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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Vanguard Commentary: Schools and the 8th Assembly Race


Two separate items of interest in the news this week. We'll start with schools because it is amazingly what is on everyone's mind. I say amazingly because flashing back to last October that was about the last thing anyone wanted to talk about on this blog. Now it is virtually all people are interested in, even with a looming City Council election which is usually the creme de la creme of Davis politics.

The school board decision is a very interesting decision because it is the outcome that I preferred--I did not want Emerson to close and yet in many ways I think the decision is problematic at best.

It is my hope that the wrath does not shift to Boardmembers Tim Taylor and Gina Daleiden on this. They both voted against the motion primarily not because they opposed keeping Emerson open, but rather because all of the options--school closings, reconfigurations, program and teacher cuts--needed to be on the table at the same time. And moreover, if they were not going to close the schools and reconfigure the secondary program, there needed to be concurrent cuts proposed so that they knew where the money was coming from that they needed to balance the budget.

Tim Taylor called this motion financially irresponsible.

Now I think there are good educational reasons to keep Emerson open, but then again I felt there were good educational reasons to keep Valley Oak open--and two of the members who voted to close Valley Oak, the two strongest proponents of that closing, led the way to keep Emerson open.

With this decision, the April 17 board meeting is looming large because it is at that meeting that the board will need to once again identify more than $4 million in cuts. With already more than 100 teachers and librarians receiving pink slips, we can only look on in horror wondering what next.

We wanted the school to remain open, I just hope we don't end up regretting that decision down the line. The district and board face some very tough choices in the coming weeks, we will have to see just how bad this decision ends up looking. In the meantime, parents of all junior high students and even a lot of high school students probably rested a bit easier last night knowing where their kids are kids to school.

8th Assembly District Race

Well if it means anything, Supervisor Matt Rexroad is now calling the race for West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon. It seems like the Assemblywoman Lois Wolk endorsement of Cabaldon's campaign has been known in inside circles for sometime, and even before it was official, it seemed like she was leaning that direction.

However this week, Mayor Cabaldon gained the Democratic Party's endorsement and the endorsement of the sitting Assemblywoman.

As Matt Rexroad states:
"I knew that it was coming last week. Now that it is official that Assemblywoman Wolk has endorsed Cabaldon for Assembly I think it is over.

For weeks I have been telling people that Cabaldon is favored but they should not underestimate what Yamada can do on the ballot. This district wants to elect a woman. That ended yesterday.

With a huge endorsement advantage including support of the incumbent, a fund raising advantage that is going to approach a ratio of infinity:1, and the party endorsement, Cabaldon is the next Assemblyman for Woodland."
It was a nice ceremony on Thursday with Former Assemblymembers Tom Hannigan and Helen Thomson joining the sitting Assemblywoman and the candidate. And yet, where was the news coverage? There was not another member of the press at this event.

The public is really getting shortchanged on the local election coverage. No one else covered the candidates forum this week and that was with Davis Enterprise assistant publisher/ editor Debbie Davis as moderator of the forum and reporter Claire St. John in the audience seemingly taking notes. From the standpoint of the public making informed decisions, the information is scant from the mainstream press.

Back to the 8th Assembly race for a moment. One could argue that it might not have mattered anyway--Christopher Cabaldon has run a tremendous race, he has earned endorsements throughout the district from elected officials, he has captured the activist youth, and he has raised a huge amount of money.

At the same time, one has to wonder what if. At the beginning of 2007, Mariko Yamada was a fairly popular Supervisor who had strong support among the Davis Progressive community and then for some reason, she decided to back efforts to develop on Davis' borders. This drove her base into the arms of Christopher Cabaldon. You just cannot do that politics. And if that were it, that would have been bad enough, but from the start, she has been outworked on the campaign trail by Cabaldon and his team. And so even when she and her supporters put on a fullcourt press last weekend to avert an CDP endorsement for Cabaldon, she managed just 13 votes and just a 160 signatures. Too little, too late.

Is the race over? That is more difficult to assess since there are no reliable polls for the race or the district. But it is increasingly difficult to see a scenario where she even keeps the race close given both the advantage in terms of support among elected officials but also the monetary advantage. Her financial report from a week ago was frankly appalling. She is not bringing in money. One could theoretically overcome that with grassroots organization, but there is little evidence that she has produced that.

I stop short of declaring the race over, but at this point it does not look good from the Yamada campaign. And in some ways that is too bad because I still remember the Mariko Yamada who was the fighter for social justice. Sadly it appears she has even allowed Cabaldon to steal that mantle.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, April 04, 2008

Davis School Board Votes to Keep Three Junior Highs

After long discussion over the last several weeks, the Davis School Board voted by a 3-2 vote to keep three juniors and keep the secondary schools in the same current configuration with Davis High School remaining a 10-12 program and DaVinci High School remaining on the Davis High School campus.

Gina Daleiden in her dissenting vote made it clear that the vote was not necessarily on the substance of the issue, but due to the fact that the vote was not tied to corresponding budget cuts. The same is true from Tim Taylor's vote as well.

In addition, the school board voted to keep hire three Principals to fill the vacancy at three elementary schools.

Earlier in the evening Superintendent James Hammond made a radical suggestion of offering to save the district over $100,000 by performing a duel role of Principal at an Elementary School while at the same time continuing to serve as the district's superintendent.

Gina Daleiden would say that "this is one time we need to save James, from James." Arguing that the situation was not feasible from a workload standpoint. She also suggested there would be a potential conflict to have the Superintendent of the District tied to one elementary school site.

The board would vote by a 4-1 margin to take this option off the table with Tim Taylor dissenting.


I am pleased that Emerson Junior High is remaining open. It is a vital school in West Davis and while there are upgrades needed to the campus, it is only the fifth oldest campus in the school district. The building itself has a number of desirable features that lead me to want to preserve it as a vital Junior High.

That said there are a number of aspects of this particular vote that I am uncomfortable with, even as I am pleased with the outcome.

First, the fact that it was not tied to additional cuts, means that there remains more work to be done. The district has to meet a threshold in order to meet its budgetary requirements or it risks the county taking over its operations.

Second, I think Gina Daleiden's concern is quickly dismissed with regards to the cut of teachers and programs. Something has to be sacrificed in order to keep Emerson open and that might be more teachers or more programs. I hope we can find creative ways to do this, but if we do not, we need to recognize what this means for teachers and programs in the district.

Third, and this is probably my biggest concern--Richard Harris and Susan Lovenburg were two of the strongest proponents of closing Valley Oak and denying the charter. The stated reason was fiscal cost. Now, they have been the ringleaders to keep Emerson open which presents its own problems with fiscal cost. That does not sit well with me. To use the phrase of some on the board, this has become a sacred cow to these board members.

At least Sheila Allen was consistent on this issue--she voted to keep them all open. I would agree with her on both issues. Gina Daleiden and Tim Taylor were consistent as well, opting for fiscal prudence on both issues. While I disagree with them, I can respect their decisions.

However, I really need to understand the decision that Susan Lovenburg and Richard Harris made--the differentiation that they took. Does that differentiation amount to a rationalization or is there an actual tangible and clear reason that distinguishes the closing of Valley Oak from the maintenance of Emerson.

All of that said, keeping Emerson open is the right thing to do. The other choices were not good educational choices for the students involved. They required creating an overly crowded Davis High Campus, they required moving DaVinci students away from their logical location, and there was not a compelling demographic or attendance issue to necessitate this move. In short, the move was only made for the purposes of saving money. At this time that might be reason enough, but I still think you need to bear in mind educational considerations. I am not opposed to a 9-12 high school--I attended one myself. There are strong reasons to do it which is why the majority of the state has 9-12 high schools. However, there are also reasons not to do it, it keeps 9th graders in a better situation socially.

However, removing this option from the table now forces the district to look at other areas for cuts.

Everyone applauds the efforts of the Davis Schools Foundation. I am big supporter as well. They have raised $250,000 for the district which is wonderful, but it is less than one-tenth of the way to their goal and I just do not see them at this point getting anywhere near that goal.

I do not say this to bring people down, but we also must face reality. Parcel tax relief will not come until 2009. The Davis Schools Foundation is only going to help offset some of the worst cuts. The state may provide some relief but that will also come after the budget for next year is set in stone. The long and the short of it, is that we have dodged another school closure, but we are going to have to brace for a major hit, there is no way around it.

Finally, the demographic forecast shows that we will stabilize after this year. That means that declining enrollment will not have an ongoing impact of forcing additional steep budget cuts. Those who believe the solution to this is more growth need to look at a lot more closely at faster growth and larger cities--these cities have no escaped the problems of the budget nor are their schools doing better than ours. We need solid land use and growth policies in this city, but those should not be based on school enrollment priorities. The voters in this city have made a choice to support their schools vastly with parcel tax money while choosing to grow their city closely. People who think we can have better with faster growth policies might want to also consider what would happen if those new residents vote to cut off the parcel tax. In short, be careful what you wish for and plan wisely.

In the end, we are all in this together--the amount of civic spirit I have seen from students, teachers, and parents is amazing. We need to learn from this however--the lesson is the cost of complacency. Just four months ago there was so little interest in the school elections and now schools are all that are on people's minds. We need to focus our attention on these issues when we are not facing severe cutbacks. We must remain attentive and aware so that these types of things do not sneak up on us in the future.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Cabaldon Earns Support From 30 Years of Assembly Leaders in 8th District

Thursday afternoon in Suisun City, West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon who is a candidate for the Democratic Nomination for the 8th Assembly District stood with his three predecessors who served in the California State Assembly--Tom Hannigan, Helen Thomson and Lois Wolk--each who have now endorsed his candidacy for the position they served collectively over the last 30 years since 1978 when Tom Hannigan served the first of 9 terms on the California legislature.

Christopher Cabaldon earned the California Democratic Party's official endorsement on Sunday after garnering 69% of the vote at the 8th Assembly District caucus Saturday evening. Attempts to have the result pulled off the consent calendar were unsuccessful on Saturday night as Mariko Yamada supporters failed to garner the necessary 300 signatures, they were not even close, and thus did not turn the petitions in.

Former Assemblyman Tom Hannigan spoke first to the small crowd that included Solano County Supervisor Jim Spering, Suisun City Mayor Pete Sanchez, and Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson along with several other county, city, college, and school elected officials.
“I have always known that Christopher was a bright, hard worker for his community when he ran six years ago. Now, I didn’t even have to think about it for this race. Christopher easily has my full support and I will do whatever I can to help him.”
Current Yolo County Supervisor and past Assemblywoman Helen Thomson:
“Christopher is a perfect fit for the district and is the best person who will get the job done for Solano and Yolo and will continue take on the fight for our progressive values. That’s why he’s earned the official endorsement of the Democratic Party.”
Assemblywoman Lois Wolk who is termed out of the 8th Assembly District Seat and now is running for the State Senate reminded the crowd:
"I was one of those who did not endorse Christopher Cabaldon in 2002."
She continued:
"The reason I am here today is to announce my strong and enthusiastic support for Christopher Cabaldon."
She then talked about her own process for making the decision to endorse Cabaldon.
"I don't feel compelled to offer endorsements in every race in the region and often I don't endorse in local races. But I do feel an obligation in this instance to offer my assistance and benefits from five years in the office and just as my predecessors Helen and Tom offered their advice as to who such succeed them, I thought I ought to do the same. I also wanted to mention that I know both Democratic contenders for the Democratic nomination very very well. I consider them close friends and I have worked with both of them. Whatever the voters ultimately decided, the 8th Assembly District will be ably represented.

Many have asked me what I thought for many months about this race and choosing between two friends was not a choice that I was very eager to make. I decided to wait and see which candidate would earn the broad support in the district among the elected local officials in the community and among the activists in the Democratic Party. I have found through my local experience that the local support of local officials is absolutely critical to being an effective legislator. It has been true in all of the major efforts that I have gone for... And frankly none of those efforts would have been successful in Sacramento without the strong support of the locally elected officials, many of them are here today.

Christopher Cabaldon has earned the support of the local leaders throughout the district. Every county supervisor, mayor, and state senator that has taken a position in this race is in full support as well as many city and school officials. Along with these elected schools and city officials, Christopher has won the Democratic Party Endorsement, not easy, demonstrating the support of activists that will serve him well in the election and also in the legislative arena."
Finally the Assemblywoman talked about Christopher Cabaldon record.
“Christopher Cabaldon brings his own strong track record of results on the issues that are most important to this district. His work on economic redevelopment in West Sacramento, his involvement in flood protection, Delta restoration, regional transportation planning, public safety, and growth management, are all vitally important to this district. I know both candidates well. But not only does Christopher have the experience, he has the skill set, the ability to negotiate, navigate the political minefield, and find workable solutions. He has intimate knowledge of the legislative process and will hit the ground running next January.”
Christopher Cabaldon then addressed the crowd himself.
“For three decades , California’s finest and most effective legislators have come from our district and I am deeply honored by the strong vote of confidence from Lois Wolk, Helen Thomson, and Tom Hannigan. We have worked together on the issues that matter in Solano and Yolo counties, it is gratifying that the leaders who local residents and I admire so greatly are solidly behind my candidacy for the Assembly. I look forward to working in close partnership with Lois Wolk as she moves to the Senate on saving the Delta, fighting to protect our funds for transportation and our water from ripoffs by Southern California interests, and securing the support to deliver quality healthcare and great schools for the people of our communities and our state.”
This was a very impressive event along the waterfront in Suisun City. The Vanguard will continue closely covering this race.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Commentary: A Tale of Two Reconsiderations

Ordinarily in a given term you can count the number of reconsiderations on one hand. In fact, before Tuesday night, I can only remember one reconsideration the entire City Council term, that was a vote on a park survey, when Ruth Asmundson was absent and the vote would have been deadlocked on a $70,000 park survey until Councilmember Don Saylor strategically voted against it in order to be able to move for reconsideration. The parliamentary rule is that only a member who voted for the winning side can move for reconsideration.

However, on Tuesday night, the council voted not once but twice to reconsider votes--for very different reasons.


The first reconsideration was on the Sphere of Influence recommendation to LAFCO. As we reported on Tuesday, it became clear to us watching the meeting that the Davis City Council approach was indeed off. The City Council had voted to expand the Sphere of Influence (SOI) area mainly because they believed that the larger the area that they controlled, the better they would be able to prevent growth.

During the course of the LAFCO meeting it became obvious to all that expanding the size of the SOI would not grant Davis any added protection. Indeed Robert Ramming pointed out that the county's proposed study areas all occurred within the current SOI. At the same time, Supervisor Matt Rexroad pointed out that on the map these did not look like greenbelts and bike paths as Councilmember Souza hoped but rather like a development map.

From a legal standpoint the SOI is a map of urban usage and while Councilmember tried to argue that Greenbelts and bikepaths were urban usages for Davis, it was unconvincing. LAFCO has not operated as such. The SOI is an area for urban develop not a means to prevent growth traditionally.

The bottom line was and Councilmember Souza realized it during the course of the discussion on Monday, the ultimate impact of placement in the SOI might be the inclusion of a property in the general plan, that leads to speculative valuation of the property, and growth pressure. We may have no intention of growing today, five years from now, or even ten years from now, but we also have little control over the process down the line. In essence we may be starting a process that will actually lead to the opposite of what we intend.

As I spoke with members of the community and councilmembers after the Monday meeting, it was obvious to me that no one knew the consequences of placement in the SOI nor did they know exactly which way would offer more protection. Indeed I asked that very question at the LAFCO meeting and no one could answer it.

It became obvious that Davis' City Staff had done a poor job yet again of preparing the Davis City Council and it turned the process into almost a farce.

As Supervisor Matt Rexroad wrote on his blog following the meeting:
"The Davis City Council has requested to dramatically increase the area within their sphere of influence (SOI). They are doing this in an attempt to have greater control over development on their edge.

I actually want the City of Davis to have control of development on their urban edge. It makes sense to me. As a former Mayor I don't want (or need) the county telling me what I need to do. That is up to the City Council.

Here is the problem. If you increase the area within the SOI you are signaling that development is the desire for this area.

The reality os that Davis does not really want development in the area. They want to control any development in the area -- and probably kill development. That is their choice.

I want to let Davis have control of their boundary. I am just not sure that the request to LAFCO is sincere.

My deal is this -- If a city in Yolo County wants to annex land or increase their control of their edge I will work to make the deal happen. This request does not really appear to be that at all."
Throughout the meeting there were references to Davis doing things differently. For members of the Davis City Council, I believe that was a point of pride. For others it is a point of mockery. But at the end of the day it was former Davis Mayor Jerry Adler who made the essential point that Davis was trying to use the SOI as a growth-control device and it was never intended to be such. In fact, just the opposite. And while Davis can be Davis, from a legal standpoint, what Davis was hoping to do would not have worked.

Davis City Councilmember Stephen Souza was correct to urge his colleagues to reconsider, he argued that point well, and they did by a 5-0 vote. It will come back for new consideration in early May right before the LAFCO meeting. I think that may be too long and it does not give them much room for error, but it was the right thing to do.

Davis Korean Church

I cannot say the same for the other move for reconsideration. This has to do with the remodel of the Korean Church in Davis. At a meeting just two weeks ago, the council had during the course of granting their conditional use permit, imposed a required of solar panels on the church--under the condition that if it was too burdensome to the church they could remove that imposition.

What followed was a political football that developed when a member of the church forwarded an email from the Mayor to Davis Enterprise Columnist Bob Dunning who picked up the football and ran with it as far as he could, fanning the flames on this issue and carrying the water of Councilmembers Souza and Saylor.

So Councilmember Don Saylor pulled the item off the consent calendar on Tuesday, moved to approve the second reading for remodel but at the same time moved for reconsideration on the solar panel requirement. The expressed reason was for clarification of what had been passed unanimously at the previous meeting.

As Councilmember Heystek pointed out, he knew full well what he was voting for at the time and saw no reason to reconsider it. Mayor Greenwald decried the fact that the council was reconsidering based on a newspaper columnist's opinion and also the fact that a councilmember had taken the issue to the newspaper columnist to begin with.

Indeed at the council meeting this Tuesday, Mayor Greenwald argued that the church had looked into the issue and the cost of the photovoltaics were less than the church members had originally feared. But the other point is that the cost consideration was actually placed into the original motion--and yet if you read the Bob Dunning columns, you would never have known that.

The observant reader would notice that in fact Bob Dunning had taken up the church's cause well before the meeting in mid-March--writing five columns about the church from mid-February up until the vote. Dunning's March 20, 2008 column tries to paint Sue Greenwald as the extremist and Don Saylor and Stephen Souza as the voices of reason.

But as Crilly Butler writes to the Davis Enterprise, Bob Dunning does not get all of his facts right nor does he paint a full and accurate picture in his March 20, 2008 column.

Writes Mr. Butler:
"First, considering the scope of this huge expansion project, the cost of solar panels will be tiny. The price he mentioned — $40,000 to $80,000 for 2 to 4 kW — is ridiculous. I'm considering a 3 kW installation for my own home and have been quoted about $17,000 after rebates.

And considering that the expansion was already going to be wired and framed for solar on its nicely pitched, unshaded, south-facing roof, it should be a slam dunk. Not to mention that the panels will pay for themselves within a few years, and after that, it'll be pure profit for the church ! Not bad for a modest investment in a green future, and certainly not the onerous "blindsided by city's solar experiment" that Dunning 's column suggests.

Secondly, Dunning implied that the church would be the city's "guinea pig" for solar requirements. The truth is, the City Council has included solar panels as a condition of several recent projects requiring zoning and General Plan amendments (just as in the case of the church project). I hope it will continue to do so in the future.

Thirdly, Greenwald mentioned that if the cost was impossible for the church to bear, she would be willing to consider modifying or even eliminating this requirement. Interesting that Dunning forgot to mention this.

If Greenwald's request was so inappropriate and unreasonable, why is it that her motion was passed unanimously by the entire council?"
Don Saylor suggests in Dunning's April 1, 2008 column:
"In short, I will need three votes to place this on a future agenda for discussion. I will make the case that it is a bad idea to impose this requirement at the last minute with no policy in place and no rational assessment of the need or benefit for this requirement for the specific project."
I am not opposed to having a universal requirement here, however, this is hardly the first time the council has made last minutes requirements for projects--it is within their power to do so, and there is a precedent for it with regards to solar panels. Both Mr. Saylor and Mr. Dunning would have a point here if the council had not placed into the requirement a provision that would allow reconsideration if the cost was prohibitive. The voice for reason angle is interesting but again distorts the fact that the original discussion and decision were not unreasonable.

I am sympathetic to the view that if costs are prohibitive to a non-profit such as a church, it should not be imposed on them--but then again, was that not already addressed in the original motion? The objection seemed to be that this was done last minute, but it was also clear that council not only had the right put this requirement in but had in fact done so in the past.

I do agree that the council needs to address the issue of energy efficiency and alternative energy sources overall. I think the model that Berkeley has set up--looking at subsidies for the use of solar--that could be paid off over time with energy savings is the way to go.

The city has set up a climate action team to look at such things, but we really do not need to reinvent as many wheels as we think we do. We ought to look at what is being done, adapt it to Davis and improve upon it first and then look toward new things.

Reconsideration in this case is a dangerous precedence and demonstrates how some of the avowed environmentalists can nevertheless be subject to heavy political pressure when an issue is taken up by political columnists.

At the original meeting, Councilmember Souza suggested that we ought not try to "out-green" each other, but at the same time, it seems clear that some members on this council will cave on issues under political pressure.

I see no reason that we needed to revisit this vote. The council had already put in a provision to reconsider if the photovoltaics proved to be too expensive. This was completely a political calculation rather than a policy move.

In the end, the council reconsidered two votes, the first one was a good move made by the council as a whole, the second one smacked of politics.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Davis Vanguard Radio Show

County Supervisor's Candidate Jim Provenza will be our guest tonight from 6 pm to 7 pm on KDRT 101.5 FM. Call in at 792-1648

First Candidates Forum For City Council Shows Some Clear Differences

The Davis City Council candidates met in a forum for the first time yesterday for the Davis Chamber of Commerce Candidates' forum. The forum was moderated by Debbie Davis, assistant publisher/ editor of the Davis Enterprise.

Each candidate was given a two minute opening question that they were given in advance. Then it was rapid fire, with two candidates getting one question that they had one minute to answer.

The format meant that the questions were the luck of the draw and it also in general precluded specificity. Often the candidates simply did not answer the question directly and instead gave vague and rough answers.

Questions about housing and growth dominated the format. In what follows are some of the highlights from the discussion.

The first question suggested that many on the council are purported to be no growth proponents, Don Saylor and Sue Greenwald were then asked about their position on growth. Both suggested that they were not no growth proponents. Don Saylor argued that the community and the quality of life matter. He then went on to talk about the closure of schools and the lack of apartment vacancy. He wants to provide housing for seniors and students.

For Sue Greenwald, housing should be limited to those projects that fill specific needs. We need to look at the type of housing that we are building and ask if it is really serving the people in Davis. She further argued that there was no relationship between the price of housing and the amount of housing that we have built.

Stephen Souza and Sydney Vergis were both asked if they support zero-based budgeting and to explain why or why not. Neither of them answered the question. Stephen Souza suggested that we cannot rely upon the auto industry as our tax base. He then suggested that we need to look at industry that is green in nature. Of course, his big economic initiative to date has been Target, an industry that is inherently non-green by its nature.

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald and Rob Roy were asked whether they supported the general plan provision on senior housing. Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald spoke of the need to prioritize the preservation of open space and agricultural land first and then to have community discussion about whether and what types of senior housing that we should provide. Rob Roy suggested he supported the general plan provision on senior housing.

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald and Sydney Vergis were asked about the middle income housing ordinance and the internally generated needs for housing. Sydney Vergis was concerned that there is a large range of different kinds of people living in the city and the price of housing makes it difficult to live here. Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald talked about working with the university to help develop housing for faculty and students as a possible remedy to some of the housing demands.

The debate then turned to state mandated fair-share housing and whether the city can meet those mandates without rezoning land or approving any new peripheral developments. Don Saylor argued that RHNA was only part of what we needed. He focused on the internal needs assessment and argued that we need to take a look at our own planning regardless of RHNA requirements.

Sue Greenwald on the other hand suggested that the numbers were not interesting to her. She was concerned that if Davis went beyond the SACOG allotment that this would lead to increased SACOG numbers in the future. She then shifted to talking about her desire to look at projects on an individual basis and the need to pursue interesting projects like her proposal at the PG&E site.

Stephen Souza and Rob Roy were asked what they learned about Measure X. Stephen Souza basically suggested that the community did not understand Measure X. He said this was the first exercise of Measure J and that a project as big as Covell Village takes longer to explain to the community, that it has to come with its impacts mitigated, and that the affordable housing component has to be explainable to the public. Finally we have to totally be engaged in a process that we are expected to vote on. This is basically the Ruth Asmundson answer rehashed, Souza simply does not understand the opposition to Measure X and argues that the public did not properly understand it rather than take from the lesson that the public is not supportive of huge new develops on the Davis periphery.

Don Saylor then declared victory on retail development and expansion with the addition of Target and Trader Joes. Now he is looking toward the university providing the area with green energy and high tech development.

Sue Greenwald and Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald were asked about fresh ideas about fiscal stability without raising taxes.

Sue Greenwald argued that we are in a box right due to contract and expenditures on city desk workers. She said that she has taken the long view when it comes to planning, and has said no when it comes to expenditures.

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald then discussed retail retention. She pointed out past failed businesses in poor locations and at the same time argued that we have two major shopping centers that do not have anchors right now. She suggested that we have a commercial real estate agent work with the city to try to determine the retail deficits and try to recruit what is complimentary to the city instead of predatory to the city.

Stephen Souza and Sue Greenwald were asked if our housing needs during the next six years can be met exclusively with infill development. Sue Greenwald questions what the housing needs really means and wants to find ways to insure that when we develop we are filling our internal housing needs rather than external ones. Stephen Souza on the other hand argued that we could not fill our internal housing needs with infill. He felt that we could meet the majority with infill but not all. Not everyone wants to live in a small condo or in the core. The strongest opponents of new infill are the neighbors. We can, he argued, provide for those who want to downsize however.

Rob Roy came out in favor of choice voting. Don Saylor on the other hand was nuanced. He said that he supported advisory measure on the ballot. He felt like the city hadn't really explored the idea and ramifications very much. Then stated it was a "solution looking for a problem." Most people don’t understand what it is and there will be problems the first time there is change of outcome due to choice voting. Places where been in place, the process is actually being challenged.

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald and Sydney Vergis were both asked about economic development and how they define it.

Escamilla-Greenwald examined the factors that impacted economic development and then picked one to explore--the problem of parking and the disadvantage that businesses face currently with reparking laws.

She then went on to discuss her idea for dealing with the parking problem. Her proposal would be to use city redevelopment money to construct a multilevel parking structure near the Design House with an Olive Street entrance. The parking structure would only have access on the Olive Street side, however, it would have a ramp over the train tracks meeting up with the existing lot along first street. It would then have a pedestrian ramp which would put pedestrians within two or three blocks of nearly all of downtown.

This proposal would have the advantage of encouraging people to park outside of the core area and then walk to the core. It would greatly reduce traffic flow under the Richards Overpass. And finally, it would be a regional draw as people would have easy access to parking and shopping from the highway.

Sydney Vergis defined the concept of economic develop as the retention of new businesses. She then talked about a BEDC quantitative survey to determine what works and what doesn’t work; and then coming up with measurable objectives.

The funniest moment came when Stephen Souza admittedly got a bit carried away when asked what green meant to him. He went off on a litany of "green means" statements until Don Saylor practically fell out of his seat laughing. Don Saylor then talked about his church community creating a green sanctuary and each individual changing their life styles. For him it was removing his swimming pool and changing his washer to a low flow.

On Measure J, Sydney Vergis asked people if they had read it, complained it was complicated, and suggested that she would support renewing it with "non-substantive changes." Sue Greenwald flatly said she was in favor of renewing it.

Don Saylor and Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald were asked about sales tax leakage and broader shopping in Davis. Don Saylor again declared victory on retail with Target and Trader Joe's--wants to build them out and call it good. Suggested the downtown needs more attention and wants to focus on parking.

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald talked again about making sure the shopping centers have key anchors and then proposed a Residence Inn at the Vacant lot near the train tracks on Richards as a possible lure for those individuals who do extended work at the university and need extended lodging.

Finally, Sue Greenwald and Sydney Vergis were asked about declining enrollment and what changes in our community if any would you support to reverse this trend.

Sydney Vergis argued that this is tied to housing availability and we need to dialogue for major housing needs in Davis.

Sue Greenwald suggested there is a disagreement over the decline in enrollment in Davis. That this is also a statewide phenomena. She argued there is not a problem with a declining enrollment but rather a question as to how we absorb and plan for it. She argued it was difficult to build schools in perfect increments and that new subdevelopments actually exacerbate the problem because of life cycle issues.

Overall it was an interesting forum. The format made for a quick, rapid fire, dialogue. However, specificity and substance sometimes was a bit lacking. The Vanguard will be closely following the council race and reporting far more in the coming weeks.

Disclaimer: Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald is the wife of Doug Paul Davis.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Whether you consistently agree or consistently disagree with what gets published on this blog, the very fact of your reading it--whether daily or intermittently--provides The Vanguard with a critical form of support. But for a blog, where “subscriptions” are free, a sizable readership does not help pay the bills. And while advertisements can be a source of revenue, for political outlets, especially at the local level, the number of these is always small and the intake negligible. At the same time, producing the commentaries and reports that reach us seven days a week has become for David Greenwald (aka Doug Paul Davis) a full-time job. For these reasons and to help ensure the continuation of this wonderful source of political news and opinion, we, the undersigned “Friends of the Vanguard” have organized to facilitate the provision of a very tangible form of assistance: regular infusions of cold hard cash.

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Commentary: Does Small or Large Sphere of Influence Best Protect Ag Land?

After watching the LAFCO meeting and discussion for awhile last night, I did something I do not do very often--I got up and spoke during public comment. I asked them the very basic question--what does inclusion in the Sphere of Influence afford the city of Davis? Does it provide any additional protection against growth? No one had an answer for that question.

Mayor Sue Greenwald in the comment section of the Vanguard last night said the following:
I have posed the following question to a number of planners, attorneys and a past SACOG chair: “If, hypothetically, the city of Davis were to want to grow as slowly as possible, would be want a larger or a smaller sphere of influence?” The answer I have gotten from all of the experts to whom I spoke was, “it is unclear”.
As I watched the meeting last night, I became swayed by the questions of Supervisor Matt Rexroad, one of the LAFCO members and by the comments of a member of the public, Robert Ramming. The conclusion that I have reached is the opposite one that the council reached.

Frankly I did not buy the answers that Councilmember Stephen Souza gave on the dais last night as a member of LAFCO. The idea that we can have an agricultural urban land use. The idea that we are going to use the Sphere of Influence land to create some kind of greenbelt and bike route. That Davis is unique, it is different, it does things differently, it breaks the mould.

If you look at the map, it does not look like such a set up. It looks like plots of land for development. Maybe not in Stephen Souza's mind. Maybe not this year. Maybe not five or even ten years from now, but it gets the ball rolling.

Talking to Supervisor Rexroad after the meeting, it was not his intention to really make a persuasive argument there. He told me he is a city-centric person and that what a city wants to do, he is pretty much going to let them do. At the same time, he does not seem comfortable with allowing the city of Davis to expand the sphere of influence.

Yeah I know there are a large amount of people that do not like Mr. Rexroad for a variety of reasons, but since he has been County Supervisor, he has been pretty consistent on his land use policies, and while I disagree with him on many things, in terms of land use in the county, there are not many votes that I disagree with.

Here is what I gleaned from last night's discussion. If Davis expands the Sphere of Influence, it could cause the city a lot of problems. First from a legality stand point, all land will have to be put into the general plan. If you go beyond what you need, that is actually a very costly prospect. Second, if you are an owner of the included property, you can force basically one way or another, your property to be included in the general plan discussion. That does not directly lead to development, but as Matt Rexroad pointed out, it begins a very long and arduous process.

Third, and here is the point that Robert Ramming raised last night--it does not protect your borders from the county. As Mr. Ramming pointed out, the county's general plan looked at several parcels around Davis' border, these properties were all in the Sphere of Influence. It is clear therefore, that inclusion in the Sphere of Influence offers little in the way of protection against county development. What saved Davis was the pass-through agreement and probably the cost to the county of gaining access to city services, not the Sphere of Influence.

Again, an unnatural expansion of the Sphere of Influence means that you are realistically talking about urban uses of that land in the next twenty year period. Mr. Souza was talking about greenbelts and bike routes as urban uses, but that's not what the map looks like. There is no belt around Davis with the city's proposal. It is a bunch of plots of land to west and a bunch to the east, with a gap in the middle.

Davis is going to change what an urban use is? That was Souza's argument is was downright unconvincing to anyone there.

Fact is, that I would not even have given this proposal the time of day except that Sue Greenwald and Lamar Heystek signed onto it. But on this issue, I think they were well-intentioned but ultimately flawed. From this discussion, I think inclusion in the Sphere of Influence, offers potentially unforeseen impacts of starting the development process for lands that this council likely does not support or foresee, but they have no control over future councils.

For this reason, I think that the best strategy is keep the Sphere of Influence as small as possible and to not include lands like Covell Village and the Nishe Property that you do not intend to develop if you are Sue Greenwald or Lamar Heystek.

Finally, I have a bone to pick with Katherine Hess, the City's Planning Director. At the beginning of the talk was an assessment of city's strengths and weaknesses. They go on to list, things like lack of a fourth fire station, not enough firefighting staff, not enough police staff, and my favorite, the budget is balanced with no foreseen problem. The last one is extremely problematic. The city is talking about having to have a string of new taxes to finance existing programs. Despite fancy budgeting assumptions, the future projections are a continued budget deficit due to structural issues with city pensions and salaries. The other points are issues of controversy, reasonable people disagree on the extent that those are needed or affordable. To present this as matter of fact was disingenuous at best. I was told that was all Katherine Hess' doing.

I think the Davis City Council got bad advice overall on how to proceed with the Sphere of Influence. I think they risk turning LAFCO on its head, doing the opposite of what was intentioned. Davis cannot be the first city that has thought of this, but the legal consequences and unintended consequences are immense.

At this point, I am thoroughly convinced that the opposite approach is best--keep the Sphere of Influence as small as possible and keep areas outside of the General Plan to the extent legally possible.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Superintendent Hammond Says He Doesn't Want to Close Emerson

After over a hundred people spoke on Monday night at a jam packed Emerson Junior High Multipurpose Room. After the Superintendent and Bruce Colby painstakingly pointed out that that the cuts were real, the crisis was real, changes had to be made. After one by one, the Superintendent and Bruce Colby dispelled notions that they had emergency reserves. After one by one, they discredited any of the possible remedies offered up by the public and school board member alike. After they pointed out that even a new parcel tax would benefit the budget only in 2009.

After all of that school board member Susan Lovenberg asked a very simple but key question of the Superintendent, I've heard what we cannot do, what will your recommendation be?

After all of that, the Superintendent before a dwindling audience got up and said, he did not want to close Emerson. He would recommend against it. The remaining audience roared in delight.

Board Member Tim Taylor then said that he needed to see how they were going to make this work fiscally on Thursday night.

Let us step back a second. Back in January, Superintendent James Hammond worked long and hard with the Valley Oak petitioners in an attempt to get the Valley Oak Charter School approved. But he could not convince his board to take a leap of faith.

I met with him a few days after that meeting and he was as genuine as could be. The only thing he regretted was that he didn't have a few more days to convince the board to take a chance on the Charter School. He believed in it. He was truly remorseful that he was unable to convince the board about it.

I had always liked James Hammond, on that day, I recognized however that Hammond was a man of compassion and principle. So I believe him when he says he does not want to close Emerson Junior High. I guarantee you he believes that and I guarantee you he will find a way to make the numbers work.

The difference between the 4-1 to reject the Valley Oak Charter Petition and a possible vote to keep Emerson over is that it seems that Richard Harris and Susan Lovenburg support keeping Emerson open. Whether they get a third vote is another question. Richard Harris seems to believe it however, he apparently was telling parents not to worry, they would not close Emerson. I am not certain how he could know that for certain given Brown Act restrictions, but at the same time, I may also believe him.

On the other hand, they are going to have to find another $400,000. This is not a situation they can exactly play around with. If they do not get it right, if they do not cut enough, the County will take over the district. This was a point made over and over again last night.

I am all for creative solutions, I am all for keeping Emerson open, and I believe in Superintendent James Hammond, I just want to see the numbers. I am with Tim Taylor, show me how the numbers work and I am all for it. I am all for making it work. Hopefully come Thursday night, we will all believe.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, March 31, 2008

Photos from the Democratic Convention

Yesterday Bill Clinton came to the California Democratic Party Convention in San Jose. If you did not see the post on his speech, click here.

In the meantime, here a few pictures from the main part of the convention (click to enlarge).

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

What the Sphere of Influence Means For Davis Growth

Tonight at the Davis City Hall Community Room, there will be a LAFCO hearing on Davis' Sphere of Influence.

LAFCO is proposing a couple of properties be added to the Davis sphere of influence namely the Northwest Quadrant and the Nishi property. While at the same time it removes the Shriner's property east of Wildhorse and north of Covell, areas east of El Macero and areas west of Davis but east of Pedrick.

According to the report:
"The changes from the existing SOI, adopted in 1988, reflect the likely boundaries and best growth areas for the city."
Furthermore it goes on to conclude:
"In addition, the City’s current Housing Element indicates that these sites are more ideal for the projected growth of the City. The proposed SOI promotes a compact city, thereby discouraging urban sprawl, while allowing for steady growth. This represents an overall reduction of approximately 400 acres of undeveloped land from the 1988 SOI."
The question is what does this mean if anything for County Proposed growth and the pass-through agreement.

On February 26, 2008, the Davis City Council did something very unusual--they unanimously agreed on something. In principle, they agreed:

"the Sphere of Influence should be as large as realistic. There is continuing growth pressure on
the perimeter of our community. A larger Sphere of Influence will help discourage urban sprawl, promote efficient governmental services, and preserve open space and agricultural lands, consistent with the purposes of the LAFCO review."
As a result, the Davis City Council lists 10 sites that they want in the sphere of influence, some of these are already included, some of are not. There would seem that the city has some say over what gets included and what does not.

Both LAFCO and the Davis City Council seem to have as their goal controlling sprawl and preserving open space and agricultural lands, why do they have two very different visions for how to do this?

Here is some documentation from LAFCO.
"The sphere of influence is an important benchmark because it defines the primary area within which urban development is to be encouraged. In a 1977 opinion, the California Attorney General stated that sphere of influence should "serve like general plans, serve as an essential planning tool to combat urban sprawl and provide well planned efficient urban development patterns, giving appropriate consideration to preserving prime agricultural and other open-space lands."

Along this same line of reasoning, the California Appellate Court has held that spheres of influence must be adopted before an annexation to the affected city or district can be considered. Section 56650.5 limits the validity of annexation proposals in specified urban areas unless the request is consistent with the applicable spheres of influence. Section 57025 requires LAFCO to send notice of pending annexation hearings to those affected agencies whose spheres contain territory within the proposal.

LAFCO has sole responsibility for establishing a city's sphere of influence. Further, the LAFCO is not required to establish a sphere that is greater than the city's existing boundaries. LAFCO may take joint action to approve an annexation while at the same time amending the city's sphere of influence.

LAFCO officials and local decision-makers recognize the logical assumption that the lands lying within the sphere are those that the city may someday propose to incorporate. If the city finds that annexing an area outside its sphere would be in the public interest, it should request that its sphere be amended to include that area."
Given that, it is interesting that Davis would want to expand its sphere of influence, since ordinarily if you want to limit your growth, you decrease the sphere of influence.

To answer this, we should look to Measure J and the Pass-through agreement. The City of Davis probably believes that it has more control over its growth by keeping areas under its control. Measure J means that even if a property is under the sphere of influence, it still maintains the ability of controlling growth through the voter approval requirement.

At the same time, the recent threat to growth has come not from within the city of Davis but from the county. Does inclusion in the sphere of influence give the city more over its growth? The pass-through agreement would seem to be dependent on the sphere of influence but actually a larger city planning area. However, it seems possible that there a stronger ability to control one's sphere of influence. Just not sure about that.

This should be an interesting meeting tonight, unfortunately there is also an interesting meeting at Emerson to determine what will happen with the Junior High School.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Live From San Jose Democrats: A Party United

Clinton is on now. As suspected this is a largely Hillary crowd. Clinton like he did in Davis talks about the strength of the Democratic field and the fact that he is not voting against any candidate, he is voting for the one that he thinks is the best, Hillary but he also believes that all of the Democratic Candidates are good.

Does not buy that this process weakens the party. Points to the fact that in June of 1992, he was so beat up that he was running third in the polls behind Perot and Bush I. Does not believe that we should tell the people of Pennsylvania that they do not get a vote. But the theme was clear here--it was unity. Let us have the vote, let us determine the winner, but when it is all said and done we will come together because we do not want a third Bush term. Democrats are united on that.

Presidents try to keep their promises he says. Even Bush has kept most of his promises--unfortunately people were not paying attention to what he promised to do.

Cites a statistic on home mortgages--90% of the people foreclosed on have never missed a mortgage payment.

"We have proven for a third time, that trickle down economics is a failure." "Most Americans are in recessions, but the country is not," Clinton claims. Definition of a recession is six months in a row with negative income growth. America has not experienced that but the people have. How is this possible he asks? Because people's wages are flat and the cost of living is rising.

"Trickle down economics is a failure." During the 1990s, 8 million moved from poverty to middle income. In this decade, 5 million moved back to poverty. In this decade the median family income in real terms have declined.

"I support Hillary because I think she has the best plan and greatest ability to improve this economy and put forward a plan."

Charming and playful Bill Clinton up until now, unifying message. Will he move to attack at this point?

"I think Hillary is the best candidate for President in 40 years." He thinks she would be a better President than he was.

Talks about the fundamental need for energy independence through green energy and energy efficiency.

"All those people who tell you that we cannot electrify America with green energy, doesn't know what they are talking about."

"If the United States of America can beat the world to the moon, surely they can beat the world to a car battery."

Clinton asks, how many in this room know someone without health insurance. Virtually everyone raises their hand. He says, "This is the only welfare country in the world, we people can give this answer. This is the only wealthy country in the world, where this question could even be asked.?"

"We have to dramatically change this "No Child Left Behind Law," it's a massive failure." Talks about an achievement gap between the US and other countries--they go to schools longer, start tough classes earlier. He comes out strongly in support of public schools. However, he argues against the NCLB because of inherent problems with testing and basing funding on tst results when school district can pick the easy or hard test.

"There is one issue that Hillary is more conservative than President Bush on, the budget." Hillary wants to go back to the deficit cutting days of the 1990s. "This is one area where Democrats should be more conservative than the Republicans in Washington. Our economic future depends on it."

"Dipomacy first, military as a last resort rather than the reverse." Hillary wants a small contingent left behind in the North of Iraq where there is not much violence to act as a contingency in case Al Qaeda acts up. He believes that 50% of the terrorist problems in the Middle East is created by the Israeli-Palestinian situation and h wants to see this solved as a means to combat terrorism.

Clinton talked about a conversation with a New York firefighter. Before 9/11 he said most of them were Republicans. Now they are not. Had good jobs, didn't think they needed government, liked the camaraderie, and the "rah rah." Why are they now? Because the Bush administration was in denial about the health problems facing the firefighters of 9/11. The Democrats and Hillary Clinton fought for those benefits because these people are dying from the exposure to the dust and asbestos particles from 9/11. He said he listened to this story on a golf course and it made him cry.

"The President is nothing more or less than the most fortunate public servant on the face of the earth." He said, I believe that person is Hillary.

Good speech by Clinton. Most of the crowd, Hillary supports or not, applauding. Few Obama signs visible right now.

POSTED AT 10:30 am PDT

I do not cover a lot of national politics on the Vanguard, but how do you resist covering Bill Clinton's speech?

We are waiting for Bill Clinton to get here and speak on behalf of his wife, Hillary Clinton.

Kamala Harris, San Francisco District Attorney--is speaking on Barack Obama's behalf. She joked that she was sitting in for Obama, and President Clinton was speaking for Hillary. She did not seem to believe this was a very fair match up. On the one hand speaking for Obama is a relatively unknown District Attorney from San Francisco. On the other is Bill Clinton, one of the most beloved and venerated figures within Democratic Party circles over the last 25 years. But for her part, she held her own.

Ms. Harris imparted much message of Obama--of hope, change, and reconciliation. She cites herself as the first African American District Attorney in California. The Obama contingent of the crowd enthusiastically chanting "Yes We Can." Interesting that she uses many of the phrases and refrains of Obama, but still her own voice.

Nevertheless, she gave a very good speech. She doesn't have the presence or the stagecraft of Obama or Bill Clinton but it was definitely a very good speech. Party Chairman Art Torres is touting her as a rising star.

There is a strong contingent of Obama supporters in here, but they appear outnumbered by Hillary Clinton supporters, I will get a better sense when Clinton speaks. The sad thing is that Bill Clinton used to be a unifying figure within the party and has now become a polarizing one.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Who are the People in Orange Shirts?

At this time, we have not received word as to whether efforts to gather 300 signatures by folks aligned with the Mariko Yamada campaign. What the Vanguard can tell you is that things got a little weird last night at least early on.

People supporting the Yamada campaign did indeed tow clipboards around as did folks supporting the Mark Leno campaign. Mark Leno ended up in a similar boat to Yamada, Carole Migden managed to garner 60% of the vote last night--which is difficult to believe that she had that strong a support based on the large number of Leno folks parading around. That one perhaps has a chance of going to the floor. Less so with Yamada I would think.

Back to the Yamada-Cabaldon battle. So it becomes obvious that there are not two sides but three. You have the Yamada camp trying to get signatures. You have the Cabaldon camp passing around fliers to people trying to get them not to sign. And you have the orange shirts.

I tried several times to talk to the orange shirts, and the conversations were weird and evasive. One group claimed they were being paid and asked who paid them, they told me one name that I will withhold, when I asked them, "So it was [blank]?" They said, no, no it wasn't [blank]. Another guy who I asked said he was there on his own and then ran off like I was the paparazzi chasing him down.

I caught wind that it was Paul Mitchell's group "Ed Voice," who are big time Cabaldon supporters and pretty much confirmed that that is who it was.

It seemed clear to me that things were getting carried away from what I saw. I would be stunned at this point however if Cabaldon does not end up one way or another being the party endorsed candidate. But stay tuned for updates on that and Bill Clinton coming to San Jose.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting