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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Saturday Vanguard Stories

Valley Oak Meeting Tonight

Dear Valley Oak Community,

The effort to build Valley Oak Charter School is not over yet!

Now that DJUSD has created our need to appeal to the county, Valley Oak Charter School Organizers need to hear whether the neighborhood and community still want their neighborhood school.

What you can do:

1) Attend the community meeting this Saturday, Feb. 2, from 6:30 – 7:30 pm in the Valley Oak MPR, 1400 East Eighth Street and bring your child's intent to enroll form.

2) Check the VOCS website for further information

3) If you can't attend the meeting, call the phone number below and make your wishes known to the organizers right away.

In the meeting, we will:
  • Let organizers know that you want them to continue to develop the charter school.

  • Learn about the ways in which we plan to have the charter approved by the county and/or the state
  • Answer additional questions about the charter and the “intent to return” form.
For questions or transportation, please contact Sarah at 758-3728.

Challenges Continue With the Gang Injunction

Judge Overrules Challenge to Injunction

One day after Judge Kathleen White overruled a demurrer as premature and not correctly targeted at the complaint, opponents of the gang injunction announced a bold new plan aimed at stripping away the core of the District Attorney and West Sacramento Police's claims about the need for a gang injunction in West Sacramento.

The Woodland Daily Democrat yesterday reported that the challenge to the gang injunction was thrown out by Judge White.

The Democrat reports:
"Defense attorney Mark Merin took issue with the injunction's prohibition on gang members associating with each other. He argued that just because a group or association might at times commit illegal acts does not give the state authority to prohibit them from associating at all and/or for legal purposes.

He drew attention to groups like Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group. Although it routinely engages in illegal acts of blockading abortion clinics, the group cannot be forbidden from associating for legal purposes such as protests and administrative meetings.

"If it were mere membership in an organization, then we would see an injunction against Operation Rescue," Merin said. "We would see an injunction against the Klu Klux Klan. But we see them meeting in public because its protected under the First Amendment."

Defense attorney David Dratman agreed and complained the injunction essentially punished the defendants before having their day in court.

"It's almost like a trial in Alice in Wonderland - 'no, no, no, sentence first, trial afterward,'" Dratman said. "It's overly broad and vague and is not supported by facts."


Merin retorted by saying the case cannot commence on flawed premises.

"You can't start off on the wrong foot and at some point hope you get it right - perhaps at the end," Merin said.

Judge White, however, disagreed and overruled the demurrer, keeping in place the complaint and the prosecution's proposed injunction.

"One has to remember this a civil court, not a criminal court," White said. "You said we can't start off on the wrong foot. Well, in civil case, actually, you can." "
Community Fighting Back

Opposition to the Gang Injunction will now go ahead with a bold new plan aimed at stripping away community support--or at the very least the law enforcement community's contention that there is a strong community support.

Organizers plan to "poll" neighbors about the need for the gang injunction. And citizens vow to fight back against police harassment.

According to a press release sent out yesterday afternoon, community members, claiming they are under "attack" by police who pushing the gang injunction, will go door-to-door, starting this weekend in an effort to gain signatures declaring opposition to the gang injunction or as this group calls it a "Proposed POLICE Injunction."

These declarations will ask people if they've really had problems with gangs, as the police claim. And then ask why they believe police and the Yolo County District Attorney are seeking the gang injunction.

These declarations come on the heals of a slew of complaints that they have been harassed by the police including charges that families are photographed at picnics in the park and children have been harassed while riding their bicycles home from school.

Community members will meet at 1 p.m. SATURDAY, at 1100 Carrie St. in West Sacramento. Assistance to them will be provided by other community groups, and members of the ACLU.


While the vigilance is to be applauded on the behalf of community groups, it might be more beneficial if an independent investigator could examine some of the charges laid forth by the community against the efforts of the police and the district attorney's office. I have heard from a variety of residents of West Sacramento on this issue over the last two years and frankly it is a very polarized and mixed bag.

The polarization often occurs down racial lines, with many Hispanics claiming that this is sheer harassment, while many whites claim that the Broderick Street Boys are basically street terrorists.

I suspect that the truth is somewhere down the middle, where the police have likely been overzealous in their prosecutions of the effort and the gangs have been a large problem as well.

I do not oppose an injunction per se. I oppose several aspects of the injunction. First it should be a criminal proceeding not a civil one. If you are going to deprive people of liberty, you should have to give them due process of law. That is what the constitution calls for. And if that is the case, then it has to be a criminal proceeding.

This is the fifth amendment:
"nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law"
Due process of law requires the right to an attorney. And if one cannot afford an attorney, they are to have an attorney appointed by the court. But this right was not held up by the court in a previous ruling around the beginning of this year. The defense attorney vowed however to defend the accused at no cost to them.

I have a big problem with that ruling.

Second, the gang injunction should be based on actual crimes committed rather than association. To the use the example provided in the court case, just because an individual is associated with Operation Rescue, does not mean they have bombed abortion clinics. You have to prove that they personally bombed abortion clinics in order to punish them. If you want to make one of the penalties associated with committing crimes as a gang member, deprivation of liberties, that seems reasonable. If you want to deprive people's liberties who have committed no crimes, I have a problem with that.

Finally, they need to prove the case against individual gang members. This goes back to the originally injunction that was tossed out. They tried to ban association based on a limited number of alleged gang members being notified. They have increased that number, but each person associated with the injunction should have the right to challenge that injunction if it is to effect them. If the judge upholds the gang injunction here, is it merely the defendants it will impact or will impact all alleged gang members?

I understand people's fear of violent crime and gangs, but we have a constitution and due process in this country for a reason and from what I've seen, a threat of gang violence is not a reason to change that system of government.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, February 01, 2008

Friday Vanguard Stories

UC Workers Press for Better Wages and Benefits, as Chancellor Locks Them Out of the Fifth Floor of Mrak

Around 40 to 50 service workers came to a cold and rainy Mrak Hall to press their demands for a new contract that pays better wages and benefits for around 20,000 service and patient care workers across the state. They also announced that their current contract expired on Thursday. And hoped that the university, UC wide, would negotiate a new contract in good faith. In addition, the Sodexho Workers were there hoping to press for discussions that would lead them to become university employees.

Leticia from the bargaining team, just came from negotiations yesterday, bargaining for the patient care and service workers of the UC system. On the campus this effects mostly service workers. The university system only offered a very minimal amount of increase. For example, a non-wage benefit of paying for TAPs parking but only for a few senior employees on campus.
"We're not asking for anything out of the ordinary. What our workers are wanting here is what workers have everywhere, other places, other hospitals around the area, other community colleges, we just want to be up to their standards, what they receive as workers. Either monetary and emotionally, because we do not get treated fairly here either."
These are people who are making anywhere from $9 to $11 per hour, the lowest of the payscale on campus. All they are seeking is to be on par with people in the private sector. They are seeking anywhere from a 1% to an 8% pay raise. That sounds like a lot, but that would be less than a dollar per hour at the highest rate.
"That [increase] doesn't bring them up to market [value], that only brings them up from being six feet under, to being at ground level. But that doesn't bring them up to where we stand with everyone else. We only have 20,000 workers, we don't know the exact number of workers [who would be affected by this] but it would be minimal."
The workers did not accept the contract extension. With the contract expired and no new contract in place, they will continue at this point to work under the old agreement.
"What they wanted to do was extend the current contract which expires today and they want to extend it another six months to talk about and wait to keep an eye on the budget. That's what they told us, but 91 percent of our 20,000 workers are not budget dependent, that's not the source of our income."
Guy Turner a community member active with the Gospel Justice Group from St. James Catholic Church, addressed the crowd in a showing of solidarity.
"I'm with St. James Gospel Justice. I'm here representing the community support. The community in Davis, the social justice groups in Davis, my cohorts aren't here because of the weather, however there is a big number of folks that are aware of the Sodexho situation and I'm representing them..."
For people such as Mr. Turner, this is an issue about equity and social justice.
"I listened to Esther's story, I have to be here. When I hear the stories about the treatment of Sodexho workers here on campus, something has to be done.

I don't know what I can do, but one thing I would like to do is to invite the Chancellor to come down and talk with us out here. I have a few questions I'd like to ask him. I'd like to ask why the wages are still below those of a direct UC Davis employee? Why is it we have right on campus, the people who have, who have health insurance, who have retirement, who have a really good plan for all of these things and they work up here in that office. However, there's people on campus who are the havenots, and I think it's wrong, and I'd like to ask the chancellor why we have the haves and the have-nots."
The group had hoped to meet with Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef to discuss and press their demands for new contracts. They marched into Mrak Hall and up the stairs, only to find that the door to the fifth floor was locked.

As they were walking up, they ran into Associate Vice Chancellor Rahim Reed. They asked Mr. Reed to speak with them, but the Vice Chancellor was in a hurry and walked right past them without talking.

Leticia said:
"It's very frustrating, that he [the chancellor] cannot give us a few minutes. He didn't come out today, but we will try to meet with him again."
At some point you would think that a public entity such as a state university would have to be responsive to the public. However, the UC system seems so far removed from the public and from elected officials who can be expected to hold them accountable. It seems they are able to get away with whatever they want, but these workers, the fight is just beginning.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sheriff Prieto's Attack is Scrutinized

Local news stations report that Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto had a run in with two individuals on the street, but that those individuals tried to mess with the wrong person.

As the Woodland Daily Democrat reports,
"Sacramento resident Jerry Monk, 35, was scheduled to appear at the Yolo County Court house for a pre-trial conference as a defendant in a criminal matter. Afterward, he and his friend, fellow Sacramentan Ontriel Darnell Jones, 24, walked down the south sidewalk of Court Street, when they approached a man walking down the same street. For reasons unknown, Jones and Monk, verbally accosted the man, sarcastically asking what there was to do in Woodland, employing profanity in the process. The man they asked happened to be 6-foot-5, 275-pound Yolo County Sheriff E.G. Prieto. He was dressed in street clothes. In retrospect, the two men probably wished they never stepped into Woodland. "
The Sheriff reportedly asked the men to stop, asked them for IDs, believed they were going to attack him.
"Prieto flashed them his badge. They walked away. Prieto ordered them to stop, twice. They didn't. The 64-year-old sheriff then reached for one of the suspect's arms and that's when Prieto said he made a move to attack him. "He looked like he was going punch me," Prieto said. Prieto then subdued the suspect by throwing him to the ground and held him there while fending off the other suspect."
However, the television news coverage casts a different version of the story. There the suspects claim that in fact the Sheriff provoked them by shouting out homophobic remarks. The Sheriff of course denies this version.

However watch this video from KCRA News 3 in Sacramento.

There is no way of knowing of course who is telling the truth in this case and whether or not the Sheriff made homophobic remarks.

However, there are portions of this story that do not make a lot of sense.

For instance, if these men were looking for trouble, why target the 6-7, 275 pound Sheriff? Even if they do not know he's the Sheriff, he seems about the last person in the world, you would want to mess with.

Second, when they show the men in question, they look to be rather small, in fact, they look like combined they are smaller than the Sheriff? Did he really feel threatened by them? Did he really feel like *they* were going to attack him?

Finally, when the subjects are interviewed, they are not interviewed in jail. Why is it that two men who were in court for drug charges would be out free the day after attacking the Sheriff?

Obviously everything that the Sheriff claims could be true, but from what I saw on the newscast, his story really does not seem to add up, but decide for yourself.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Fight For Valley Oak Marches On

A week ago at this time it seemed that the fight for the Valley Oak Charter School was finally over. Superintendent James Hammond had announced an agreement with the Charter School Petitioners that would allow him to recommend to the board a resolution that would support the charter school with strict time lines.

However last Thursday, the board rejected this resolution by a 4-1 vote placing the future of Valley Oak in severe doubt.

That leaves the petitioners with a choice as to whether to continue the fight. The next step if they choose to continue would be to appeal it to the County Board of Education. If the county were to accept the charter, they would become the authorizing agency and the charter would form under their auspices. If the county rejects the charter, it goes to the state. The state does not have the infrastructure to become an authorizing agency and they would assign the charter to a local district, possibly DJUSD to administer.

But first things first. In order to both appeal and get a school open for the 2008-2009, the only opening that makes any sort of sense, the charter petitioners have a very tight time line.

According to a release, they need to engage the community members and especially the parents to decide if there is sufficient interest to keep Valley Oak open.

Everyone who supports Valley Oak--parents, neighbors, community members should come to the meeting this Saturday.
Saturday, February 2, 2008

6:30 PM

Valley Oak Elementary School
Multipurpose Room
1400 East Eighth St.

Food will be served.

Spanish translation will be provided, and people in need of translation in another language, or in need of transportation to the meeting, may call Sarah at (530) 758-3728.
Response to the LETTER TO EDITOR from Janice Bridge

For those of you who get the Enterprise or read it online, Janice Bridge wrote a letter to the editor on Tuesday. It praises the school board for their 4-1 vote to deny the resolution that would have established the Valley Oak Charter School.

According to the Former School Board member,
"This was the right decision, for the right reasons, in a very difficult school climate."
The Davis Enterprise fails to disclose the fact that Janice Bridge was Vice Chair of the Best Uses of Schools Task Force that made the decision to close the school in the first place, so it is not entirely surprising that Ms. Bridge would support the board's decision.

There are a number of inaccuracies in the letter that ought to be addressed.
"Although no one questioned the good will and hard work of those who had brought forth the petition for the Valley Oak charter"
Actually, Board Member Susan Lovenburg, who Janice Bridge campaigned for, did exactly that when she asked the petitioners if they had put in the blood and sweat to draft the petition as Superintendent James Hammond had.
"The deficiencies of the charter became increasingly noticeable as the meeting progressed."
The main problem that the board cited with the charter was the $300,000 it would cost the district to implement at the minimum student attendance level. Without this problem, it is not clear that the board would have denied the charter school. The fact that the district now faces a $4 million deficit was a huge part of the reason to deny.
"Trustee Susan Lovenburg's questions of Scot Yarnell, lawyer for DJUSD, brought to light the legal basis on which the charter could be denied."
This was actually a pretty murky area of the meeting. Susan Lovenburg insisted the fiscal concerns had to be a reason to deny the petition and that she would write her legislator to change the law. Tim Taylor also suggested that it would be irresponsible not to look at the fiscal impact of the school district. The lawyer was vague on this point, but charter law seems clear that fiscal impact CANNOT be a reason to deny the petition. So it is not clear where Ms. Bridge is getting this argument from.
"Many in the chambers urged the board to approve the resolution even though they assumed 'the chartering group may fail to meet any one of the rigid elements of the timeline.' To take that route would have been cowardice, not leadership."
I did not see this coming from members of the public. I think everyone acknowledged that the timeline was a challenging proposition to complete. There is no denying that. But the Superintendent believed that they should get a chance to meet that challenge as did most of the members of the public. I disagree that that allowing them to go forward would not be leadership. The Superintendent believed in the value and the mission of the charter and thought that they deserved the chance to make it work. I do not see anything cowardly about that position. What I do see is a member of the committee that chose to close the school fighting to preserve that decision and not be proven wrong.
"During the next 10 weeks, the Davis school board will need to cut approximately $4 million worth of programs from an already tight budget. The courageous actions of the board last week give me confidence in the leadership of the school board."
And many have an opposite reaction to the decision by the board. From my perspective everyone in the district will be harmed by the impact of cutting $4 million from the budget. I am hopeful that it will not come to that, but clearly we must plan for it.

The question is who should bear the brunt of the impact. An argument can be made that it probably should not be disadvantaged kids who already face overwhelming obstacles in their path of success. The district had the option to spread the impact across the entire student population, which they will have to do anyway and to which this expense really amounts to a drop in the bucket or to make the most vulnerable students feel a sharp impact. It's obvious where people such as Janice Bridge come down on this question.
"The community of Davis needs to support those we have elected to lead. "
In a litany of ridiculous arguments and claims, this is the most absurd. Just because we as a collective have elected these individuals does not bind us to support them when they do things we believe are wrong. We are not going to blindly follow them into the abyss and when they are wrong, we have the obligation to tell them so.

I am disappointed but not surprised by the tenure and misleading nature of the letter from Janice Bridge, I can only hope the community sees through this kind of rhetoric and looks at the tough road that these children have to walk down in order to rescue their school.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Residents Protest Atria Covell Gardens Rate Hikes and Lack of Service

Atria Responds by Kicking Reporters and Public Officials Off Their Property

Around 30 residents of the Atria Covell Gardens assisted living facility came out this morning protesting not only the rental increase but also the conditions under which they live. They described in detail problems that occurred during the recent storms and power outage and the lack of action and concern from Atria Covell Gardens. During the course of the protest, resident expressed outrage at the severity of the double-digit rate hikes and the lack of service received during an emergency situation nearly a month ago.

In response, Atria asked members of the press, the media, and public officials to leave their property.

Carol Terry of the Grey Panthers said:
"We're appalled by what happened here and what we've heard about conditions under which people have had to live. We've heard about huge rent increases on people with limited incomes... We understand that for forty hours there was no heat, no light, no amenities of any kind. The staff did not check on the residents; the residents were left to their own devices... We don't know all of the details, but everything that we've heard is appalling, that a facility where people pay more than I have in social security money were treated in this way. We believe that there were legal covenants that perhaps were not sufficient to protect the residents and we will work with the legislature to make sure they are improved."
A resident said that she has been here for a number of years and it has really gone down hill since Atria's been running it.

Another resident, Sheila, told the crowd that she is 83 years old and her husband is 88. She talked about the amount of money that is going to the rent increases for her husband and herself. It totaled around $5000 last year, another $3000 this year, and she expects another increase next year. Pointedly she said, "I would call this elder abuse."

Gilda lives in Atria with her husband. Her husband is on oxygen. After losing electricity during the storm, the obviously caused a huge problem. No one in administration contacted them to find out what their needs were. She in the end had to call the pulmonary company that supplied them with the oxygen and at 10:30 at night he brought out cannisters that supplied the oxygen for purposes of travel or other issues of mobility for a two hour period.

According to her, two of the administrators,
"instructed me on how to use the portable tanks. But they also... said that they would never be able to help me again. Because they are not allowed to... The AL's cannot help you with oxygen."
Her husband is one of several people who require oxygen. Each person that is on oxygen is supposed to be responsible for them for themselves.

Another resident told the crowd that:
"Robert Godfrey, the executive direct, has told us that there will not be a generator here. They are not going to get a generator even though we found that we could not function until they went out and rented one."

Councilmember Lamar Heystek spoke to the crowd and told them that he was honored to be a neighbor of Covell Gardens.
"When we talked a month ago, we talked about a rent increase that compounded one from last year that exacerbates an already very difficult situation for our most precarious residents here at Atria Covell Gardens. With the recent blackout, with the recent power outages, with the recent failures that can be spread around, there's enough blame to go around for everyone, we really have to ask ourselves what does the rate increase, what does the rent increase actually buy?

Did that buy the residents of Atria Covell Gardens more security in the event of an emergency? As a city councilmember and as your neighbor, I do not believe that it has done that.

Has it been able to buy peace of mind, has it been able to buy some level of security, for the folks that live here, in the event of a national disaster? I don't believe that it has."
Councilmember Heystek saw two fundamental issues at stake.
"First of all whether or not this rent increase was justified. I think the people here can form some kind of consensus that they were excessive.

The second issue is whether or not the rate or rent increase has purchased better quality of life for the people that live in this facility. Or if we think that there is a prospect of an enhanced quality of life."
The councilmember urged more pressure on the senior citizens commission and the city council. The issue of emergency response will come before council on February 12."

There is a good deal of concern as to what can be done at this point to help the residents not only with the issue of rental increase but also the problem of emergency preparedness.

At the time, the Vanguard was extremely critical of the city's emergency response and there were a good deal of people who argued that this was not an emergency, it was an inconvenience. For a young and able body person such as myself, it is an inconvenience. For a person at an assisted living facility, it is an emergency. Not having electricity can be fatal for people who require it to survive. Not having heat can be very dangerous for elderly people. The failure of the owners of the facilities to properly prepare and deal with the emergency is mind boggling.

As I stood at the rally reporting on this event, I was asked to leave the property by one of the staffers who is photographed above. I was not alone. They told Councilmember Heystek to leave the property. And they told the TV camerapeople to leave the property.

I spoke to the Councilmember shortly after the event from the public sidewalk.

"I was told to leave the property," the Councilmember said. "She said not to be on the property. She told me and the reporter not to be on their property."

I asked him for his reaction to this event:
"My reaction to the activism of our seniors is a good deal of pride in our greatest generation.

My reaction to the lack of service, the lack of basic service on the part of Atria Covell Gardens is one of great disappointment and that is an understatement. Their lack of service during the blackouts, adds insult to injury to the back-to-back double-digit rate increases that have been seen by these residents.

I don't think the rate increases to these residents add to the enhancement of their quality of life. I hope that there's that prospect, I'm disappointed that residents were underserved yet are paying more to live here. It's simply greatly disappointing."
Unfortunately, the city feels that there is only a limited role that they can perform since Atria Covell Gardens is a private facility. The councilmember urged public pressure on the legislative process and on the company.

I was disappointed to see that the reaction by this company to their residents protesting was an attempt to keep the press, members of the public, and public officials off their private property, rather than concern for the welfare of their residents and any attempt to redress the grievances that were serious, manifold, and pervasive both in terms of the impact of the rental increase and the lack of service provided during a period of crisis.

We will all one day be seniors, hopefully, and I can only hope that we as a community can come together and demand that the aged population is treated with the dignity and care they have earned through their long lives of service to this community and this nation.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Council Moves Forward on Housing Projects Despite HESC Process

One of the points that came up over and over again during the discussion of the Wildhorse Horse Ranch project last night was why this project was being discussed and pushed forward at this time, given that the Housing Element Steering Committee was in the process of determining rank order of the best sites in which to have future growth.

In fact, it is not alone. Last week the City Council heard proposals about the Simmons Property and the Lewis Property has been going forward as well.

And yet at the same time, it would appear that at least according to the steering committee members prior to their meeting next week, none of these locations are ideal for growth in the next general plan cycle.
10 - Simmons, E. Eighth Street
21 - Lewis Cannery
27 - Wildhorse Horse Ranch Mix of Housing Types
This is not to suggest that I think these particular projects are good or bad. Only to question the process by which this is all occurring. And while, as I heard last night, I understand that for instance the Horse Ranch has been under proposal since Covell Village was voted down, I still have to wonder about the timing of things.

This came up during multiple points in time last night. Councilmember Stephen Souza made it a point to suggest that this is not meant to undermine the work done by the HESC. He saw the role of the council as being different than that of the HESC anyway, since the HESC is looking at sites and the council at specific project proposals. But I cannot help wondering how the council can go forward looking to develop a site that is in the bottom third of site priorities.

Thus from a procedural standpoint, not weighing on the merits of any of these three projects, I would argue that the council should not be moving forward with these projects at this time. Councilmember Don Saylor made it a point to say that he feels that we are in need of housing and projects are not going forward at this time. Part of that of course is due to the front-loading of projects from the last General Plan toward the beginning of the period rather than spreading them more evenly.

The fact remains that the housing situation has turn, RHNA numbers are down, and the need to grow is not nearly as apparent as it might have been even two years ago when Covell was first brought up.

Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson made a more basic appeal of our need for additional housing and particularly affordable housing. But again, ignored the broader implications of the current housing market.

The more surprising development last night was an assessment of where this project actually stands both in the minds of the council as well as the broader community.

For one thing, I think the council was led to believe as I was that there was broad buy-in by the neighborhood adjacent to the Horse Ranch for this development. As impassioned and articulated appeals made clear this is not the case. The neighbors like the Horse Ranch next to their street, particularly now that it is well run. There remains a bit of irony that you may be more likely to get what you want if you run your property poorly than if you run it well.

They have concerns with the density difference in the new proposal. They have concerns about the height of the proposed condos. And there are concerns that the new neighborhood would stand out some from the existing neighborhood.

While the council majority was willing to push the process forward for an EIR paid for at the developer's expense, even they had a degree of reluctance and hesitation with the project as it stands now. As it this requires a Measure J vote, both Councilmembers Souza and Saylor kept pointing to a "wow factor" to use Councilmember Souza's term, although Mr. Saylor had similar language and reservations. In other words, we need to be sold on the idea that this project is needed. There has to be a reason for the people of Davis to vote for it and they do not see that reason right now.

During the course of this meeting I went from believing that this was merely a formality to believing that this project is in really serious trouble.

At one point Mayor Pro Asmundson asked City Manager Bill Emlen for an honest assessment. One of the goals is to have this for a Measure J vote by November of this year, but Mr. Emlen seemed very concerned about that ability to get the project to that point by that time. And he quite bluntly suggested that that timeline was in deep jeopardy based on what he had heard now.

There were a number of council machinations about what to do. Mayor Sue Greenwald first pushed for a vote to agendize a hearing that would kill the project altogether, but despite a second from Councilmember Lamar Heystek, that did not have the support of the Council Majority.

Clearly the council seemed disturbed--and all of them--that the neighborhood had not bought into this process at this time as they had previously believed. To me that is a key first step.

Having this level of density on the periphery is another concern. I am reluctant to expand the periphery of Davis to begin with. Frankly I like the smaller units on this project and the affordability of the units on this project, but the sustainability model, the model of smart growth is that you put this level of density in the core and that reduces the carbon footprint by reducing the amount of car trips. Putting this level of density on the perimeter obviously does not do that.

The big problem for me is again a timing issue. If the council is putting their trust in the HESC process, and clearly the members of the HESC have put in considerable work to determine where to grow, then the council should allow that to go forward.

The distinct impression I get is that the council would like to jump the HESC process by approving Simmons and Wildhorse in particular before the HESC wraps up. Lewis is more complicated with its vicinity to COvell Village. Once they have these properties in the actual approval stage then they would would consider the HESC' proposals.

The debate over growth rate is coming. Another debate over Measure J will be coming as well. Given concerns about the housing market, given concerns about carbon footprints and global warming, I am less than certain any of this is responsible. Mayor Sue Greenwald made a number of general points about growth that need to weighed heavily both on a local basis and a regional basis. It does not seem like anyone really wants to take on the tough questions.

I find it difficult to reconcile the concern that some on the council majority have about carbon footprint with the continuation of sprawl and urban development. And more importantly the lack of process based planning and development.

All of these considerations have probably been tossed aside by the reality on the ground so to speak that at this time, this project is not ready to go forward. They will take out an EIR and essentially push the decision into the future, but the tough work lays ahead on this. In the meantime, the HESC will come out with their recommendations for good areas to grow and none of the current proposals are going to make even the top 5 that place them into the likely category for development in the next six years given current growth guidelines and housing markets. It would seem then that the council ought to slow down and allow the HESC process to finish before moving forward on these projects.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Commentary: The question of neighborhood grocery stores ought to permeate future growth discussions

In 1999, a key debate in Davis emerged--what the impact of a 40,000 square-foot Nugget at Oak Tree Plaza would produce. Some including Bill Donaldson, Eileen Samitz, and Bill Alexander argued that the production of new and larger grocery stores would doom the 25,000 square-foot neighborhood grocery store which had been the hallmark of the 1987 Davis Gneeral Plan.

As they wrote at the time in an April 18, 1999 article:
"Are we going to abandon our neighborhood center policies, which serve our community both practically and in our very human need for social interaction with our friends and neighbors?"
At the time they were roundly criticized for their opposition to the larger grocery stores, which now dominate the landscape in Davis, at the expense of the neighborhood grocery store.

Gone are the small grocery stores at University Mall, the Davis Manor, and now the Westlake Shopping Center.

Is this simply reactionary alarmism or is there a valid argument to be made that we ought to have a series of smaller, 20 to 25,000 square foot grocery stores serving their specific communities?

Instead of looking back to answer this question, let us look forward. The concept is smart growth. Smart growth looks to more dense, mixed use development, that seeks to reduce traffic and drive time through smart urban design practices.

We see this philosophy at work here in Davis when we talk about densification as opposed to sprawl. The idea is the more tightly compact people reside, the closer they are to the city centers and the less they will have to drive in order to do their shopping, drive to downtown, and go to work. This plan seeks to increase walkability and biking and to reduce the amount that people are forced to drive.

We seem to have the idea of densification down to a tee in our discussions.

As Kevin Wolf, chair of the Housing Element Steering Committee wrote a week and a half ago:
"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."
We understand densification even if we disagree on how much we need to densify. We also understand the need for more energy efficient design.

But another facet of smart growth is mixed-use planning. The reason one needs that is that if you place commercial development within residential development, you can enable people to walk and bike to do the bulk of their shopping. And when it comes to shopping, the most frequent form is food shopping.

However, our grocery store policies are at odds with those of our smart design desires. The more we consolidate shopping in larger, 40,000 square foot grocery stores, the more we have violated this principal. The vast majority of people who shop at the two Safeways and the Nugget on Covell and Poleline, are people who are driving to get their food. As these stores have flourished, many of the neighborhood stores have disappeared.

One of the discussions that arose recently at the planning commission was what to do with Westlake Shopping Center where Ray"s and Food Fair had formerly resided. This is a smaller, 22,000 square foot store that had once served West Davis. Now, West Davis must drive 1.5 to 2 miles to the Safeway on Covell in order to do their shopping. Over the course of a year, that is a lot of additional driving. Meaning the emission of a lot of additional carbon. Hence big stores located in central areas rather than neighborhoods increase our carbon footprint.

But really it is worse than that. During the Target discussion we talked about the impact of big box retail, but one interesting discussion that occurred last year when Stacy Mitchell came to speak was the impact of big box grocery stores.

Let us compare the Co-Op to Safeway. The Co-Op is locally owned and operated. The profits go to those who reside in this community. Food is in part produced locally, particularly the produce. At the end of the day, the money is deposited into the local bank. Safeway on the other hand, has corporate ownership. All profits go to the Oakland corporate office. The money at the end of the day is deposited in a bank in Oakland. The produce and food are all shipped in from out of town. In other words, yes Safeway produces revenue and some tax base but there is a tremendous amount of leakage. The whole operation relies on trucking to import the produce and food and export the money. From a city economic standpoint it is inefficient. From an environmental standpoint is increases the carbon footprint. And the large central local requires the individuals to drive to the store.

The argument here is that policies that produce smaller and more locally owned grocery stores would be better for the local economy and the local environment. But in order to do that we would have to limit the size of grocery stores. Our policies that allowed 40,000 square foot grocery stores to move in have produced undesirable results.

The city and the owner of Westlake appeared ready and willing to actually continue and proliferate those harmful policies but fortunately the planning commission stepped in and at least temporarily delayed it. To Kevin Wolf's credit, he was one of those members of the public who came to the meeting and argued that we needed to hold out for a small grocery store.

If we are truly moving toward with this model of smart design, we cannot simply pick and choose which aspects we like, it has to be an entire package. We need to retain the character of our city by encouraging mixed-use planning and demanding that our city leaders look into ways to allow the neighborhood grocery store to remain competitive against the giant that we have already allowed to move in.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, January 28, 2008

With Workshop in the Past, Fight Over 1% Growth Guideline Looms

There have been twists and turns along the way, but the General Plan Housing Element Update process has focused much of Davis squarely on the issue of growth. While the process is far from over, one thing became clear as I made my way around the workshop prior to heading over for what turned out to be the far more contentious school board meeting on Valley Oak.

In terms of where Davis will grow, the 15 person panel split 9-6 along the Council Majority-Progressive lines is not all that far apart. It seems unlikely that any of the contentious peripheral properties will make the final cut. The debate will be over which of the infill projects make the most sense.

Moreover, the real debate that will be carried out not by this body, but by the city council, will be over how fast we ought to grow.

As one of the Steering Committee Members, Eileen Samitz wrote last week in a guest-spot on the Vanguard:
"The SACOG number currently assigned to Davis between 2006 and 2013 is only 498 units. However, the Council majority of Asmundson, Souza and Saylor want Davis to grow by at least 2,300 units, which is almost five times faster than what is being asked of us. The language of Measure L is included in our General Plan to grow as slow as legally possible. Yet this new Council majority growth policy is clearly in the best interest of the developers, not Davis citizens."
This revised SACOG number combined with a severe collapse of the housing market on a regional basis, has forced this council majority to attempt to re-package their argument. Back in the Covell Village days, they argued that the 1% growth guideline was the minimum required by law. Law meaning SACOG and RHNA guidelines--even though being out of compliance with such laws would be tantamount to a slap with a wet noodle.

However, now that RHNA has significantly lowered its targeted growth, the council majority is attempting to redefine what the 1% growth guideline means. Most recently, Councilmember Stephen Souza argued that it was merely a parameter or a target--a ceiling rather than a floor. This shift conveniently comes at a time when Mr. Souza and his colleague Don Saylor are running for reelection. It also demonstrates the changing environment for growth.

Nevertheless it seems likely that the progressives on council, Mayor Sue Greenwald and Councilmember Lamar Heystek will fight to reduce that 1% number further.

A one-percent growth rate sounds small, but it is really an equivalent of 300 units a year or a development the size of Wildhorse every three years. Think about that. Now think about the limited infrastructure, water, and services that the city has at present.

The battle lines have been drawn over the 1% growth guideline and what it means for Davis.

From the start, I was opposed to the idea of a steering committee. There was a very basic reason that is going to eventually play out. While the committee has proven to be a bit more than the rubber-stamp group some feared, it has also dragged out the process substantially. As several members have suggested to me, this process of ranking sites could have been performed by a few people in four hours. The council majority wanted political cover on this issue, but the real issue is not the where but the how much.

One good thing did come out of last week--a political miscalculation by the Covell Partners. The email from the Project Coordinator for North Davis Land Company, Lydia Delis-Schlosser was a huge political mistake on a number of levels. A number of members of the steering committee--on both sides--were not happy that the email was sent out and felt it inappropriate for it to contain instructions on how to fill out a form.

Let me be clear again because these things seem to get lost in debate, I have no problem with anyone emailing a group of likely supporters to come to housing element meeting. I also have no problem with anyone advocating support or opposition for a specific project. If Ms. Delis-Schlosser had sent out an email urging her people to support Covell Village, Part Deux, we would not be having this conversation. She claims this was sent to a small amount of people--that appears likely to be an accurate statement, but no one had anyway of knowing that at the time. Given past events, few probably would have taken their word for it.

But that's neither her nor there. The bottom line is that this was a monumental blunder on a number of different levels. It angered some of the steering committee who felt it undermined the process. It angered those who had opposed Covell Village and felt this was an end-run.

But most of all it actually made Covell Village Part Deux, DOA. In the ensuing days, I have spoken to a large number of people who read the article in the blog and for them this was the first they even knew that Covell Village was coming back for reconsideration in a new and better packaged form. And they were outraged about this.

The confluence of Valley Oak and Housing last week instead of dividing people's attention, focused people's attention. So people at the Valley Oak meeting were asking about housing and people at the housing meeting were asking about Valley Oak. The result was a huge amount of attention on the blog in general and people in large numbers found out about the new Covell plan.

Furthermore any community interest in Covell Village would be viewed with suspicion. It would seem artificially rather than legitimately generated.

Finally, the denials by Ms. Lydia Delis-Schlosser simply did not ring true.

She wrote:
"I must emphasize that I sent this email only to people who have come to our conference room and spent hours talking to us and sharing their thoughts and concerns regarding senior housing and the lack of choices in our town. Neither we nor they have any intention to manipulate the public process. We ARE, however, interested in stimulating discussion among people who have been dissatisfied with the present inadequacy in senior-oriented housing in Davis, and in involving them as advisers to help us in conceiving a solution. This email went to those who expressed interest and want to support a new type of senior housing opportunity for Davis."
The problem with this view is the how-to sheet. It was not set up to place senior housing as a high priority, it was set up to place Covell Village as a high priority.

We can see that in the instructions. First, she requested that they selected the "expand city boundaries option." This obviously goes beyond simply senior housing. Second, she request that they select the do not approve infill projects that have a greater density than their surrounding neighborhoods. At first glance that seems innocuous until you realize that pretty much precludes creating a senior housing facility on infill development. Unless this were aimed at advocacy for a very specific project, these choices would not aim a more generalized concern of senior housing.

The bottom line here is that this email has effectively helped to kill any realistic prospect for a re-visitation of Covell Village in probably the next two general plan cycles.

Tough fights still remain particularly with regards to the 1% growth guideline and also eventually a re-examination of Measure J. But for the moment some of the worst alternative appear to be fairly low on the priority scale. However, there remains many tough fights this year. The next meeting of the Housing Element in a week and a half should be very instructive in deciding the next steps that will be taken.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Notes from the Underbelly

What is a Hate Crime?

Some weeks, there gets to be so much to report, I literally cannot report on it all. This was one of those weeks. In fact the constant flury of activity has created a backlog of stories that need to be reported or commented on.

We learned nearly two weeks ago that was originally thought to be a hate crime, was in fact a ploy used by a group of teenagers to deceive police and throw them off their trail.

From the Davis Enterprise on January 14, 2008:
"Davis police announced this morning the arrest of a local teen and the pending arrests of four others on suspicion of vandalizing Holmes Junior High School last month with a large amount of graffiti, some of it bearing racial slurs.

But while police initially investigated the incident as a hate crime , they later determined that the slurs — targeting Asians, African Americans and Latinos — were used as a tactic "to throw off the investigation," Sgt. Scott Smith said.

On Friday, detectives arrested a 14-year-old African-American girl in connection with the case, describing her as the organizer of the vandalism spree. Four other girls, ranging in age from 13 to 15, were expected to be taken into custody this morning."
The community originally reacted to these attacks as though they were hate crimes. I would argue that they still are. According to Sgt. Smith:
"Through our investigation, we obtained confessions from all the parties, and they were consistent in their statements that the motive for the racial slurs was to make people believe that a white person had done this."
Some argue that hate crimes are actually just thought crimes, dependent on motivation and hate for their force. Of course all crimes are in part thought crimes, motivation helps differentiate first degree murder from involuntary manslaughter. But hate crimes are more than that. They are in fact an act of terrorism aimed not just at an individual victim but at an entire community. Thus I would argue that this crime is just as much a hate crime as it would be if a white person had done it.

Does the fact that the perpetrator was black, change the impact it had on the community when the crime was first detected? No. In fact we can add to it that they were trying to frame white community members for the crime.

Finally, the reaction from the Principal of Holmes Junior High:
"Derek Brothers, principal of Holmes Junior High, today described the vandalism as an "unfortunate incident." He declined to comment further, citing the ongoing police investigation, but provided a copy of a letter sent home to parents last week.

"These crimes are extremely disturbing and contrary to all we believe and teach. Although unfortunate, such incidents do provide teaching opportunities about racism and hate crimes ," the letter says. "Many of our teachers will be discussing this incident in their classrooms and making clear that what has happened is unacceptable for our schools, our community and our country.

"As parents, you can reinforce these lessons and help your children understand that hate language hurts all of us and damages the very fabric of our democratic society," Brothers says. "
Frankly I do not see how the fact that the perpetrators were not white changes the impact of the incident. At the end of the day, a hate crime is a hate crime. I think we have just as much of a problem now as we thought we had a month ago. Maybe even a larger problem.

Open Government

I do not know how many people saw this item earlier this week in the local paper:
"Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley was honored today with the Freedom of Information Award by the California Newspaper Publishers Association and the California Society of Newspaper Editors. The award was presented at a luncheon at the Government Affairs Day Luncheon at the Sheraton Hotel in Sacramento.

The award was based in large part on Cooley's sponsorship of Senate Bill 690 (Calderon) in 2007. This bill grants the public greater access to information about criminal charges and the outcome of criminal cases.

In accepting the award, Cooley credited Special Assistant District Attorney Jim Provenza, a Davis resident, for the new law.

'Without Jim's tireless efforts, this important freedom of information law would not have been adopted,' Cooley said.

He went on to note that, in addition to representing prosecutors full time at the state Capitol, Provenza served last year as president of the Davis Board of Education.

'Under Jim's leadership, the school board implemented a sunshine policy that provides much greater public access to meetings and documents than that required by the Brown Act and the Public Records Act.'

Provenza has said previously he views these laws as minimum standards.

'Making government accessible to the very people who fund it is fundamental in a democracy,' Provenza said in a news release. 'It's frustrating we still have to make that known in some circles, but as long as I serve the public, in whatever capacity, open government will be a priority.'"
This blog and this blog writer have long been dedicated to greater public access to information and sunshine. As we speak, behind the scenes, efforts are underway in conjunction with local government officials to further open the process and provide the public with access to information about what is happening in their government. Transparency is the greatest and most important principle in democratic government.

Senate Bill 690 is a modest effort that amends the law to establish procedures for the release of Summary Criminal History Information. Summary criminal history information includes basic blotter sheet information such as a person’s name, physical description, date of arrests, arresting agencies, booking numbers, charges, dispositions and other data. It gives the public greater access to specific details about a subjects criminal history. It would make these detail subject to the Public Records Act, so that any person could make a written request for that information.

This is not a new thing for Jim Provenza. While a member of the school board in Davis, Mr. Provenza fought long and hard to conduct meetings in open session unless specifically precluded to by law. When he first came to the board, the general practice was for the board to do things in closed session. The Brown Act specifically requires public business to be done in public unless interests of privacy or litigation specifically preclude it, but that was not the practice of the board when he first arrived.

California still has among the weakest public records disclosure requirements in the country, with a great amount of information still exempt from disclosure. The failure of the State Legislature last year to reauthorize civil police oversight and allow police disciplinary records become public (SB 1019) was a devastating blow to free speech and open government advocates. However, SB 690 was rightly seen as a step in the right direction.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting