and their methods and statements have been very inconsistent."
It may be that these things are perfectly safe and we have nothing to worry about, but what concerns me most is that the Sacramento City Council is being much more aggressive with asking these questions at this time than the Davis City Council. Four of the five members of the Davis City Council seemed relatively unconcerned a year ago about any questions regarding spraying. A motion by Councilmember Heystek died for a lack of a second. Meanwhile the Sacramento City Council has taken the lead on this issue.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Errors in an Article on the UC Davis Sociology Department Lead to Questions about the Davis Enterprise

On July 20, 2007 the Davis Enterprise ran an article, "Sociology courses canceled - UC Davis instructor complains after his workload is decreased" by Davis Enterprise Intern Talia Kennedy, a recent graduate from UC Davis.

The crux of the article is that the Sociology Department due to budgetary problems had to cancel a number of courses for the upcoming year.
Responding to fiscal shortcomings, the UC Davis department of sociology has canceled several courses for the 2007-08 academic year. Though department officials spared many classes led by tenured faculty, they slashed 16 undergraduate courses, many of which were taught by lecturers and acting instructors — a move that has disheartened at least one lecturer.
The article cites a sociology lecturer, David Gharagozlou who believes that his race and ethnicity are the reason that his courses were canceled.
"I (am) disappointed," said David Gharagozlou, who was hired as a sociology lecturer two years ago. Three of the courses he taught during the 2006-07 school year were canceled, and the department chairwoman, Vicki Smith, assigned him to teach only one course in the fall.

Smith, who just completed her first year as leader of the department, cited budget cuts as the reason behind the changes both in a letter to Gharagozlou and in an interview with The Enterprise. However, Gharagozlou said he believes her decisions were based on personal attitudes about his background: Gharagozlou is a native of Iran, where he once taught at the University of Tehran. His research and instruction largely focuses on political and religious fundamentalism.

"My class evaluations were good and if the personal antipathy (is) the reason for that, maybe she doesn't like my origin," Gharagozlou said in an e-mail from Sweden. "I am sorry for her because this is unprofessional and if she favor(s) others then it is a sign of favoritism, which is (a) very weak attitude and it doesn't belong to (the) quality of leadership."
The article generated a strong reaction from many others in the sociology department. In a letter to the editor, Ara Francis, a graduate student, and 23 other signators, writes:
As a doctoral candidate in the sociology department, I was alarmed to read Talia Kennedy's article about recent course cancellations. In this piece, Ms. Kennedy draws from an interview with lecturer David Gharagozlou who suggested that the department chair, Professor Vicki Smith, canceled his classes because of favoritism, the religious and political content of his courses and his Iranian heritage. These were very serious statements, none of which were corroborated, and it is unsettling that this piece was published without further investigation.
The letter goes on to criticize the writer, Talia Kennedy for failing to interview other teachers (Ms. Kennedy only interviewed Gharagozlou)--10 lecturers and instructors in the Sociology Department--about their reactions to course cancellations. Furthermore, Ms. Kennedy did not point out that the budget problems are universitywide and not specific to the Sociology department.

Finally and this is perhaps the key, lecturers are the last hired and first "fired" when budget shortfalls arise. Lecturers serve as temporary and adjunct professors and they do not receive the priority that full-time university tenured or tenure-track professors receive. So it is natural that a lecturer would have their classes cut first rather than a university professor.

Says Ara Francis, et al in the letter to the editor:
It is my impression that temporary instructors like Dr. Gharagozlou and myself constitute a "flexible labor force." This means that we are given jobs when money is available, and we are the first to lose our jobs when budgets are cut. Indeed, this is an unhappy state of affairs. However, the current status of university lecturers is a structural problem that has little to do with the hiring decisions of individual department chairs.
This is however, the beginning and not the end of the story. Though the letter to the editor was signed by Ara Francis and 23 others, when it appeared in the Davis Enterprise only Ara Francis was noted as the sole signer of the letter.

According to Ms. Francis,
When Talia Kennedy's article was published on July 20th, it generated a lot of discussion on our electronic listserv, and someone suggested that we put together a letter articulating our concerns. I drafted the letter and received endorsements from three lecturers and twenty-one graduate students (most of whom also work for the sociology department as instructors or teaching assistants).
Furthermore, the title of the published letter reads, "More Investigation Warranted." Ms. Francis believes that would lead readers to assume that the letter called for further investigation into the allegations made by Dr. Gharagozlou's when in fact, that is "quite contrary to the spirit of the letter."

The biggest complaint was that the letter only contained Ms. Francis' name.
The most problematic aspect of the published letter was that [Davis Enterprise Editor and Assistant Publisher] Debbie Davis neither included nor referred to the twenty-four endorsements, despite the fact that the original letter - signatures included - met the 350-word requirement. Those signatures were central to the letter because they presented a direct challenge to Dr. Gharagozlou's claims. Indeed, most of the endorsers were temporary instructors also affected by recent course cancellations.
Ms. Francis would speak to Debbie Davis by telephone regarding the decision to exclude the other signatures. According to Davis Enterprise Editor and Assistant Publisher Debbie Davis who graciously responded to my inquiries via email,
"It is our policy to make a follow-up phone call to confirm letters to the editor that we receive via e-mail. As I told Ara Francis, the letter writer to whom you refer, since we could not confirm the additional signers of the letter, I did not list them."
Ara Francis disputes this claim by Ms. Davis:
"I easily could have provided verification because all but one of the signatories had requested via email that their names be added to the letter."
Debbie Davis acknowledged it would have been better to have at least noted that there were additional signers.
"In retrospect, I wish I had added the line "and 24 other signers" beneath her name when her letter was published. At her request, we did just that in a separate squib published on Aug. 1."
The handling of the matter drew further scrutiny and criticism from Ara Francis. While Davis was willing to publish a small blurb in the paper noting that the letter had received twenty-four signatures rather than one signature, she was inclined to let the matter drop and not devote any further space to this incident.

According to Francis,
She went on to tell me that she preferred to not publish anything further regarding this story - including a third letter to the editor that she had received from another graduate student - because Talia Kennedy is a summer intern who feels "devastated" about the fallout from her story. She stated that she didn't want to push this young woman "over the edge."
In fact, the situation leads to questions about how the newspaper screens and eventually "hires"and supervises interns. The interns are selected and supervised by Linda DuBois, an associate editor who is on vacation and unavailable for comment. Interns receive no pay, only experience.

According to Debbie Davis:
"[I] feel it is a newspaper's responsibility to help train journalists of the future. This is a profession where much can be learned by doing. Each story gives a young reporter more experience, more confidence and more tools for the next story. We learn best by doing."
Ms. Davis went on to describe the process by which they receive and accept applications from prospective interns during the spring. Associate Editor Linda DuBois then interviews the candidates "whom she believes will suit our needs." One key consideration in that process is whether the intern has the ability to live in the area, since they are not paid for their work.
"Since we do not pay wages, that is of some concern to us. For example, we'd be unlikely to hire an intern from New York state who would have to incur a large debt to complete the summer internship"
Somewhere along the way however, this process must have broken down, as a reasonable review of Talia Kennedy and her past record would have revealed some startling revelations.

An incident occurred in mid-May of this year in which thirty-one members of the California Aggie staff, where Talia Kennedy served as campus editor last year, called for the resignation of Ms. Kennedy and Peter Hamilton, the editor in chief of the student run news paper.

In a pointed letter signed by 31 staff members, they complained that they had "no confidence" in the Aggie's leadership namely Peter Hamilton and Talia Kennedy, the ambitions of Talia Kennedy to ascend to the position of editor in chief for the following school year, and a huge amount of unnecessary expenses incurred while attending an awards banquet.

Problems had been brewing all year long. As early as December of 2006, I had spoken with a number of individuals at the California Aggie who complained about the methods of Ms. Kennedy and her relationship with the editor, Peter Hamilton. This was in response to a number of stories we did last fall complaining not only of poor coverage in the Aggie, but the lack of responsiveness of the editors to these complaints.

The Davis Wiki reported on May 24, 2007:
"The Media Board put both Peter Hamilton and Talia Kennedy on administrative leave for the remainder of their terms. In response, Hamilton locked the Aggie staff out of the website (he was drawing pay for both Online Editor and Editor in Chief). Additionally, there are reports that Hamilton changed the lock on his office, preventing access from the rest of the Aggie staff."
Was the Davis Enterprise aware of these problems just two months prior to the article on the Sociology Department? According to Debbie Davis, they were not.
"I was not aware of any internal problems at the California Aggie involving Talia Kennedy. I don't believe Linda was either."
However, a quick search on Google of "Talia Kennedy" and "California Aggie" would have revealed this incident and might have called into question the hiring of this intern.

According to Ara Francis, problems with the story on the sociology department may lead to changes with how the paper mentors their student interns.
"[Debbie Davis] said that this situation has caused the paper to reconsider how they mentor their interns, and she agreed that the story had needed further work before going to print."
At the same time, she said that this issue wasn't important enough to pursue publicly. When I said it sounded like a "big mess," she replied that it was not, and that in fact, this situation it was "not even a bump in the road."
In the meantime, Talia Kennedy continues to intern at the Davis Enterprise until later this month when she will attended the UC Berkeley graduate school in their Journalism program.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Should Davis Adopt an Urban Limit Line?

During the course of the debate last year over the creation of open space potentially on the Shriner's property, the Mayor brought up the term urban limit line, a term that had been used just a few weeks prior by City Staffer Mitch Sears during the discussion on agricultural mitigation. The original idea would be that included in the two-to-one mitigation to development, would be a one-quarter mile strip of adjacent mitigation along the boundaries of any new development. Over time as the city developed outward, there would be a one-quarter mile strip of ag mitigation that encircled the city as a form of an urban limit line.

The advantage of this policy is that the city could create mitigations against future development as part of the development agreement. The developers and not the city would be purchasing this mitigation.

The disadvantage of course is that the city would need to continue to grow at least one development around the city in order to create this urban limit line. But given the pressures currently in place around the city do exactly that, from the county and elsewhere, it might be the most preferred option in terms of limiting future peripheral growth.

The problem right now is that we can see all around the city developers have purchased agricultural land and then are putting pressure on elected bodies in order to convert agricultural land into urban development. Developers have access, resources, and time that other citizens do not, in order to press their point.

Other cities have actually imposed an outright urban limit line, a point after which, development cannot occur. The idea there is that right now developers have purchased parcels of agricultural land, not in hopes of continuing the present usage, but rather in terms of hoping to convert the land from agricultural uses to urban development. This has led to a large-scale purchase of land to developers who act as speculators.

Woodland's urban limit line drew controversy from both environmentalists and the county. Environmentalists complained that then-Woodland Mayor Matt Rexroad moved the line further out, allowing for more growth and less agricultural development.

The county on the other hand was already concerned about "county needs." The plan from Woodland was criticized by supervisors such as Mike McGowan and Helen Thomson for annexing too much land and running in the face of current county policies. On the other hand, the most staunch defender of farmland protection on the board, Supervisor Duane Chamberlain complained that the urban limit line involved too much prime farmland.

Regardless of specific criticisms as to whether Woodland extended the urban limit line out too far, the basic effect was that Woodland did not have the county breathing down on its periphery this cycle. Davis did.

The proposals at Oeste, Covell, and along I-80 represent just some of the properties that have had recent development pressures on them. You can add to that the Gidaro and Signature Properties north of Covell and East of Wild Horse, and you can throw in Ramos' property to the Southeast, Tsakopoulos to the East, etc.

The Davis voters have given themselves Measure J by which they can decide upon future peripheral growth. However, every time Davis citizens have to fight a Covell Village-type proposal, it is going to take a little energy out of the movement. At some point, a future council could get a large development through on the periphery.

Davis voters also gave themselves the ability to purchase open space through Measure O but that appears to have not been properly funded or implemented and cannot purchase at any rate, large tracts of land.

The best move I would think would be to establish an urban limit line around the city of Davis, that would enable the residents of Davis to limit where future development can take place. Anything outside of this line would be preserved for agricultural land. Moreover this could potentially serve as a key buffer between future proposals from the county and the city of Davis. Given that buffer, Davis would be a much less enticing target in the future and we would not merely have to rely on the pass-through agreement to determine how we grow on the edge of our city.

The city of Davis did not completely dodge the bullet lobbed at them from the county in terms of proposed special study areas. The county temporarily backed off in hopes of initiating talks. That gives us precious time to regroup and bolster our defenses. Even if study areas are initiated we will have perhaps a few years before the county can actually produce development proposals. In the meantime, Davis has an opportunity to take the land in question out of the hands of the county, and put it back within the hands of the Davis voters.

My present thought would be to create an urban limit line, but specifically require all land within that line remain subject to a Measure J vote if we decide to develop it. That is but one idea to prevent what occurred earlier this summer from repeating itself.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Shriner's Property Leads to Discussion on Open Space and Ag Preservation

Last week, the Davis City Council took up the issue of the possible acquisition of the Shriner's Property by the City of Davis from Steve Gidaro for future preservation of open space and also a potential future spot of the sports fields.

While in and of itself, the proposal has decent properties to it, there are a number of concerns that remain both in terms of intentions and process that are need of resolution.

There is some question about how these talks came about and what the nature of them were. During the meeting, Councilmember Stephen Souza, who brought this item forward as an item submitted by a councilmember suggested that he came to Steve Gidaro to discuss selling the land to the city of Davis.

However, that is not the impression one gets from reading the Davis Enterprise article from July 29, 2007.
"As much as I was upset with him, initially, in the meetings that I have had, there have been good faith promises, and good faith discussions about preserving this land... So yes, he is interested in doing something good."
Councilmember Souza suggested that it was his idea to preserve the land, but if that's the case, why was Souza saying, "Just Go away"? There seems to be something going on here that is not being told. Also, why is Mr. Souza so angry with Mr. Gidaro? If it were not for Gidaro and his tactics, Mr. Souza would not have been elected to the city council. So there seems to be a bit of a disconnect here.

Next, Councilmember Souza suggested at the council meeting that it would be inappropriate for him as a councilmember to negotiate on behalf of the city. Yet, he is quoted in the paper as saying:
"I'm a shrewd negotiator... The bottom line is, my hope and my desire and my actions have always been to get this land as cheap as we can get it so we can actually get it."
If he was not involved in negotiations, why would he state that he's "a shrewd negotiatior?"

During the meeting, Councilmember Lamar Heystek pressed Councilmember Souza on a recent vote regarding ag mitigation. Specifically, Mr. Souza was asked if his intentions were to create open space, why he created an exemption in the ag mitigation ordinance for properties less than 40 acres, which specifically exempted the nearby Wild Horse Ranch property from adjacent mitigation. While adjacent mitigation on 80 acres, would not have consumed the entire Shriner's property, it would have set aside a swath for agricultural purposes at the expense of the developer, rather than at the expense of the city.

The question turned to why would the city council not have a developer as part of the condition of his development agreement, purchase the land for agricultural mitigation rather than force the city to do it as open space? Despite, repeated attempts by Councilmember Heystek, Mr. Souza never addressed this issue head-on and instead dodged the questions.

This led to a prolonged confrontation between the progressive minority of the council and the majority faction over the proper process. Councilmember Heystek and Mayor Sue Greenwald both insisted that if this is an item brought forward by a councilmember, the councilmember has the responsibility of getting grilled by his or her colleagues as though they were staff. If this is a problem, then perhaps the council ought to look at different approaches to items brought forward by council. Originally both the Mayor and Councilmember Heystek had wanted staff to do staff work on this.

Unfortunately, the attempts by Mayor Greenwald to sandbag this proposal ultimately muddied the water when she introduced the possibility that the Signature Properties, the next tract along Covell to the direct east of the Shriner's could be available free of charge to the city. However, in exchange for that land, the city would need to allow development on the Mace Curve on the south side of Covell. This would require around a 97-unit residential development. While this development would cost the city less in terms of money, it would require more housing, something that the Shriner's property proposal specifically avoids.

Councilmember Lamar Heystek suggested that the priority for the city should be the continuation of the process of turning the 700-acre Howatt Ranch into a sports-complex. There is a disadvantage that the ranch is the furthest away from the core of town of any of the three properties, however, the city currently owns that land and has been working for two years on developing it for the purpose of sports complexes. It is larger than the 100-acre suggestion on the Shriner's property.

Given that the city already owns the property and would not have to either purchase the land or allow for additional housing developments, Councilmember Heystek offered that this was perhaps the preferred option for the city despite the remote location of the property itself.

In the end, I agree most with Councilmember Heystek's position, although he ended up supporting the motion for the city staff to explore both the Shriner's and Signature Properties as possible alternative locations. His suggestion was that he thought in the end, the council and staff would still find the Howatt Ranch the best option. I am not less sure of that, and would have voted against a motion that authorizes staff to look into the two properties, both of which have fatal flaws in my book.

I agree with Mayor Greenwald's commitment to the urban limit line concept, however, in the end felt that she should not have brought the Signature Property into the discussion and that she too should have voted against the proposal.

At the end of the day, Councilmembers Souza and Saylor suggested that they had distrust for the intentions of Steve Gidaro. I find that an ironic statement in many ways. Not the least of which, that they may not have been elected without Gidaro and his dirty tricks, but also because at the end of the day, I must say I do not trust the intentions of either of these councilmembers. I would prefer that the council not help Mr. Gidaro unload the land that he has apparently determined he could not develop. And, I would prefer that the council, led by Souza and Saylor not make deals to exempt property of 40 acres or less from adjacent mitigation.

This deal, initiated at Souza and Saylor's behest casts severe doubt on the intentions with the Shriner's property because had they required adjacent mitigation for the Wild Horse Ranch property, it would have preserved a segment of the property that they are now looking to purchase. Except now it must be purchased at the expense of the city not the developer.

Finally, this entire discussion suggests that we ought to look more closely at Measure O and determine why the council has not been more vigilant about using Measure O to purchase and protect Open Space on the city periphery and agricultural land. Why is it that the will of the voters of Davis has been thwarted with regards to Measure O? Those are questions for another day, but they have to drive any discussion on open space and ag land preservation.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, August 06, 2007

UCLA Incident Demonstrates Need for Independent Review and Policy Changes

The recent ruling on last fall's Tasering of a UCLA student gives us the unusual opportunity to review and scrutinize the police review system in addition to discuss policies on use of force by police departments.

In August of 2006, the fledgling Vanguard, took on a seven-part series of review of the Davis Police Oversight system--evaluating each part and making recommendations for changing it.

One of the key criticisms was the use of the Internal Affairs Department (IAD) as the agency with original jurisdiction over IAs. The chief problem that was cited at this time was a relatively low number of sustained complaints by the IAD in Davis. From 2003-2005 there were 74 complaints, only 5 of which were sustained.

These numbers were used by then Chief Jim Hyde and Davis Councilmember Don Saylor (among others) to demonstrate the lack of need for additional police oversight.

However, a 2002 report by the US Department of Justice warned that:
"[T]he meaning of a complaint rate is not entirely clear: a low force complaint rate could mean that police are performing well or that the complaint process is inaccessible; likewise, a high force complaint rate could mean that officers use force often or that the complaint process is more accessible."
Further statistics suggest that the low sustained complaint rate in Davis is actually not atypical. For instance one year in Los Angeles, there were 561 complaints against the LAPD and none of them were sustained.

The UCLA case provides us with another example as to why we cannot merely rely on IADs to provide oversight of police departments.

The initial review of the UCLA case
"cleared Officer Terrence Duren and two colleagues of wrongdoing. Details of the review are confidential but it concluded officers did not violate campus policies, according to a statement released by Norman Abrams, former acting chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles." (See Sacramento Bee, August 3, 2007).
Furthermore, as the Los Angeles Times reported, the officer involved has been involved in a number of other controversial incidents on the campus. This is a frequent problem in oversight, that you have officers often who are repeat offenders, who end up being involved in incidents over and over again. The people that these officers harm are not only the citizens, but their law abiding and dedicated colleagues.

Fortunately in this case, instead of settling for the IAD report, someone made a decision to bring in Merrick Bobb, a noted police accountability expert.

Bobb found that the officer's decision to use a taser here was "unnecessary, avoidable and excessive."

The student is by no means innocent here either and that should be noted and was noted by Mr. Bobb.
"This story has no heroes... While the student should have simply obeyed the order to produce the card ... the police response was substantially out of proportion to the provocation."
Citizens have the responsibility to cooperate with the police always. People ought to know their rights and when they can assert them, however, when push comes to shove, obey the police and dispute their conduct later. However, police are professionals and trained, and they need to respond to difficult situations appropriately, this was not a case where an officer was in danger and therefore the use of force here was clearly not justified.

This case also provides us with an opportunity to examine use of force. We have talked about it in the past as well, especially regarding an incident that did not escalate quite as far as the UCLA incident was, but that had to do with the actions against a UC Davis student involved in a bicycle stop sign incident which also grew out of hand. The key question is how should non-cooperative individuals be treated by the police.

In this case, Mr. Bobb makes specific recommendations for chaing policy on the use of Tasers on "passively or mildly resistant individuals." The main question is, when should officers use force against an individual? It is obvious that if an individual is violent or represents a physical threat to the officers or the public, that use of force is justified.

But if the individual is simply being non-compliant why are you using a taser three times? There have to be other means by which to handle a situation.

Merrick Bobb makes some very strong recommendations to "forbid their use against passively or mildly resistant individuals." Moreover he recommends:
"Restrict Taser use to violent, actively aggressive or imminently violent subjects -- and only after a warning. Discourage repeated shocks. Prohibit shocking of handcuffed prisoners."
Acting UCLA Chancellor Norman Abrams and UCLA Police Chief Karl Ross were both in agreement with the policy change. That is a good start.

But the secrecy of the internal investigation given state law protecting confidentiality of the police involved in citizen complaints led to the independent investigation by Merrick Bobb. The concern is that this was a very high profile case, how many other complaints have also been swept under the rug at UCLA and other UCs across California?

This is a very serious point in evaluating complaints against UC Davis police officers. We have heard of several in the last year and note that there is no Ombudsman or any sort of police oversight system on the UCLA campus.

The City of Davis does have an Ombudsman and they have a three member Police Advisory Committee (PAC) reviewing IAs. Some of my concerns about the Police Oversight system in Davis have been alleviated in the past year. However, a big one that remains is the lack of willingness of individuals to file IAs.

As the UCLA case attests however, a small minority of officers are repeat offenders in violations of the rights of citizens and it is those small number of officers who probably cause the majority of complaints. A system that can identify those officers, can protect the law abiding and dedicated majority of police officers from the type of adverse scrutiny that they do not deserve. Officers put their lives on the line every day and we need to put a system in place that protects them and the citizens.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Guest Commentary: Attending the YearlyKos Convention

Commentary by Bill Ritter


Attending the YearlyKos Convention here in Chicago has been a real eye opener. For four days, fifteen hundred bloggers, political activists and journalists traveling from all over the country learned from each other and exchanged ideas about the Netroots, a national on-line internet community which is dedicated to returning democracy to the people. Gathering at the magnificent McCormick Place Convention Center they worked and discussed how bloggers are changing the face of American politics both nationally and locally spawning the “Dawn of a New Politics.”

The YearlyKos is the annual gathering of bloggers who use the DailyKos founded by Markos Moulitsas as a way to fight back against the Republican right-wingers who have dominated politics in our country for the past 25 years.

Topics covered were: Out of Iraq Now, holding Congress accountable; discussing the growing connection between the rank & file military and progressives; capitalism & progressives; A return to the Gilded Age—two Americas—one poor and one incredibly rich; the separation of church & state; ending poverty now; a new progressive foreign policy; a fair and just immigration policy; global warming; true universal health care for all; ending the influence of big money in politics; the resurgence of unions; protecting the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights; and the corruption of the Bush/Cheney administration.

One of the main topics was the age of corporate media giants spinning and omitting the news and the urgent need for a New Kind of News Organization to combat this threat to our liberty. With media ownership primarily in the hands of five major corporations our nation’s ability to get uncensored news and commentary is being threatened. Bloggers are clearly in the forefront of this effort.

The convention was kicked off with a rousing speech by Democratic Party National Chairman Howard Dean. He chronicled and attributed many 2006 election successes to the Netroots and “you-tube” communities who many times were way ahead of traditional media reporters both reporting and commenting on what mattered in the campaigns.

Friday morning, former General Wesley Clark outlined the stupidity of the Bush/Cheney administration starting a needless and unnecessary war in Iraq which has now spent 500 billion dollars of the US treasury, killed nearly 4,000 and seriously wounded 30,000 American soldiers and killed and wounded nearly 1 million Iraqis all the while Osama bin Laben is still free and Al Queda is growing in strength.

Saturday afternoon presidential candidates John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel faced the conventioneers and answered questions from a panel as well as the audience. Without a doubt, the respect shown by these candidates underscores the power the grassroots on-line community has become.

Following the forum the candidates individually attended separate break-out sessions attended by the media, bloggers, convention goers and answered questions from audience. It was a one on one and a thrilling experience. I attended the John Edwards session and he answered one tough question after another with sincerity. The Netroots community is interested in results, holding candidates to their promises and how these candidates intend to fulfill their promises.

One of the highlights of the convention was the Band of Brothers & Sisters (former military officers who ran for congress in 2006 & will again in 2008) coming together to reaffirm their efforts to challenge those in congress who support the disastrous military policies of the Bush/Cheney administration. California’s retired Lt. Col. Charlie Brown was joined by his brothers and sisters as they continue to work to restore common sense and integrity to the use of American military power. Charlie was congratulated by hundreds of conventioneers who recognized him and supported him. The Netroots community was fundamental to Charlie’s near defeat of John Doolittle in the last election and will play an essential role in his 2008 campaign. I met people from all over the country and throughout California who were vested in helping Charlie defeat the corrupt John Doolittle.

A final note, fascinating to me were many of the bloggers attending were mini-celebrities in their own right with followings by not only fellow bloggers, but journalists too.

Clearly the focus of the YearlyKos Convention was taking our country back and overcoming a sense of powerlessness which so many Americans feel and have felt for many years. It was a hopeful feeling and a great way to end the convention.