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

Saturday, November 17, 2007

What in the World Was LAPD Thinking

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Police Department dropped a plan to map the city's Muslim population after a week of protests from a number of Muslim and other civil libertarian groups who claimed that the plan was religious profiling.

According to the Los Angeles Times:
"The department's counter-terrorism bureau proposed using U.S. census data and other demographic information to pinpoint Muslim communities and then reach out to them through social service agencies."
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued a statement:
"While I believe the department's efforts to reach out to the Muslim communities were well intentioned, the mapping proposal has created a level of fear and apprehension that made it counterproductive."
The Mayor of Los Angeles might be right in terms of the intentions. However, and this is my general problem with such things, I do not understand why people's reaction to such proposals always seems to catch public officials by surprise.

The Muslim community in the US, which is quite different from its counterpart in Europe in terms of the level of integration into mainstream society and the general lack of extremism, is nevertheless very wary the possibility that they could be singled out for targets by hate groups and law enforcement.

Any plan that was well-intentioned would attempt to partner with mainstream Muslim groups and work with them if their goal is to "mitigate radicalization" as Police Chief Downing put it.

However, the Los Angeles Times suggested that this approach might not fit United States populations anyway.
"Some critics said the LAPD plan seemed based on the European experience of isolated and often-distressed Muslim enclaves, a model they said doesn't apply to the United States, where the Muslim population is far more dispersed."
When law enforcement attempts to introduce such programs without such partnerships, groups such as Muslims, but not limited to the Muslims, begin to fear the less than honorable intentions. They become suspicious, they stop trying to work with law enforcement.
"Downing and other LAPD officials have stressed for days that the mapping program was not a form of profiling or targeting but rather a way to better understand the Muslim community.

But until Wednesday, the department had stood by the effort and insisted that critics would accept the idea once officials could provide details."
Again I have to ask they they were thinking here? If you want to get groups to cooperate--why do officials not communicate? These type of situations repeat themselves because public officials do not learn the lessons. These are not difficult lessons to learn. Unless of course your goal is not cooperation but rather surveillance.

What many civil liberty groups and other critics fear was that this was the first step to initiating some sort of surveillance on the Muslim population in Los Angeles. Such a fear would have sounded paranoid and delusional ten years ago, but now it does not seem so far-fetched given the realities of our world.

As an Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times from a Long Beach State professor states:
"As a Los Angeles County resident, a scholar and a Jew with a good memory, I was shocked and horrified to read of the Los Angeles Police Department's antiterrorism bureau program to map Muslim communities. The debate over security versus individual rights that was popularized in the wake of the USA Patriot Act and invoked in this case is, in my view, the wrong debate. Targeting identity communities to protect society from those minority subgroups that seek to do harm — as opposed to creating strategies to address criminal behavior — is both
morally repugnant and strategically misinformed.

Historically, mapping communities has been a precursor to actions against those communities. Why map if you aren't going to try to act on the data collected?"
The strong outrage from the Muslim community and civil liberties groups forced a pullback of the policy. That is also a lesson to many that we do not have to sit back idly and merely accept injustice in our community. While for the most part this blog focuses on Davis, this is an issue that had to potential to have far-reaching impacts that could have affected our community as well. We need to be ever-vigilant that we do not sacrifice essential liberty for temporary security.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, November 16, 2007

Valley Oak Petition Faces Tough Questions from School Board

One of the images from the last year that will be perhaps forever etched in my mind was the night that the school board voted to close Valley Oak Elementary School and watching parents in the back of the room with tears literally streaming down their face. Who knew that months later the very same parents will have risen up and changed their condition and their lot with sheer tenacity and hard work.

Last night, there were no tears, only smiles and laughter as the Davis Joint Unified School Board was presented by a number of individuals who have poured their heart and soul into this process, the Valley Oak Charter.

There were many tough questions that were asked by the school board during this process--rightly so as this will have a dramatic impact on their budget and their planning. This was not their formal response to the charter, only a questions at a public hearing.

What is important to understand despite their tough questions was that according to the education code, there are only a few reasons by which the board could deny the charter.

In addition to Board Member-elect Susan Lovenburg, both Bob Schelen and Joe Spector--the two strongest supporters of Valley Oak among the four school board candidates were in attendance. Nowhere to be seen on this night was Board Member-elect Richard Harris. Mr. Harris has been seen as the strongest critic of Valley Oak School and the charter process. Also in attendance was Jan Bridge, sitting next to Susan Lovenburg, who was on the Best Uses of Schools Task Force.
The Education Code specifies five grounds to deny a charter: (1) the charter school presents an unsound educational program for the students to be enrolled in the charter school; (2) the petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program set forth in the petition; (3) the petition does not contain the number of signatures required; (4) the petition does not contain an affirmation of each of the conditions prescribed by law; and/or (5) the petition does not contain reasonably comprehensive descriptions of the sixteen charter elements in prescribed by law.
Concerns from the board appeared primarily centered on admission policies, enrollment numbers and overall concerns that if Valley Oak either failed to attract enough students or failed to attract students from outside of the district, that the district would have other problems with which they needed to deal with.

According to the Charter which is available online.
"Valley Oak Charter School shall admit and enroll all students who wish to attend the school provided that the school's capacity is not exceeded."
If that capacity is exceeded here is the enrollment preference:
1. Students residing in current attendance boundaries of the former Valley Oak Elementary School
2. Children of current Valley Oak Charter School Employees
3. Students enrolled in the district
4. Sibling of students enrolled in the district
5. Students who reside in the District
6. All others
Discussion centered on how budgetary figures would be reached if Valley Oak filled up from within the district. Steve Kelleher suggested that boards often use Charter Schools as a tactic to draw ADA money from outside of the district, but the general feeling by the petitioners was that a reduction of staff from the non-Valley Oak portion of the district would off-set the cost. Board Member Tim Taylor believes that one of the reasons that the board closed Valley Oak would be the eventual reduction of teachers district-wide if enrollment was reduced.

This discussion prompted outgoing Board Member Keltie Jones to suggest that the district may have to consider closing another school if enrollment declines due to the Valley Oak Charter School. But she stressed the point that this could not be a reason to deny the charter.

A couple of other key points that came up during the process.

First, Tim Paulson, the current President of the Davis Teachers Association stressed that the Valley Oak Charter School had the full support of the DTA.

Second, the point was made that for the purposes of collective bargaining, the district was the employer and that the money would flow through the district. This was in response to a question from Keltie Jones as to whether Valley Oak would be a dependent or independent charter school. By this definition they would be dependent.

Third, Valley Oak would not be automatically entitled to parcel tax money but that could be done by agreement with the school district.

The overall sense from the petitioners and the teacher's association is that if there are concerns by the district they are willing to sit down and find agreements on this issue.

Finally, the petitioners were able to gather over 200 signatures but project 305 students to start with. The board was concerned about the viability economically of a 305 student school but also and just as importantly whether they would get to that number.

According to a number of the petitioners, the problem for charter schools is usually over-enrollment rather than under-enrollment. People are reluctant to sign petitions but more willing to send their children there once the school opens for enrollment. Several stressed that they felt that 305 was very attainable and that they actually expected it to have a waiting list.

From my perspective, I think the board raised legitimate concerns. I also think that this charter was very carefully drafted, they have support of the teacher's association, they have utilized a consultant from CTA in the drafting of their charter, so teachers who have signed up to teach their--and they had 19 teachers sign the petition--will be well taken care of.

It is exciting to watch this process go forward and the next step appears to be some sort of official response from the school district.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Word To The Wise: Fraud Alert - It’s Open Enrollment Time Again

By E.A. Roberts
____________

A fraud alert has just been sent out by the Yolo County District Attorney Elder Protection Unit. The open enrollment period for Medicare recipients to re-evaluate and change their health care coverage is upon us again, from November 15th to December 31 of 2007. As most people know, Medicare is government run health insurance coverage for senior citizens. Medicare Part D is the federal government’s new prescription drug plan for the elderly.

Unfortunately the Medicare Part D plan is extremely complex and difficult to assess when it comes to finding the best fit for a particular consumer’s specific situation or medical condition. Scam artists and questionable insurance agents begin crawling out of the woodwork during open enrollment season like cockroaches. These predators prey on the most vulnerable among us, the frail elderly, without mercy or compunction.

An older gentleman with severe Parkinson’s Disease was cold-called by an insurance agent one morning. The gist of the conversation between the two was a misleading “Have we got a deal for you!” on the one hand, and a na├»ve “Sign me up!” on the other. An agent was immediately dispatched to the consumer’s home, an apartment nestled within a seniors-only apartment complex. The insurance agent who spoke to the consumer had a heavy Russian accent. The Hispanic consumer spoke broken English - hardly a good combination for fair play.

The Russian speaking salesman insisted if the consumer signed up for a private pay health insurance policy immediately, and disenrolled himself from Medicare, he would have no premiums or co-pays (share of costs). Since the consumer was a dual eligible on both Medicare, and Medicaid (health insurance for the poor), the desperate man signed on the dotted line. No insurance premiums and no co-pays sounded disarmingly appealing.

Documents were delivered on the spot, all of this transaction taking place in a single day. The consumer did not bother to read the contract before signing. He hadn’t understood all the details, his shaking hands not allowing him to hold the papers long enough to read the fine print. The one thing the consumer had latched onto were the $0 placed in the blanks describing how much the consumer would have to shell out. Sounded like a great deal.

However, after perusing the contract twenty-four hours later, in the morning when his body was not as enveloped with shaking from Parkinson’s, something clicked. Somewhere in all that minute verbiage, the consumer discovered statements that were at odds with the $0 penned in by the insurance agent. It was at that point that the consumer called me, a pro bono attorney (volunteer lawyer who charges no fee) who assists with cases involving financial elder abuse.

It was subsequent to that the nightmare truly began. Over a period of months I was on the telephone, emailed and wrote letters to Medicare, MediCal (CA Medicaid program), the consumer’s original health insurance company, his new insurance company, the insurance agent that sold him the product, the consumer’s pharmacy, Health Care Hotline housed in Sacramento, California Health Advocates and the California Department of Insurance. To make a long story short, the consumer was disenrolled from Medicare for one month, but re-enrolled in Medicare retroactively at different dates depending on which computer was involved.

When medical bills came due at varying intervals, one agency or company would deny coverage depending on what their particular computer showed. Repeatedly I would be referred to someone else to address the issue. Even within Medicare itself, I would have personnel input a correction, only to have it not reach another department, which ultimately disallowed the consumer from insurance coverage. Medicare is horribly labyrinthine and unnecessarily complicated, with layer upon layer of bureaucracy. A patient can get completely lost in the system.

My client went without medication for a day or two, until I insisted he borrow the money if necessary to ensure continuation of his drugs. At one point I telephoned the insurance agent myself, and in no uncertain terms lambasted him. I made it clear he was responsible for my client’s drug coverage. I warned this manager if anything happened to the consumer because of a failure to provide medicine, a wrongful death suit would be forthcoming. It was no surprise the insurance company eventually paid for the consumer’s pharmaceuticals through reimbursement, but the lab fees and costs of doctor’s visits have yet to be taken care of.

Ironically, this same insurance agent insisted the consumer not only sign a statement he wanted to withdraw from the private pay insurance plan. My client was expected to draft the letter himself, then have it signed by two witnesses as well. When I pointed out that such niceties had not been required for my client to initially sign onto the policy, the head of the insurance agency claimed it was a Medicare requirement. I checked this alleged claim out with the proper authorities, only to find out Medicare required no such thing.

Another unsettling matter came up. If the consumer purchased drugs under the new private pay plan, the pharmacy would charge the insurance company for insulin at twice the price the drug sold on the open market. It sounded to me as if there was illegal gouging going on, but by whom I was not sure. Suffice it to say, the lowly consumer would be the one to ultimately pay in the end for such questionable goings on.

In closing, I would like to reflect on a few final thoughts. Any consumer considering a change in their Medicare coverage, or any health insurance coverage for that matter, should tread carefully. Be clear about your current terms, and those of any you are contemplating a transfer to. When in doubt and it involves Medicare coverage, seek assistance at any one of Yolo County’s focal point senior centers or check out appropriate government websites (see below). If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

In my client’s case, the insurance agent lied about $0 premiums and co-pays. Not only were there insurance premiums to pay, medications were much more expensive on the new plan. The insurance company where the coverage emanated from admitted getting vast numbers of complaints about insurance agents selling their product. However, personnel there did not give any indication they were making attempts to correct the problem. The insurance agency that sold the policy is now under investigation by the California Department of Insurance.

Lesson to be learned: Think long and hard before changing a Medicare policy, because it may be very difficult to retroactively re-enroll if you become dissatisfied. Should any consumer be sold something door-to-door in the home, generally he or she has three days to rescind (cancel) the contract. However, any rescission (cancellation) must be in writing - generally a phone call is not legally sufficient.

For further information, contact a Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program of Northern CA (HICAP) representative at:

  • Davis Senior Center (530) 757-5696
  • West Sacramento (530) 376-8915
  • Woodland Senior Center (530) 661-5890

Check out the following websites:
  • www.medicare.gov
  • www.opa.ca.gov or telephone 1-866-466-8900
Consumer Alert: A small article surrounded by a black border has appeared lately in The Davis Enterprise, entitled “Senior Citizens, Federal Government Assistance is Now Available”. When I first discovered this notice on October 24, it gave the misimpression it was a news item about a seminar put on by HUD (Housing and Urban Development, a federal agency). I checked out the telephone number given, and received a recorded message. All I heard was communication from a company trying to market reverse mortgages (an important topic I will discuss in an upcoming column). The next time I spied the “news item” in The Davis Enterprise, it was marked at the top in fine print as a “Paid Advertisement”. It ran for four or five times in total over a one month period, then seemed to disappear. Be alert that this is nothing but a commercial ad.

Comment to the comments: There was an interesting discussion in the readers’ section after my last monthly article on transportation for the elderly. I want to thank everyone who contributed for their kind words in appreciation of my having spoken out when our Davis Senior Citizens Commission was under fire. The commission was slated for elimination as we knew it around the first of the year 2007 by the Subcommittee on Commissions (Asmundson and Souza). I think the disingenuous words used at the time were “merger”; “subcommittee of three members”; “evolving process”, among others.

It is my opinion our Davis Senior Citizens Commission survived because the elderly, a pretty sizeable and feisty group, spoke out and refused to be marginalized. It seems as if the politicians and campaign supporters have recognized this fact. The latest ploy by developers is to suggest the need for more senior housing - as a way of establishing a toehold to begin projects previously resisted. As a commissioner, I have been bombarded with requests to join focus groups or contacted via letter by other developers about their latest proposal for senior housing.

My concern here is that government process is being usurped. End runs are being made around the General Planning Commission, City Staff, or the City Council - in the name of “a desperate need for more senior housing”. While I am not necessarily opposed to the idea of more lodging for the elderly, it needs to be carefully planned and appropriate for our area. Several of my readers suggested the same thing (including our Mayor of Davis).

Eleanor Roosevelt Circle (ERC) is a perfect example of questionable planning for senior accommodations. While ERC should eventually be an excellent facility in time, the concept of mixed income housing within the same complex was a flawed conception from the start. And it was not what was originally intended. As I understand it, the initial proposal was for affordable middle income housing for older adults. The analysis, forecasting how many seniors would flock to the eventual mixed income facility, was seriously flawed.

The result was a high vacancy rate, which had to be addressed by the city, which decided to make ERC open to outsiders with low incomes. Otherwise the city would have spent a good deal of its housing funds for naught. This brought in indigents from all over - placing further burdens on our cash-strapped city. The egregiousness of this situation is particularly poignant because Eleanor Roosevelt represents an innovative model for disabled seniors in particular. This is because it has an on-site social worker, who is especially useful for seniors with mental/physical handicaps that require some supervision below the level of an assisted living facility.

Elaine Roberts Musser is an attorney who concentrates her efforts on elder law and aging issues, especially in regard to consumer affairs. If you have a comment or particular question or topic you would like to see addressed in this column, express your concern at the end of this column in the comment section.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Civility" in Davis Politics

Last summer, the city of Davis paid some amount of money for Transactional Effectiveness Sessions with a professional facilitator. There are all sorts of problems with the idea to do this in the first place, I do not even know where to start.

A few of the recommendations were implemented including a pilot program to change some of the rules that pertain to the operation of meetings. However, for the most part there has not been a huge change in the way in which meetings are run or even the overall level of civility.

Watching the workshops, it did not take long to see why the approach was bound to fail--there was a lack of introspection among the councilmembers with perhaps the exception of the one councilmember least culpable in the infighting. Councilmembers were willing to take others to task but rarely willing to look at their own actions and admit their part in the problems with the way meetings are run. As we know, unless people are willing to look at their own actions and attempt to change their own actions, rarely if ever will real change occur.

But at the end of the day, as we are still on this topic, I begin to wonder if this is something that we ought to really be that concerned about. Local politics is often contentious. Politics in general is in fact contentious. People claim to hate partisanship as it pertains to Washington or Sacramento, but then again they keep electing the same people over and over again--thus rewarding partisan tactics.

I wonder if civility is in fact even that good for the polity. Looking back at the school board, there were divisive issues on the school board over the past two years, but for the most part the members of the board treated each other with respect and disagreements rarely turned acrimonious. Even at points of most tension like the closing of Valley Oak and the September meeting involving the truancy issue, the discourse was reserved and respectful. The school board race itself was largely unremarkable even with a small scandal mixed in. The result, a neat clean election with only 30 percent turnout.

City council races are built on issues that will make the blood boil. The issue of growth is pardoning the pun, explosive. People will come out until three in the morning on hot issues like the building of a new Target store in Davis. Passions will fly. Fights will erupt.

In the ideal world our councilmembers could debate the tough issues and then go get Martinis afterwards. However in the real world, issues are passionate and the bars close at 1 am. Do we really want to take that passion and energy away from the council and make them stale like the school board?

The biggest disappointment this year were survey results that showed how few people watched the City Council on television let alone come down to council chambers. Democracy able to come into people's homes. Issues vital to the community live on our screen. Is it that incivility coming back to bite us yet again? Would people watch their city council if only for the venom and backbiting they watch on the tube that just turns their stomach and forces them to go play a game of soccer, ride their bikes, or watch God forbid, commercial television?

Unfortunately, you see none of that venom at school board meetings. Their meetings are also on TV. And yet, if they did a survey, I would wager that their Nielsen ratings would be through the floor.

Everyone claims to want civility in this society but their actions tell us a different story. They watch the blood and the carnage and turn the station when things get too nice.

Civility sells well in a campaign package, but it isn't what we really want. We want good old bare knuckle, backroom, brawls. We want screaming in the bathroom at 2 am. We want people to show that they care about the issues that we care about. That they are passionate about it. That these issues mean something. And anything short of that is simply unacceptable. These are the issues that shape our community and we want our leaders to respect those issues and fall on the sword for them if they must. Our democracy demands no less.

After all this is the People's Republic of Davis and we are the second most educated city in America. We have standards to maintain and a reputation to uphold. Let us not pretend to be something that we are not.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Davis Takes Aim at "Low-Hanging Fruit"

According to last night's Davis Enterprise:
"The city of Davis is working on a comprehensive plan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, operating under the theory that changes at every level of government will make a difference."
Claire St. John, who covers the city council for Enterprise writes:
"In the meantime, the City Council is approving small, easy steps to show its commitment to the cause."
What new measures is the city taking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions:
"On Tuesday, the council will consider programs to lend commuter bikes to city employees, replace aging city fleet vehicles with hybrid models and fund staff training, keeping the city up to date on emerging trends and technology about climate change and sustainability.

If the council approves, staff members also will begin exploring ways to encourage contractors to use alternative fuels.

Easy measures — such as providing recycling bins for employees, conducting an energy audit offered by PG&E and purchasing recycled paper — also are on the agenda."
The staff report admits that these "are not likely to result in major GHG [that's greenhouse gas for the layman] emission reductions," however more importantly, "they do show the city's commitment to addressing climate change."

St. John continues:
"City staff calls the measures being implemented "low-hanging fruit." But they will set the stage for a larger effort, staff members say."
What are these larger efforts:
"A greenhouse gas emissions inventory, which will identify major emissions sources in Davis, is under way. Expected to be completed in January, it will be used to target and address the city's emissions.

In mid-October, the council approved the formation of a Climate Action Team [CAT] and a Technical Advisory Committee [TAC] and recruitment is under way. The council also approved an ordinance that restricts city sales or purchases of disposable bottles of water, with the intention of relying on tap water and reusable water containers.

Earlier, the city approved a construction and demolition recycling ordinance that requires a 50 percent diversion rate for all projects.

City representatives say they hope that once the Climate Action Team and Technical Advisory Committee are formed early next year, more extensive reduction measures will be studied and implemented."
After the CAT discovers that combustion engines are the largest source of GHG emissions and that disposable bottles sold at city events are not, we will be all set to make major changes on the climate front.

On the other hand, did I recently mention what Berkeley is doing?

Berkeley's city council voted for the city to finance the cost of solar panels for property owners who agree to repayment over a 20 year period.

Berkeley is taking tough and innovative new steps at climate change while Davis is aiming for symbolic low hanging fruit.

Why has it taken until 2007 for the city of Davis to use recycled paper, have recycling bins, and look at trends on climate change and sustainability? Rather than leading the way, Davis is simply following trends set by more innovative and climate conscious municipalities.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, November 12, 2007

Former Assemblyman Richman's Attack on Public Employee Pensions

Former Republican Assemblyman Keith Richman is at it again. Richman is on the attack and attempting to cut the pensions of public employees who serve our communities and our state.

The Richman Initiative will cost firefighters, teachers, police officers and state workers millions to defeat. Political observers say that Richman and his supporters are well on their way to collecting the 694,354 signatures needed, by Jan. 10, 2008, to qualify the initiative for the June 2008 ballot.

The Public Employee Benefits Reform Act which many refer to, as the Richman Initiative, calls for dramatic reductions in pensions for all new employees and would cut health benefits for those who cannot work until age 65, punishing those who get sick or are injured before they retire. The initiative also calls for increasing the retirement age and lowering benefits for new state and local government employees hired after July 1, 2009.

For example, an employee who works 30 years and retires at age 60 would face a $10,000 reduction in annual pension, while getting no health benefits.

Having learned from his previous attempts to slash public employee pensions Richman is this time proposing that his initiative would only apply to state and local government workers hired after July 1, 2009. This forces public employees into a divisive two-tiered system, and would make it even more challenging to recruit state employees, firefighters, police officers, and teachers.

Let’s look for a moment at the people who serve the public.

The vast majority of state workers for example, make a lower middle-class to middle-class income. Contrary to popular belief they do not make a lot of money compared to the private sector. Most public employees understand that they could make significantly more money if they worked in the private sector; however, since many grew up believing in the concept of serving the community through public service they have opted to work in state government, or as a teacher, firefighter, or police officer. They understand that they will have a decent retirement, not a lavish one, when they retire, because they pay into their retirement system every month.

We all know that teachers deserve more pay than what they earn. I was quite surprised to learn from my mother-in-law, and sisters-in-law that they have to purchase supplies for school, since their schools do not provide all of the supplies needed for children. I realize I’m aging myself, but I don’t recall Ms. Chamberlin or Mr. Sousa having to purchase their supplies when I attended elementary school. This, on top of the long hours that they put in, for the love of children and learning…teachers do not need to be put in a position to defend their retirement. At a time California and the nation are facing a critical teacher shortage teachers should not have to fight to protect their retirement.

Then we have firefighters and police officers who put their lives on the line day in and day out. You mean to tell me that if they suffer a burn, or a critical injury that they are then going to be punished for having to take an early retirement?

Why should we punish the very people who do the hard work of serving our communities and our state?

According to the Sacramento Bee, Governor Schwarzenegger and the leaders of the Legislature appointed a bi-partisan commission early this year to study benefits and to propose long-term funding mechanisms for CalPERS. It would seem fiscally responsible for Richman to at least allow the bi-partisan commission to develop and propose solutions before subjecting public employees to yet another multimillion-dollar, divisive initiative campaign that’s going to require public employees to protect their retirement.

The Sacramento Bee further reported that the "crisis" [of CalPERS] is wildly overblown. New federal accounting standards simply require that anticipated retirement obligations be calculated and reported. California does not owe a nickel more for employee health care benefits today than it did before the accounting standards were adopted.

California’s Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) is, in fact, quite healthy thanks to a record of double-digit growth in investment gains. In the past 12 months, CalPERS’ investment portfolio grew by more than 19 percent, the highest in nine years, and double the assumed rate. Many pension plans will be 100 percent funded. For decades about 75 percent of the cost of benefits has been funded by return on investments – public agencies and employees pay the rest.

The Bee quoted State Controller John Chiang as saying that, "it was not a crisis 30 years ago, it was not a crisis yesterday and it is not a crisis today…and if we work toward a plan to pay this obligation in a reasoned manner it will not be a crisis 30 years from now."

The Vanguard asks, why the attack on public employees? Why the attack when Richman is receiving his CA State Assembly Retirement? I’ve attempted to find out what his retirement will look like, but still haven’t found out what members of the Assembly receive for their retirement.

---Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald sitting in for Doug Paul Davis

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Commentary: Elections, Messages and Commitment

The tragedy in Tuesday's election did not come from Davis, but rather West Sacramento. Measure S would have brought in $59 million in desperately needed bond money for a district that is struggling to survive.

The Measure received a bare majority at 50.4 percent of the vote but needed 55% for it to pass.

I am consistently troubled by the power that a minority of voters are given to block the will of majority.

One person quoted in the Sacramento Bee delivered the "we have sent a message" line:
"The residents of West Sacramento have sent the school board a message: You must be accountable to the people first and for the money that has already been given to you in the three prior bonds before asking for more."
Actually the majority of the citizens in West Sacramento who voted said the opposite, it was a minority that was able to block it.

This got me thinking to the city of Davis' generosity and commitment to education. Davis approved not one but two tax bills by very wide margins, garnering over 73 percent of the vote and failing even to generate organized opposition.

On the surface you would look and say that Davis has a very strong commitment to education. In fact, if you look at the comments from officials in charge of these measures, they said as much.

But I look at this a little differently.

Does Davis really have a commitment to education? By two measures there is a clear commitment. First, the shear magnitude of the vote. And second, the fact that there was no organized opposition.

However, a third measure has troubled me really since Election Day and before. The low voter turnout. The low voter interest in this race. The fact that other than the "scandal" involving envelopes, most articles on education on this blog drew relatively little interest.

Let's put this another way--if Davis was so committed to education--why would 70% of the eligible voters stay home from the polls? As many pointed out, this is normal, as though that exonerates the low interest. All that tells me is that Davis never has great interest in school issues. Whereas a city council election will draw 67 to 100 percent higher voter turnout.

I am sorry but a city where 70 percent of the electorate stays home during school board elections, does not demonstrate commitment to education. Other communities rally against taxes and Davis does not do that. That again does not prove a commitment to education. Instead I see apathy. It's not that Davis voters are against education--we see that and we get that. It's that Davis voters are not interested in what is going on at the school board. It is apathy.

To me apathy is a very dangerous thing because it leads to complacency and eventually it leads to a deterioration in governance of the board. Given the level of disinterest and apathy, Davis is lucky to have strong and well-funded schools. But taking that for granted is dangerous and will eventually catch up to us.

As I have said previously, I am very glad that the parcel taxes passed, but let us not take that to mean a commitment to education.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting