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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Commentary: A critical examination of our affordable housing program in Davis

The issue of affordable housing is clearly one of those issues that will likely arise in each and every debate for city council. That's not surprising and frankly it is one of those top four issues that is on everyone's mind. And frankly it is an issue that transcends the divide between those who are slow growthers and those who are a little bit faster growthers.

There is an on-going and interesting debate on this blog about the extent to which the building of more homes will reduce housing prices. In the community there seems a clear ambivalence on the issue. On the one hand, about everyone is concerned with rising housing prices. On the other hand, about everyone is concerned with preserving the character of Davis. The thought is you build up, build out, or jack up the prices. Personally I don't think it is quite that simple and I'm questionable on the issue that we can grow sufficiently to reduce the cost of housing in real terms in the short-run. In the long-run, we could probably do it by reducing the character and appeal of Davis, but that seems a pretty high price to pay (no pun intended).

I actually am not that interested in rehashing this argument in this space today, although, feel free to debate it to your hearts content in the comments section.

There is actually another issue I want to talk about that I have been thinking about for a long time and it came up in the debates.

It comes from comments that Stephen Souza and Don Saylor made in the debates this week, captured nicely by the quote from Councilmember Souza:
“We implemented the fairest and toughest affordable housing ordinance in the nation.”
We certainly have a broad affordable housing ordinance, but I have had real concerns about the ordinance for quite some time.

The first problem with it, is that for the low income people the cost of housing is $177,000. Now in order to explain the problem we have to backtrack to the early portion of this decade. What would happen is that people would purchase these houses, and in some case fraudulently--wealthier people would get individuals who qualified to basically be squatters for a two year period that they were required to own and occupy the home, and then they could sell it. When they sold it was sold at market rate, for huge profits. Those who were around know this was a huge fiasco at the time and there were some city staffers in on it. Needless to say however, after two years, what was supposed to be an affordable home becomes just another market rate home.

The city fixed this problem by limiting the amount of equity that you could make on a home to a value based on the rate of inflation. So if you buy a house for $177,000, then in ten years, you sell it for $177,000 plus inflation. That achieves the goal of keeping the homes that were supposed to be affordable housing, affordable, but it also creates new problems.

One of the purposes of affordable housing is not merely to provide someone with a place to live that they can afford, but it is also to help them build up equity and be able to raise the level of their condition. The Davis affordable housing by limiting equity, pretty much traps individuals at these incomes into affordable housing because it does not allow them to build up equity.

There are other models of housing out there that might be better for the individual who is not able to afford market rate homes to be able to build up their equity so that they can better their conditions--while at the same time being able to keep what is an affordable home, affordable (and avoid some of the past scandals). That's really I think what this city needs to look toward.

The problem of workforce housing also comes into play. When most people think about affordable housing, that is really what they are thinking about--housing that people over moderate and middle incomes can afford. The city of Davis' ordinance provides people of this range about 20 to 25% of the housing. That means up to $464,000 or so.

On the surface again, that sounds very good. Except you start to realize quickly that over half of the housing is going to cost more than $464,000. And in fact, it may cost much more. Not that $464,000 is cheap. I remember when a former colleague of mine got a job in Lawrence, Kansas at the university there and purchased his home for $92,000. An assistant professor at the University of Kansas at the time made about $3000 less per year than an assistant professor at UC Davis.

As Sue Greenwald pointed out at the forum on Thursday night, the break even point for a developer to make money on a home is about $500,000 per unit. If half your homes are held below that mark, that means the other half have to basically be McMansions in order for the property owner to make a profit.

So you basically have an affordable action program which sounds very good, but you end up with about 25% of the units for low income people, 20 to 25% of the units for middle income people, and then half of the units costing more than $600,000. Those who believe that we can bring about affordability in this way, might want to re-think it.

And that leads to another point that Stephen Souza made both Wednesday and Thursday.
“The problem is if you don’t build anything about 25 units you don’t get that full 45%, you get a smaller percentage based on the number of units that you build."
In other words, we have to build larger developments in order to get the full impact of the affordable housing ordinance. We have to do it in terms of getting the full 45% of the units being in the lower and middle range. But we also have to do it in terms of overall numbers. In a project the size of Covell Village, you are theoretically talking about producing between 850 and 900 affordable units. At the same time you are producing another 900 to 1000 units that are costing more than $600,000. That means you have to build a lot just to increase the number of affordable units.

As one can see, the benefits of such of program are not nearly as clear cut as they appear on the surface. There are other ways to produce affordability, but it is clear that we cannot rely on this ordinance to do it. We need to start, I think by looking toward building more compact developments with smaller units--townhouses, duplexes, and condos. I also think we need to seriously look to address the student housing problem, because so many core homes are rental units now rather than owner-occupied, which takes those units effectively outside of the market.
The number that was thrown around on Thursday was 8,000, the number of students who reside outside of Davis. Another number that was mentioned was 1%, the apartment vacancy rate in Davis. A number that should have been mentioned would be 24%--the number of students who live on the UC Davis campus itself, lowest in the system according to the table I saw a few weeks ago. Of all the jurisdictions involved, the university is in the best position to provide housing to students at the very least. If they can do that, it frees up housing in the core of Davis to single-family, owner occupied homes.

Finally, I think we need to revisit the affordable housing ordinance. It has some good properties to it, it is aggressive, but it also does not solve the overall problem of providing affordable homes to young families with children.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, April 25, 2008

Davis Democratic Club Hosts Candidates Forum for Assembly and City Council

Last night the Davis Democratic Club had candidate’s forums for the Democratic Candidates in a variety of offices. The Vanguard is reporting on the forums for both the State Assembly as well as city council. In the County Supervisor Race, the Club has already endorsed Jim Provenza in a vote earlier this month over his Democratic opponent John Ferrera. Obviously Cathy Kennedy was not interviewed nor was she present for this debate. They gave statements but were not asked questions as the club had already made its endorsement. On the city council side, once again Rob Roy was not in attendance for this debate. Don Saylor missed the first twenty minutes or so with a prior engagement, Alan Fernandez sat in for him the first two questions plus the opening statement.

The State Assembly went first because Mayor Cabaldon had to leave for another event. Mr. Cabaldon went first with his opening statement. “California and our district in particularly is in a state of crisis, whether it is schools closing and teachers being laid off, the fisheries in the delta collapsing as we are diverting more and more water to southern California, climate change threatening agriculture, water, our quality of life, as well as the planet, the budget of California in the worst shape it has ever been in threatening essential public services, law enforcement, environmental protection, all of our core values are at risk statewide and we are feeling it just as bad here as anywhere else in California. I’m running because I think we can take those challenges on and do something about it.” Then he talked about West Sacramento and the transformation he led in that community.

County Supervisor Mariko Yamada cited her membership of the Davis Democratic Club since 1995 or 1996. “We need to make changes and have courage and convictions as we tap the very tough problems that are facing us.” We need to work together, collaborate, and prioritize to solve these problems. She has been spending a lot of time in Solano County walking precincts, she has now walked over 3400 households and a third of people have been home. For many of those people, she was the first candidate who showed up at their door in a long time. “People who are supporting me include a number of elected officials as well, these are the endorsements that we got in the recent weeks. I am most proud of the the California Nurses Association who were among the earliest to endorse, they are supporting my candidacy because of my commitment to the pursuit of single payer universal health care. That will be a core issue if I’m privileged to serve. The California Teachers Association has endorsed us, the California Professional Firefighters, Yolo County Deputy Sheriffs, California Labor Federation, California State Council SEIU, and many others. These are the kind of working people that I hope to represent.”

The first question addressed the need for water conservation. Christopher Cabaldon talked about the consequences of creating additional damns from an environmental and economic standpoint. “One of the most startlingly statistics is that with all the growth that has occurred in Southern California, the population expansion that has happened in Los Angeles County, is that the population has gone up by nearly 35%, but water consumption has gone up by virtually nothing because of effective conservation programs.” He is looking to replicate that on a statewide basis. He is also concerned with water quality and avoiding dumping pollutants into the water supply.

Mariko Yamada cited the 3-2 vote by the Board of Supervisors to establish a county-wide water agency and the protection of Conway Ranch. She says that one of the advantages we have is that we are in the north, and the “sucking sound” is in the south. She wants to “make sure everyone in the state understands that this is a finite resource.” She is looking to take a balanced approach, she wants to study the core problem and listen to all sides. That means that she will not eliminate any options from the table. “We need to have enough water to farm, fish, and flush, and maybe put out fires.”

Next question addressed the issue of the budget and whether we should be able to pass the state budget by a majority vote. Mariko Yamada went first, “This question did come up last year in June in Fairfield. I think the question that came up at that time was would I support a simple majority budget, that’s not the question that I will take up at this time… I said at that time… as I said on Monday in Vacaville… that I would not support a simple majority budget. The reason for this is that only works when Democrats are in power, and we may think that the Republicans will never be in power, but in 1994 they did.” She wants to protect our programs if that happens. She wants it to be a 55 to 60 percent vote.

Christopher Cabaldon: “I support a simple majority vote for the budget. It takes a majority vote to repeal a tax, it takes a majority vote to get rid of the vehicle license fee, it took a majority vote to do almost all of the horrible things that have been done in California to put us in this situation.” The current situation “allows everyone to skirt responsibility, no one has responsibility when we don’t have a majority vote.” He then goes on to talk about how the two-thirds impact has affected the system. This system has given Republicans power despite losing the election.

The next question is what have you done or will do to ensure that labor unions can organize to vote inside of chain stores. Christopher Cabaldon went first, “What California law needs to provide for card checks for all sorts of labor organizing. Big box stores are certainly part of it, but they are not the only employers that have resisted labor organizing. Large employers of all kinds and small employers of all kinds [have often engaged in it]. And it’s the requirement that you go in and engage in an election where an employer often is using all of their resources against you as a union to be able to organize that really stops more effective worker voices to be heard in California… The number one priority in the labor union is to get card check neutrality, so that workers just like voters can fill out a card and say yes, I want to union x or union y. Those get tabulated up and employers are not allowed to use their resources to campaign against, they can only provide information. That is an effective way to ensure true voice and true power.”

Mariko Yamada cited her support for the labor community and card check neutrality. She added to big box retailers, there is also the realm of Indian Gaming as an area for union expansion. She talked about the Wintun Band of Indians who is the first union in the state to agree to working with unions. Finally, she cited the fact that some organizations are non-union but still good to work for. One size does not always fit all in her view.

I now move on to the City Council debate. I am going to do this a little differently since yesterday we covered the College Democrat debate, and obviously some of the questions were similar. At times, I may just highlight some new pieces of information and I will refer back, in particular on Measure J, to the College Democrat Debate.

In the opening statement Sydney Vergis went first and cited her experience and enthusiasm. “The reason I am running for the Davis City Council is that I want to see Davis on the forefront of good environmental sustainable policies that allow us to save tax payer dollars and contribute to a cleaner environment.” She then went on to say, “So what I’m offering this community is my experience as a land use planner, my experience in land use planning, and my personal passion for sustainability.”

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald (my wife for those who do not know this already) went next. She cited her 18 years in this community and her service on a variety of party and community bodies. “The reason I am running for city council is that we need some direction and vision on council. We are at a very important stage where the next 10 to 20 years is really going to be very important. How we see our city grow—do we want to expand beyond the borders, do we want to remain a compact city, do we want to bring more green collar jobs to this city, what kind of relationship do we want with the university, we are a university town?”

Alan Fernandez spoke on Don Saylor’s behalf. Mr. Fernandez cited a list of accomplishments that Don Saylor is proud of, “as part of council, he has been able to do that while maintaining a balanced budget and maintaining a 15 percent reserve.”

Stephen Souza also talked about his background and Democratic Party credentials. He talked about his accomplishments while on the council. One of those accomplishments was “we balanced for four years in a row the budget, unprecedented also in these times and we did that with a 15 percent reserve or more.” He also mentioned, “we implemented the fairest and toughest affordable housing ordinance in the nation.”

Sue Greenwald cited her accomplishments, “I have been consistently for a progressive wage structure. We are seeing a situation where our management and our highest paid employees are taking more and more of their share. We need to have a sustainable and fair wage structure. The way we are going we are going to have a two-tiered hiring system.” She went on to say, “I would like to say that our budget is not balanced, we have a $1.5 million all funds deficit. We have $6 million in unmet needs which many cities would call a deficit, over $2 million in just roadways alone. We have a lot of challenges in front of us in terms of the deficit; our sales tax won’t scratch the surface. The difference between Vacaville and Davis in per household sales tax is only $100.”

The first question dealt with the employee benefits granted to police and firefighters. Cecilia went first. “I think that the benefits given the firefighters are very generous and I do not think there needs to be much done to improve it.” She talked about wanting to be sure that we have good public safety and that we give them the tools necessary to protect us. “We’ve become accustomed to having very good services, we want to make sure we give them that, but we also need to see that we have the budget to do so, we don’t. A lot of people don’t feel that we need a fourth fire station.” She then went on to talk about the low percentage of actual fire calls as opposed to medical calls and proposed perhaps looking into a system that puts more reliance on EMAs rather than firefighters as responders to medical calls.

Alan Fernandez speaking for Don Saylor talked about the need to have excellent city services. Public safety is one of Don Saylor’s priorities. “He does agree that the benefits that are currently provided are appropriate for the work that they do in this community.”

Stephen Souza suggested that we have some of the safest streets in the nation. He said that medical services are provided with a contract with the county and we cannot change those without renegotiating the contract. “Benefits to police and fire are necessary, on average they live less than most of our city employees.” He then discussed the need to take care of medical and retirement benefits. He suggested that other cities have far greater problems economically than we do, other cities are declaring bankruptcy. “We need to look at probably a two-tiered system.”

Sue Greenwald went next and refuted some of what Souza had to say. “First off the only reputable study done on longevity of firemen was done by Hamburg… The study came back… and said that firemen actually live a little longer than others because they’re health—obviously they are pre-selected because of their health. So I don’t think that’s a really good reason for early retirement benefits. I support early retirement, the question is the level of total compensation.” Overall she believes that benefits are too high and will bankrupt the city, she said she is willing to take leadership on this issue and willing to pay the consequences for doing so.

Sydney Vergis: “If you look at the base numbers, in terms of the general fund, Vacaville which is going to bankruptcy utilized about 80 percent of their general fund to pay for public safety services, the city of Davis uses about 50 to 60 percent, which is the average range for cities to utilize and pay for public safety.” We need to look across all departments and look towards the allocation of our funding more efficiency.

The next question was on West Village and how it affects growth in the city of Davis. Alan Fernandez punted on this question.

Stephen Souza: “The university’s West Village expansion is proposed to anticipate the expansion of the university. The university is the driving force for the demand in this community for both housing for students… 8000 students live out of town because they can’t afford to live here or they choose to live elsewhere… 3000 beds are anticipated to be in West Village and 500 units of housing for staff and faculty.” He suggests that this will only deal with a small percentage of the growth in this community that is generated by the university.

Sue Greenwald: “I am in favor of annexation regardless of whether we grow fast or we grow slowly.” She sees this as separate from the question of how much we grow. She does not favor a numbers-based approach to growth. She would favor more growth for projects that we want to see and are worth doing. “I try to take a project by project approach to growth.”

Sydney Vergis: “This question is really about whether this will take the pressure off of Davis to grow more. And the answer I believe is that we currently have a one-percent vacancy rate, we have 18,000 UC Davis students commuting in and out of Davis, we lack a range of housing within the city… Will West Village be part of the solution? I think so. Are we still going to have to plan for long term, 20 years down the line, what we are going to look like? I think we are still going to have to do that.”

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald: “I am in favor of annexing West Village, I think people who live there should be able to vote in the city.” She went on to say, “Out of all the UCs, UC Davis is the university that has the least amount of on campus housing for students. It would be great to have a better working relationship with the university, so that they would develop more on campus housing for students. That would free up a lot of the housing the city of Davis, so they could be owner-occupied, that way it would free it up for individuals or for families.”

The next question was on renewing Measure J. Because this was asked and answered, I will summarize the views for everyone but Sydney Vergis who did not respond to the question at the previous forum. Stephen Souza supported renewing Measure J as is. So did Sue Greenwald. Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald supports renewing it as it is and making it permanent. Don Saylor said he was supportive of Measure J, but felt that we needed to examine whether to amend it.

Sydney Vergis said, “I’m supportive of Measure J.” She suggested that as currently written this document is not a transparent document, “it’s incredibly complex, it’s lengthy, we see central valley cities pass their own versions of measure J that are two pages.” She went on to say, “I think that planning by popular vote in a lot of communities does not work, it’s called planning by ballot box. There’s been a lot of literature published about why it doesn’t work. In this particular community, I believe it does work, this is an informed citizenry, it is an impassioned citizenry, and I think here it is a very important part of our landscape.

The next question asked about the definition of affordable housing in Davis and the concrete proposals that they would offer.

Sue Greenwald: Examined the data on the number of permits and compared it to the price of housing in Davis. “There’s no correlation between how much we build and the affordability of housing. The demand is too elastic. We have to build so much to bring those prices down because we have so many people moving in from all over for the high quality of schools and the quality of life. That makes this a tough nut to crack, I don’t think we can grow out of this.”

Sydney Vergis: “We need to be thinking more in terms of what kind of range of housing and where we want to put it in Davis… I want to live in a community where grandparents can come and visit their grandkids and walk up the street and see them and baby sit, that’s the kind of community I want to live in.” But, “I think we need to have a discussion about what our no-growth policies have done to the housing in Davis and what we want to look like twenty years from now.”

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald: Thinks of affordable housing as housing that serves the middle income people—workforce housing. “There’s a tendency to want to develop our way to affordability… It’s dangerous to think in those terms because it leads to not-so-good changes in our town. Think about what you love about Davis, it’s the character of our town, it’s a wonderful college town, it’s a safe town where you can walk, you can bike, where you can spend time with your kids in the wonderful parks. We don’t want that to change those characteristics, we want more affordable homes, but we don’t want to jeopardize our quality of life.”

Don Saylor talked about the affordable housing program that has a 25 percent requirement for low income and another 20 to 25 percent for moderate income people. He talked about the canaries in the coal mine with regards to warning signs about the lack of growth and housing in Davis. “We have to get to the point where we are beyond the discussion of whether to grow or not to grow. We have to get to the discussion of how we can preserve that quality of life that Cecilia is describing very well, and others have mentioned as well. Some growth will be necessary for us to accommodate the future and the community that we love.”

Stephen Souza talks about the affordable housing ordinance—which provides for those in the 80 to 120 percent of median income and costs $177,000 to $464,000. “The problem is if you don’t build anything about 25 units you don’t get that full 45%, you get a smaller percentage based on the number of units that you build. So we get very few units in projects that are only about 25 units.” He added “our problem in our community is that we are a great community, we have great neighborhoods, we have great schools, so there is a premium that is added on top of the price of building a house anyplace else would be.”

The final question was whether they would support Republican candidates against a Democratic candidates for elected office.

Sydney Vergis: “I tend to vote for Democrats because I am a Democrat, because there’s a common bond that we all share. I think this is kind of a silly question… when I vote I don’t just look at party lines but find that most of the candidates I support are Democrats.”

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald: “The reason I am a Democrat is because of our principles… But it is the Democratic Party that stands up when people are being treated unjustly, when people are treated unfairly whether it is the housing market, whether its jobs, whether its social justice, civil rights, if it’s women’s rights, equality amongst all, a women’s rights to choose, Democrats are there. And there hasn’t been a time that I can remember when I voted for a Republican over a Democrat.”

Don Saylor: “One fairly prominent instance, no so long ago, there were two people running for the District Attorney’s office, one is a Democrat, one’s a Republican. The person who’s a Democrat called and left a phone message on my machine and said I’m the Democrat, you should support me… I remembered that this same person had actually been at the farmer’s market advocating against the reform to the three strikes law, the three strikes measure that was on an initiative not so very long before that. So that was a question to me, because as a Democrat, I’m opposed to that kind of broad swipe legislatively controlled sentencing structure, so I wanted to here from that candidate what her views were about this, and I talked to the other candidate as well. Their views on that measure were very very similar. Now many people in this room, perhaps even all of you, supported the Democratic candidate in that race. I talked to both of the candidates at length and with the background that I was looking for, the qualifications of the person, I ended up supporting the Republican in that race. I may do that again.”

Stephen Souza: “As a Democrat, I would consider voting for an independent.” Souza suggested that if Joe Lieberman ran for office, he might support someone against him.

That pretty much wrapped up the Davis Democratic Club’s city council forum. Next week, there will be additional forums and the Vanguard will be there to cover them as well.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, April 24, 2008

UC Davis College Democrats Host Forum for City Council Candidates

Last night, the Davis College Democrats hosted a candidate’s debate for the five City Council candidates that are registered Democrats (which means Rob Roy as a Green, was not at the debate). It was a lively debate at times that started out as a tightly formatted program where two candidates were each asked a question, but it morphed into a more loosely formatted program where others could jump in for a minute after the initial candidates were asked a question. It covered a variety of issues and topic but from a student perspective. In what follows will not cover every single question, but rather some of the more interesting answers.

The first question asked how they felt about promoting businesses that cater to UC Davis students and whether they had plans to do so. For Sue Greenwald, downtown was one of her main focuses—to make it vital. When she first arrived in Davis, the downtown was deserted on weekends and during the summers. She talks about focusing on more arts in the downtown area and Miskah’s cafĂ© coming to the downtown. She wants it to remain bicycle friendly.

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald wants to work with the business community to bring in more businesses that cater to students and that stay open after 9 pm. “We do need businesses that will stay open later, this is a university town.” She also talked about the downtown area remaining safe for bicyclist and bringing in more entertainment—bands, student nights once a month that will have music and entertainment.

The next question was directed to Stephen Souza and Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald, it asked about councilmembers having the ability to take positions on major issues such as the war in Iraq. Stephen Souza’s answer was simply yes. “We have a moral obligation to take positions on issues that directly affect this community in ways that sometimes don’t seem as direct.” He talks about the direct impact of the war in Iraq on money that has been taken from the community, the cost of human lives some of whom are community members, and finally talked about the “degradation and reduction of the ability of the national guard to respond to potential emergencies that occur.”

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald: “Yes, definitely. We have members of the community that are impacted by the war.” Further, “I chaired the city of Davis’ Human Relations Commission and I was proud that I as chair of the commission and the commissioners that served with me, we took a stand when the war first started, we forwarded a resolution to City Council, the council was not in favor of it as a whole, there were some on the council that opposed it.”

Don Saylor and Sydney Vergis were asked: “What do you think the main source of revenue for Davis should be?” Don Saylor talked about sources for revenue. Mr. Saylor wants to look at creating a “balanced portfolio of revenues from all the sources.” Right now, sales tax revenue accounts for 30% of our general fund, half of that is from gasoline and automobile sales. Most cities it is around 20%. In sales tax, Davis ranks near the bottom in per person revenue. Without increased sales tax, we need to look at direct taxes in parcel and park taxes.

Sydney Vergis said that these are tough times. She first laid out in general the problem of finding where revenue can come from particularly emphasized increasing sales tax revenue. “I think one way is for the students right now you have a great meal plan set up where if you do buy a meal plan on campus you can go to vendors off campus and use your card; I would love to see that program expanded to all of not only our downtown businesses but to our businesses in various neighborhoods.” She said that will be a great way to increase business and student involvement.

How will you bring high-tech jobs or green collar jobs to Davis? Stephen Souza, “That’s a great question. We have to, we have to do it because of the answer to one of your prior questions, we have to diversify our sales tax base and we need to diversify our revenue base in Davis.” Talks about the need to set aside land to recruit spin-offs from this university. The land needs to be zoned and it has to be at least 100 acres. Souza wants to see an electric auto production facility, a photovoltaic production facility in this town, and a 30 megawatt facility on the edge of this town.

Sydney Vergis, “This is one thing that we’ve looked at hard on the BEDC, and that is, how do you attract good companies to Davis? Davis has an anti-business reputation” Talks about the need for zoning for such business—we need to create a green tech zone and to streamline the zoning process. “We are looking at bringing businesses to the Mondavi and showing them what a great place it is.” She then went on to say that “I personally outgrew the job opportunities here in Davis quite rapidly.”

The next question for Stephen Souza and Sydney Vergis asked about jobs and affordable housing. Souza talked about starting a business of his own and that the affordability of homes is far out of reach. “We on this council have passed the most stringent and fairest affordable housing ordinance in the nation. The problem is that if you don’t have any development of any potential size, you can have small little projects… you don’t have any of any potential size. The affordable housing ordinance that we passed has parameters within it right now that there has to be 45 percent of every project that is between the price ranges of $177,000 for a family of two, to 464,000 for a family of four in a three-bedroom house. That’s the ranges that you have to have for a homes within the Affordable Housing ordinance that we passed. We don’t get very many of those. We had 44 permits issued last year… You take the calculations and you find that the affordable numbers that you get out of that is even less because when the projects are smaller, that percentage shrinks. We did that so that the burden could be borne over a larger number of units. You need a large enough project to get a larger number of affordable units”

Sydney Vergis, “the common thread between jobs and housing is a lack of range of both. As I spoke before the range of jobs here is minimal and as I mentioned before, I outgrew my job opportunities here quite quickly and I’m now forced to work out of town [note: she’s a land use planner].” Also talks about a reverse commute to Davis by those who cannot afford to live in the city of Davis.

Sue Greenwald jumped in to argue that our housing choices are problematic. “I was the only one to vote against building the last three subdivisions with McMansions, I said let’s build smaller houses and get voted down.” She thinks the only that is really hopeful is “the collapse of housing prices, they’ve been ridiculous, they are going to come down… life is going to get a lot easier when they come back to the historical inflation adjusted average, which they will.”

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald also jumped in. “When we speak of affordable housing, for the most part we are really talking about housing for middle income people.” She then went on to talk about the fact that Measure X really did not meet the affordability needs of most middle income Davis residents. $464,000 is not affordable for most working people. And the average price in Covell Village would have been higher than that. There are also environment trade-offs for such developments. She also talked about building smaller but more affordable homes for people who live in this community.

Don Saylor: “I think we need to look ahead to what the solutions are… We have a housing supply problem in Davis that we must address.”

One of the more provocative questions for Sue Greenwald and Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald. “Tandem properties owns the leases to about half of this group’s homes. What is your relationship with Tandem’s owner Mr. Whitcombe and have you accepted any donations from Mr. Whitcombe.”

Sue Greenwald: “My relationship with Mr. Whitcombe, I’d classify as very poor. I haven’t gotten money from any of the special interests—meaning the city employee groups, anyone who I am in the position to grant favors to in a major sort of way—not the fire department, not the major developers, peripheral developers... It allows me to not have to feel bad if I have to say no.”

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald: “I am proud to say that I haven’t accepted any money from Mr. Whitcombe. I haven’t been offered any money… I will not accept developer money; you will notice that on the back of my brochure. ‘Cecilia’s campaign is not financed with developer contributions.’ I think that’s important. We are here as council candidates to serve you. If people are coming to us and talking about projects, I don’t want there to be a conflict of interest, I want the slate to be clean.”

Don Saylor responded: “I have received a $100 contribution from John Whitcombe and a $100 contribution from his wife. I have also received contributions from about 750 people from our community and beyond. These are people who for whatever reason or another have confidence in my ability to serve this community. We have a campaign finance limit, $100 is the maximum people can contribute. That’s a pretty small amount. My votes cannot be bought, they never have been.”

Stephen Souza: “Special interests come in many different fashions. My largest special interest group are retired people. If you look at my contribution list, you’ll see that the vast majority of those who have contributed to me are retired people, so I guess I’m going to favor retired people. No. I look at each and every issue on the basis of the issue not [who the group is]… I’ll take contributions from anyone who wants to contribute.” Mr. Souza also said that he was the largest contributor to his last campaign, so that would make him a special interest.

Sydney Vergis was the only one not to answer the question, according to her last disclosure, she had received money from Mr. Whitcombe as well.

Don Saylor responded again, and pointed out that Davis has among the most stringent funding requirements in the nation. He said in the last campaign, a candidate [presumably Lamar Heystek] spent $53,000, of which $37,000 came from his own money. He asked if that is what we want, for candidates to fund their own campaigns?

The candidates talked next about keeping Davis graduates in Davis after graduation. Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald talked about partnering with Sacramento and the Sacramento region. She referred to the UC Davis alumni center as a resource for students who are looking for jobs. She wants to see the city and the university to work together on this front. Sydney Vergis talked about the range of job issue and actively recruiting students to work here. But we need to produce more jobs here.

Don Saylor talks about the number of students, who have graduated, left, and then return ten years later and cites this as an extremely important factor. We need to retain that by producing housing and jobs. Stephen Souza talks about the fact that he went to school here and then stayed. “Right now thousands of students graduate every year, there is no way with 44 permits being issued last year, and even with a one percent growth rate if we were to do that, we would be able to house all of the students that graduate that choose to stay here, there’s no way that can happen.” We have to work to find more affordable housing and take the responsible for housing those who work for the university. “We can’t do all, but have to do some of it.” Sue Greenwald makes the pertinent point that we if were to take all of the people who want to live here or who graduated from here, we would be a city of millions. The Mayor talked about her experience of moving from Berkeley due to lack of jobs and housing.

There were three candidate specific questions. The mayor was asked how we could build more infill housing for students while at the same time accommodating those already living in Davis. “I still think that campus is the best place for student housing that there is because you won’t have to be competing with other people for houses, the houses can stay price regulated and there is price control. The university also has the most space for housing.” When the need for housing arises, we will find a place.

Don Saylor was asked about a promise he made to adopt a rental condition ordinance to monitor the quality of rental units. He was specifically asked whether this ordinance was adopted. “No, thank you for reminding me,” he answered. “We have not gotten off square one with that. We recently established a rental housing subcommittee which should be a place where that is grappled with.” He finished, “If you don’t get it done the first term, you always have the second term.”

Final candidate specific question was a pointed question addressed to Sydney Vergis. It said that the Yolo County Young Democrats was founded less than a year ago, and that she has been chair for less than that. It asked her about her previous Democratic Party experience. “My involvement with the Democratic Party is really recent. When I was an undergraduate here I was very involved in my sorority. I was the philanthropy chair and very much into how students could involve themselves with philanthropic activities.”

Four of the candidates responded to a question on Measure J: “Would you approve amend or repeal it?”

Sue Greenwald: “I would renew it. It’s been valuable, it’s a valuable tool. It’s democratic. If we do develop, what Measure J does is put pressure on the developers to offer more.”

Don Saylor: “Measure J is part of the environment. The idea of having people in Davis vote when we’re going to convert farmland to residential property, I think if it was on the ballot exactly as it was the last time, it would probably pass. We have only tested it once, we don’t know what that test means exactly.” We will probably have two future Measure J votes, one being the Wildhorse Ranch. “If the Nische Property, which is a great place for student housing right across the railroad from the Mondavi Center, if that comes forward as a project, then that would be a Measure J vote.” Mr. Saylor agrees that Measure J is tremendous leverage for the city, “but it’s only leverage if at some point a project actually passes.” The constitution he pointed out, has an amendment clause built into it. “I think you always have to keep in mind that maybe you didn’t get it right the first time. I don’t know if there should be a change to Measure J.” He finished, “I do know that Measure J is a part of our environment and should remain so because I think that’s what our residents want. The details of it, I don’t know yet.”

Stephen Souza jumped in: “Yes. Renew it in the form that it’s at. Put it before the voters as it was before the voters in the past. The voters will make the decision if they want to see it renewed.”

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald: “I support Measure J in its current form. It is important to give the voters the right to have a say.” She mentioned that she came before council and asked council to take a stand one way or the other on Measure J, “and some people said they didn’t want to politicize it. It is a political issue because the voters want to know where people stand on Measure J. Get me on the council and I will vote to keep Measure J in it's current form.”

Don Saylor: “One thing I think you should do when you listen to people articulate, ‘keep it exactly as it is’ is actually take a look at the language, it’s very complicated language. ‘Keep it exactly as it is’ that’s easy to say and maybe we should.” However, “it’s a pretty complicated thing and I don’t like to make decisions until I get the analysis from our staff and hear the commissions talk about it and what actually took place.”

Don Saylor and Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald were asked about student–police relations.

Don Saylor: “There’s been so much heat, so much smoke, and sometimes a little bit of light as we’ve looked at this issue over the years.” Mr. Saylor talked about the student-police relations committee and the need for communication, talking, and ride alongs. He also mentioned the levels of review that are in place. “One of the challenges is that relationships are often based on perceptions rather than realities... The more we understand the culture that different people work within, the better off we’re going to be to improving relations between groups.”

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald: “I for six years was chair of the city’s Human Relations Commission, I had students, professors and graduate students come to the commission to express their concerns. And we did address those issues.” She talked about the review process that is now in place. “I think we have a police chief who is doing a better job of working with the officers… We’ll see them in and around the community more, communicating with people.” She talked about the improvement coming from the new police chief and the review process.

They were then asked what a living wage would buy people in this community. Sue Greenwald argued that that level of pay was not a lot, but it was an improvement over the current wages. “I wouldn’t want to have to live on that, I’ll tell you that. I have to be honest about it.” She said she would support a living wage with Lamar Heystek right now.

Stephen Souza said that $13.08 is the least that the city pays any employee which comes out to $21,000. They are talking about contracted out work and most of those pay a living wage except for cleaning services. He supports paying those workers as they do city employees.

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald: “If elected to the city council, I would unequivocally support a living wage… We cannot as a city, ask the university to pay the Sodexho workers a living wage while not giving those who, even if they are cleaning people for the cit, a living wage. Everybody has to at least earn a living wage.”

Sue Greenwald: said that there was a motion to enact a living wage immediately, and that failed, only “Lamar and I voted for it.” What passed was coming back with more budget analysis.

Sydney Vergis and Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald were asked what issues were most important to them. Sydney Vergis talked about why she was running for city council. Her big focus is the environment. She wants go land use planning to reduce the city’s carbon footprint. She talked about looking at the innovative programs in places like Chicago and applying them to Davis in terms of building design and alternative energies.

Cecilia mentioned two key reasons. First, she talked about the future of our city and the need to protect Davis from sprawl development and preserve open space, agricultural land. “[Davis] is a beautiful town, it is a compact town, it is a town that has a character about it and I want to preserve that. We can still have affordable housing. We can still have urban design that is environmental, that is progressive, forward thinking and cutting edge, because we have a university, but we need to do that responsibly.” The other reason that she is running is that she is committed to building that bridge with the university, she wants to see a better collaboration and relationship with the university.”

Each candidate then issued a closing statement. This was the second public debate, however, after this the debate and forum schedule heats up. There is another candidates forum tonight, this time the Davis Democratic club is the sponsor, that will be a broader forum involving also the Assembly Candidates, the Supervisor Candidates, and the City Council Candidates—again only the Democrats among them. It will take place at 6:45 this evening in the Blanchard Room of the Davis Public Library.

Disclaimer: Doug Paul Davis is married to Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald who is a candidate for the Davis City Council.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wednesday Briefs

Davis Vanguard Radio Show Tonight

KDRT 101.5 FM Tonight from 6 PM to 7 PM
Call in number: (530) 792-1648

Julian Posadas, a statewide organizer for AFSCME Local 3299 will be on the show. He helped organize in Santa Cruz to make their workers university employees, and now he is located out at UC Santa Barbara. For those of you who had questions or concerns, he will be taking calls to address them.

Historic Resources Management Commission Needs New Membership

If you’ve ever thought about serving on a City of Davis commission, please consider volunteering for the Historical Resources Management Commission. There are seats for seven commissioners, but we currently only have four members.

To be qualified for the HRMC, all you need to be is an adult resident of Davis with full command of the English language. You don’t need to have a background in architecture or history or any other special skills. However, if these subjects interest you, you’ll enjoy the work of this commission.

The HRMC meets just one evening a month. (It is normally the third Monday at 7:00 p.m. at the Hattie Webber Museum at the corner of 5th and C Streets.) The meetings generally last around two hours, so serving on the HRMC is not a great time commitment. We do receive a packet of information the week before our meeting, so you can expect a couple of hours of preparation for the meetings.

Here is the bulk of what we do:

1. When owners of historically significant properties in Davis propose changes to the exteriors of their houses or commercial buildings, the HRMC reviews the proposals, deciding whether the changes conform with design guidelines.

2. When other projects are proposed near historically significant properties, we review and comment upon these projects, insofar as they affect the neighboring property or district.

3. We also (with City Council approval) authorize surveys of historic resources, to determine what is and is not historically significant in Davis.

4. Finally, we are charged with promoting Davis’s history. To that end, we participate in the planning and preparation of city events and so on that deal with Davis history. This year, for example, we are taking part in the planning for events related to the 100 year anniversary of the opening of UC Davis.

A nice side benefit for publicly minded people in serving on the HRMC is that you get to participate in the discussions which shape the direction of our downtown and its surrounding older neighborhoods and you will learn a lot about the history of Davis.

If you would like to apply, please contact Ike Njoku at (530) 757-5610 or email. If you would like to observe a meeting of the HRMC before applying, please come to our April 21 meeting at the Hattie Webber at 7 pm.

Submitted by Rich Rifkin, member of HMRC

Housing Report Presented to Council and Planning Commission

Last night at a Joint Meeting between the City of Davis and the Planning Commission, the Housing Element Update Steering Committee (HESC) presented their final report to the joint body.

While the work of the body was universally praised in terms of the time commitment and overall work, the substance of it presents some mixed feelings at best. Part of me believes that the work done by the steering committee could have been performed by city staff over the course of a few months. On the other hand, some of things that emerged from this process have been interesting and somewhat unique, and those would not have occurred with a city staff run process. Nevertheless, throughout the meeting there seemed to be a push to expedite the development of the identified properties--the bigger issue of growth rate has been left unresolved by city council since they have anointed the 1% growth rate as a target rather than a mandate. That leaves a considerable gap between the RHNA numbers and the upper ceiling on growth.

In addition to rank ordering the sites, the HESC developed zones or groupings. The first grouping accounts for just over 500 projected units, these are the primary sites--they have existing zoning and are simply ready to go for development. The next group are the top 20 sites--number 1 to number 20, these are called the Secondary Sites and between the primary and secondary sites, the city would get very close to filling its growth capacity on even a 1% growth rate. Some of these properties include the DJUSD Headquarters (1), Grande School Site (3), Downtown Zoning changes (7), PG&E site (8), Nishi (17), etc.

The next group of sites are the alternate sites and they are sites numbers 21 to 33. These are potential sites for this period, but more likely for a future point in time. Some of these include Lewis Cannery (21), Signature (23), Nishi with Olive Drive access (25), Nugget Fields (28), and Covell Village (32). The last four sites are those not needed prior to 2013. These are Parlin sites near the Binning Tracts, Lin Boschken, the property West of Stonegate, and finally at No.37 Oeste Ranch (I wonder if the county is reading this).

Now one of the more innovative changes that this process may allow the city to make, is a change in the way development is done. Kevin Wolf, Chair of the HESC, told the council that they wanted to use the site rankings in the development processing. Right now interested developers go to the city, it goes through a process, and the city makes a determination. He wants this to change, so that only the sites that are given priority by this reporting would be eligible to go forward and they would go forward somewhat in the order in which they were prioritized by the HESC. So project number 1 would get the first opportunity, if the owner was not interested in developing the property at this time, they could move to the next property on the list. The interest of the property owner would still drive the process, but it would be given some structure along the way.

The current system,

"wastes planning commission time and it may not be a high priority at all, but you are stuck with a project going forward. This says, what we're hoping staff and council will say, your project is not on our priority list. We want to hear from the priority list first, if we don't hear from the ones that are in front of you, we'll hear from you. But right now, don't bring it forward because that other one is in front of you that we want to develop first based on our HESC recommendations."

There is a positive aspect to this concept that Kevin Wolf outlined--it sets a prioritization for development. In that respect this would be a positive change. However, I also think it adds the pressure to develop these top 20 sites. Council defended their decision to keep the 1% as the growth guideline based on the fact that we have not been growing at the 1% rate over the past few years, basically since Measure X was defeated. However, putting this into play, if the council uses the 1% growth number, there is a much more realistic chance that we growth at that rate.

1% of course sounds like a very small amount of growth, but we are talking about adding a property larger than Covell Village between now and 2013. Covell Village itself wasn't even suppose to occur that quickly, it was to be phased in over a ten year period of time. Watching the meeting last night, it was clear to me that this process, would expedite the development pace in Davis.

My overall thoughts here before I discuss a bit more specific observations from the council and the community is that in terms of the ranking of sites, there is not much to quibble about. The HESC did a fine job in this respect. The real questions and debate is just beginning however and it is the political one. The question is one about how much additional housing we need, how fast we should grow, and where will we put this housing.

The issue of density has come up over and over again. I think we need to eliminate that word from our land use planning vocabulary. It is a scary word, especially to residents living in adjacent areas that have sunk their hard earned money into their existing property. Kevin Wolf is one of the biggest proponents of making developments more and more dense to accommodate more people and keep the city fairly compact.

At a HESC meeting Mr. Wolf wanted to direct council to ignore or at least downplay the concerns of neighbors about density. I think we need to re-work this dialogue. What we need to talk about is not higher density, but rather a smaller size for units. Smaller units with good strong design that maintains open space and distances can be made acceptable for neighbors if we include them in the process from day one rather than thrust it on them halfway through. You might never get complete approval, but even a compromised process will lead to community and neighborhood buy-in.

Now some of my concerns. The first is site No.7 which is the downtown area. That's a pretty high priority site and what it looks like to me is completely changing the nature and character of downtown. They have a CGI of what that downtown might look like and frankly it is a bit alarming. We are talking about several story buildings lining the downtown with retail on the ground level and potentially housing on the upper levels. This is clearly a long way from going through at this point, but if it does, it completely changes the landscape, feel, and look of our downtown. In many ways, the downtown did not look like Davis, it looked like it could be in many other cities.

I was also concerned about the talk regarding the Lewis Cannery site.

The recommendation of the HESC:
"The Lewis site should be planned, at a minimum, with thoughtful consideration to circulation and land use compatibility with the adjacent Covell Village site, even though the Covell Village site may or may not be approved for future urban use."
Kevin Wolf was one of the chief proponents of Covell Village in 2005. He said point blank at this meeting that he thinks there needs to be access to Pole Line from the Lewis site and he believes that by 2050, there is no way that Covell Village will not be developed. Of course, the voters voted 60-40 against such a development. The Lewis site is ranked 21 versus 32 for the Covell Village site, but I will say this now, there is no way I can support Lewis if it becomes a means by which to expedite and facilitate the development at the adjacent Covell Village site. The intent of Kevin Wolf was very clear here despite the notion that the "planning for the Lewis Cannery site should be able to stand alone and not be delayed by a Measure J vote."

A key point that was raised had to do with West Village and the fact that if it is annexed, it would count for the growth guideline. That is 1500 units, which would be a large portion of even a pure 1% growth rate. If it is not annexed, then it would not count for the 1% growth rate, but in essence, our area could grow by 4000 units by 2013 if West Village is developed, not annexed, and we grow out the full 1% over the next five years. Both Councilmember Lamar Heystek, speaking through a poor connection from a conference in Arkansas and Mayor Sue Greenwald raised this point.

Sue Greenwald raised an additional point:
"I have another concern, that's that this entire process seems to be numbers driven... One thing that concerns me about this whole process is that it seems to be numbers driven and that there's no vision component and that de facto decisions are being made about the visions for the future because we didn't start with the vision discussion."
George Phillips threw an interesting curveball into the mix. Mr. Phillips spoke on behalf of Steve Gidaro one of the owners of the Shriner's Property--the property that Councilmember Stephen Souza had tried to negotiate to get the city to purchase for the purposes of an athletics complex last summer. Mr. Phillips requested that the council place the Shriner's property back into consideration for development.
"The owners of the property... did not express interest at the time [the HESC selection process was occurring] and there is a reason for that there were discussions going on with the city relative to the potential acquisition of the Shriner's property for park purposes, to be considered as a potential site for the major sports park that the city is considering bringing a building out on the Howlett Property."
According to Mr. Phillips, there was agreement that this would be a straight acquisition, not connected to any kind development proposals or any kind of "quid pro quo." They were encouraged to make an offer to the city.
"We received a response back that the price and terms for that acquisition, the city did not have the funds at this point in time to make that acquisition, and that it probably isn't going to come together in spite of good faith efforts by all involved."
He wants to be added the list and the ranking process. He was told by council that he needs to speak to staff about this.

Eileen Samitz, who served on the committee, spoke as well.
"Another problem addressed was the need for a fourth fire station [was addressed as well] and a significant number of us on the committee felt strongly that we don't need a fourth fire station. Instead we need an emergency medical service. One of the astonishing facts is that only 10 percent of the calls for the fire department are for fires, over 50 percent are for medical. We don't need a fire engine to start someone's heart, we need an emergency medical service and basically a restructuring of our fire services is what we should be looking at."
Finally Councilmember Heystek expressed some of his concerns.
"I also wanted to express some of my concerns. Some of those concerns have already been expressed by some of the speakers during public comment on the dais."
He continued that if we were to look at Measure J projects, before we bless this document with those projects for inclusion, that
"we know exactly what our approach to Measure J is. That we are committed to bringing to the voters some renewal of Measure J. If not one that strengthens Measure J, one that at least renews it in its current form."
He also had a problem with the concept of a "green light project." This is a reference to the color scheme where the top projects are green (1-20), the next projects are yellow (21-33), and then red are (34-37).
"And when we say the projects are green light, I think that sends the message that we support the project before we know what the citizens rights with regards to that project are. We have to be very careful about Measure J projects."
He further was concerned how this list helps us determine the kinds of housing that will help fill our needs. We have the sites, but we do not necessarily know what these projects will look like.

My final comment is that I think we need to have a discussion of Measure J before we go forward with this project. While I commend the HESC for their work, there are a lot of issues that they did not deal with, Measure J being one. Another is that they looked at sites rather than housing, but I think we need a fuller picture like Councilmember Heystek said of what these houses will look like. To use Mayor Greenwald's point, we need to know the vision rather than simply the numbers. And finally, we need to know how much we will grow. If we pass 20 green light projects, does that mean that we grow at 1%? It seems to mean that even though the council's previous discussion seemed to downplay that as even a possibility.

Finally, people may not agree with me on any of these three points in terms of direction. I do not have a problem with that, I would just like to see the cards laid on the table before the election a month and a half from now and allow the voters to decide who they want to lead us. The issues of Measure J, housing needs, and growth rate should all be key discussions during the coming election.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Second Debate Last Night for 8th Assembly District

West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon and Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada squared off last night in their second debate in Vacaville, ironically sponsored by the same folks who put on the first debate, the Northern Solano County Democratic Party. Around 60 people or so filed into the Senior Citizens center in a debate that was recorded to go up on the internet.

The event began late and ended later than schedule. It feature little in the way of substantive differences--for the most part it was style, emphasis, and details. County Supervisor Mariko Yamada performed considerably better than she did the first time around. If there was a difference in the performance, it was not a large difference, unlike the first debate. This time, Yamada more than held her own.

In what follows, we highlight some of the issues and the responses of both candidates.

Christopher Cabaldon in his opening statement talked about the vast transformation of West Sacramento and took full credit for such a transformation. He remarked about his Philipino heritage, the disadvantages he had growing up, and the unlikeliness that someone from his background would lead the transformation of West Sacramento. Substantively he focused on a brown to green revolution in Wet Sacramento, leading it to become a city known for its sustainable and green policies. He talked about his education background. Finally he talked about making the city of West Sacramento safer by reducing crime. He spoke of the need to fight urbanization and protect agricultural land in the 8th AD, his vast number of local and statewide endorsements. Finally he argued that this is a state in crisis and it needs a champion for change.

Mariko Yamada ventured that she was running to give the voters a choice. She will be a choice for those whose voices are not usually heard and that she will be representative not for those in the halls of power but rather in the community and the grassroots. She emphasized her endorsements from the California Nurses Association and California Teacher's Association and being emblematic of her speaking to the real problems of everyday people. She cited her background from Denver, Colorado and the fact that her family had been interned in camps during the second world war. She cited her modest background as helping to root her worldview and work on behalf of the disadvantaged. She wants to solve the problems of those least able to articulate their needs--the children, the disabled, the elderly, the veterans. Finally she mentioned how she has canvased the community and has knocked on over 3000 doors in Solano County.

The first questioned asked about young voters and how they can be inspired and kept involved in the process. For Mariko Yamada, she believes that the excitement among young voters transcends the current elections. She cites the advent of technology such as the internet and youtubes as a means by which to keep young voters excited and engaged. She said this is a different and an exciting time. For Christopher Cabaldon it was about the issues. The issues of health care reform, education, the war, and climate change lend themselves to excitement and involvement by young people. Talks about the need to avoid the politics of scoring of points, this leads to cynicism. We need to respect young voters and indeed, all of the electorate.

Next came the issue of health care which asked which system they favored. For Christopher Cabaldon he suggested that everyone is paying for the uninsured, even when we do not see it. He favors the Sheila Kuehl single payer health system as the ideal. However, he then argued that we must do something even it is not a single payer system. We cannot allow the perfect to be the enemy of the possible. Finally he argued that cuts in Medi-Cal are taking us in the wrong direction and it will make it impossible to find Medi-Cal providers who cover the disadvantaged. Mariko Yamada was also supportive of the Kuehl Bill and argued that if her supporter, Phil Angelides had been elected Governor, we would have it as law now. She is also willing to consider others but not as enthusiastically. Talked about the fact that social workers have supported single payer health system going back 50 years, back then, she quipped they were called Communists but now normal people also support such a system.

The budget was also a hot topic of discussion. Mariko Yamada argued that the state budget process is broken and that local governments are imperiled by the system. She said that she does not have a problem proposing or supporting new taxes, however she first would like to end tax loopholes for the wealthy. She also believes that categorical programs have caused a huge problem and that there are far too many, which limits discretion and flexibility in the budget. She clarified her position on two-thirds requirement for budget passage, arguing now for a 55-60 threshold for the state budget. She argued that she does not favor a 50 percent plus one approach, that that only works when Democrats are in power and cited 1994 as a recent example of a time when the Democrats were not in power.

Christopher Cabaldon cited his record of balancing the budget in West Sacramento to the point where they have been able to have a city program of preschool for disadvantage kids enacted during an economic downturn. He said that we must ensure long term prosperity and to do so, we must do business better as a state, cut wasteful programs and spending before we ask for more taxes. He also cited the need for tax equity. He wants to close the corporate tax loophole and then he talked about the fact that the tax system has not kept pace with our new economy which is not exclusively based on manufactured and consumer goods. We need to look at a service oriented economy and adjust the tax system accordingly.

For the economy Christopher Cabladon focused on competitiveness even in places like Winters and Dixon in the global economy. Specifically he looked toward infrastructure and the problems of foreclosure. He suggested that we re-use the foreclosed housing stock and look to provide more affordable housing.

Mariko Yamada's focus was on green technology and she believes that the green revolution is the next wave. She thinks that green technology provides us an opportunity to make fundamental changes in the face of global warming and climate change. She wants to use green technology to create new jobs, new training. She believes it will help the economy while at the same time helping us to stay alive on the planet.

Several of the questions focused specifically on Solano County. One asked the candidates to cite what they would do to help the Solano County's economy, what was the biggest need. Mariko Yamada cited the need for local control--we must respect what each jurisdiction would articulate as their greatest needs economically. Each has a flavor of their own, they have staked out their own identity and we need to respect that. Each has its own General Plan and has made its own decisions. We need to work with the local leadership to see what they need the state to provide.

Christopher Cabaldon talked about the consequences of the housing market once again and the need to recycle housing stock. He talked about helping Suisun get block grants to do just that because currently small cities are not eligible for such grants. Then he talked about the tax policy and the state's policy that companies pay higher taxes if they both employ and sell in California. He cited the health care system and the need to provide that with assistance. Finally, he wants to help Travis Air Force Base.

Next the topic turned to traffic and congestion. Christopher Cabaldon cited the real human costs of congestion rather than simply an inconvenience. He pointed toward possible solutions--the capital corridor rail system, the Port of Sacramento as a means by which to transport without using our highways, and the transportation infrastructure bond. Mariko Yamada expressed optimism because ironically of global warming forcing us to deal with transportation, making it a priority. The cost of fuel is also driving that. Interestingly she said the fact that many people are living beyond their driving age as a means by which to relieve pressure on roadways. She suggests an investment in alternative transportation and talking about fixing land use planning by ceasing the promotion of sprawl which forces people to drive more and longer distances.

Highway 12 is another big issue for Solano County. The question asked about expansion to four lanes and whether they favored a bridge or a tunnel at Rio Vista.

Mariko Yamada argued that this is a very dangerous road and thanked Assemblywoman Lois Wolk for her work in helping to alleviate some of the danger. She said that this road was never intended to support the kind of traffic it currently does. She suggested that the Trilogy development will simply add to this. Making it four lanes will simply increase traffic. And while she is not definitive on it, she favors a bridge over a tunnel.

Christopher Cabaldon argued that too many have died on Highway 12 due to the inaction of the state and local leaders. He praised Lois Wolk as well. He differed with Yamada arguing that Trilogy is not the problem, the problem is not residential traffic or even commuter traffic. The problem is that commercial traffic--i.e. large trucks have used Highway 12 and avoided the freeways such as I-80 which were designed for them to use. He suggested that this is not sustainable and cited problems with the Delta as a result of the level of traffic.

Gas prices were also an issue and the question asked what they would do as Assemblymembers to reduce the dependence on oil. Chrisopher Cabaldon quipped that he was glad the question was not about gas prices, since he had no control over them as an Assemblymember. He cited both the monetary and environmental costs. His solution focused on smarter development to avoid commutes and alternative energy such as the hydrogen fuel cell and the pul-in hybrid. Mariko Yamada said that we must look at ourselves and change our driving behavior. She talked about the creation of an e-way in Yolo County--a dedicated path for electric vehicles. The finite supply of money necessarily means higher prices and the only way to combat them is to change our consumption power and develop green technologies.

Perhaps the most unusual question focused on whether it was possible to be an honest politician. Mariko Yamada turned this basically into an attack on her opponent, arguing that she believes it is possible to find an ethical balance and that this balance has been lost. She then suggested without direct citation, questionable behavior on behalf of her opponent, focusing perhaps on the West Sacramento Democratic club and perhaps even his problems with parking tickets. For her the answer is yes, that you can be an honest politician, although she identifies herself as a public servant. She suggested that she has not engaged in political shenanigans and neither have those around her. This speech drew the loudest response of the night from a partisan but split crowd.

Christopher Cabaldon did not immediately take the bait. He argued that in his experience he has never been letdown by the belief that the electorate both expects and deserves complete honesty. He then talks about looking toward our innter angels and makes comparisons with Bush--arguing that Bush has engagement in the politics and fear and cynicism, and of all his acts and policies, this is perhaps the most "evil."

However, Cabaldon would eventually respond to Mariko Yamada's attack in his closing statement. He juxtapose the seemingly trivial issues of parking tickets against the manifold problems and crises facing the voters of the 8th AD and the state of California--everything from schools, to the budget, the economy, healthcare, and the environment. He criticized her for focusing on such petty non-issues as opposed to these very serious issues facing people everyday.

Two final questions about education finished out the specific question section. The first of these explored the concept that education mandates come without funding. Christopher Cabaldon argued that "everyone in the California legislature thinks they are the superintendent of schools." He said that the state micromanages schools and that they put in specific requirements every single year that add up taking away local control. He argued that the local schools need to be allowed to figure it out on their own.

For Mariko Yamada we need to stop the concept of one-size-fits-all education. We need to reduce the number of categorical programs, eliminate No Child Left Behind. She argues that these types of mandates handcuff local schools and officials. Finally she pointed out that she was CTA endorsed and her opponent is supported by a different kind of educational organization, EdVoice.

The final of these questions asked about the mandated high school exit exam. Mariko Yamada argues that while she supports basic standards for graduation she does not support this exam for all children in order to graduation. Christopher Cabaldon on the other hand, supports the exit exam as a means by which to provide students and schools with evidence that they have some knowledge and some learning. He argues that it makes the graduation diploma actually mean something.

As I said at the onset, for the most part, these are two individuals who have a similar value system. There are some substantive differences between the two, but the biggest difference is in the emphasis and the details of their views and police prescriptions.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, April 21, 2008

Interview with Assemblywoman Lois Wolk--Part I

On Friday, the Vanguard sat down and spoke with Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, candidate for the State Senate, 5th District. In November she will face Republican Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian. This is the first of a three-part interview. In this segment, the Assemblywoman discusses the agreement by the University to make Sodexho Workers full-time employees, the educational crisis in California, the Delta, and transportation.

1. I want to start with yesterday’s news about the UC Davis Food service workers. What is your reaction to the news that the university is going to eventually allow them to become UC employees and also, do you intend to support Senator Leland Yee’s legislation that would make it considerably more difficult for future outsourced contracts by the state universities?
I haven’t read Leland’s bill yet, it will come to me. Bills like that are very much amended on the floor. The process is that they are introduced, then they go through the Senate and the Assembly. They are often amended, so I try not to take positions on bills before I’ve read them and before they come to me.

I am very pleased about the Sodexho agreement. I think that was a win-win situation. It is a positive outcome and I’m glad the Chancellor made that decision. He called me yesterday and told me about it in the morning. I was very pleased. It’s the UC Irvine model I believe.

I asked the Chancellor about [the 9-12 month delay in implementation]. Before I knew it was 9 to 12 months, I asked how long does this take? He said, in his discussions with Irvine, and with administrators there, with the committee that actually made the recommendation, they did all of the research and visited many campuses, they were warned that it takes longer to do than you might want or expect. So I think that’s why he was making the estimate of 9 to 12 months. I’m just pleased at the eventual outcome.
2. As everyone knows the Davis school district now has to make a horrible choice between closing schools and laying off teachers and support staff and cutting programs. While it may be worse in Davis in terms of budget cuts, it is a problem that is playing out statewide and many communities do not have the base of support that Davis has—how does the state do a better job of ensuring that a more consistent flow of money gets to the schools?
There have been over 20,000 pink slips issued throughout the state, and that’s because the law requires that school boards early on have to take the governor’s proposal in January, his budget proposal, and respond to that. The legislature has been pretty consistent about protecting K-12. This year is a terrible budget year. I have never voted to suspend 98, and I hope I will never have to suspend 98. I think our schools in Davis are terrific, both our boys went through the system and had very positive experiences. I know that many people move to Davis precisely for this wonderful system.

When it comes to the reform of the educational finance mechanism, I happen to think it would be a good idea to do that, and one of the reasons that we need to do it is that our demographics are changing—not only Davis’ but the state of California. Over 50 percent of the districts have declining enrollment. Part of Davis’ situation is directly related to the fact that we have declining enrollment. I would say that’s probably half of the four million. What that means is that for each and every student who does not show up in a seat, they lose money and they lose it fairly quickly. So you can’t reduce the overhead, I mean you are not going to immediately get rid of teachers, employees, buildings, etc. You instead have a deficit that you have to deal with—an educational deficit, a program deficit.

I would like to see some basic reform of the education finance system. The problem with that is that that’s not easy to do. It’s a big state, with a lot of different needs, and different interests. Suburban districts, urban districts, and rural districts all have different needs. I have introduced bills that have related to finance, home to schools transportation, declining enrollment, and because there is no money available, it is very difficult to make any kind of structural change in the way schools are financed. But more and more people are talking about it, because more and more districts are suffering from this structural change in the demographics of California. It will start to effect higher education in a few years.

I’ve spent most of my political life trying to get more schools, trying to get communities to pass bonds, trying to reduce the two-thirds requirement to 55 percent, to make it easier for school districts to build. We’re now moving into a very different era. It’s an era of demographic change. There will be fewer students eventually at the University of California, fewer students at CSU, and we’re starting to see the beginning of that in Davis. And it’s not only Davis, it’s communities like Vacaville, communities like Benicia, it’s throughout the district—my district, you will see, flat or declining enrollment. There are very few schools where there’s an increase. Elk Grove which has been the poster child for growth in so many areas is having the opposite effect. It’s a daunting challenge but it’s one that we have to confront.
3. Delta Protection has become your hallmark issue, those of us who went to Congressman Thompson’s fundraiser last weekend, learned a lot about efforts underway to protect the delta—how did you get involved in this issue, what are you looking for the state to do on this effort, and finally what can we as citizens do?
District 8 represents the northern part of the Delta. I have been very much involved in water issues and environmental issues from the time that I entered the Davis City Council. As chair of Water, Parks, and Wildlife, I know that the Delta is the heart and soul of the California water system. It is the core and it is in terrible crisis. That has not only a major environmental impact, but a potentially disastrous economic impact of the entire state.

We’ve asked the Delta to do many things and many of them are incompatible with each other. We want it to supply an unending or increasing supply of water to Southern California and to the Bay Area. We want it to be an extraordinary estuary to breed and facilitate fisheries. We want it to be the repository of agricultural and urban runoff. We want it to, I don’t, but it has become an area of increasing urbanization. We’ve asked it to do far too many things and it is dying, it is absolutely dying. Of course it is surrounded by levies that are basically 19th century piles of dirt, and they are failing. And it is seismically at risk. You can’t imagine an area that is of more significance and at risk.

What can we do? We can do a number of things. The people of the state of California voted for a bond in 2006 to repair the levies and to begin the process of improving the water quality in the Delta, and the fisheries, the habitat, and the agriculture. What we can do is to try to raise the profile of the delta. Most people know where the coast is and know why it’s important to protect it. Most people know about the Sierra Nevada, and they will protect it. They know about Yosemite and they will protect it. They know about their local parks and they want to protect those. But the Delta has very few people in it and very little political clout. So we need to be able to raise the profile of the Delta so that it takes its place as the key water and environmental issue for California.

Then we need to put in place structures that will protect it. It needs are steward. There is no steward—no body, no agency—whose sole purpose is to protect the delta. And if I’m elected to the Senate, that’s what I’ll spend many years trying to accomplish. It won’t be easy, but there has to be a body like the Coastal Commission that focuses exclusively on the Delta and has responsibility for all water decisions and all environmental decisions that affect it. That won’t be easy to do, but I am convinced that has to occur.

The average person needs to educate themselves and speak to their representatives. Here we are very blessed with a delegation that understands all of that—both in the surrounding Assembly Districts and the Senate Districts. And at the Congressional level—Mike Thompson and Doris Matsui have been strong supporters of the Delta—they know where it is, they know how important it is to our region. But we don’t have the same recognition other places. That’s very hard for citizens here to accomplish. We have to educate those in the Bay Area, further in the southern part of the Central Valley, in San Diego, in Los Angeles, to the importance of the Delta to them but to California as a whole. And we’re trying to do that. We’ve been working very carefully with members of my committee who represent those areas, in educating them about the Delta.

Hurricane Katrina had an effect in that area. After Katrina, people were suddenly aware that the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta was in fact at greater risk than New Orleans. And look what happened to New Orleans, so that recognition has helped us with flood protection, it’s helped us with environmental legislation in the Delta; it’s helped us get resources to the Delta. Every cloud has a silver lining, Katrina really the knowledge of how fragile this area is. We have to continue that because we need resources from those who might want to put those resources elsewhere.
4. Transportation is always a major issue—this district really has two major thoroughfares cutting through it, in the northern part we are particularly concerned with the congestion along the I-80 corridor. This is no longer just an issue however about transportation it is also now an issue of the environment, oil supplies, global warming, etc. In your view, what should the state do to address transportation problems in the region?
The state has to take a very active role in addressing these problems. One of the first steps was this extraordinary $18 billion bond that was passed by California. We have worked very hard to assure our fair share of funding. We have roads that are bottlenecks. We have a port; why not use more sea transportation as opposed to truck transportation on the roads? We have achieved funding to dredge the port, to make certain that it can be used increasingly for transportation. We have to fund trains and transit. I’ve been a very strong supporter of all modes of transit and we need resources to do it.

We people seem to be very willing to put money into transportation, into transit. But this remains a very difficult problem because what’s happened is without jobs in the areas where people live, people will commute. That’s what you have between San Joaquin and the Bay Area. That’s what you have between Solano County and the Bay Area. You have people who want to live in these areas because they are pleasant to live in, and housing is a little cheaper, but that means that they have a commute. So we need every form of transportation to be at its best. And to do that we need resources.
---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Commentary: The Perpetual Problem of Parking in the Downtown

If there is one problem that the City Council has not adequately addressed it is the problem of parking. And really to be fair, this city council is not unique for the failure to properly deal with that problem, nor is this city unique.

However, in many ways, the solutions have not solved the problem. For instance, it is my view that the re-parking prohibitions are an unmitigated disaster. I have not seen it free up parking spots, what it does do is preclude long term parking and people from therefore doing longer term shopping or entertainment stops. That I think is the opposite of what you want to achieve.

Last year we discovered that this policy worked so well that it reduced the amount of parking tickets and therefore cut into the city's revenue.

This week we learn that the DDBA is in agreement that a solution to the parking in downtown is to meter the parking in the E Street Plaza. By itself, it is not a bad idea, I come from a city that has metered parking, but in order to provide enough of it, they had to build not one but two parking garages on both sides of the downtown and expand one of them.

The metering might provide some revenue, but I fail to see how it is going to deal with the broader problems of parking.

In isolation this problem would be somewhat of an annoyance. However, time is ticking so to speak because at some point there will be built Target out by Mace and Second Street with presumably a large amount of parking. That will take business from our downtown core. As some fear, the combination of parking problems and cheap merchandise at Target may imperil our downtown. And yet there does not seem to be a real sense of urgency among either the council or the downtown on this front.

Adding to the parking problems is the Amtrak Station that is attracting numerous out-of-town parkers who come here from the convenient and easy parking, leaving the residents of Davis high and dry.

We have a parking facility in the downtown, but in my view it is not located in the proper spot. It is on G and Fourth Street. That puts it on the east side of downtown and away from the main traffic flows and off the main track.

The parking situation calls for some more innovative solutions. We need to find a way to get parking into a central and convenient location, where it is easy for the traffic to access and easy for the pedestrians to walk to the rest of downtown.

This should not be an impossible problem. This past week, I had Matt Rexroad on the radio show, he mentioned problems with Woodland's downtown, namely that it was one long strip. Davis has a good compact downtown that should be walkable if you can find the right location to locate your parking that is.

At the end of the day, parking perhaps even more than Target or even combined with Target might be the biggest threat to the vitality of our downtown and that would be a shame because the downtown has the potential to be a really great community asset.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting