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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Senator Leland Yee Named "Legislator of the Year" by ASUCD and then comes to Davis and Shows Us Why

On Thursday night, California State Senator Leland Yee came to UCD to receive the "Legislator of the Year" award from ASUCD. During the course of his awards reception, we got a small glimpse as to why he received this award.

Senator Yee:
"I am honored to receive this award from UC Davis students. UC Davis students were essential in helping pass the Higher Education Governance Accountability Act. I look forward to continuing our work to improve educational opportunities for all, bring transparency to the institution's governance, and make UC affordable for all qualified students.”
Derick Lennox, ASUCD Lobby Corps Director:
“Senator Yee is an ideal recipient for this award, not only for his leadership on pro-student legislation, but also for his willingness to partner with students in the state capital.”
Specifically, SB 190 (Chapter 523) requires all executive compensation packages to be voted on in an open session of a subcommittee and the full board. The law also requires full disclosure of the compensation package with accompanying rationale, allows the public to comment on such action items, and makes public advisory group meetings that deal with compensation matters.

Senator Yee:
“The Legislature and the Governor sent a very clear message to the UC and CSU: it is time to end the culture of secrecy and arrogance. No longer should the students, faculty and staff – the backbone of our public universities – be left to bear the burden, while top execs live high on the hog. As a graduate of both the UC and CSU, I want to make sure our higher education systems succeed by investing in instruction, not creating a get-rich factory for executives. SB 190 brings much needed sunshine to executive compensation discussions, provide members of the media the democratic access they deserve, and help restore the public’s trust.”
Senator Yee then severely criticized the discrepancy between the plush contracts of those who run UC with the continued soaking of students through tuition hikes.
"People at the top of UC are living high on the hog, while students are living hand to hand, mouth to mouth. Students are having to work more in order to pay their tuition. Students are working rather than studying, and then are also not able to participate in campus life."
"We need to shed light on the secret backroom deals at UC."

And then Senator Yee criticized the outsourcing of Sodexho workers, the failure to provide them with a livable wage and benefits.
"The battle is not over. There are workers on this campus who are denied the living wages and health care benefits they deserve. It is not right that there are some people on this campus who enjoy benefits and good salaries, while others don't."
After his speech, people asked questions and made statements, including Lidia Uribe, a cook at Segundo, who told Senator Yee:
"Thank you for your support. We really need support because our work has been really hard and there is a lot of discrimination and racism. My co-workers and I want to be part of the University and the Union so we can receive the protection at our work that we need."
Senator Yee indicated a willingness to take on Sodexho and outsourcing of UC Food Service jobs by cutting money to UC Davis--one of the few powers that the state legislature has.

This follows a lobbying effort last week from 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 in conclusion read:
"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 Sodexho workers have a powerful ally in Sacramento who is willing to take the fight to them.

This follows on the heels of President Clinton on Tuesday night, agreeing to join the fight as well, supporting the efforts of outsourced Sodexho workers to become UC Employees.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, January 18, 2008

Guest Commentary: Housing Element of the City General Plan

by Kevin Wolf

On Sunday January 13 in the Vanguard, Matt Williams reviewed the state law that requires the City of Davis to respond to the Regional Housing Needs Allocation as well as the state’s General Plan requirements for housing. Matt does a good job of explaining the purposes and logistics of the General Plan/Housing Element Update Steering Committee’s work and the importance of its second public workshop scheduled for January 24.

My interest in being involved in the committee’s work and my support for the Covell Village project in 2005 comes from my commitment to our bioregion’s environment, economy, schools, affordable housing, and the enormous problems that will be caused by the pending calamity of Peak Oil, which will cause inflation, induce panic over shortages of supply, result in very high priced gas and present numerous dangers to civil society.

Throughout the greater Sacramento region, cities and towns have been growing and, in the process, prime ag land and essential habitat has been disappearing. Population growth comes predominantly from immigration into the area because of jobs, though internal birthrates also contribute.

The City of Davis contributes to the regional growth through immigration, mostly through the university’s increasing student population and associated hiring of more staff and employees. Evidence of the larger student population’s impact shows up in apartment vacancy rates, which have recently dropped to below 1%. Low vacancy rates result in higher rents, more students doubling up in rooms, increased parking problems and more students and staff commuting in and out of town. Increasing jobs and employment opportunities in town increase the number of people who commute to Davis as is evidenced in the increased inflow and outflow of people on and off I-80, Hwy 113, and Pole Line Rd and on Regional Transit and Amtrak.

A city that doesn’t grow in accordance with regional growth or with its own internal job (and university student) growth creates winners and losers. Winners include the owners of apartment complexes and people who want to sell their houses with a price premium gained because of a high demand and low supply. Losers include just about everyone else with the impacts including:
  • Poorer air quality in the region as more people drive further to get to work and go to school in Davis.
  • An aging population lowering attendance in public schools and associated financial problems.
  • More traffic on arterials coming into and out of town.
  • Increase energy use and carbon pollution that will occur both from increased driving to school and jobs in town and because housing outside of Davis traditionally uses more energy per person because Davis building cods result in more efficient energy use in homes.
Among my primary motivations to provide housing for the growing number of students and employees in town is to reduce the regional loss of habitat and prime agricultural land. When growth occurs in Davis, far less habitat and ag land is lost then if that growth is shifted to Woodland, Vacaville, Dixon or the suburbs around Sacramento. Davis has approximately twice the density compared to these areas, which means for every acre developed in Davis, two acres won’t be developed elsewhere.

In addition, Davis is the only city in the region that requires two acres of ag land be protected for every acre lost to development. (An exception to this is Lewis Homes Cannery Project which doesn’t have to mitigate any of the 98.4 acres of land it will develop as it is in the city limits and is not presently subject to this requirement of our General Plan, even though the whole northern half of the property has good ag soils and provides habitat for a number of species.) Most cities in the region do not require that a developer protect any ag land or habitat when they pave over raw land.

The Housing Element Steering Committee asked the public for feedback on what principles and goals we should use to prioritize where new growth should occur. I was pleased to see how high my priorities aligned with those who attended our first workshop.

Whether it was concerns over global warming, air pollution, Peak Oil or because people wanted less traffic and driving, the top five highest rated principles included increasing bike and walking mobility which translates into placing new housing near the downtown and university and/or close to schools and shopping.

A second highly ranked concern was the protection of ag land. I translate this to mean that Davities prefer we grow at higher densities than lower densities, or for some that we don’t grow at all. For example Lewis Homes’ Cannery Project will eat up one acre of land for every six units it develops even though its densities will average 8 – 22 units per acre. The reason for the lower average for the 98 acres is because of the land that gets taken up by streets, drainage ponds, parks and non-residential buildings. If we increase a site’s density by six units, we will have save an acre of ag land or habitat from being lost in the future.

I argue that those who say “protect ag land and habitat, don’t grow around Davis” fail to take into account that all growth in the region is on ag land or on important habitat and higher density growth in Davis results in less loss of ag land and habitat in the region, as well as provides permanent protection for endangered land that would likely otherwise be developed.

One of the most interesting debates the committee has had concerns the possible development of the Nishi Property. This is the 40 plus acres of land West of Olive Drive between the railroad and I-80. It’s ag land that is not well used because of its isolation from the rest of the farm and its shape. It is within walking distance of the downtown and the university. Over 600 units of housing could be developed on it, even more if we allowed the buildings to reach six stories high. Some members of the committee oppose this site because it will increase traffic on Richards Blvd and through the under crossing. Others oppose it because they think people shouldn’t live so close to freeways. To me, this is an example of a site where the benefits of development far outweigh the negatives.

Every major development (and probably most smaller ones) comes with a mix of positives and negatives. Infill sites take away open space in a neighborhood and add more traffic in that area. Every major new development will destroy ag land and/or habitat. Every development will cause additional traffic problems. For example, without being connected to Covell Village, all the traffic from 600 homes at the Cannery Project will dump on to Covell and/or J Street. There isn’t a site on the Committee’s list that doesn’t have some negatives.

The Steering Committee, the City Council, and ultimately, with any new major development outside of existing city limits, the citizens of Davis should prioritize those developments that do the most good in relationship to the negatives they cause. I argue that Nishi should be the top major new development because, with the huge disturbances that Peak Oil will cause and our need to reduce carbon pollution, the inconveniences of increased traffic on Richards and through the underpass will be minor in comparison to the benefits of a couple thousand people or more living within walking distance of the downtown and campus. There is also a reasonable chance that a build out of Nishi will reduce traffic through the underpass if the people who live there used to drive into town through the underpass. Almost no one who lives at Nishi would drive around through the underpass to go to campus and park when they could walk or ride a bike much more quickly, and cheaply.

The argument that people shouldn’t be allowed to live near freeways because it endangers their health needs to be put into perspective. People who live near ag land that is sprayed with chemicals are endangering their health. People whose houses have mold or who use chemicals in their homes are endangering their health. People should be allowed to make their own decisions. They may choose to live near the freeway and walk to campus and downtown versus living further away and driving, which endangers everyone’s health, our planet and our economy.

I made a request that the Steering Committee go on record telling the public how they personally rank the principles and goals that guide our housing location decisions. Unfortunately I was in the minority on that proposal and you won’t get to know, in writing, the motivations that guide each member’s decisions. I also tried to convince the committee and city staff to support producing a web based survey that would hopefully would tell us how thousands of Davisites would rank the principles and goals and then use that information to help guide us, and the City Council in our choices. If you can come to the workshop on Jan 24 you will be given a chance to review principles and goals document and prioritize them for yourself before you review the committees work on ranking the sites.

On the Nov 29 section of committee’s website, you can find the principles and goals and read each members’ ranking of the sites and try to guess. It is an interesting exercise to try to figure out how consistently some members used the principles and goals to guide their choices. If you look at mine, you should notice that I prioritized sites based on which, if developed, would result in the least amount of driving.

You may wonder why I ranked Lewis Homes Cannery Project so low. My argument to the committee is that the 98 acres developed there wouldn’t result in any additional land being protected because the site is presently exempt from this condition of the General Plan. The city has lots of other good sites it can develop, and it should wait on the Cannery site until it joins with Covell Village in a united project for that area, and Lewis Homes offers to permanently protect two acres of ag land protected for each acre it develops.

If we think out 30 years and have a 1% growth rate, which would be among the very lowest in the region, we will build out just about every one of the 37 sites presented to our committee if we build at the density proposed for Grande (39 homes on 7 acres) or Lewis Homes (6 homes per acre). In every location, we need to build wonderful, engaging, and highly energy efficient homes, townhouses, condos and apartments at higher densities than in the past to reduce the amount of driving that is needed by residents and to protect ag land and habitat in the region. I hope my work on the Housing Committee helps achieve that.

Kevin Wolf chairs the Davis General Plan Housing Element Steering Committee. The views presented above are his and should not be construed as representing those of the committee as a whole.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Planning Commission Denies Petition to Put 3000 SF Store at West Lake

In May of 2006, Food Fair shut its doors for the last time. The small grocery store that had previously been Ray's, has been a vacant building ever since.

Failing for the past year and a half to draw a new retail market for the 22,000 square foot space, the owner has proposed a remodel to allow new kinds of business into the location. However, the current General Plan and zoning require that the center have a grocery store of no small than 15,000 square feet. This is based on a city General Plan requirement that each neighborhood have its own grocery store of at least 15,000 square feet.

The new proposal calls for a much smaller food store. As a result the owner has requested that the city rezone the space from 15,000 square feet to 3,000 square feet.

There are several bases for this request. First, the owner did not believe the space was viable for a grocery store given the population of West Davis, the fact that three stores had been there and failed, and the proximity of the larger Safeway at the Marketplace just a mile and a half down the road on Covell Blvd.

Second, the owner did not believe that he could draw another grocery store into that space. He argued that he tried to do so for the last year and a half. That this issue had come up in November of 2006, but at that time the Planning Commission attempted to have a 7500 square foot store come into that center.

According to city staff, neither the Food Co-op, Nugget, or Trader Joe's had interest in that spot and they therefore advocated for the change.

However, several members of the Planning Commission openly questioned the amount of due diligence on the part of the owner. Katherine Hess, the city's planning director at the very least defended the city's efforts to find a suitable business to take that spot which met the needs of the area.

For the Planning Commission this was a close call. However, there remained a commitment by a narrow majority not to abandon the ideal of a neighborhood grocery store. The majority again by a narrow margin felt that if they approved this change, this would be a permanent change and it could not be undone. In other words, if they built a 3000 square foot store, they would never be able to get a larger grocery store into the site. They felt that all avenues have not been exhausted.

And so by two 4-3 votes, the majority on the planning commission voted first to defeat a substitute motion that would have allowed the 3000 square foot store to come in while at the same time reserving another 3000 feet for another food type store. And then they voted to reject the petition by the property owner. Chair Greg Clumpner, David de la Pena, Rob Hofmann, and Mike Levy comprised the majority. While Terry Whittier, Kris Kordana and Vice-Chair Mark Braly all voted against the motion, favoring to accept the petition.

At this point, the applicant would have to appeal to the city council in order for his proposed project to go forward.


As a longtime neighbor of this shopping center, for a long time I enjoyed the convenience of having a neighborhood grocery store, especially as a place where I could walk to, buy a few items without having to deal with traffic or huge crowds and go home. I did not have to set aside 45 minutes to get in my car, drive to Safeway, purchase my products, wait in line, and drive home again.

One of the arguments made in favor of retaining the store is the ideal of recreating the neighborhood grocery store where people really can bike or walk to the store. Having to drive and traverse crowds of people means that I rarely pick up one or two items at Safeway, usually I go and try to save it for one trip and if I forget something then it's a costly mistake in terms of time.

For the right store, run the right way, this does not have to be a dead location. Trader Joe's is a tragic example of this narrow-minded thinking. Moving into the University Mall is frankly not appealling to me. There are traffic issues that I believe would be exacerbated by having a popular store right in the heart of student commutes to campus.

There is the very real issue of the crows at University Mall. Unfortunately, during the fall and winter months that location is a virtual cesspool. It smells horrendous. It is dirty and disgusting. You park your car there for a few minutes and have to get it washed again because it is literally covered in droppings.

If Trader Joe's or a store like that came to the Westlake Shopping Center, it would thrive. They want to look at populations West of Highway 113, why limit themselves. People are not going to drive to that shopping center if they can shop at Safeway. But they might for something that they cannot get at Safeway.

For me this is simply not enough effort and not enough creativity. I see this as a similar issue to many in Davis where the owner does not do due diligence because they have found an easy way out and want the city to accommodate them. I applaud to Planning Commission for not bailing out the owner here.

Like other property owners in Davis, this owner had frankly let the shopping center fall into disrepair. The upkeep was horrendous. The building was not kept up well, the paint was old, it was not attractive. Now that he is trying to attract business in there, he has clearly put in a lot of money and resources to fix it up. They are doing extensive remodels to make the entire shopping center more attractive. I would like to see what happens once that is complete.

I applaud the planning commission for not bailing out the property owner here and allowing him to take the easy way out. Too often we have rewarded property owners for allowing their property to become run down and then we allow them to rebuild beyond the original intent or give them redevelopment money as almost a bail out.

What I would like to see is a concerted effort by the business owner and the city to find an appropriate tenant for that spot and I would like to hold them to that. No bail outs and no more excuses, find a grocer. I think there are grocers that would like that location we just have to try harder to find them. Otherwise we are simply abandoning the neighborhood grocery concept and frankly we are discouraging people from using alternative transportation to do their shopping and I think that's the exact opposite of what we want to do.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Behind the Scenes: Former President Clinton Comes to UC Davis

[Also See Vanguard Exclusive: Former President Clinton Pledges Support to Sodexho Food Service Workers]

Last night Bill Clinton came to the ARC Pavillion at UC Davis to campaign for his wife Hillary, ahead of the California Primary on February 5, 2008. It was a last minute event, that turned out to be highly successful. According to some of the organizers, the Hillary for President campaign had called and asked if they could get 1,000 people to show up at an event with the Former President as the speaker.

Instead, as early at 7 pm, two full hours before the event a crowd wrapped around the entire recreation field waiting to get in. An estimate 7,000 people showed up inside the ARC and another perhaps 2,000 were eventually turned away. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the crowd was that perhaps 90 percent of it was students.

I originally got into the event as a member of the press corps. However, eventually I went with the Sodexho Food Service Workers who were VIPs and able to go into the "Green Seating Area" which gave them access to the behind the stage seating and eventually a personal meeting with the former President himself (see the other article for more details).

The President was introduced by among others, Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, Senator Mike Machado, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma from San Francisco, Speaker Fabian Nunez, and Lt. Governor John Garamendi. The special introductions were done by Max Mikalonis, the President of the Davis College Democratic Club, one of the events sponsors and organizers.

The former President showed up his customary 20 minutes late and spoke for upwards of 45 minutes. He himself seemed surprised by how many people showed up. He said he called up Hillary after the debate, and said,
"Hillary there is a line outside this stadium that is four or five football fields long."
Clinton spend a good deal of time talking about themes such as the crunch that the middle class are facing in this country, the lack of job growth in the last eight years opposed to his years on the presidency.

One of the big points he made was the housing crisis where people who took out mortgages in good faith were taken advantage of.

He talked about the America's fall in stature over the last eight years and restoring the trust of the international community.

One of the more important points he made was he felt that in this election--meaning the primary--he was voting for someone--his wife--rather than against someone. He went on to spell out his tremendous respect and personal ties for each of the key challengers. He talked about the service that former Candidate Bill Richardson had served this country both as a cabinet member under him and a Governor. He talked about the service Chris Dodd had given this country as the Senator who sponsored the Family and Medical Leave Act, the first act he signed. He talked about the statesmanship of Joe Biden.

He talked about going to North Carolina to campaign to John Edwards in 1998 and going to Illinois to campaign for Barack Obama in 2004.

He then went on to talk about health care and how important it was that hard working people have access to universal health care. He talked about one of the key failures of his administration, the failure to get universal health care. Pointing out that he was hardly to the first to do so. And that this failure was a failure of Hillary Clinton.

The key he said was not whether you fail, but how you respond to that failure and he listed off a litany of programs that he passed after health care went down that helped out working people in this country. And he made the point that you cannot be afraid to fail. Everyone who attempts to do something will fail at some of their endeavors. You cannot be afraid of failure to the point where you never try to succeed.

Following the speech, the Former President greeted a good portion of the crowd that had swarmed against the barricades, at times threatening to breech those barriers. We were allowed as VIPS to go behind the barricades and wait to meet the President himself. But first we had to wait for the President to sign autographs, shake hands, and take picture with literally hundreds if not thousands of supporters.

Anyone wondering of the strength of the Hillary candidacy amid the enthusiastic throng that got into the ARC needs to reevaluate. If all of these students and young people come out and vote in a few weeks, Hillary Clinton will be in very strong position. If all of these students and many more like them across the nation come out and vote in November, we will see yet another wage of support and a new Democratic President.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Former President Clinton Pledges Support to Sodexho Food Service Workers

Upon a special arrangement, the Sodexho Workers representatives were given the opportunity to meet and briefly speak with Former President Bill Clinton following the event. I was allowed to join them and report on their conversation.

The President spoke briefly with the workers and then posed for pictures. During the course of their conversation, he came out in favor of their efforts to become full university employees earning equal pay and equal benefits.

After the meeting, I spoke with three of the workers.

Kevin Cole who works at Tercero:
"We just met the [former] President of the United States. He said that he is going to help us to win this struggle that we're going through. We are so grateful that we met him and got his support in our struggle."
Joe Moreno who works at Segundo:
"We're so glad to be here, just be here to shake his hand. I'm very happy to know that he's going to support us in our campaign. More power to us."
Esther Jaurez who works at Segundo spoke to me in Spanish:
"I feel very happy to have greeted the former President. I just wanted to ask that you help us and all of our families and friends. I also want to be able to ask for help because I have to go to the doctor, now I have a bill of $45,000 and I don't know how I'm going to be able to pay it. I don't have health insurance and I don't know how to do it. The health insurance is very expensive that they give us."
One of the initiatives that the Former President pushed was universal health care. As we see, this is not a novel problem. This lady now has a debt that she will likely never be able to repay because the health care offered by Sodexho was not affordable at over one-quarter of her already meager income per month. Had she been a university employee, she would have been fully covered by the university's health care plan.

The President has been a strong support of labor and worker's rights and social justice. The Sodexho workers also received strong support from Mayor of West Sacramento Christopher Cabaldon, Lt. Governor John Garamendi, Davis City Councilmember Lamar Heystek, Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, and Speaker of the Assembly Fabian Nunez.

The opportunity to participate in this and hear the reaction from the Sodexho workers themselves was one of the more moving and inspiring events I have had the fortune of covering during my time working on this blog.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting