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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Commentary: Signs, Signs, Everywhere Are Signs

The Davis City Council did the right thing this week when it unanimously passed the sign ordinance by emergency ordinance. This ordinance would allow renters to post political signs on their rental units. Given the perceived level of opposition during the commission hearing back in October, it is somewhat surprising that this measure turned out to be as non-controversial as it did.

Of course there is some fine print that we must take note of. For instance, because of the emergency status of the ordinance it is only a temporary ordinance. At some point in the future, the council will have to pass the ordinance on a permanent basis.

Some of the students in the audience drew concern from this believing that perhaps during the of a non-election period, when council members were not trying to appeal for student vote, there might be a change of heart.

At the time of the commission, there was expressed concern that signs would like to dispute and conflict. But those concerns never made it passed the commission level. At neither the hearings at the council did a single individual object to the ordinance.

There are three interesting features of this council meeting.

First, if the perception in this city is that student are apathetic, one should have attended this past week's council meeting. There was a large contingent of UC Davis students who waited patiently for issue to come forward. My estimate would be upwards of 20 to 30 students. This after six students showed up in December, after finals, and waited until nearly midnight for their item to come forward. This may not be an important issue to many in this town, it is to students. One must remember however, 40 percent of residents of Davis are renters, this is not merely a student issue.

Second, I would be remiss not to point out that the students dressed better than many of the councilmembers and other town residents. Many of them wearing jackets and ties. Some wearing full suits.

This just underlies the level of student activism and commitment. Their level of commitment is the highest I have seen from student groups since I have been here over the last decade plus.

Also I should point out there were two separate groups from campus involved. One of ASUCD. The other was the Davis College Democrats.

Finally as I told Tom Cross, the lone property owner who showed up, I always complain about lack of communication when it occurs against issues that I favor and groups that I work with, I would be remiss not to make the same claim when it happens to others.

Mr. Cross was concerned with the lack of awareness on the part of property owners. The lack of communication by the city to property owners. He said that he did not talk to any property owner who was against this ordinance, however, they felt excluded from the discussion.

Frankly I am not sure how that occurred. There were representatives of the property owner community at the commission meeting. Brenda Little works for Tandem Properties, one of the largest rental property owning companies in the city. In fact, she voted against the ordinance.

It is true that on December 18, 2007, the ordinance was strengthened to overrule local property owner decisions on the issue. Originally it was written weakly to provide the right to post a sign if there was no rule against it by the manager. It was obviously that that language would have little teeth and so at the December 18 meeting the ordinance was strengthened to make the right to post signs in place regardless of any rules to the contrary by property managers.

This provision apparently never got out to the property owners in the near month interceding, which of course was interrupted by the holidays. Clearly communication needs to improve for the city of Davis. There needs to be a better mechanism whereby citizens and interested persons can be made aware of coming discussions.

As Mr. Cross pointed out to me there is no longer any kind of overarching organization capable of bridging that communication gap by the property owners and managers. As a result there is no good way to get the word out a group that is often scattered and some of whom reside out of town.

I am glad that there was no opposition from the property owners and I agree that the lack of communication, as it always is, is a concern.

Overall though, I think the city did the right thing and I think people in this city need to start paying attention to students and their concerns. It looks like they will play a much larger role in city discussions than they have in the past.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, January 11, 2008

Commentary: Coming to Terms with What Went Right and What Went Wrong with Emergency Response

Tuesday Night's Davis City Council meeting came and went without much of a deep discussion of what went wrong and wrong with the city's emergency planning.

City Manager Bill Emlen spent most of his time talking about what went right. He did acknowledge problems but they were larger expressed in vague generalities and pushed off for a future meeting in order to address these problems.

The fear of course is that the longer such discussions are put off the less accountability can be held and the more this can be largely swept under the rug.

I think many people have lost sight of why the lack of coordination and communication is a concern. It is not that for most of the residents of Davis this particular event was a large concern or an extremely dangerous situation.

Rather it is concern about the next event that may be far more serious. Furthermore it is out of concern for the most vulnerable residents.

To the credit of the Davis Enterprise, this has not merely been swept under the rug as so many other problems that have occurred in our community.

While Wednesday's coverage of the council meeting was short on specifics, it did in fact lay out some of the concerns of residents.

The problem of communication is concerning. There was little info provided by PG&E on the status of power. There was also little information provided to residents from the city.

City Manager Bill Emlen said at the meeting:
"When the power is out, communications change a lot. Going through an event like this really crystallized what that means."
But it is somewhat unclear what the city manager meant by that exactly.

A warming center was established at the downtown teen center. That sounds good in theory, but this occurred on Saturday night. What was done on Friday night when it was clear even from the meager reports from PG&E that there would not be power available until at least late afternoon on Saturday?

The Enterprise ran a story on Atria Covell Gardens and their failure to have a back up generator. Of course, the law does not require a backup generator at assisted living centers. So obviously the facility that is raising rent on seniors is doing fine since they followed minimal requirements. The fact that a number of residents fell and potentially could have been seriously injured not withstanding.

The issue came up at yesterday's joint meeting between the City Council and Senior Citizens commission.

According to the law, they do not have to have back up generators as long as the common areas were with heat. One again has to wonder why the folks are paying such an exorbitant rent and two large rent increases if they facility is not planning better for emergency situations.

To me following the law is not an excuse, law represents a minimal amount of legal responsibility rather than a ceiling on the obligations of any facility--particularly one charging as much for its residents as Atria.

The city cites the lack of serious injuries as good news, and it is. But perhaps they were more lucky than good in this regard.

The key point that needs to be emphasized over and over again is that the reason people are complaining is that without complaints nothing will change. We can do things better. But we have to take responsibility for what went wrong and then fix it.

Personally I think a lot of people would have done much to attempt to help other residents if they knew where to go and how to help. But there was no planning for this. People did not know where to go to help or if that help was even needed. As a result most people assume the best thing they can do is take care of themselves and stay out of the way.

One of the issues that came up briefly yesterday and also Tuesday night is being personally prepared for an emergency. Having emergency supplies in a kit that one can utilize. The best thing the city can do is help people be ready for the next emergency so we know what to do. We may not know exactly where to go, but once we get there we can know what to expect and where to get information from.

Disappointingly, and this is not to criticize anyone, many of the services that would be helpful during an emergency--i.e. local TV, local radio, even the police--themselves had problems with their generators. That is an area of concern right there.

We all understand that PG&E was extremely busy restoring power, but someone, somewhere could have coordinated their information network so that residents had the best available information. There is nothing worse than being in the dark (literally and figuratively) about such things.

In the end, many of criticize because we expect better. It is my hope that the city will yet have the discussion and raise the tough issues at the next city council meeting but in the meantime one had to be a bit disappointed that the city manager was so eager to praise and so reluctant to talk about where we can improve next time.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Congressman Doolittle to Retire

The Associated Press reports this morning that Republican Congressman John Doolittle, who serves in the Fourth Congressional District, will retire rather than seek reelection.

Congressman Doolittle was nearly defeated in the most conservative district in California by Retired Air Force Lt. Colonel Charlie Brown.

The Congressman who has served since 1990, has come under fire for his involvement with lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

According to the AP story, Doolittle has denied wrongdoing in his ties to Abramoff, the disgraced former lobbyist whom he considered a close friend. But after the FBI raided the congressman's Virginia home in April looking for information about event-planning work that Doolittle's wife did for Abramoff, the congressman was forced to step down from the powerful Appropriations Committee.

Republican leaders have not only distanced themselves from the Congressman but have encouraged him not to run.

In the last hour, Democrat Charlie Brown has issued the following statement:
“I believe John did the right thing today for his family, for the 4th District and for America. Now is the time to unite as Americans, heal our wounds and move forward to solve the many difficult challenges we face both here in CD4, and across the country we love.”
Unfortunately for Charlie Brown and the Democrats, this move puts in peril Brown's chances for election in the heavily Republican district that extends from Roseville to the Nevada Border. A number of Republicans have already stepped forward to challenge Mr. Doolittle and without the stain of scandal, it may be difficult for Brown to make headway.

Nevertheless, Brown has created a formidable organization with money and a strong grassroots movement. His moderate views and background as a military official will serve him well in this fight.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Yolo County Democratic Central Committee Resolution Unanimously Supports UC Davis Food Service Workers

On Monday Night, the Yolo County Central Committee voted unanimously to pass a resolution in support of Sodexho Workers of UC Davis.

The resolution, drafted by Robbie Abelon, a staffer for the Christopher Cabaldon campaign, cites among other things:
"a large disparity in benefits and wages between direct university workers and contracted out workers"
Moreover it further acknowledges:
"there have been multiple complaints of disrespect, unfair treatment, and sexual harassment that workers feel have been ignored by the management."
The Yolo County Democratic Central Committee fully supports
"the working students' effort to become directly contracted university workers, receive equal pay, equal benefits, and to have the right to unionize with AFSCME Local 3299..."
The resolution will be delivered to and solicit support from all elected officials in Yolo County.

As importantly, five elected officials or candidates for office delivered strong and impassioned statements on behalf of the Sodexho Workers. These include West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon and Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada who are both running for the Democratic Nomination to the 8th Assembly District. Former Davis School Board Member Jim Provenza and John Ferrera who are candidates for the Fourth Supervisorial District. And Davis City Councilmember Lamar Heystek.

Each of these individuals have agreed to provide a statement to the Vanguard in support of the Sodexho Workers. [At the time this article ran, only two of these were received, however, as I get statements, I will post them up here].

Former Davis School Board Member Jim Provenza:
"The Sodexho workers should be entitled to the same pay and benefits as other employees who work at UC Davis. Converting Sodexho food service workers to UC Davis employees-- with full rights, pay and benefits-- is the right thing to do. Every other University of California campus has taken this important step. We urge UC Davis to do the same."
Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada:
"I have and will continue to support UCD contract Sodexho workers in their efforts to achieve full employment with the University. Low-wage earners who are also under- or uninsured frequently end-up in emergency rooms or at the County for assistance at a much higher overall systems cost. Joining in the recent unanimous vote sends a message of solidarity with the workers as well as a message of encouragement to UCD leadership to move towards doing the right thing. A resolution of this matter should also be viewed in the larger context of the need for a universal, single-payer healthcare system for all Californians."
John Ferrera, candidate for Yolo County Supervisor:
I have spoken in the past of my support of the University food service employees effort for reasonable compensation and working conditions and continue to support them. I believe that we need to protect these employees. Many of these people are students whose fees have been doubled by the University of California over the past five years. To say that these people who provide food to the University population in Davis should be the only food service workers in the UC system who are not afforded fairwage, benefit and job protections as others is simply wrong.

I am pleased that this week the Democratic Central Committee took a principled stand on this issue of fairness for UC Davis workers.
One of the points that Mayor Christopher Cabaldon made on Monday was that the City of West Sacramento outsources work. For instance, they contract out building permit approvals. He said they do that because there is a huge variance in the numbers year to year. Some years it might be a few hundred and others it might be several thousand. It makes no sense to hire and fire people because of this variance. However, that rationale does not exist with food service at the university. The demand for food does not widely vary year-to-year. The only rationale for outsourcing those contracts is cost savings to the university. Basically this is saving money at the expense of those employees who make the least money and are the most vulnerable to begin with.

Meanwhile yesterday a group of concerned citizens went to Sacramento to lobby four legislators on behalf of the Sodexho Workers. These legislators included Senator Mike Machado, Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, Assemblyman Dave Jones, and Senator Darrell Steinberg.

They delivered a letter to those legislators which read:
"We support the UC Davis food service workers in their request to become employees of the university. Until UC Davis is a responsible member of our community and directly employs contracted out workers, we do not support UC Davis receiving our public funds.

We are pleased that UC Davis is recognizing the disparity that exists for contracted out food service workers on campus. However, UC Davis is the only remaining campus within the UC system that still outsources food services.

We have listened to personal stories of the lack of worker access to affordable health care and to their lack of retirement benefits. Despite recent improvements, workers and their families continue to suffer because of disrespectful treatment, reduced hours, no pension, no rights or protection on the job, no job security, and unequal wages."
In conclusion their asked the following:
"We ask our elected officials to help us end this policy of discrimination by withholding public funds until UC Davis is in parity with the rest of the UC System."
The letter was signed by nearly 70 individuals representing a broad cross section of groups in Davis. These groups include: St. James Catholic Church, Unitarian Universalist Church, Davis Community Church, Friends (Quakers), CA Christian Association, UCD Professors both active and retired, Davis Peace Coalition, STEAC (Short Term Emergency Aids), Dos Pinos Co-OP, ACLU, Right to the Life, Saint Vincent de Paul.

The lobbying effort focused on an education campaign that aimed at describing the situation with Sodexho specifically the wage and benefit inequality but also the treatment of workers. Most paramount were actual Sodexho Workers who described in stark detail, often in Spanish, their disparate and unacceptable treatment.

The most interesting aspect of the lobbying effort is that it was done not by hired professionals but by regular citizens. In fact, the people I spoke with, Guy Turner who leads Gospel Justice and his wife Akumi Turner, along with Katie Brown a member of that group, had never lobbied before. It was a learning experience for them. They got to see the legislative process in action.

They fear that the Chancellor is now locked into his position and are attacking to bring to bear both public pressure and legislative pressure in order to put the food service workers at UC Davis on par with their counterparts at the other UC Campuses across the state.

For many this is a source of grave concern and deep embarrassment that a community like Davis has allowed this kind of treatment of Sodexho Workers to persist.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Davis City Council Unanimously Passes Resolution Against Air Attacks on Iran

Last night, the Davis City Council unanimously approved a resolution opposing air attacks on Iran.

Key provisions of that resolution include:
"The commitment of the nation's resources to any type of military action in Iran will impede our ability to address local domestic issues and needs such as education, health care, transportation, housing, human services, environmental protection, water supply, flood control, emergency services and all other necessary purposes of our shared public governance...

Any expenditure of our nation's military might is made and felt most strongly by the men and women in uniform and their families. These individuals live in communities across the nation just like Davis, but no evidence has been shown and no straight line of clear and meaningful justification has been presented to the public that warrants putting in danger the lives and limbs of the children of Davis in any type of military action in Iran."
In stark contrast to such previous resolutions, there was little public comment either way and no opposition.

Mayor Sue Greenwald who has supported a number of these initiatives, at times being the only voice, stated:
"I’m so happy that we’re united in this action on the council tonight, I think to my knowledge as I was paying attention at the time, I was the only elected to come out against the war in Iraq, there was a lot of anger directed at me for that… I felt very attacked at the time, now I feel there is a lot of support. It’s a lot easier now and I think that’s a good thing. It shows where the nation is. I do like to remind people what I told them at the time when I had to defend my position and when people said that city council people should be focused on potholes and not on foreign policy, that there is a long tradition in the United States of city councils and town councils passing resolutions against war."
Councilmember Lamar Heystek urged a unanimous vote against such actions by the US Government:
"I too stand in support of this resolution, it takes city councils to be able to make statements on issues of national and international importance. One issue that comes to mind is the issue of climate change. It has been because of inaction of various Bush administrations of the present and the past that we have not seen meaningful action on climate change. It has taken mayors and city councils across this country to be able to act on this issue of not only local, not only state, but national and global importance. So I don’t take my role lightly as a member of this council on such issues. This issue is a city issue, for every billion or every trillion dollars that goes abroad to fight misguided wars, that is making it tougher for local and state governments to be able to serve its people to the best of their ability. And I as a council member will not stand and allow our federal government to make it more difficult for us as elected officials of this city to be able to serve you more effectively, to say that our issue, our bailiwick lies strictly in potholes or roads or streets, I think that’s selling ourselves short."
Councilmember Don Saylor also came down in support, explaining his divergence from past policy choices:
"I’ve been very stingy in having my role as councilmember be to speak on issues of international policy. The primary reason for that is that’s not the reason that people elected people to serve on the council. Our city services our municipal services are more than potholes. They are water, sewer, public safety, publics and recreation. They are all of the municipal services that they provide. The time that spend in areas that we don’t have staff expertise in, is time that we sometimes are not able to spend on things that we need to on behalf of our residents. So typically I have been very stingy in voting on resolutions that address international policy.

In this case, I’m going to vote in favor of it, the reason is that you’ll see the third and fourth paragraphs of this resolution as crafted are very specifically addressing the impact of the potential action. That has been threatened on our community. And those impacts have something to do with health care, transportation, education, housing, human services, environmental protection, water supply, flood control, emergency services, and all necessary purposes of our shared governance. To devote resources in what appears to be totally frivolous military action that has been discussed at the national level would not be appropriate. It would hurt us. And the most important thing is that there is no straight line of clear and meaningful justification that warrants endangering the lives and limbs of the children of Davis.

And this is the at a time when this has not taken place. We don’t have people engaged. Now is the time for us to act in expressing our opinion not after we’re engaged, and we have much more divided opinion. Within our community, I believe that this action is consistent with the opinion of the majority of the folks in town. We don’t want to engage in this kind of a conflict. So for those reasons, I’m going to depart from the pattern that I have typically followed, but the reason is now’s the time to do this and those are the reasons."
The entire atmosphere is in marked contrast to the scene two years ago, almost to the date on January 10, 2006 when the council deliberated whether to pass a resolution for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

As the Davis Enterprise describes on January 11, 2006:
"Tuesday night's Davis City Council meeting was more emotional than most, with tears spilled, hearty applause and passionate speeches on both sides of a war-resolution debate.

Brought to the council before the winter break, two resolutions calling for an orderly but swift withdrawal of American troops from Iraq met with resistance from military families back in December.

At Tuesday's meeting, 32 people spoke in favor of such a resolution and dozens more sat in the standing-room-only Community Chambers waving "Bring Home the Troops" signs.

The resolution passed, but not without some difficulty. Councilman Ted Puntillo voted against the resolution, Councilman Don Saylor abstained and Mayor Ruth Asmundson publicly wobbled on the fence between abstention and approval before finally tipping in favor.

Prior to the vote, 42 people queued to speak, some angry and some fighting tears. "
At that time, Councilmember Saylor issued a lengthy statement where he stated that this was not in the province of a city council and he abstained from voting on the resolution.
“I believe that my personal views on this federal policy are not the most important criteria for my actions as a Davis City Councilmember elected to make policy and govern the city in the best interest of all of its residents…

Our community is not united in its views on this war. There must be room for all of us in our decision making and in our conversation. When we applaud the statements of one with large, rank, loud applause, and do not allow others that same privilege—even if we don’t belittle their words, we are still making it very difficult for them to speak up.

As a school board trustee and now a member of the city council, I’m very stingy about what state and federal matters I feel it is appropriate for me as one councilmember to address. Each of us have a different understanding, unique to ourselves about why we act and how we carry out our roles. I happen to feel that it is very appropriate to be careful in what state and federal policy matters we take forward. For the past ten years as an elected official in Davis, I’ve applied the same criteria to every state and federal issue we have considered. I do always act what direct connection there is not just to this community but to my responsibilities as an elected official, elected to serve as a city council member…

It’s not a perfect test it may seem subjective, but it has given me personally a disciplined approach to the consideration of very symbolic issues. Each of us must sort out our conscience on matters of this sort… I can’t in good conscience vote against this resolution that contains much language that I myself agree with. However, I also can’t vote in favor of the resolution that I believe should not be acted upon by this council. Sure we have the legal right to do it, I just think it’s not appropriate to do it. I don’t see a substantial or sufficient direct connection between the intention and specific language in this resolution and my responsibility as a councilmember representing our entire community to support a yes vote, and I can’t vote no. So I’m going to abstain from voting on this matter."
There was no such consternation this time by either Mayor Pro Tem Asmundson or Councilmember Saylor. There was no public opposition to the resolution either.

The unanimous vote will be personally delivered to Washington and our legislators in Washington by representatives from the Davis Teach Peace organization that is dedicated to bringing about peace and the end of the current hostilities in Iraq.

The Davis city council has issued forth a strong but inherently symbolic stance against expanding hostilities to neighboring Iran. Hopefully the direction of our nation's foreign policy changes, and we no longer need such resolutions in the future.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Second Reading of Political Sign Ordinance To Be Heard Tonight

In December, the Davis City Council unanimously voted to pass the first reading of an ordinance that would enable renters to post signs on their rental unit space.

During the course of the hearing, the Council amended the original language to strengthen the ordinance.

As originally written, the ordinance would only impact those renters whose landlords did not have a provision in their lease that would ban campaign signs. While that turns out to be most of the rental agreements, the fear was that for this election cycle, renters would be able to display signs, but new rental agreements would contain provisions that would prevent the display of signs.

City Clerk Margaret Roberts during her staff report said:
"The ordinance that's before you minimally addresses that in that it says that they [political signs] are allowable, however, currently if a lease between a landlord and a tenant prohibits political signs, or any signage in their windows, that contract would supersede our ordinance. With that said, the city attorney has prepared at my request some alternatives that would disallow landlords from forbidding them to put that in."
City Attorney Harriett Steiner suggested that nothing would preclude the city from adding a section to the ordinance dealing with non-commercial advertising signs, that would enable renters to post signs on their rental unit space.

Councilmember Don Saylor voted in favor of the first reading, however, he requested to see material for the second reading. He suggested that the new language has not been seen by people outside of the room.

Due to the urgency of passing the ordinance in time for the early February primary, both Councilmember Saylor and Souza voted to pass the ordinance, but also to hear more at the meeting tonight.

Usually a second reading would merely be a consent agenda item, however, this is a full-blown regular item on the agenda.

In response to council request, City Attorney Harriet Steiner drafted a memo on the legal aspects of a sign ordinance.

Specifically she mentioned that there is not currently case law that protects the rights of individuals to post signs on private property. On the other hand, there is no law that prevents the state (or municipal government's ability to enact laws that prevent a landlord from restricting the tenant's right to display signs).

She writes:

"While neither the state Constitution nor existing statutes explicitly protect tenant speech, the applicable cases do not appear to limit the state's ability to enact laws prohibiting landlords from restricting tenant speech. In fact, as noted above, the state has already enacted laws regulating common interest developments and private owners of mobile home parks, without any court challenge."
The open question at this time however is whether landlords, now being forewarned, will mobilize against this ordinance. Recall that there was strong opposition to this ordinance aired at the City-UCD Liaison Commission.

The issue came to the commission's attention after the ASUCD Senate passed a resolution, authored by Sen. Michael Lay, calling for an ordinance ensuring the right of Davis renters to post political signs. Several renters had complained to City and ASUCD officials that landlords were not allowing them to put up signs in support of certain candidates for public office.

Both Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sherrie Puntillo and Tandem Properties Representative, Brenda Little, aired strong dissent at that meeting. Not coincidentally both are strong political allies of the Council Majority, particularly Stephen Souza and Don Saylor who both had expressed reservation about the lack of notification on the language change at the December meeting.

Will this ordinance hit a snag at the last hour or will political pressure and expediency force it through? We shall find out the answer to this at the meeting tonight.

---Doug Pauld Davis reporting

Monday, January 07, 2008

Davis Media Access Channels Experiencing Technical Difficulty

Local Channels 15, 17 experiencing technical difficulty

Contact: Autumn Labbe-Renault,, (530) 757-2419

Davis Media Access (DMA) reports that its channel 15 on the Comcast system is still off the air following damage to a piece of equipment during the weekend storms. The DJUSD's Channel 17, which also operates out of the DMA facility, is on air with satellite programming but has also had its regular program schedule disrupted.

According to DMA staff, their facility at 1623 Fifth Street was without power for nearly two days over the weekend. The outage affected KDRT-LP 101.5 FM when backup batteries powering the transmitter failed during the extended power outage. KDRT is back on the air and now broadcasting without interruption.

DMA staff is working with Comcast representatives to get a replacement part for the damaged component and restore the station's signal.

According to Comcast, that may not be until tomorrow.

For more information, please call DMA at 757-2419.

Commentary: Davis Residents Should Demand Accountability From City Government

Humorist P.J. O'Rourke once wrote:
"The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and then get elected and prove it."
In fact, the chief problem is that people in general are complicit in the failure of government at all levels. They are willing to accept mediocrity. They fail to hold their public officials accountable and demand more from their elected leaders and their unelected civil servants.

I bring this up in part due to the response, by some, to the lack preparation and leadership from the city government during the latest emergency. And as I suggested yesterday, a low-level emergency at that.

But if we cannot properly handle a low-level emergency, how will we handle the big one?

I received a large volume of emails yesterday from residents and public officials. There were points made that I think need to be posted in public. I shall excerpt a few while protecting the identity of the guilty parties.

This one in particular gives me great pause:
"The bottom line is we all knew this was coming. Citizens made plans. Did the City? Does it have a plan? Was it executed properly? Is there a plan to review what happened and revise the plan and execution for the next emergency? This is a great opportunity to improve. I hope we don't miss it. I'd hate to see what happens to us if there were a levee break at the Yolo bypass, or a problem with the Monticello dam. (BTW, I hear there is a map at public works that shows what happens in the event of a Monticello dam failure. Davis has approximately two-four hours between the break and various levels of inundation. I'm curious to see if there is a City plan for that event.)"
If we had two hours to get people out of the city, especially elderly and disabled, would we be able to do so?

I grew up in San Luis Obispo, as I have mentioned many times before on this blog. PG&E in all of their great wisdom decided to build a nuclear power plant on an earthquake fault. Now they claim it could withstand an earthquake, but at one point in time they also built the darn thing backwards and had to start over from scratch.

San Luis Obispo in response to public outcry developed an evacuation plan that basically put everyone on the two-lane (at the time) Highway 101 North to Atascadero. This is basically a town of 44,000 where all would be evacuating into one outlet in the event of an emergency. School children first. We actually practiced these evacuations during school.

It was a lousy plan and if it ever had to go to fruition it would have been fraught with problems, but at least they had a plan. As a result, San Luis Obispo County also has a much more sophisticated emergency response plan than we do in Yolo County.

Art Shapiro posted a great comment on the Davis Enterprise site yesterday:
"People who follow the weather or even pay close attention to the news knew this was coming and could take appropriate precautions, though some thought the Weather Service was crying wolf and didn't. You can't force people to exercise good judgment. But the vast majority - alas - don't keep up, so many were caught flat-footed and didn't have the opportunity to act prudently. This, for most of us, was merely a nasty nuisance. But it was immensely valuable in that it showcased how grossly inadequate our emergency planning actually is; it is laughable to rely on radio broadcasts when the power is out and only those with battery-operated radios can get them. Major power outages take down Web sites and kill computer-based information delivery. (Those with campus connections had Web access this time, but we cannot count on that--it was luck of the draw.) Phone lines can go down too, and many people no longer have land lines at all, but reverse-911 systems may be the most effective means of communication when there are extensive power outages. We (and others nationwide--our situation should be a trigger for such review elsewhere) need to rethink these issues; the next time may be a lot more than a nasty nuisance."
The Mayor, Sue Greenwald, followed it up with:
"At our council meeting this Tuesday, I plan to ask that our winter storm and power outage procedures be reviewed. As Mayor, I talked with the City Manager numerous times before and during the storm about our procedures. Even before the storm hit, I asked if we had a process for assuring that citizens, and particularly the elderly, had access to warm shelter in the case of major power outages. As the extent of outages became apparent, I continued to press the City manager. When the shelter was belatedly set up, I suggested to the City Manager that we start a door-to-door outreach, looking especially for the elderly. When I received no reply, I drove over to the shelter and then to emergency headquarters. Temperatures were falling rapidly. I asked which areas were still out of electricity. Most of Central Davis bounded by Russell, Covell, 113 and F street were still without heat. I pointed out that this older area of Davis was home to a lot of senior citizens. I was told that we would not be doing a door to door outreach. I returned to the emergency shelter, and one of the Red Cross volunteers told me that Woodland was undertaking a house to house outreach. Again, I will ask the council to look into this on Tuesday night."
Getting back to my original point. In many ways this was a dry-run for us. For most resident this was a pain rather than a serious danger. But next time we may not be so lucky.

The key question I have is whether we are willing to accept the level of governance we have, accept mediocrity, or will we demand accountability from our elected officials. Will we demand accountability from our unelected officials who apparently run this town?

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Storm and Outages Demonstrate Need for Greater Emergency Preparedness

At one point large sections of the City of Davis remained without power for close to two days. For those of us who are able-bodied and have relative means, it meant the inconvenience of going to a friend's house or a hotel room to wait until the power came back on. For those who are not so lucky, because they lack the financial resources, or are elderly it could very well have meant something very, very serious.

One of the biggest problems, as we sat in the lobby of a local hotel, was that there was an utter lack of information being disseminated. PG&E had a generic message that you could reach after about 10 minutes of shuffling through their switch board, but few updates and new information.

The City of Davis had, up until yesterday evening, virtually no information available. The city webpage had no content on it about the emergency. In fact, if you clicked on emergency information, it said that the city of Davis had no emergencies at this time. Let me tell you, that caused quite a chuckle from nervous and tired "refugees." Channel 16 (the City of Davis Government Channel) had no information either.

Finally, late last night, after checking multiple times, the city webpage had a link to clink on for emergency information. And even that, did not provide a lot of information.

Channel Sixteen finally began broadcasting emergency information sometime late on Saturday. At midday we looked and there was no such information available. The message that played last night only provided generic information which had been recorded at 7:30 pm. This information was still playing at nearly 10 pm last night, which meant that it was information that was two and a half hours old and needed to be updated.

Getting shelter information to the elderly and disabled needed to be a top priority and that could not have occurred by TV or internet and had to occur via word of mouth.

The two best sources for information were on the Davis Wiki and the Davis Enterprise Websites. (Again you had to be mobile enough to get to a place with power for that to be helpful).

Even then there was not a lot of information. That is by no means a criticism of either the Wiki or the Enterprise. They did the best they could. The information was just not available and that falls squarely on the city of Davis and PG&E.

As the Enterprise wrote:
"At 3 p.m. Saturday, PG&E spokesman Keely Wachs from San Francisco said nearly 10,000 people in Davis were still without power as a result of Friday's severe storm.


Several people complained that PG&E was not updating phone or Web page information about outages.

'We're swamped but that's not an excuse,' said Wachs on Saturday. 'I'll call our customer care team and see what they can do.'"
In fact it was completely inadequate.

As Supervisor Matt Rexroad pointed out on his blog, SMUD had their power on much faster and provided far better information for their customers.

This prompted him to remark:
"Personally, I would have liked the 30% rate reduction and the more complete information."
As one of our officials pointed out to me on the phone as I was driving around town yesterday to get a sense of the situation, we knew this storm was coming and we knew it would be bad.

Shelters were up last night, I'm not sure that they were up on Friday night. That's not acceptable. We knew that given the early predictions many would be without power Friday night.

The information infrastructure was slow. They did not utilize Channel 16 or the Internet until it was too late.

The final and most concerning point, is that the most vulnerable people would not have had access to either the internet or a TV, so how was information to get to them?

I was told by a reliable source that there were no plans to go door to door in Davis. However, we did hear the city of Woodland was doing exactly that--going door to door.

We need to get this right for the next emergency that is likely to be far more dangerous and life-threatening than this one was.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting