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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Eve: Woodburning, Child Abandoning, and a Legislative Surprise

Well Vanguardians, it is that time of year, Thanksgiving. As we have done the previous two years, for the only time during this year, the Vanguard will take a vacation. Today will be the last new entry, barring the biggest story of the year, until Monday morning. Everyone have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.

There are three briefer stories that will be covered in this article


On Monday, the Natural Resources Commission drafted an ordinance on wood-burning stoves. It was not a complete ban that the city is moving towards. However, it would implement no-burn days when atmospheric conditions and the winds are insufficient to disperse the smoke. Even on those days when would could be burned, it would be limited to six hours per day.

The effects would take place on March 1, 2010. The city would study Davis' air quality to determine the impact of no-burn days and the impact a more stringent ban would take place.

The council will take up this issue on December 16, 2008.

I fully understand the reasoning of waiting on restrictions. I also understand why they did not want to undertake an outright ban. That said, I do not think a March 1 start date makes any sense. Why wait until the end of winter to start the ban? What practical sense does that make? What value is that for conducting a study. It essentially means that we are waiting for the 2010-11 winter to get real data on the impact. That is fine, but if that is the case, why not begin the ban on September 1, 2010?

Second point, and maybe someone knows who attended the meeting, but did they put an exemption in for lower income people? Especially if you are not banning wood burning, it makes sense to exempt low income people who use the fireplace as their primary means for heat.

At some point this is going to become like a smoking ban, incrementally it will get tougher and tougher and people realize exposure to even small amounts of particulate matter in the air is unhealthy, particularly for a broad range of sensitive people. (A number that likely exceeds the number of people who burn wood on a regular basis).


Good article in the Sacramento Bee this morning describing the incident and the conditions that led a Davis woman to leave her 14 year old son in a hospital in rural Nebraska.

I suppose not yet being a parent myself, I do not have standing to admonish this woman, since I do not know what she's been through. Taking that chance, I would offer that my first response to hearing this was this was a despicable act by an irresponsible person who should now lose custody of her other two children. Harsh? Perhaps. Let's take a look at what happened.

But on the other hand, it seems that authorities share some of the responsibility here for failing to assist her calls for help. Do we not have a system set up to help people such as her so that she does not have to take drastic steps such as drive 1600 to Nebraska. A few years ago, I did that drive, you can drive from Western Nebraska to Davis in about 18 or 19 hours of driving if you take minimal rest stops.

The Sacramento Bee article seems a bit less judgmental of her situation than I did, running through exactly what the problem was and how she tried to get help.

Fortunately, Nebraska wisely closed the loophole that was supposed to be for infants to prevent infanticide by desperate mothers who are overwhelmed by the prospect of suddenly having to care for a young baby.

As the Sacramento Bee describes, help is hard to find:
" For parents of such problem teens, there is a network of resources available through schools and mental health providers. But there are cracks in the system, and the frustrations of dealing with a patchwork of services.

When authorities declined to intervene after her son raised a knife against the family, she said, her only option was to abandon him in a state that would accept him.

Her son was the last of three dozen older children abandoned in Nebraska in recent months before the state's Legislature closed a loophole in its new safe haven law. Now, only newborns can be dropped off without legal liability there."
According to the article, start with the child's school and school psychologists. However, they warn that students who *only* have substance abuse problems may not qualify for special education.
"His mother, who works as a custodian, makes about $2,000 a month and lives in a modest house, said she was able to get him into a residential treatment program in Sonoma. He seemed to be improving, she said.

But then he started acting out and getting into trouble. It was the same behavior – defiance and aggression, drugs, drinking and smoking – that had caused such trouble at home, she said."
The woman told the Bee that she adopted the son when he was four and he was aggressive toward all his family members--verbally and physically abusive.
"After the latest knife-waving incident, the woman said, she called police, who did little to help.

Police in Davis and Sacramento said such situations are handled on a case-by-case basis, with the officer assessing the nature of the threat and the likelihood of violence.

"There's no formula," said Steve Pierce, assistant chief of Davis police. He said he did not know the details of the particular case, but confirmed police had gone to the house a number of times."
She also called Yolo County Child Welfare Services, according to the Bee, they could only protect abused children, not parents.

Nebraska has sent the child back to Yolo County, now he will be placed in foster care, and a court will decide his fate.

Okay, I still blame the mother after all of this, but I can partially understand her actions. But what really seems amiss is the system. And the worst part is that our social services simply do not have the resources to help in this matter. Nor do we have the systems and protocols laid out. So what does a working class woman who makes a fairly low salary and is apparently a single-mother with other children going to do when these problems arise? She went to the system multiple times and the system failed her?

So at the end of this analysis, I still do not agree with the safe harbor strategy and dumping him on someone else, which she has essentially and completely done, he is now going into a foster care system which is equally overwhelmed and unable to attend to his needs. This is an exceedingly sad case and this boy will likely live a very tough life unless he ends up in a home that will have the resources and patience to make a difference in his life.


In an open race that featured Democrat Alyson Huber and Republican Jack Sieglock, for most of the post-election period Huber had been trailing her opponent by over 1000 votes. This was one of the very few competitive races.

While we have not discussed this race, it is race that I am familiar with and know quite a few people who spent hours working to get Alyson Huber elected to the Assembly.

Well the news came last night that based on the counting of several thousand ballots from Sacramento County, Alyson Huber has surged to a 531 vote lead. She had a net gain of over 900 votes when they completed counting Sacramento County.

There are a couple of hundred ballots outstanding in El Dorado County, and a few in Sacramento and San Joaquin Counties, but not enough to overturn the election. The counties must certify their results by December 2.

At this point barring an unexpected change it looks like Huber will win and bring the Democrats to 51 seats in the Assembly next session. It's not the two-thirds the Democrats were aiming for and not enough to forestall another budget lock-down; however, Democrats will be happy to have 51 seats in the Assembly.

The two sides could not even agree on a package of cuts and taxes to reduce the $17 billion budget deficit for the next two years. Republicans refused to budge apparently on new revenues. The Republicans argued that the plan lacked a spending cap, economic stimulus, and did not contain enough cuts.

At some point perhaps we will realize that we have enough checks and balances already in place that requiring a two-thirds vote makes it impossible to have real changes. Simple majority approval by the legislature and the governor's acceptance are all the checks and balances we really need to do something, but the current 2/3 system does not permit that.

Happy Thanksgiving all! Remember, December 2 is the Virtual Town hall Meeting. Big issues are coming up in Davis in December - that is for sure - and the Vanguard will be there to bring you the most up-to-date information and happenings in Davis. See you again on December 1st!

---David M. Greenwald reporting