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

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Commentary: Diversity at the UC's Falling Behind State Levels

It was no surprise earlier this week when the long awaited University of California Diversity Report came out and found that enrollment of minorities and underrepresented students have fallen well behind their statewide representation in the population as a whole.
Overall advances in UC diversity in the 1980s and early 1990s have reversed direction, the report states, and any small gains have been concentrated at a few campuses. Women and non-Asian minorities continue to have particularly low levels of representation in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, the report noted.
It is also no surprise that the board of Regents which met this week on the UC Davis campus would embrace this study and vow to take aggressive and concrete steps to address the diversity crisis facing the premier public university system in the world.

One of the most stunning bits of information that emerged from this discussion was that only 30 percent of high schools offer the A-G courses--core curriculum--that are required for UC admissions.

Frankly that piece of information alone should be headline grabbing, alarming information. And folks, as you might guess, that has nothing at all to do with UC. That has nothing to do with Proposition 209. That is an indictment of our public school system.

In light of that finding it was also refreshing to hear that California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez who serves as an ex-officio member, urged the board not to lower the bar for academic requirements to attend a UC campus but rather find solutions that will increase diversity while at the same time maintaining the current levels of standards.

Another regent, Sherry Lansing, suggested partnering with the CSU system to create outreach programs to encourage more high schools to offer the A-G courses (the CSU system also requires A-G courses).

Embattled UC President Robert Dynes forcefully said:
“I reject the idea that we can't change K-12. We can. No one else will.”
It was remarkable to me on the other hand to read the comments from Oiyan Poon, the President of the University of California Student Association.

In her comments to UC Regents before they voted to support the recommendations of the study group recommendations she said among other things:
"In order to begin addressing this crisis, students ask that Regents 1) ensure that academic preparation programs receive at least $33 million for the 2008-2009 school year; 2) eliminate or at least decrease the use of SAT I, SAT II and GRE scores as eligibility requirements; and 3) reevaluate admissions eligibility requirements, especially A-G required courses."
I have no problem with the first recommendation. I've long believed that admissions process was too reliant on standardized tests, but I certainly cannot support the third recommendation there. I do not believe the solution to this problem is to water down the admissions process, I think it is to bring the high schools across this state up to the level that is needed for their students to attend UC and CSU.

We wish to put this on the UC Regents, and they certainly bear responsibility here, but to me this is an indictment on the state legislature and the state as a whole. Students should be protesting next week in front of the state Capital demanding that the legislature mandate and fund college prep programs at all high schools across the state.

The UC Regents have acknowledged the problem that exists and that everyone can see. It is always said of course that the first step to solving a problem, is to acknowledge that one exists. However, in this case, the problem itself is going to take a tremendous amount of political will across jurisdictions. If however, UC and CSU are willing to partner to take the lead on this, perhaps it is possible that things can be improved. If not, then the UC system will become ever more of an elite institution and move away from the vision of public higher education that has embodied it for so long.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, September 21, 2007

Housing Element Committee Agrees to Look At Covell Site for Future Development

Hold onto your hats folks, if last night was any indication of whats to come it is going to be a bumpy ride. The General Plan Housing Element Steering Committee last night heard two of the most controversial locations for future housing developments--the Covell Village Site and the Nishi Property.

As most people reading this undoubtedly know, Covell Village was the site of the first ever Measure J vote that would convert prime, class 1, agricultural land on the periphery of Davis at the intersection of Covell and Poleline into a housing development. The voters in November of 2005 overwhelmingly rejected the project by nearly a 60-40 margin. However, the Covell Partners, on this evening led by John Whitcombe, are bringing it back in a scaled down version.

The most alarming statement came from staff who suggested that according to City Attorney Harriet Steiner and City Manager Bill Emlen, if the Covell Property were combined with the adjacent Lewis Property (site of Hunt-Wesson), it would not need a Measure J vote. I have to greet that assertion with a good deal of skepticism.

According to John Whitcombe, instead of an 1800 unit project of single family homes designed to be affordable for families (if your family can afford 600,000 dollar homes), this will be an 800 unit site for senior housing complete with greenbelt access and oriented toward bikes, pedestrians, and electric vehicles. And, the seniors will have access to yet another golf course.

Mr. Whitcombe even stole a page from the Tsakapolous Stem Cell project, bringing in a geriatric medicine researcher to sell us on the need for a senior site that would provide housing and at-home medical facilities for seniors. Nevermind that the big need in housing is for new families. Nevermind that according to many on the Senior Citizens Commission we do not need Senior Housing, particularly on the periphery. Nevermind that these were many of the same reasons the proposal at Oeste Ranch was opposed by so many in this community.

The proponents of this offered several advantages to building on this property including that it is the peripheral property closest to the core of Davis, it would be contiguous with the city on three sides, it would free up other larger lots to go for families, and it would enable the completion of the greenbelt bikeway access across the northern part of town. Moreover, they argued it would create a permanent ag buffer along the northern line of the city to create an urban limit line.

One of the more interesting arguments came from Kevin Wolf, one of the chief proponents of the Measure X ballot measure in 2005 and chair of the committee. Mr. Wolf argued that by creating this development it would produce enough money to enable the city to fix the interection of Covell and Poleline that is going to be even more stressed with future traffic.

However, skeptics, and you can count me as one of them, argue that you are not going to fix that intersection by producing even more residences along the intersection. Furthermore you have at the Woodland end of Poleline the new massive Spring Lake Development, the new Costco, the Super-Target and other commercial developments that will greatly increase the traffic.

Furthermore, there is a question about how much revenue that this will produce because as county land, only a portion of the tax revenue goes to the city, even if annexed to the city.

Then, there are further problems of pollution that are exacerbated if they are planning to put seniors on that site. There is the wastewater treatment issue that sounds like a very big issue. Furthermore, other problems include a limited access to the site, previous agreements on housing mitigation along the Poleline corridor, and it's proximity to a flood plain.

Most vexing to me, is that the previous proposal was defeated handily by the voters of Davis. It has been less than two years and the developers cannot wait to go at it again. This is, class one, prime agricultural land, the infrastructure and access is extremely problematic. I understand the contiguity issue and the lure of having the core of Davis relatively close, but given these other issues, this is not a good place to build new housing, and I particularly have a problem with it being a senior housing project, which does nothing to solve the larger housing problems. So, they would develop this spot and still be looking for tracts for affordable and family housing. That makes no sense to me.

Overwhelmingly given the nature of the committee, this was approved, but the fight for this will go on for quite some time.

Meanwhile the Nishi property holds many strong allures to those looking to build high density housing near the city core. Kevin Wolf spoke very strongly about building this into a very high density property with over 1000 units, five to six story buildings, but no access to the Richards Blvd. This was a way to show as an example how new urbanism with environmentally friendly densification at the core would reduce the need for traffic. Or so he proposed.

But it's not clear that you can deny access to Richards Blvd, nor should you. The problem here is that they will be adding a large amount of traffic potentially to the Richards underpass as the only traffic outlet from this property to the core.

Proponents argued that it's proximity to the university and to bike paths leading directly onto campus make this an ideal spot for student housing.

However, there were a number of unrealistic assumptions brought into this discussion and it seemed clear as people such as Mark Spencer suggested there would need to be university buy-in to make access from this property by vehicle onto campus.

The assumption is that by providing housing here, less people would drive from the highway to campus via Richards. On the other hand, it is not clear what it would do to existing traffic flows to add a large number of people making a left at the Olive Blvd. intersection.

The problems of traffic and access are prohibitive. Several said problems with parking could be mitigated by charging for parking spots. It is my experience that this will not get students to give up their cars, rather it might impact the ability to rent the units at market rate since parking would become a built-in cost. Students indeed like easy access to campus and may utilize bikes. But, students also like the ability to leave town via the car and the idea that we could reduce traffic flow by adding housing seems to be very optimistic.

Another problem is that without an extremely high density housing, the project is not viable. So they are talking about a minimum of 462 units and now a high point of 770 or higher. The talk was of sacrificing views in favor of land preservation. Density is a laudable goal, particularly near the core, but this is an area that is characterized by bungalows and now they are talking about 5 or six story buildings?

Given the present design this seems like an attractive location--it's close to campus, close to the core, close to the highway, not building on prime agricultural land, but the problem of access and traffic could be fatal. Nevertheless, the committee overwhelmingly and enthusiastically endorsed the spot. I suspect the community will view this somewhat more circumspectly.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Word To The Wise: The HOA - Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid!

By E. A. Roberts

Do you live in a residence governed by a homeowners association, also informally know as an “HOA”? Then I would strongly advise being afraid - very afraid. The powers it can arbitrarily wield against a property owner are downright frightening. The result may be the loss of what is most people’s only major asset - their house - over a disagreement involving as little as $10.

A local 78 year old disabled resident made the fatal mistake of reporting to her HOA she smelled smoke after a security light burned out. A $300 special individual assessment was levied against her for the cost of electrical work to the common area. The irate woman rightfully refused to pay, yet the HOA is threatening her with liens and foreclosure. The illegitimate claim is she should have called the fire department instead of management.

A second individual governed by the same HOA was fined $200 - because her tenant said something the HOA President overheard and didn’t like. Another resident was twice fined $50 for having items resting on her patio peeping just above the fence. $190 was charged to a homeowner because he did not remove a satellite dish fast enough.

This identical HOA hired a management company to run day-to-day operations. Suddenly new subcontractors from far away where management resided were hired to perform services at exorbitant rates. Annual lawn work previously costing $14,000 was raised to a whopping $22,000. Yet local subcontractors could have been employed for considerably less money.

A substantial loan of six figures was borrowed by the Board without homeowner approval. How will it be paid back? Through emergency special assessments, and increases in the $240 per month regular assessment. What happens to the low income homeowner on fixed earnings who cannot afford such a sudden fee escalation? As much as a 20% per year increase is allowed in California. Senior citizens with reverse mortgages or those with adjustable rate mortgages are particularly vulnerable.

It is not uncommon for two factions to form within a HOA housing complex. One side will push for ornamental changes to raise the value of the property if they can afford the additional costs to spruce things up. However, low income seniors or families with young children who barely get by cannot pay for such fripperies. Fancy retaining walls, elaborate fences, expensive landscaping can run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Meanwhile leaky roofs go untended. More money is squeezed from already strapped homeowners to carry out basic repairs. The low or middle income homeowner is priced right out of their home. How? Assessments creep up in price, those who cannot pay have liens placed against their homes, which are foreclosed on if not paid off within a certain time limit. More affluent neighbors have been able to rid the housing complex of what they consider “riff-raff”.

Even the more prosperous eventually become financially overburdened. Many have refinanced their homes to the maximum extent possible, shelling out for repeated superficial upgrades to the common area. At some point the gravy train stops, and no more refinancing is possible. Nevertheless roofs leak, security lights don’t work, basic lawn services are left undone. The Association starts to operate at a significant loss.

The final straw comes when homeowners learn there is less money on the company books than anticipated, even with costs for aesthetic enhancements taken into account. By now Management has disappeared, some on the Board have resigned their positions. Curious homeowners begin looking at financial records, horrified to uncover evidence of embezzlement.

In Virginia, theft of two million dollars was exposed by a management company serving HOAs across the country. The state of Florida just cracked down on Board members who stole four million dollars thus far. More criminal indictments are expected in the coming weeks.

There is little redress for cheated homeowners. Here is how the system works. If a HOA deems an infraction of the governing documents has occurred, three very powerful weapons are at their disposal to force compliance: fines; liens; foreclosure. The only redress a homeowner has is paltry in comparison: meet and confer with a biased Board member to resolve the dispute; ask for community mediation geared more toward settlement than fairness; or pay the fine and hope to recoup the loss in small claims court.

I’ve watched a full Board convene a “kangaroo court”, where those accused must confess their sins in public. The final decision is made in secret, behind closed doors. Fines can actually become a lucrative stream of income to an enterprising Board backed by a Manager who is a bully. Any homeowner who objects to the process is either ignored or intimidated into silence.

I actually sat through a hearing where a homeowner was falsely accused of being a “peeping Tom” while on his roof fixing an air conditioner. Hurt deeply at such hideous accusations, the indignant fellow was fined $50. Rather than contest the fabricated charge, the poor man felt compelled to pay. Otherwise he would incur further fines, along with more innuendo which could have damaged his reputation.

Elections or changes to governing documents are frequently illegally rigged by the HOA to obtain the desired result. It is not uncommon for the Board or Management to not follow their own rules. Yet almost never are they brought to book for wrongdoing. But God help the homeowner who so much as leaves a dead leaf hanging from a potted plant in plain view!

A housing complex in Davis was informed that signs supportive of a particular political campaign had better not appear anywhere on site before election time. Apparently there were those in power who believed Constitutional rights ceased to exist at the property line. When I legitimately asked to inspect corporate records of a HOA, I was told by Management to “come alone”. Subsequent letters demanding copies of documents sent certified mail were refused.

The address for a HOA can be nothing more than a rented UPS drop box, located in a completely different state. More and more municipalities are turning over government tasks to homeowners associations. That way city government can collect taxes, without having to incur costs of providing services. If homeowners are having to send hefty assessment checks outside the state, how will they ever be able to track down misappropriated funds?

What can be done to cope with an out of control HOA? Here are some tips:

  • If your housing complex does not have a HOA, do not start one.
  • Discourage legislators from requiring HOAs for new housing.
  • Dissuade municipalities from turning over governmental functions to HOAs.
  • Go to every HOA meeting. Speak up, raise objections. Don’t allow decision-making in secret.
  • Do not permit the Board/Management to levy fines - set up an independent Review Board.
  • Demand a clear financial audit from the HOA every year.
  • Basic repairs should be a HOA’s top priority. Cosmetic improvements should require approval of no less than 85% of the homeowners, with assistance for those who cannot pay.
  • Keep copies of all HOA documents, minutes, letters, notices.
  • Keep any copies of correspondence you sent to the HOA.
  • Require a significant supermajority to amend any governing document.
  • Make sure governing documents limit increases in regular assessments to no more than 5% a year, unless an extensive supermajority of homeowners approve larger increases.
  • Do not go to a HOA disciplinary hearing alone. Bring a witness; tape recorder; video camera.
  • Respond in writing to every letter from the HOA threatening disciplinary action.
  • Amend governing documents to prohibit the HOA the power of foreclosure.
  • Demand the HOA mailing address be in the same county where the housing is located.
  • Levy fines against Board members/Managers for failure to follow their own rules.
  • Check out the following websites:;
Lesson to be learned: In advance of purchasing a home, determine if there is a prevailing HOA. Obtain copies of all governing documents. Remember, these documents can later be amended to something you did not agree to, may not like, nor can afford. Are you sure acquiring this house is really worth the danger of being under the thumb of a HOA? Think before you buy.

Elaine Roberts Musser is a practicing attorney who concentrates her efforts on elder law and aging issues, especially in regard to consumer affairs. She also serves on CA state, county and city commissions and legal clinics advocating for the protection of seniors and the disabled. If you have any observations, particular questions, or topics you would like to see addressed in this column, add your comment at the end of this column.

Madison Up in Arms With Rexroad's Vote

On Tuesday, the County continued with their general plan update, although most of Davis was quiet this time as Davis was not on the agenda. The same cannot be said for places like Dunnigan which faces the potential 7500 new homes.

One of the less controversial votes was a 4-1 vote by the Board of Supervisors to apply the new specific plan designation to approximately 398 acres which could include up to 1,335 homes and 160 acres of commercial/industrial development.

The one dissenting vote was Supervisor Matt Rexroad. One the surface of it, it is an odd vote. The people of Madison are in favor of the development. Furthermore, the Supervisor who actually has Madison in his district, Duane Chamberlain, was in favor of the development and Chamberlain is a strong opponent of new developments.

Nevertheless, Rexroad's "no-vote" has the people of Madison talking recall despite the fact that they won the vote 4-1 and despite the fact that Madison is not even in his district. I am not certain how that will work, but I am fairly certain that you have to be in someone's district to recall them and I am even more certain that the people who live in Rexroad's district are not about to try to recall him over what he voted on in Madison. Needless to say however, Rexroad is all shook up about this. On the phone last night, he could not stop laughing.

The funny thing is, is when you look at the proposal and the arguments employed by Mr. Rexroad, I have to agree with him that this probably not the place to develop.

First, the people of Madison have argued that this would provide homes for the casino workers, but as Rexroad points out that housing in Esparto would make a lot more sense since it is closer to the casino, there are existing schools, and it is not a flood zone.

Speaking of flooding, Rexroad argues that most of the problems with flooding will be resolved by road improvements to Highway 16, and once that is done, the rest of the flood solution can be resolved by the existing residents.

The issue of revenue for the county comes up as well, however the economic people in the county project that the county will not make money unless the homes are $400,000 plus and they are not building those kind of homes in Madison.

Based on these arguments, I have to agree with Matt Rexroad, this proposal makes little sense. I would however like to here from the good folks in Madison about why we need this new development.

As I suggested at the beginning on this piece, the folks in Davis have largely stopped following this process once Davis literally dropped off the map, although I really expect this issue to arise in the future. The heat got too hot for some in the county, but I suspect that the core reasons for their support for development remain. However, honestly, from top to bottom, I am appalled and outraged at some of the proposals that have come forward and that will be supported by the county.

The county somehow believes that they are going to grow themselves into new revenue. I really wish they would study other counties and municipalities who had the same belief and see how that turned out for them. I would venture to guess you will have a hard time finding a county in the black, regardless of growth policies. I suspect that will leave us with two alternatives, a good look at what we are spending money on currently and a good look at how the state can do a better job of funding counties for the services that they provide to citizens.

In the meantime, I would hope that the folks of Madison have something better to do than to try a vengeance recall effort on someone else's county supervisor, but who knows.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sodexho Workers and Supporters Speak and Walk Out of the UC Regents Meeting at the Mondavi Center in Davis

During open comment period at the UC Regents meeting at the Mondavi Senator, a throng of at least 100 supporters of the Sodexho Food Workers came to support and a smaller group of perhaps 20 spoke during public comment. These individuals included food service workers, students, ASUCD Senators, community members, and members of the Davis Faith Community.

Ivan Carrillo an ASUCD senator spoke:
"Here on campus, workers are being exploited. There are over 500 Sodexho workers, predominantly students who are not being paid comparable wages nor given the benefits of employees hired directly by the university. The biggest discrepancy is in the cost of health insurance. A full-time employee hired by Sodexho is currently charged 18 times more than a food service employee of the university. In other words, Sodexho workers are paying 95 percent more for health insurance than university employees. I've met far too many people who do not have health insurance, for themselves or their families, because they cannot afford it. It comes down to justice. I want justice for these workers, the students want justice for these workers, workers want justice, professors want justice, elected state politicians want justice, please help us bring justice."
Christopher Cabaldon was supposed to speak, but according to his representative Robbie Abalon he got called away for an emergency meeting with the Mayor of Suisun City. He will speak on behalf of the Sodexho Workers tomorrow. Mr. Abalon spoke briefly in favor of the workers efforts to become full university employees.

Guy Turner from the St. James Gospel Justice group, which brought a number of community members with them to this event, spoke as well.
"I'm embarrassed, I'm saddened to be here. To find the situation with the Sodexho workers on campus as I've heard over the past two months. I would ask that the Chancellor would possibly come out after this meeting and meet with the workers and the support group that's here."
The supporters of Sodexho were joined in solidarity by students from across the UCs who were there in support of student diversity ahead of the release of the Diversity Report.

Following public comment, the meeting was interrupted first by a lone demonstrator who shouted from the crowd. The Sodexho Workers and their supporters then briefly interrupted the meeting with a chant as they exited.

To their credit, the Regent paused with their meeting until the students left and then continued.

After the meeting I spoke with a couple of Food Service Workers. Lydia is a cook at UC Davis and a current Sodexho worker. She spoke to me in Spanish and Maria, a former Sodexho worker at the UC Santa Cruz campus helped translate and spoke to me as well about her experience of switching from Sodexho to being a full-time university employee at UC Santa Cruz.

Maria translating for Lydia said:
"She said she's been working 7 years with Sodexho. She said there's a huge difference from what she hears from workers working with the university and what she's working with Sodexho. She has only seven hours per day and instead of eight hours. And also she saw a big difference with the insurance, because she has insurance, but that's only for her own not for her kids or even for her husband. So that one is so expensive that she can't even pay for what she's getting right now. And she hears that with the university, if she's going to have insurance, it's also going to cover the kids and the husband. So for the whole family, that's why she'd like to become a worker with the university. And also with the benefits and all the kind of things that come with being a university employee."
Maria then talks about her own experience in Santa Cruz:
"I was working also with Sodexho. Well, first I was working with Mario and Sodexho. Then Mario left and Sodexho was the only company there. And I was working around eight years and it was really bad, also like we didn't have the whole benefits, like right here. And also for us it was like so hard because they'd make us work like 40 hours for like three months, and then after three months they pull again like 20 hours because that way they keep from giving us the benefits like the law says. So it was really a huge change for us in Santa Cruz because I can see after we became employees I saw the family could take the kids to the dentist. If they need glasses, they can take them to these kind of things and it was a big big change, also we had the benefits. Also we had the sick hours [with the university, but] with Sodexho we didn't have any.

I think the more important thing for us also was the respect. After we [became employees] with the university, we could fight for the respect to the managers, to the workers. Before we [could not] say anything because if we say something, we were gonna get fired. So now we can have a way to fight back with them, you know. We just need to work and if they don't show us respect, we can say something back with the union. And before, if you don't have a union, you can't really say anything because you're gonna get fired. And that's the big change that we have with the university. So I'm here to support them, because it's really important that these workers can be with the university."
Maria drove up from Santa Cruz, waking up at four in the morning to support the workers in their fight for the university.

The strong showing at the UC Regents meet is meant to put pressure on UC Davis as the only University in all of UC to still outsource their workers to the notorious union-busting company Sodexho.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Local Faith Based Group Among Many Standing With Sodexho Food Service Workers at UCD

Today at 8:30 am at the Mondavi center, workers, community members, and students will be confronting the Regents of the University of California at their meeting at UC Davis on Wednesday September 19. The UC Davis campus continues to be the only UC campus or medical center with a large scale contracted out workforce. This will be the first time that the Regents have held a meeting at the Davis campus in 16 years.

St. James Gospel Justice committee members in a press release urged:
"Other Davis faith-based social justice groups to join in solidarity with contracted-out food service workers at UCD in their fight to become University employees. On Wednesday September 19, 2007, 8:30 am at the Mondavi Center we will be speaking with the UC Regents to affirm the “inherent dignity” of all campus workers."
The organization from St. James Catholic Church in Davis, is committed to social justice causes. They cited in their release many unacceptable working conditions faced by the food service workers at UC Davis including under-compensated wages, inadequate health care benefits, no retirement benefits, company's past broken promises to improve wages and health benefits; and the company's replacing experienced workers with students and temp-workers to thwart legitimate desires of career workers to join the university and a union for better working conditions.
"These unacceptable working conditions are in conflict with the “inherent dignity” and “climate of justice” espoused within the University’s Principles of Community...

Gospel Justice committee members urge an early expeditious employee conversion of contracted-out food service workers to UC Davis employment. This is the real desire of all the workers and is in fact, the action that will re-establish the ethical credibility of the University's "Principles of Community"."
Today's UC Regents meeting will be the staging ground for new pressure placed on the UC Davis administration, as the only UC Campus that contracts out their food service workers.

Alma Martinez, a working student who was arrested during a protest on May 1st said:
“We are united as workers, I feel close to many of the workers as if they were my parents, and so I am very disappointed that the administration is ignoring us and disrespecting the community it is supposed to serve.”
As we recently reported, UC Davis announced an agreement with Sodexho that would improve wages and reduce healthcare costs for contracted out employees.

The workers have applauded this development as a step in the right direction, however in the end, as we suggested, this offer is not an acceptable solution to workers, students, and the community.

According to a press release from the Sodexho Food Workers and AFSCME Local 3299,
"Workers welcome improvements in their terms and conditions of employment, however, the fundamental disparity continues. If the University can make changes to the terms and conditions of employment for contracted out workers, then it can make the right change by making them direct UC employees and Union members."
Steven Ordiano, a UC Davis alum who was arrested on May 1st said:
“This just shows how out of touch the administration is with the community, since they know there are problems, but they continue to exclude those who are most affected – the workers.”
The Vanguard will be at the Mondavi Center to cover this event this morning. Stay tuned today for full coverage and updates.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Guest Commentary: Enacting a Living Wage in Davis to Protect and Preserve our Downtown

by Lamar Heystek

As I was poised to take office as the youngest Davis City Councilmember since Bob Black, I reaffirmed my understanding that the Davis Farmers’ Market was a prime purveyor of pungent produce – and proportionally pungent political punditry.

“Keep your eyes and ears open… and your mouth shut!” was the unsolicited nugget of wisdom flung at me by a fellow “elected” (an adjectival noun to this linguist), right as I was about to close the deal on a pound of fingerling potatoes.

She took me by so much surprise that I nearly forgot to put the “e” in potatoes.

“Could you be more explicit?” I asked in response.

However, after much careful thought, I decided to let those wise words go by the wayside in my third meeting as a councilmember when I introduced for a first reading an ordinance that would require big-box retailers to pay a living wage. And I’ve haven’t regretted it since.

My philosophy was that Davis voters deserved to know whether employees of the proposed Target would be paid justly or not. As expected, the move was derided as a political ploy to derail Measure K.

But the passage of Measure K has not discouraged me from pushing the issue further – it has encouraged me.

In the meantime, I’ve asked that we move forward with a living-wage requirement for city of Davis contracts, an idea that the rest of the Council has agreed to look into, the rationale being that our city government should lead by example.

As one of two elected officials serving on the City-Chamber of Commerce 2x2, I am a Chamber member. My campaign headquarters was located in the heart of the downtown on D Street, near Aesop’s Room and across from Crème de la Crème, a gift shop owned by Davis resident Christie Zamora. As someone commented on the Davis Wiki, “Christie… is the epitome of customer service with an amazing attention to detail. When you are in her beautiful shop, you feel like in are in a different world. We are very happy she is in Davis!” And I was fortunate to have her as a neighbor. I had the pleasure of observing her business and interacting with her on a daily basis. Although I currently don’t frequent her shop as often as I used to, I still pray that she stays in business. And as a councilmember, I certainly can help her do so.

People who dismiss the concept of a “big-box” living wage ordinance mislabel it as an anti-business measure, when in fact it is just the opposite. The ordinance I proposed last year would protect scores of local retailers – the heart and soul of our neighborhoods, including the downtown – who otherwise would find it a Herculean task to compete with the likes of Target.

As Chicago Alderman Joe Moore writes in a letter printed in the Chicago Sun-Times, “[a] visit to many of America’s small and medium towns reveals the devastating effect the retail giants have on other businesses. Downtown businesses districts often become virtual ghost towns after a Wal-Mart or other big-box retailer comes to town.”

However, the impact of big-box retail on local economies is not merely an issue for cities the size of ours. Alderman Moore continues by citing a study by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for Urban Economic Development, which concludes that a Wal-Mart on Chicago’s West Side “would actually cost our city more jobs than it creates. This is because big-box retail stores rarely expand the total amount of sales generated in densely populated urban markets. Instead, the new stores take away customers from existing retailers, causing those retailers to scale back operations or close altogether.”

Big-box businesses benefit from economies of scale, which enable retailers like Target to “underprice their competitors and drive them out of business,” as Alderman Moore points out. “But the fact that many of these big-box retailers pay their employees subsistence wages and benefits plays an equal if not greater role.”

My proposed big-box living wage ordinance, like Alderman Moore’s, strives to level the playing field by making large retailers pay decent wages and benefits so that employees can provide for their families and afford to live in the community they are serving, while at the same time helping to protect locally-owned small businesses.

Besides the “anti-business” angle, there are a variety of arguments against a living wage ordinance. Davis Enterprise columnist Rich Rifkin, whom I deeply respect, writes, “If Councilman Heystek’s ambition is to help low-paid workers who are trying to support their families, he should forget his living wage ordinance and push for a more generous EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit).” I took the latter of Mr. Rifkin’s advice: I phoned and wrote to President Bush, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and our federal legislators, asking them to consider expanding the EITC in major tax bills in the future. However, I believe that an important role of our local government is to provide local solutions to local problems. Failing to do so would mean shirking our responsibility as local decision makers.

Alderman Moore concludes his letter by making the following observation: “Competition and low prices certainly are good things, but the competition should be fair and the low prices should not come at the expense of decent wages and benefits for working families.”

A nugget of wisdom indeed.

Lamar Heystek was elected to the Davis City Council in 2006. He will have a monthly column on the People's Vanguard of Davis.

Monday, September 17, 2007

John Ferrera Announces Bid For 4th Supervisorial Seat

Yesterday evening at his home with his wife, family, and a throng of supporters made up of community leaders, friends, and other members of the community, John Ferrera formally announced his intentions to run for the 4th Supervisorial Seat currently held by Mariko Yamada. Mr. Ferrera, currently the Chief of Staff to State Senator Denise Ducheny, was introduced by Supervisor Helen Thomson, Davis' other representative on the Board of Supervisors.

In addition to Supervisor Thomson, John Ferrera is endorsed locally by Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson, City Councilmember Stephen Souza, Former School Board Member Marty West, and State Senator Mike Machado. Other community leaders attending the event included Councilmember Don Saylor, Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto, and School Board Member Keltie Jones, among others.

In his release, Mr. Ferrera stated:
The Yolo County General Plan process will most likely spill over into 2009, when the next supervisor assumes the 4th District seat. "I plan on being completely up to speed and ready to hit the ground running if I'm elected to the Board. There's no time to waste and I believe I owe it to my constituents and the other Board members to get to work right away finishing and implementing the new General Plan."
John Ferrera spoke briefly to the crowd of around 50 people.
"I've worked on the issues that we need to deal with over the next 25 years to keep Yolo County the way we love it to be. A place where we protect the environment, a place where we protect open space, a place where we respect agriculture and the people who toil in it every day like Marc Wilson who I really appreciate...

We can scream at each other and try to ignore the fact that we might grow a little bit. It's not something that any of us would choose but if we don't embrace those issues and deal with them intelligently and use experience on how to do things right then we will get overtaken. If we work together, then we'll do well and we'll be able to preserve what we love about our community and about our county."
John Ferrera joins Davis School Board President Jim Provenza who announced his intention to seek the 4th Supervisorial District back in March.

Jim Provenza in a statement to the Vanguard, said:
"I am pleased to welcome John into the race. I look forward to a discussion of issues of importance to Davis and Yolo County citizens, such as the role of a county supervisor in protecting farm land, preserving the environment and assuring that seniors and young people will have the services they need to lead healthy and happy lives."
The race to succeed Mariko Yamada, who is running for the 8th Assembly District, will pit the two Davis Supervisors against each other as well with Supervisor Thomson supporting John Ferrera and Supervisor Yamada supporting Jim Provenza.

Supervisor Yamada has endorsed Provenza describing him as filling the needs of Yolo County.
"Jim has the intelligence, integrity, and independence to be a great Yolo County Supervisor. He’s the right fit for the District and Yolo County."
Supervisor Thomson described Ferrera as experienced with a good disposition and demeanor as well as a strong sense of humor and strong convictions all which will be needed during times of intense debate over policy issues.

John Ferrera described Yolo County as a beautiful place to live between two large and growing areas and vowed to preserve our quality of life.
"We are in the middle of two quickly growing areas, Sacramento and the Bay Area. Yolo is a beautiful place to live. The county plays a pivotal role in maintaining that quality of life by guiding our land use and local economic development. I've learned a lot in 20 years of working on these issues, and bringing together diverse groups to reach their goals. It takes leadership, creativity and vision."
The Vanguard will be interviewing John Ferrera later on this week and publish that interview right here.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting