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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Commentary: "Food Miles" Cannot Be Discussed in Isolation From Land Use Policies

Recently in the Davis Enterprise, John Mott-Smith had a provocative piece on the importance of keeping down food miles.

From our perspective there are actually two issues that are important in food miles. First the distance that the food travels to stores. Second, the distance that we travel to stores to get the food.

In arguing for reduction in distance that food is transported, Mr. Mott-Smith writes:
"Generally, locally grown food purchased in season is fresher, more healthful and requires less energy to produce and transport to market, and we should encourage stores and restaurants to provide food that is produced locally."
Second he argued for neighborhood grocery stores:
"How we get to the market to buy the food is also important. One of the best things we can do is walk or bike to the store. Of course, whether we can walk or bike to a store depends on whether there is a food store near where we live.

Not too long ago, there was a food store within a half-mile of every resident in Davis. The trend to larger stores has been one cause of the closure of several of these "neighborhood stores." As the effects of climate change and "peak oil" make themselves felt in our economy and our daily lives, having essential services such as a grocery store accessible to each neighborhood will be an important element in reducing the number and distance of vehicle trips in the community."
Extending his argument out further, what he is really talking about, is having grocery stores that are locally owned and operated and also small and conveniently located within our neighborhoods.

As we have spent much time discussing this year, we have moved away from the neighborhood grocery store model and towards a centralized model with large supermarkets--the two Safeways and the Nugget on East Covell.

Davis Manor, West Lake, and University Mall no longer have their neighborhood grocery stores.

At the same time, a store like Safeway is particularly harmful for the environment and the economy of a place like Davis. They transport all of their food in--this requires large amounts of fossil fuel burning.

And as we have mentioned previously, they take in money from this community and then transport it back to Oakland. The profits go to Oakland. They sit in an Oakland bank. In other words, they suck money out of the community, give a small amount back to their employees, give a small amount back in tax dollars, most of the money leaks out.

This is the argument not only against large national supermarket chains, but against all national chains and big-box stores.

They sound alluring for the consumer offering a broad array of choices and at times better prices (if you catch their items on sale), but in terms of health to the local economy, that health is illusive at best.

Particularly bad, is a store like Target. The city projects a tax revenue of roughly $600,000 from Target. I actually think that's optimistic once you figure in lost revenue and stores going out of business in the core and the cost of public safety.

But the problem with a place like Target from both an environmental and an economic standpoint, is the habits that people will have to undertake to get there, to get merchandise there, to work there, and to purchase products there.

The economic benefits are actually quite limited. The majority of the products sold there will be imported from elsewhere. The money will be sent to their corporate offices. Their employees will largely be imported in from West Sacramento, Woodland, and Dixon. Thus they will use the majority of their money to purchase goods and services out of town. Why? Because they cannot afford to live in Davis on Target wages.

It is nice to have a revenue base in a city, but where business really helps is the multiplier effect. Here's an example. If I live in Davis and open up a business the revenue I make in Davis gets spent by me primarily in Davis. I hire employees, they live in Davis, the money that they earn is then spent on goods and services in Davis primarily. And the money that is spent on goods and services goes to other people who spent their earnings on the same and down the line. In other words, the more money spent in Davis that stays in Davis simply proliferates around the community.

On the other hand, if I spend money and it goes to Oakland or Minneapolis, that does not happen. It does not benefit Davis.

So from an economic perspective, local communities are best off having local business who buy their products locally. From an environmental perspective, we are the same.

This all sounds good but then consumers stick their noses into the argument at this point and tell us that they want to be able to choose from a broad selection and consume the products that they want at a cheap price.

The two responses to that point should be that if you believe we are facing an impending global warming crisis, then you need to change your consumption habits. We will not get the deep cuts in carbon and greenhouse gas emissions without changing our behavior.

Second, everyone talks about how much cheaper big-box stores are than other stores, for the most part that's actually not true. Studies have shown that what actually happens is that big-box stores cherry pick on a few products that are recognizable and charge less. They also have a tendency to charge less when they move into an area, drive out competition, and then adjust to market rate prices.

Everyone talks about how expensive Nugget is. The only difference between Nugget prices and Safeway prices are that Safeway has more frequent sales and they rotate their sales. So if you catch a product on sale, yes it is cheaper, but the base price of Safeway products are as expensive as Nugget. So what generally happens is that consumers will purchase some products on sale but for the most part will buy products that are not on sale and end up spending about the same.

The bottom line is that we have come to accept our market rather than to change it. Just because right now big-box and national chains appear to offer more products at a better price does not mean we are stuck with having to use those environmentally and economically harmful vendors.

At the local level we need to fight to make local business more competitive. That is something that a city council can do. Give local business incentives and benefits that will enable them to be competitive against the national chains.

In the end John Mott-Smith wrote an interesting piece about food miles, but he did not go far enough talking about policies in the city to encourage neighborhood grocery stores. He did not extend those discussion to beyond food. He did not get into the difficult political areas of discussion that will be needed to enact the type of changes he advocates.

In the coming weeks we'll be talking on the Vanguard about the impact of city driven-policies toward the reduction of carbon emissions and one of the areas that we need to focus on is the disconnect between the council's words on climate change and their actions and land use policies.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, February 15, 2008

Friday Vanguard Stories

Davis Democrats United Around the Concept of Change

Last night the Davis Democratic Club came together for their annual Valentine's Day potluck. While they may not agree on who should be the Presidential nominee from the party as the close battle between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama moves on past Super Tuesday, what is clear is that the leaders of the local party are united around the concept of change from the current leadership under George W. Bush.

Assemblywoman Los Wolk told the crowd that she was
"incredibly excited that we were going to take back the White House."
She continued,
"Throughout the state, the number of Democrats that came out and voted exceeded the number of Republicans by three-to-one. There are just not enough voting machines, it is just unbelievable what is going on."
Assemblywoman Wolk told the crowd that in March she would formally kick her race to succeed Senator Mike Machado for the 5th Senate District of California. It will be a tough battle against right wing Republican Greg Aghazarian. She will be spending much of her time campaigning in San Joaquin County.

Davis Mayor Sue Greenwald acknowledged that the Presidential Primaries have been so exciting that it's been hard to concentrate on her own reelection campaign.

Supervisor Mariko Yamada, candidate for the 8th Assembly District joked,
"Today is the only day when red is my favorite color, the rest of the year blue is my favorite color."
She pointed out that there were 79 days until the June 3, 2008 election in which she would faced West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon.

The West Sacramento Mayor Cabaldon remarked,
"Watching over the last couple of months this election, I heard Bill Clinton say just the other day 'looking at the faces of young people,' well looking at the faces of people of all ages over the last several months about our Democratic Primary, for the last couple of years over our ability to actually do something about big problems like global warming, we're starting to believe in change and possibility again and young people are certainly the best example of that, but all of us are doing that. We can't blow this one. It's too easy to take that for granted. In November if we don't have that same sense of hope and possibility and energy and optimism, we will lose and we know what another four or eight years of a Republican in the White House will mean."
Jim Provenza, former Davis School Board President and current candidate for the 4th Supervisorial District remarked:
"I'm very excited about what's going on in the Presidential race as everyone else is, but one of the things that really moves me is that both candidates for President have really called on all of us to be part of change. It's not just electing someone, having them go to office, and then go back to what we do in our daily lives and expect everything to get better. Instead they are both talking about a movement that will involve all of us as agents of change on a national, state, and local level and that's really what essential because we elect our leaders to take us in that direction but it is all of us that will accomplish these things."
Mr. Provenza then hearkened back to John F. Kennedy's call to arms about public service asking the nation to sacrifice in order to accomplish collective goals.

Jim Provenza's opponent, John Ferrera who works in the State Senate for Senator Denise Ducheney.
"We share a lot of the same values. My wife Anna and I for instance grew up in families that were very active in their communities."
He remarked that Democrats in the legislature are united for the first time in many years.
"Something that is so different this year is that for the first time in many years... Assembly Democrats and Senate Democrats are actually on the same page, working together because we know, that beyond the competition between house, beyond the competition between Assemblymembers vying for the next Senate seat or Senate members vying for the next constitutional office what is absolutely critical this year is that Democrats stick together. Otherwise we will have a Governor's budget where we trick poor people into having to file for their health care often enough that the fall out of eligibility that just isn't how we save money. We will raise college fees again. We will cut off aid to children of working parents because they come up a percent short of a federal work requirement... That's not the kind of California that we want."
In the coming weeks and months many of the people in the room last night will be working against each other. Davis is largely a Democratic town. All of the candidates for non-partisan offices such as the County Supervisor and City Council will be Democrats. However on this night at least people saw beyond those battles to the big picture. The fight at the national level, the fight at the state level, and the fight at the local level for the kinds of Democratic, big D values that unite us in common purpose.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Freddie Oakley More Quietly Stands Up for the Right to Marry

It was a scene that was much different from that of a year ago when Yolo County Clerk Freddie Oakley made national headlines with her protest of California's Marriage Laws that prevent her from issuing Marriage Certificates to same sex partners. There were no protests outside. No angry demonstrators. No counter-demonstrators. It was just the County Clerk, two candidates for the Assembly, and a small number of same sex couples who came.

At noon, Freddie Oakley turned down a small number of couples and gave them a card that read:

"Thanking you for visiting the Yolo County Clerk today, February 14, 2008. I am so sorry that I am not legally authorized to issue a marriage license to you. Instead, with your permission, I will make a donation in your name to Marriage Equality USA. Please don't give up."

Both County Supervisor Mariko Yamada, a longtime support of marriage equity and her opponent for the 8th Assembly District Christopher Cabaldon, himself an openly gay male, were at the small ceremony.

Speaking to the Democratic event later in the evening, the West Sacramento Mayor made a few remarks on the subject.
"Just one personal note. This is the worst day of the year for me. It's Valentine's Day and I typically don't like to go out on Valentine's Day. Mariko and several of us today have gone around the region because later in the year there is a very good chance that there will be a constitutional amendment on the ballot to permanently ban same sex marriage. To permanently ensconce discrimination into the California Constitution because some people think that the Supreme Court might actually see the light in March and rule that marriage equality is something in California that's enshrined in our constitution. I hope you'll take the chance in the next couple of month if you believe that it should be okay, that as the Mayor I should be able to marry just like a convicted felon can. To take the chance and talk to your [family] and just have a quick conversation about the role of government in deciding who can love who. And what that means and whether we really want government to say you can't marry because you have three parking tickets. That's not the kind of society that we want. But that change will only happen if more of us have this personal heart-to-heart conversation..."
In March, the California Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the ban on same sex marriage. And it seems that many think there will be a good chance that that ban will be overturned. If that happens, opponents of same-sex marriage will likely try to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot. Once again, just ahead of a Presidential Election.

It is probably something that most people do not think about on Valentine's Day, when they go to bed at night with their spouse and realize how lucky they are to be able to be married to the person they love, to the person of their dreams. It is also probably not something we think about often enough how difficult it must be to not be able to marry the person that they wish.

For me, I respected the courageous stand that Freddie Oakley took last year in a very public way. But I also respect the stance she took yesterday in a much more low-key manner that was just as heartfelt and just as loving. Yolo County is lucky to have such a compassionate person serving the public as our Clerk Recorder.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Thursday Vanguard Stories

Commentary: Looking Back At Rhetoric from Measure X

The discussion Tuesday night at Davis City Council about the meaning of the city's one percent growth guideline hearkens back to a discussion from September 2005 that occurred ahead of the vote on Covell Village.

Under the header "cap, guideline or goal?" the Davis Enterprise's Claire St. John cited then City Planning Director Bill Emlen (now City Manager) arguing the 1 percent growth "cap."
"the 1 percent growth cap actually gives the city more stability and predictability in terms of how fast it will grow and where.

A big project like Covell Village would make the planning process even more stable, Emlen said.

"If you're looking at a planned-growth scenario, it gives some certainty about where the city is going for the next 10 years, if it were approved," he said. "I would say it provides more order in terms of growth than if we were dealing with other projects that were coming in on the periphery that may not be part of what we think of as a compact city."
However, then Mayor Pro Tem Sue Greenwald had a different view of the 1 percent growth guideline and how much it actually amount to.
"The council majority has been very unclear about whether it's a target or a requirement or what," Greenwald said. "In fact, what they passed is 1 percent not counting affordable housing, or something they called 'exceptional infill opportunities,' which is a loophole you can drive a truck through.

"If it really is a cap, then let's stop treating it as a target and let's stop using it to justify approving projects," she said."

With affordable housing and certain infill projects, housing units per year can rise to about 325, Greenwald was told by Senior Planner Bob Wolcott.
Mike Harrington, by then a former City Councilmember:
"Harrington also voted against the 250-home parameter, saying it was tailor-made for Covell Village.

"By adopting the 1 percent growth requirement, then they built in this bureaucratic need for this project," Harrington said of the council majority. "The way they wrote it, it's like it specifically required Covell ."
The most telling piece of information actually comes from an Op-Ed published on October 23, 2005 and penned by Councilmembers Stephen Souza and Don Saylor.

In this op-ed they use the 1% growth guideline as an argument to approve Covell Village instilling fear of worse projects such as a Gidaro project forced upon Davis by the county as a fear mechanism.

They begin arguing that the 1% growth guideline is a goal:
"Measure X will decide how Davis will meet its 1 percent housing goals for the next decade, and which plan best meets those goals."
That argument is at least somewhat consistent with the argument that they are using right now. However, watch what they do here:
"Can't we just use Measure J to vote down proposals like Gidaro's?

Not necessarily. We are required by law to meet our regional housing requirements. That's one reason we passed a 1 percent growth policy. If we don't accept our fair share of growth , we can lose major transportation funding, and it invites developers like Gidaro to do an end run around the City Council — and the voters — to force development right on the edge of town."
What they have done here is very cleaver, they have used RHNA guidelines to argue that if we do not grow, we will have growth forced on us by the boogeyman, apparently Steve Gidaro--which is ironic since Stephen Souza likely would not have been elected without Gidaro's intervention into the 2004 election.

In this small argument, the 1% growth guideline becomes exactly what they told us it was not on Tuesday night--growth pressure and a requirement.

Even as they argued on Tuesday that the 1% growth guideline was not producing growth pressure, two years ago they explicitly used it to pressure the community into voting for Covell Village. If we did not pass Covell Village we would lose certain funding AND we would "be forced" to grow with other projects that would presumably be worse.

This was a poor argument on a number of fronts, most specifically because there was nothing to preclude them from offering a more preferred alternative to Covell Village from the outset. There was never a no need to approve and promote a project the voters do not like.

But they were also arguing that the law required us to grow--a marked change from Tuesday night when they suggested the 1 percent guideline was a cap not a mandate for growth.

This is a tricky argument on a number of fronts from their perspective. If we do not grow at that rate, it is not a "violation" of the law. It would simply mean that we would become ineligible for certain funding from the state. The voters then would have to weigh the costs of Covell compared to the costs of non-compliance--should SACOG decide to enforce those requirements.

Second, this argument no longer even applies to Davis since the RHNA numbers have shrunk at present to .25% growth or half what Covell alone would have imposed on us for the next decade. So why have we maintained the 1 percent growth level when we are not required to do so--if the RHNA numbers were the reason to set the growth at that level in the first place?

Missing from Tuesday's conversation is that the argument about mandated growth requirements should no longer be present if RHNA is not imposing it.

The councilmembers then pressed the argument back in 2005 that by passing Covell Village, we allow Davis to remain Davis. But that's the open question now guiding our thinking now. If we add 2300 units every seven years, how long before Davis is no longer Davis?

That is the point that was dodged on Tuesday night.

Don Saylor tried to finesse this point with the following argument:
“We live in Davis for a high quality of life and a sense of community. And when we think about what causes that, how many of us actually think it has to do with how many of us there are.”
But if Davis is 120,000 people is it still Davis? What makes Davis, Davis? What separates Davis from Woodland, Vacaville, and Fairfield? Mr. Saylor did not answer the question on Tuesday. Now did Mr. Saylor attempt to reconcile his beliefs about Covell Village versus those of the voters.

In 2005, Councilmembers Souza and Saylor argued that Covell village was "smart planning. With targeted housing, open space, bike paths, public safety enhancements and the rest."

But the voters saw it differently. They saw it as sprawl. They saw a huge number of units added into a location with existing traffic concerns and limited access.

Finally, Mr. Saylor on Tuesday night highlighted a litany of existing housing needs but he never defined or even described how those housing needs will fit into the city.

It bears repeating, 2300 every seven years equals 1.5 Mace Ranch sized developments. Think about where you are putting the next Mace Ranch. Now think about where you would put three of them over the next 14 years.

Their only defense was that four the last four years we have grown at .55 percent. That is true. But guess what, had we passed Covell Village, that would have doubled to 1% pretty quickly. And when he starts talking about student housing, senior housing, and single family housing, you know the plan for the next seven years is not .55 percent growth. Because .55 percent growth is not accommodating his vision.

Look we all want more affordable housing, we want the students to be able to reside in this community, we want seniors to be able to retire near their families. The question is how accommodate those goals. And one way we do not accomplish them is to remove a huge swath of student occupied units along 3rd and B and replace them with owner-occupied bungalows. One way we do not accomplish any of these is by producing housing units that average between $400,000 and $600,000 along the periphery.

There is a disconnect between the rhetoric of the council majority and the reality of the proposals that have been brought forward.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Chancellor's Brown Bag Lunch Brings Renewed Calls for Justice For Sodexho Workers

Yesterday UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef had his "brown bag lunch" where he spoke before a group largely made up of his own assistants, provosts, vice-chancellors, and other upper administration.

He spoke at length about a number of his own concerns before turning it over to questions. The biggest concern at this point is a proposed across-the-board cut from the governor due to the budget crisis. A cut that will be as much as 10 percent.

The Chancellor stressed that all options were on the table. Among those options is a higher than the projected 7 percent tuition increase.

Another option is no enrollment growth. He said they were projecting 5000 new students given the enrollment numbers in high schools across the state. The problem with that approach is that for forty years the UC system has taken in the top 12.5 percent of graduating seniors and if they did not do that this year that would be a marked shift in their philosophy and he indicated not a shift they would be comfortable with.

He also put on the table cuts in services to students and cuts in health care coverage to employees. The latter would force employees to dig into their own resources in order to maintain their health coverage.

It is interesting that one item not mentioned as being on the table even though it would not generate a lot of savings would be a roll back of upper administrative salaries. Some may recall the near riots that took place when the UC Board of Regents announced huge tuition hikes while at the same time increased some of their top administrative salaries by $50,000 per year. Symbolic to be sure, but it would be similar to a CEO of a major corporation taking a huge salary increase while at the same they were laying off $10,000 rank and file employees.

Dominating the question and answer period were concerns about worker contracts including Sodexho workers but also university employees who are seeking new contracts amid talks of huge budget cuts.

Don Gibson, a UC Davis student who is VP of the Davis College Democrats and an elected member of the Yolo County Democratic Central Committee. He read from the resolution passed on January 7, 2008 that called for a university contract for food service employees.

The Chancellor asked Janet Gong to speak to this issue.
"In October, the end of the month, we signed what's called a memorandum of understanding between the university and Sodexho. Sodexho is the vendor that supplies contracted out food service for both our vendor halls as well as our retail operations such as you see in this building downstairs.

That MOU provides for increases in wages at classification levels for campus food service workers that are equal between what Sodexho is paying and what campus workers would be making on campus. The wages are identical in terms of the classification wages.

It also spoke to health insurance and we did find that there were disparities in health insurance between what benefits the university would provide employees and what the vendor was providing. So we arranged with Sodexho to go from a 60-40 employer-employee pay plan to an 80-20 plan. And we supplemented that with $100.10 per month as a stipend that could also go to employees for insurance.

Wages were increased in September, insurance increases were effective in January, since that time there has been a 47 percent increase in the number of Sodexho employees who are now receiving health insurance."
Ms. Gong further suggested that:
"We've agreed to undertake a process to look at all options... certainly the option of bringing food service employees in house is one of the options that we're looking at. To do that we are mining all kinds of operational and financial data."
The goal according to Janet Gong was to have preliminary recommendations by April as to whether they should bring food service employees in house. It seems obvious on two levels first that conditions for employees have improved since October both on the wages front and the health care front. However, it also seems obvious that the university would not continue its relationship with Sodexho unless there remained strong financial incentive to do so, which necessarily means that the workers are receiving less in terms of wages and benefits than they would under a university contract. And while the budget crunch is a concern, UC Davis has less excuse on this issue than on others since it is really the only UC outsourcing labor.

Max Alper of AFSCME 3299 disagreed with Janet Gong on some of the points that she raised.
"I just wanted to make sure that everybody saw that there was a report put out by a progressive faculty group for UC Davis that found many interesting things including that Sodexho wages are still even with these changes 5 to 9 percent below UC Davis wages that are paid at the UC Davis medical center. And more disturbing is that health care for families is still 41 percent more expensive including the 100 dollar stipend. And when you ask people to wait until April for preliminary results there are some workers right here who can tell you why they can't wait."
Janet Gong responded that food service workers at the UC Davis medical center are not comparable to the food service workers on campus.
"There are very distinct differences between those two which include things like at the medical center food service workers are dealing directly with patients, there is delivery of food to patients, there is compliance with charting restrictions, with regulations, there are different regulatory agencies, it is a 365, 7 day a week, 24 hour a day operation. Those kind of responsibilities in the job descriptions and classifications are very different than working in a campus food-based operation."
Tarone Bittner unit chair for UAW 2865 at Davis spoke passionately on the issue of outsourced workers and disputed notions by university staff and administration that they were working to bring UC pay inline with market wages.
"I have been here for three years, I have seen no movement on this. Yet we have you sitting here saying that you want to pay market wages. Well do it, what else needs to be done. The Sodexho issue is a sad issue in and of itself because we're talking about out-sourcing which is intolerable... It should be intolerable for every worker on this campus. Because what you're saying is that we're going to take the opportunity to exploit not only the workers that are unionized but the workers in our midst that work for Sodexho. So we're going to pay them even less.

And we all know where this concept comes from, right, outsourcing, downsizing, etc., that happens when a corporation wants to make more money by paying less in labor costs. It makes sense to a certain degree to do that nationally, but to do it in your community is particularly offense because what you're talking about is bringing down your standard of living for everyone in your own community. That doesn't make any sense to me.

There's a social cost here that seems to be missed. So let me reiterate, all of the workers at UC are paid a substandard wage. So let's start right there. Let's fix the thing with Sodexho, we're the last campus in the system that's outsourcing, so we're like the backwater of the UC system.

But we need to fix this so that we can get to the issue of bringing up the wages to market which you said your for. We could deal with that right now. I'm sure all the unions would be happy to meet tomorrow to bring up all the wages to market."
In the end, Sodexho workers Joe Moreno and Esther Juarez tried to talk with the Chancellor about their health situations and the impact of the university's policy on their lives. However, the Chancellor was quickly ushered out the back door and the workers were left frustrated at their lack of ability to express to the Chancellor the impact of the university's policies.

People will look at the improvements and perhaps ask why the workers are continuing their struggle, but it is clear that the university has been forced since October to make concessions they did not want to make and they also are considering more changes. It is difficult to know what will happen in April and it therefore makes sense to continue to press their demands to become UC employees with better wages, better health insurance, and better working conditions.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting