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

Friday, April 25, 2008

Davis Democratic Club Hosts Candidates Forum for Assembly and City Council

Last night the Davis Democratic Club had candidate’s forums for the Democratic Candidates in a variety of offices. The Vanguard is reporting on the forums for both the State Assembly as well as city council. In the County Supervisor Race, the Club has already endorsed Jim Provenza in a vote earlier this month over his Democratic opponent John Ferrera. Obviously Cathy Kennedy was not interviewed nor was she present for this debate. They gave statements but were not asked questions as the club had already made its endorsement. On the city council side, once again Rob Roy was not in attendance for this debate. Don Saylor missed the first twenty minutes or so with a prior engagement, Alan Fernandez sat in for him the first two questions plus the opening statement.

The State Assembly went first because Mayor Cabaldon had to leave for another event. Mr. Cabaldon went first with his opening statement. “California and our district in particularly is in a state of crisis, whether it is schools closing and teachers being laid off, the fisheries in the delta collapsing as we are diverting more and more water to southern California, climate change threatening agriculture, water, our quality of life, as well as the planet, the budget of California in the worst shape it has ever been in threatening essential public services, law enforcement, environmental protection, all of our core values are at risk statewide and we are feeling it just as bad here as anywhere else in California. I’m running because I think we can take those challenges on and do something about it.” Then he talked about West Sacramento and the transformation he led in that community.

County Supervisor Mariko Yamada cited her membership of the Davis Democratic Club since 1995 or 1996. “We need to make changes and have courage and convictions as we tap the very tough problems that are facing us.” We need to work together, collaborate, and prioritize to solve these problems. She has been spending a lot of time in Solano County walking precincts, she has now walked over 3400 households and a third of people have been home. For many of those people, she was the first candidate who showed up at their door in a long time. “People who are supporting me include a number of elected officials as well, these are the endorsements that we got in the recent weeks. I am most proud of the the California Nurses Association who were among the earliest to endorse, they are supporting my candidacy because of my commitment to the pursuit of single payer universal health care. That will be a core issue if I’m privileged to serve. The California Teachers Association has endorsed us, the California Professional Firefighters, Yolo County Deputy Sheriffs, California Labor Federation, California State Council SEIU, and many others. These are the kind of working people that I hope to represent.”

The first question addressed the need for water conservation. Christopher Cabaldon talked about the consequences of creating additional damns from an environmental and economic standpoint. “One of the most startlingly statistics is that with all the growth that has occurred in Southern California, the population expansion that has happened in Los Angeles County, is that the population has gone up by nearly 35%, but water consumption has gone up by virtually nothing because of effective conservation programs.” He is looking to replicate that on a statewide basis. He is also concerned with water quality and avoiding dumping pollutants into the water supply.

Mariko Yamada cited the 3-2 vote by the Board of Supervisors to establish a county-wide water agency and the protection of Conway Ranch. She says that one of the advantages we have is that we are in the north, and the “sucking sound” is in the south. She wants to “make sure everyone in the state understands that this is a finite resource.” She is looking to take a balanced approach, she wants to study the core problem and listen to all sides. That means that she will not eliminate any options from the table. “We need to have enough water to farm, fish, and flush, and maybe put out fires.”

Next question addressed the issue of the budget and whether we should be able to pass the state budget by a majority vote. Mariko Yamada went first, “This question did come up last year in June in Fairfield. I think the question that came up at that time was would I support a simple majority budget, that’s not the question that I will take up at this time… I said at that time… as I said on Monday in Vacaville… that I would not support a simple majority budget. The reason for this is that only works when Democrats are in power, and we may think that the Republicans will never be in power, but in 1994 they did.” She wants to protect our programs if that happens. She wants it to be a 55 to 60 percent vote.

Christopher Cabaldon: “I support a simple majority vote for the budget. It takes a majority vote to repeal a tax, it takes a majority vote to get rid of the vehicle license fee, it took a majority vote to do almost all of the horrible things that have been done in California to put us in this situation.” The current situation “allows everyone to skirt responsibility, no one has responsibility when we don’t have a majority vote.” He then goes on to talk about how the two-thirds impact has affected the system. This system has given Republicans power despite losing the election.

The next question is what have you done or will do to ensure that labor unions can organize to vote inside of chain stores. Christopher Cabaldon went first, “What California law needs to provide for card checks for all sorts of labor organizing. Big box stores are certainly part of it, but they are not the only employers that have resisted labor organizing. Large employers of all kinds and small employers of all kinds [have often engaged in it]. And it’s the requirement that you go in and engage in an election where an employer often is using all of their resources against you as a union to be able to organize that really stops more effective worker voices to be heard in California… The number one priority in the labor union is to get card check neutrality, so that workers just like voters can fill out a card and say yes, I want to union x or union y. Those get tabulated up and employers are not allowed to use their resources to campaign against, they can only provide information. That is an effective way to ensure true voice and true power.”

Mariko Yamada cited her support for the labor community and card check neutrality. She added to big box retailers, there is also the realm of Indian Gaming as an area for union expansion. She talked about the Wintun Band of Indians who is the first union in the state to agree to working with unions. Finally, she cited the fact that some organizations are non-union but still good to work for. One size does not always fit all in her view.

I now move on to the City Council debate. I am going to do this a little differently since yesterday we covered the College Democrat debate, and obviously some of the questions were similar. At times, I may just highlight some new pieces of information and I will refer back, in particular on Measure J, to the College Democrat Debate.

In the opening statement Sydney Vergis went first and cited her experience and enthusiasm. “The reason I am running for the Davis City Council is that I want to see Davis on the forefront of good environmental sustainable policies that allow us to save tax payer dollars and contribute to a cleaner environment.” She then went on to say, “So what I’m offering this community is my experience as a land use planner, my experience in land use planning, and my personal passion for sustainability.”

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald (my wife for those who do not know this already) went next. She cited her 18 years in this community and her service on a variety of party and community bodies. “The reason I am running for city council is that we need some direction and vision on council. We are at a very important stage where the next 10 to 20 years is really going to be very important. How we see our city grow—do we want to expand beyond the borders, do we want to remain a compact city, do we want to bring more green collar jobs to this city, what kind of relationship do we want with the university, we are a university town?”

Alan Fernandez spoke on Don Saylor’s behalf. Mr. Fernandez cited a list of accomplishments that Don Saylor is proud of, “as part of council, he has been able to do that while maintaining a balanced budget and maintaining a 15 percent reserve.”

Stephen Souza also talked about his background and Democratic Party credentials. He talked about his accomplishments while on the council. One of those accomplishments was “we balanced for four years in a row the budget, unprecedented also in these times and we did that with a 15 percent reserve or more.” He also mentioned, “we implemented the fairest and toughest affordable housing ordinance in the nation.”

Sue Greenwald cited her accomplishments, “I have been consistently for a progressive wage structure. We are seeing a situation where our management and our highest paid employees are taking more and more of their share. We need to have a sustainable and fair wage structure. The way we are going we are going to have a two-tiered hiring system.” She went on to say, “I would like to say that our budget is not balanced, we have a $1.5 million all funds deficit. We have $6 million in unmet needs which many cities would call a deficit, over $2 million in just roadways alone. We have a lot of challenges in front of us in terms of the deficit; our sales tax won’t scratch the surface. The difference between Vacaville and Davis in per household sales tax is only $100.”

The first question dealt with the employee benefits granted to police and firefighters. Cecilia went first. “I think that the benefits given the firefighters are very generous and I do not think there needs to be much done to improve it.” She talked about wanting to be sure that we have good public safety and that we give them the tools necessary to protect us. “We’ve become accustomed to having very good services, we want to make sure we give them that, but we also need to see that we have the budget to do so, we don’t. A lot of people don’t feel that we need a fourth fire station.” She then went on to talk about the low percentage of actual fire calls as opposed to medical calls and proposed perhaps looking into a system that puts more reliance on EMAs rather than firefighters as responders to medical calls.

Alan Fernandez speaking for Don Saylor talked about the need to have excellent city services. Public safety is one of Don Saylor’s priorities. “He does agree that the benefits that are currently provided are appropriate for the work that they do in this community.”

Stephen Souza suggested that we have some of the safest streets in the nation. He said that medical services are provided with a contract with the county and we cannot change those without renegotiating the contract. “Benefits to police and fire are necessary, on average they live less than most of our city employees.” He then discussed the need to take care of medical and retirement benefits. He suggested that other cities have far greater problems economically than we do, other cities are declaring bankruptcy. “We need to look at probably a two-tiered system.”

Sue Greenwald went next and refuted some of what Souza had to say. “First off the only reputable study done on longevity of firemen was done by Hamburg… The study came back… and said that firemen actually live a little longer than others because they’re health—obviously they are pre-selected because of their health. So I don’t think that’s a really good reason for early retirement benefits. I support early retirement, the question is the level of total compensation.” Overall she believes that benefits are too high and will bankrupt the city, she said she is willing to take leadership on this issue and willing to pay the consequences for doing so.

Sydney Vergis: “If you look at the base numbers, in terms of the general fund, Vacaville which is going to bankruptcy utilized about 80 percent of their general fund to pay for public safety services, the city of Davis uses about 50 to 60 percent, which is the average range for cities to utilize and pay for public safety.” We need to look across all departments and look towards the allocation of our funding more efficiency.

The next question was on West Village and how it affects growth in the city of Davis. Alan Fernandez punted on this question.

Stephen Souza: “The university’s West Village expansion is proposed to anticipate the expansion of the university. The university is the driving force for the demand in this community for both housing for students… 8000 students live out of town because they can’t afford to live here or they choose to live elsewhere… 3000 beds are anticipated to be in West Village and 500 units of housing for staff and faculty.” He suggests that this will only deal with a small percentage of the growth in this community that is generated by the university.

Sue Greenwald: “I am in favor of annexation regardless of whether we grow fast or we grow slowly.” She sees this as separate from the question of how much we grow. She does not favor a numbers-based approach to growth. She would favor more growth for projects that we want to see and are worth doing. “I try to take a project by project approach to growth.”

Sydney Vergis: “This question is really about whether this will take the pressure off of Davis to grow more. And the answer I believe is that we currently have a one-percent vacancy rate, we have 18,000 UC Davis students commuting in and out of Davis, we lack a range of housing within the city… Will West Village be part of the solution? I think so. Are we still going to have to plan for long term, 20 years down the line, what we are going to look like? I think we are still going to have to do that.”

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald: “I am in favor of annexing West Village, I think people who live there should be able to vote in the city.” She went on to say, “Out of all the UCs, UC Davis is the university that has the least amount of on campus housing for students. It would be great to have a better working relationship with the university, so that they would develop more on campus housing for students. That would free up a lot of the housing the city of Davis, so they could be owner-occupied, that way it would free it up for individuals or for families.”

The next question was on renewing Measure J. Because this was asked and answered, I will summarize the views for everyone but Sydney Vergis who did not respond to the question at the previous forum. Stephen Souza supported renewing Measure J as is. So did Sue Greenwald. Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald supports renewing it as it is and making it permanent. Don Saylor said he was supportive of Measure J, but felt that we needed to examine whether to amend it.

Sydney Vergis said, “I’m supportive of Measure J.” She suggested that as currently written this document is not a transparent document, “it’s incredibly complex, it’s lengthy, we see central valley cities pass their own versions of measure J that are two pages.” She went on to say, “I think that planning by popular vote in a lot of communities does not work, it’s called planning by ballot box. There’s been a lot of literature published about why it doesn’t work. In this particular community, I believe it does work, this is an informed citizenry, it is an impassioned citizenry, and I think here it is a very important part of our landscape.

The next question asked about the definition of affordable housing in Davis and the concrete proposals that they would offer.

Sue Greenwald: Examined the data on the number of permits and compared it to the price of housing in Davis. “There’s no correlation between how much we build and the affordability of housing. The demand is too elastic. We have to build so much to bring those prices down because we have so many people moving in from all over for the high quality of schools and the quality of life. That makes this a tough nut to crack, I don’t think we can grow out of this.”

Sydney Vergis: “We need to be thinking more in terms of what kind of range of housing and where we want to put it in Davis… I want to live in a community where grandparents can come and visit their grandkids and walk up the street and see them and baby sit, that’s the kind of community I want to live in.” But, “I think we need to have a discussion about what our no-growth policies have done to the housing in Davis and what we want to look like twenty years from now.”

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald: Thinks of affordable housing as housing that serves the middle income people—workforce housing. “There’s a tendency to want to develop our way to affordability… It’s dangerous to think in those terms because it leads to not-so-good changes in our town. Think about what you love about Davis, it’s the character of our town, it’s a wonderful college town, it’s a safe town where you can walk, you can bike, where you can spend time with your kids in the wonderful parks. We don’t want that to change those characteristics, we want more affordable homes, but we don’t want to jeopardize our quality of life.”

Don Saylor talked about the affordable housing program that has a 25 percent requirement for low income and another 20 to 25 percent for moderate income people. He talked about the canaries in the coal mine with regards to warning signs about the lack of growth and housing in Davis. “We have to get to the point where we are beyond the discussion of whether to grow or not to grow. We have to get to the discussion of how we can preserve that quality of life that Cecilia is describing very well, and others have mentioned as well. Some growth will be necessary for us to accommodate the future and the community that we love.”

Stephen Souza talks about the affordable housing ordinance—which provides for those in the 80 to 120 percent of median income and costs $177,000 to $464,000. “The problem is if you don’t build anything about 25 units you don’t get that full 45%, you get a smaller percentage based on the number of units that you build. So we get very few units in projects that are only about 25 units.” He added “our problem in our community is that we are a great community, we have great neighborhoods, we have great schools, so there is a premium that is added on top of the price of building a house anyplace else would be.”

The final question was whether they would support Republican candidates against a Democratic candidates for elected office.

Sydney Vergis: “I tend to vote for Democrats because I am a Democrat, because there’s a common bond that we all share. I think this is kind of a silly question… when I vote I don’t just look at party lines but find that most of the candidates I support are Democrats.”

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald: “The reason I am a Democrat is because of our principles… But it is the Democratic Party that stands up when people are being treated unjustly, when people are treated unfairly whether it is the housing market, whether its jobs, whether its social justice, civil rights, if it’s women’s rights, equality amongst all, a women’s rights to choose, Democrats are there. And there hasn’t been a time that I can remember when I voted for a Republican over a Democrat.”

Don Saylor: “One fairly prominent instance, no so long ago, there were two people running for the District Attorney’s office, one is a Democrat, one’s a Republican. The person who’s a Democrat called and left a phone message on my machine and said I’m the Democrat, you should support me… I remembered that this same person had actually been at the farmer’s market advocating against the reform to the three strikes law, the three strikes measure that was on an initiative not so very long before that. So that was a question to me, because as a Democrat, I’m opposed to that kind of broad swipe legislatively controlled sentencing structure, so I wanted to here from that candidate what her views were about this, and I talked to the other candidate as well. Their views on that measure were very very similar. Now many people in this room, perhaps even all of you, supported the Democratic candidate in that race. I talked to both of the candidates at length and with the background that I was looking for, the qualifications of the person, I ended up supporting the Republican in that race. I may do that again.”

Stephen Souza: “As a Democrat, I would consider voting for an independent.” Souza suggested that if Joe Lieberman ran for office, he might support someone against him.

That pretty much wrapped up the Davis Democratic Club’s city council forum. Next week, there will be additional forums and the Vanguard will be there to cover them as well.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting