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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Commentary: Where is the Coverage of the City Council Elections

By Monday, the Vanguard will have covered four City Council forums, the most recently a bit delayed from Wednesday night's Sierra Club and Davis Neighborhood Association Forum.

What is appalling however is a conversation I recently had with a reporter from the Davis Enterprise who informed me that the Enterprise will not be covering the candidates forums. In fact, the Davis Enterprise has not covered much of anything regarding the City Council races. Last week they ran a supposed fluff people on all of the candidates. Of course some were more fluffy than others.

This strikingly pales in comparison to past coverage. As one candidate told me, this puts the candidates that lack the vast resources of developer money at a strict disadvantage. For the grassroots candidate, there is no long the direct means to communicate the voters without the expenditure of a large amount of funds. The fact that these reporting policies have to benefit the paper's endorsed candidates cannot be accidental.

The lack of apparent interest by the Davis Enterprise in the council races of course will not prevent them from endorsing their candidates in tomorrow's paper.

The same is largely true for the other paper with major penetration into the Davis market, the Sacramento Bee. I had a long conversation with a reporter from that paper as well. The Sacramento Bee likely in the next few days will have really its only article on the Davis City Council race.

If you read the Sacramento Bee's past editorials on Davis, Davis is largely treated with disdain and lack of empathy. The idea that a city should determine its own future, should control its growth and therefore its character seems to bring the Bee's editorial staff to a slow boil. Davis is largely dismissed as strange, parochial, and elitist. And while that depiction may not be wholly wrong, it misses the rich contextual nature of Davis' internal political debates over growth and its borders. It misses the divide between the moderate, more pro-growth elements, who pay lipservice to its core liberal and progressive values and the more progressive and liberal elements for which these values fully embody their world view.

To put another way, people like Stephen Souza and Don Saylor tend to get the Bee's endorsement over people like Sue Greenwald because the Bee understands the views of the former more than those of the latter and fails to appreciate the true divide in Davis politics between the liberals and the moderates.

At the end of the day, the reasonable person has to wonder what business the Sacramento Bee has in trying to recommend the candidates for an office it hardly sees fit to even cover. To try to pick sides in a battle is barely understands.

To me it makes little sense. I fully understand why the Bee does not commit more resources to Davis. Davis and Yolo County are a small percentage of their readership. What I do not understand is the Davis Enterprise's lack of coverage of the race that traditionally Davisites care most about. Davisites take their City Council elections quite seriously. It would seem that the Enterprise would profit by generating more interest in their paper.

In this day of internet connections and national instant news, it would not seem to the average observer that a local paper covering national stories was the way to go.

Old news reporting in general is fading with the fall of newspaper coverage in general. It would seem all the more important to cover the issues that no one else has an interest in covering. And yet, the Davis Enterprise if anything pulls back on local coverage rather than the other way around. I guess I just do not get it.

We can talk about blogs all day, but on my best day on this blog, it's still a niche market at best, hitting maybe one-fourth of the readership of the Enterprise. While that is certainly not bad, and it on some issues the blog has had a profound impact. Overall it still aims at the 10% population--the population that pays close attention to politics rather than the 90% mass population that will end up deciding a local election.

It is difficult to replace a local paper in terms of their market penetration into the homes of people who are more concerned with what movies are playing than which candidate is most in favor of growth.

In fact, in political parlance, the only replacement for such "free" coverage is paid political advertising. In local races that means direct mail. But direct mail is profoundingly expensive costing in general $10,000 per mailer when all is said and done. At $100 per person, that's a lot of people. When you are not getting development money, people who are literally bundling together $100 donations to make it a more sizable contribution, it is difficult.

The Davis firefighters for instance each contributed $100 to their endorsed candidates campaign, 38 $100 contributions. Suddenly that's real money. When a Don Saylor talks about not being bought by a $100 John Whitcombe contribution, he's probably correct. When John Whitcombe or others like him can bundle together 25 $100 contributions, then we are starting to get in the realm of real money. The other side just cannot compete with that kind of bank without severely dipping into their own personal savings.

There was a time when you could win an election in Davis spending a small amount of money and relying on the free press and a broad grassroots movements to get the word out. Now the grassroots networks are fading and the newspaper is not covering the race.

I never thought I would support district elections in a town the size of Davis and a town as contentious as Davis. In some ways, I still think it is not a good idea. I think we have enough divisions as it is. I think the prospect of drawing lines in Davis would lead to political fighting like we have never seen. But given the lack of coverage by the local paper and the cost of running for elective office, district elections may be the only way to go.

Things to ponder on the first weekend in May.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, May 02, 2008

Weekend Fundraisers

TONIGHT JIM PROVENZA for County Supervisor

Friday, May 2 = Jim Provenza for Yolo County Supervisor is having a Cinco De Mayo celebration fundraiser for Jim at the home at Teresa and Jerry Kaneko at 556 Reed Drive, at 6pm. For information call 759-8460. Tickets are $40 per person ($20 for seniors or students)


Saturday, May 3 = Sue Greenwald for Re-election for City Council will have a Buffet in the Garden fun-raiser starting at 6pm the home of Norma Turner at 506 Fillmore Court in west Davis. This event will honor all those who have already donated (and who are not expected to donate again) and for everyone else, donations in any amount (under the $100 limit) will be gratefully accepted. For information call 758-3048 or 756-5831.


Sunday, May 4 = Friends for Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald for City Council is having a BBQ fundraiser at Harrington Place courtyard at 430 D St. (off Fifth Street) from 1 PM to 3PM. Suggested donation is $25 ($5 for students). For information call 400-2512.

***Delicious vegetarian food options will also be provided ***

Anyone having fundraisers can email announcements to the Vanguard for posting on Friday.

Davis Enterprise to Endorse Saylor, Souza, and... Vergis

The Vanguard has learned that the Davis Enterprise will be making its endorsements in the Davis City Council race this Sunday and will endorse Incumbents Don Saylor, Stephen Souza, and challenger Sydney Vergis.

This is not a particularly surprising development--the Davis Enterprise has a history of supporting the pro-development candidates and issues.

In their recent history here are some of their key endorsements:
  • In November of 2006 they endorsed Yes on Measure K--the approval of Target.

  • In June of 2006 they endorsed Ruth Asmundson and Mike Levy over Lamar Heystek and Stan Forbes for the Davis City Council.

  • In June of 2006 they endorsed District Attorney candidate Jeff Reisig over Pat Lenzi.

  • In November of 2005 they endorsed Yes on Measure X.
The selections of Sydney Vergis and Mike Levy are particularly telling of course, because they are non-incumbents.

Had the Davis Enterprise chosen to endorse all of the current incumbents, they could have done so on experience grounds or at least on non-ideological grounds. They could have argued that during tough times, we need to stick with experience and not change horses in midstream. But they did not. They are simply supporting the pro-development candidates.

The selection of Sydney Vergis over Mayor Sue Greenwald is particularly insulting. The Mayor has been a resident of Davis for over 30 years. She has spent nearly a decade in office which is as long as Vergis has lived in the city of Davis itself.

Sydney Vergis at one of the forums, admitted that she has only recently become active in Davis politics. Her political activism prior to last November consisted largely of activities she participated in as member of a sorority.

During her opening statement at candidate forums she cites her experience as a senior land use planner as a background that has prepared her to be on the city council. However, that experience is less than a year old.

Whether you agree or disagree with her, Sue Greenwald is among the most knowledgeable people in this community on the issue of land use. Her knowledge of the debates and issues in this community goes back decades. There is simply no comparison.

The Davis Enterprise has actually done the progressive movement a great favor. They have made their decision very transparent and very easily for those who have been in the trenches to dismiss. The choice for progressives is very clear and very simple.

While Measure J is indeed an important issue for the coming city council, the key differentiating issue in the past three years is Covell Village.

Sue Greenwald during the initial debate on Measure J was dead on when she wrote:
"Although Measure J is a useful tool for slowing growth, it does not replace the need for City Council members who will vote against excessive peripheral housing developments. This is because spending limits are not allowed in Measure J referenda, and development interests can always outspend citizens groups.

So although Measure J is a useful tool, THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE for Council members that you can trust to vote against approving excessive development in the first place."
In October of 2005, Stephen Souza and Don Saylor wrote an Op-ed in the Davis Enterprise supporting the passage of Covell Village.
"Measure X will decide how Davis will meet its 1 percent housing goals for the next decade, and which plan best meets those goals...

Can't we just use Measure J to vote down proposals like Gidaro's?

Not necessarily. We are required by law to meet our regional housing requirements. That's one reason we passed a 1 percent growth policy. If we don't accept our fair share of growth, we can lose major transportation funding, and it invites developers like Gidaro to do an end run around the City Council — and the voters — to force development right on the edge of town...

By voting yes on Measure X we will support the kind of smart planning that makes Covell Village such a perfect fit for Davis...

This election is about how, when and where we grow. Measure X answers all these questions and ensures that Davis will remain Davis...

We cannot allow our destiny to be controlled by others. The future of our community is too important to leave to the whims of outsiders. We must control our own destiny in a responsible manner. This project is in the best tradition of what Davis is.

It is important to us that we keep Davis Davis. That's what Covell Village will do. We urge you to reject sprawl and vote yes on Measure X..."
By a vote of nearly 60-40, the voters of Davis rejected Covell Village precisely because they saw it as a sprawl development that grew too large without addressing key infrastructure needs.

One could argue of course that perhaps Don Saylor and Stephen Souza learned from their mistakes on Covell Village.

But, at the first candidate's debate Stephen Souza tipped his hand:
"Stephen Souza basically suggested that the community did not understand Measure X. He said this was the first exercise of Measure J and that a project as big as Covell Village takes longer to explain to the community, that it has to come with its impacts mitigated, and that the affordable housing component has to be explainable to the public. Finally we have to totally be engaged in a process that we are expected to vote on."
Stephen Souza's view of the lessons about the rejection of Covell Village by the voters is that they did not understand it. Not that it was too large. Not that they failed to mitigate for its impacts. No it is that the voters did not understand it. That does not sound like a person who will be changing his approach to land use.

The position of the candidates on this issue are very simple.

Sidney Vergis has stated on a number of occasions her support for Covell Village. At the recent Sierra Club forum, she twice supported good "infill" projects like the Nishi property. The Nishi property of course is explicitly written into Measure J as requiring a Measure J vote and rests outside of the city. In addition, while it would appear to be in a prime location, the limited access by way of Olive Drive and traffic problems associated with that location make its development problematic at best.

Sue Greenwald, Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald, and Rob Roy were all opponents of Covell Village. The 1% growth guideline that the Council Majority supports would produce a Covell Village-sized development every five years or so. Covell Village was at least going to phase it in over 10 to 15 years. If you support that rate of growth in Davis, then follow the Davis Enterprise recommendations. If you believe we need slower and more prudent growth then you have an alternative. If you do not think Covell Village is the way to go, then you have candidates that will oppose such developments.

As Sue Greenwald argued nearly a decade ago, we cannot simply rely on Measure J to stop developments we do not like. The developers have the money and resources needed to fight these battles and it is only a matter of time before they start to win these battles. Measure X was so colossal it was relatively easy to defeat. But if these projects start coming rapid fire, eventually the vast grassroots movement is going to wear down. Measure J cannot be a replacement for city council majorities that will oppose such sprawling new subdivisions.

We are not talking about no growth in Davis, we are not talking about ignoring concerns about housing for young families and affordability, we are merely trying to address these issues within the framework of smart and responsible growth within the current borders of Davis.

The Davis Enterprise opposes this vision of Davis and embraces the vision that brought us developments like Covell Village and will bring us future iterations of Covell Village, Nishi, and other peripheral subdivisions should the council majority that currently resides in City Hall be re-elected.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, May 01, 2008


Order Comes One Year After Arrests and Two Weeks After Food Service Workers' Victory

Special to the Vanguard

On Wednesday April 30, 2007, Judge Basha of the Yolo County Court ordered the Yolo County District Attorney to investigate and turn over the records of all protests of 15 or more people in Yolo County over the last 5 years to identify patterns in the DA's prosecution. In particular, the district attorney must present any and all communications between their office and the UC Davis administration, the Davis City Police Department, and/or the UC Davis Police Department in regards to protests and their prosecution. This order comes as part of a Murgia motion brought by the defendants, which seeks to show that there has been discriminatory prosecution in this case.

The 7 defendants, including a UCD lecturer, a UCD alum, a UCD student, UCD workers, and former Sodexho workers, were arrested on May 1st 2007 during a march in support of contracted out food service workers. Recently, on April 17, 2008, the UC Davis Administration finally announced that, in fact, the contracted out food service workers' demands would be met and all of the workers will be converted to UCD employees with Union membership. UC Davis had been the last of the 10 UC campuses and 5 medical centers to still contract out its dining services.

"This is an important victory in a longer battle," said John Viola, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild representing some of the May Day 2007 defendants, "since now we will be able to identify the ways in which union organizers and union supporters are being discriminatorily prosecuted as a result of collusion between the UC Administration, the Davis City Police Department, the UC Davis Police Department, and the Yolo County District Attorney."

"This decision really vindicates us in bringing the motion," said Arooj Ahmad, a former Sodexho worker and UCD Alumna who was arrested on May 1st, 2007, "which we think will show that we are being discriminated against for our support of the union. Now that the UC Davis administration has finally listened to the community and done the right thing, we can all see that our actions throughout this whole past year have been justified.”

During the hearing, the attorneys for the defendants exposed other incidents where police and the District Attorney worked together to chill union activity, as well as proved that other protesters who were involved with non-violent protests that were not affiliated with the union were not actually prosecuted.

“We applaud the district attorney's ordinarily lenient practices in cases of non-violent civil disobedience,“ said Viola, “but find it totally improper, unacceptable, not to mention unconstitutional that their decision to prosecute in this case was arguably motivated by an improper relationship with the University and their efforts to stop the campaign.”

The District Attorney has 30 days to turn over the records, and the next court date will be June 11th.

2008 May Day Protests At UC Davis Push for Social Justice

While it paled in comparison to last year's large crowd of 500 to 1000 students, workers, and community members, a solid crowd of more than 150 turned out to mark the commemoration of May Day in honor labor rights and other social justice. Among the variety of issues of concern--Coca-Cola's treatment of workers in Central America, ending the war in Iraq, Immigrant Justice in the US, labor rights on campus and in the city of Davis, among a broad array of social issues brought to the fore.

Unlike last year where a large contingency marched from the Memorial Union down Russell to the corner of Anderson and Russell, where streets were blocked and arrests ensued, this year's protests were mild by comparison. Music, drums, and fiery speeches were about the extent of the excitement.

A few of the highlights included an entertaining clash between the more progressive and liberal elements and College Republicans, who in a small contingency brought their own signs.

This inspired the partisan crowd to attempt to block the conservative messages in what quickly became a cat-and-mouse game.

Among a variety of speakers was Mayor Sue Greenwald who addressed the crowd citing her record of seeking a living wage for the city of Davis. The Mayor told the crowd that only she and Councilmember Lamar Heystek supported living wage and she pledged to support a progressive wage scale for the city of Davis to the applause of the crowd.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Former Senator Max Cleland in Davis At Charlie Brown Fundraiser

By Bill Ritter

Former U.S. Senator Max Cleland of Georgia came to Davis last night for a fundraiser honoring Congressional Candidate Charlie Brown who is running again in the 4th District. Senator Cleland came to Davis two years ago to offer his support to Brown who narrowly lost to John Doolittle.

An enthusiastic group of 70 attended and joined Davis Mayor Pro-tem Ruth Asmundson, Davis Councilmember Lamar Heystek, Yolo County Assessor Joel Butler, West Sacramento Mayor Chris Cabaldon, former Davis Councilmembers Mike Harrington, Jerry Kaneko and former Davis School Member Jim Provenza along with members of the Davis Democratic Club and members of the UC Davis College Democratic Club.

After campaigning with Charlie for the day Max came to our town to deliver his message of hope and urgency that the 2008 elections are critical to repairing our nation from the disaster the George W. Bush administration has brought upon us.

After being introduced by both Jan & Charlie Brown, Max joked that folks often ask him how he wound up in a wheelchair losing both his legs and an arm, to which he replied “I went duck hunting with Dick Cheney.”

Turning to the matter at hand, Max reminded the crowd how the Bush/Cheney administration has seriously damaged our country leaving us with massive debt and deficits, an economy that is in a recession, 9,000 American citizens a month losing their homes, a needless and unnecessary Iraqi War all the while failing to capture Osama Bin Laben in Afghanistan and destroy Al Queda and not taking care of our wounded veterans as they return from war. It is due to this massive incompetence that Max is once again traveling throughout the country campaigning for candidates who are seeking to return sanity and good government to Washington DC.

It was simply a joy to be in the presence of this wonderful man who is such an inspiration to all of us.

Having shown his 2006 campaign to be credible and nearly successful, Charlie Brown is recognized by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as a top-tier candidate worthy of early and significant support. Several months ago Majority Leader Steny Hoyer came to the district and announced the Democratic Congressional Leadership was supporting Brown with resources his first campaign did not have.

As was the case in 2006, many of us from Davis and Yolo County will be again volunteering to work to elect Charlie Brown and see him join our own Congressman Mike Thompson in Washington DC. Hearing from Senator Cleland inspired and reaffirmed our determination to do all we can to help Charlie Brown.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wednesday Briefs

Vanguard Radio Show Today

Special guest: 4th District Supervisor Candidate Cathy Kennedy

Today from 6 PM to 7 PM on KDRT 101.5 FM

Call in: (530) 792-1648

Sue Greenwald Fundraiser

You are invited to mayor Sue greenwald’s fundraiser this SATURDAY EVENING (MAY 3)

Good food, good friends, good cause!

Join us at Mayor Sue Greenwald’s gala re-election fundraiser this Saturday, May 3. Stop by between 6p.m. and midnight, or stay all evening. The Garden Party fundraiser will be at the beautiful home of Norma Turner, 506 Fillmore Court in West Davis. Enjoy great food, drink and ambiance. All are welcome. If you have not yet donated, a donation of $25 ($10 students) is requested, but all donations are welcome and appreciated. Or, agree to walk a precinct in lieu of donation. For information please call Norma at 758-3048. Directions can be found at Sue’s website at

Nuggets Field 7-11 Committee Meeting

Please come and voice your opinion on what you think should happen at the Nugget Fields site. It has appeared on the Housing Element Committee of the City of Davis as preferable site for housing. Should the are be developed? If it is, should it be residential or commercial? Should the area be bought by another government entity and kept as Nugget Fields. Davis residents need to express their views to the School District's 7-11 Surplus Committee, so the Committee can share those views with the School Board.

To that end, the 7-11 Surplus Committee has scheduled a public hearing at the Birch Lane Multipurpose Room on May 6th starting at 7 pm. If this is an issue of interest to you, please come and speak out.

For a bit of history on the site, the Wildhorse Property known as Nugget Fields was donated to the Davis School District in December of 1999 as part of the Wildhorse development project. The size of the property at nine acres is suitable for an elementary school, although there have been no plans for such a development or any other by the Davis School District.

In April of 2000, the District entered into a lease of the Wildhorse property with the Davis Sports Foundation, which allowed the vacant parcel of land to be developed and used as soccer fields on an interim basis as a benefit to the community. The lease is about to expire and the District desires to declare the property as surplus for use as a school site in order to avoid the provisions of the Naylor Act. The Naylor Act would, if the property were not declared as surplus allow another government entity to buy the land for much less than fair market value.

The Committee recommended to the School District "After consideration of the prior 7-11 Committee report, enrollment projections, school facility capacity, and future development projects, the Committee believes that there is no need for use of the Wildhorse property in the foreseeable future fir educational purposes. Therefore, we recommend to the Board of Education that they declare the Wildhorse property as surplus." The vote of the Committee was 9-0, with two absent.

The School Board accepted the report of the 7-11 Surplus Property Committee on a 4-0 vote. However, the Committee is also charged with soliciting community input as to what the property should be sued for and report that to the School Board. That is the purpose of this public hearing. If you want your voice heard, please come and share your thoughts.

Bob Schelen
Chair 7-11 Surplus Committee

Commentary: An Analysis of Measure J

The issue of Measure J has become a key issue in the current city council election. Following the release of a letter by City Attorney Harriet Steiner, the council has been charged with the responsibility to determine whether Measure J should be renewed, amended, or repealed. By its own provision, any efforts to amend or repeal must go to the voters for approval.

While the city council has determined that they will wait until after the election to determine the future of Measure J, the council candidates have all come forward with positions on Measure J.

Sue Greenwald has simply said she wants to renew it.

Stephen Souza: "Renew it in the form that it's in."

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald: Renew and make it permanent.

Rob Roy: Renew it.

Don Saylor is more circumspect showing general support but: “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... 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.”

Sydney Vergis: “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.”

It is towards the latter views of Measure J that this piece is aimed. I grant Sydney Vergis that the measure is lengthy, I am not sure I am willing to grant that it is all that complex. In fact, I find it rather straight forward.

I will briefly run through the sections of this provision and perhaps those who seek to amend or shorten Measure J can better articulate what they would like to see changed.

The first portion sets forth the purpose of Measure J:
"The purpose of this Article is to establish a mechanism for direct citizen participation in land use decisions affecting City policies for compact urban form, agricultural land preservation and an adequate housing supply to meet internal City needs, by providing the people of the City of Davis the right to vote, without having to evoke referenda, on general plan land use map amendments that would convert any agricultural, open space, or urban reserve lands, as designated on the Land Use Map of the City of Davis General Plan, dated August 1, 1999, to an urban or urban reserve land use designation and on any development proposal on the Covell Center or Nishi properties.

The purpose of this Article is to ensure that the purposes and principles set forth in the City of Davis General Plan relating to voter approval, land use, affordable housing, open space, agricultural preservation and conservation are fully considered by establishing an expanded land use entitlement process for proposed conversion of properties to urban use that are designated or in agricultural or open space use. This action recognizes that continued conversion of agricultural lands to meet urban needs is neither inevitable nor necessary, and that any land use decision affecting such properties shall be subject to a public vote."
The City Council and the voters then come forward with a series of findings that include the need to protect existing agricultural and open space lands, talking about the continued urban encroachment upon those lands, the unique character of Davis and the quality of life, the General Plan policies for compact urban form, the city's work to promote the preservation of agricultural land through the general plan.

That section concludes:
"This Citizens' Right to Vote on Future Use of Open Space and Agricultural Lands Ordinance implements the General Plan and is consistent with the City’s adopted General Plan and furthers and implements the policies of the General Plan. The City finds that this Ordinance will provide for a balance between the preservation of agricultural lands and open space and the housing needs of the City."
The next section provides for voter approval and enumerates any instance of voter approval.

First, "Voter Approval of Changes to Land Use designations on the Land Use Map from Agricultural or Urban Reserve to Urban land use designations or from Agricultural to Urban Reserve land use designations."

It specifies that "any application for an amendment or modification" of land use designation to urban land use requires the following steps: establishment of the baseline project feature, approval by the city council following compliance with CEQA, and then the added step is the approval by the voters and the approval by the voters cannot take place as specified until after approval by the city council.

It also designates voter approval for "development proposals on remaining large vacant properties"--specifically naming both Covell and Nishi. And it sets forth the same guidelines on those two specific properties as it does on the general change in land use designation.

The next section lays forth exemptions. For instance land used for public schools, parks, sewage treatment, medical facilities, and a few other exemptions. It is also notes that any shift away from those land uses requires a Measure J vote. So you can produce a city park without a Measure J vote but if you want to convert that into housing, it requires a measure J vote.

It then contains a page of definitions of specific terms.

It provides a provision that other than the renewal or repeal of this measure, the cost for elections "shall be borne by the applicants of the amendment of the General Plan land use map designation." And they should be consolidated with others elections whenever feasible.

Then we have the duration which began on March 8, 2000 and:
"This Ordinance shall remain in effect until December 31, 2010, unless modified or repealed earlier by the voters of the City by majority vote. On a regularly scheduled election date prior to December 31, 2010, the City Council shall submit the provisions of this Ordinance to the voters of the City for renewal, amendment or repeal."
That is where we are right now. Finally there is the standard severability clause that if one section is found unconstitutional, the rest of the measure is still operational.


This is certainly a lengthy document. But I do not see it as extremely complex. In fact, as I read through this as a non-lawyer, I was struck by the simple fact of how straight forward the measure is.

The drafters of the measure were thorough--they created a mechanism to do exactly what they intended--put forth a mechanism by which changes to the land use designations could take place and they did it in a comprehensive way in which all terms were defined, the length of the term was explicitly laid out.

In short, we have four candidate who have pledged to essentially renew the measure as it is written. We have two candidates who have discussed the possibility of changing the ordinance.

When Sydney Vergis talks about transparency, she needs to define exactly what that means. What portions of this measure does she believe could be streamlined? What portions can be removed without changing the substance of the measure? How can this document possibly be written in two pages as she suggests? I simply do not see it, without taking away the specificity by which this measure operates, and the care it takes to lay out and define terms, determine process, and lay out procedure. It alys out definition and intent in such clarity that the intent of the drafters of this measure is clear. That takes up over a page of space, but I see no way to remove that portion from the document. There is a page of exemptions to the law.

There is one possible area where the law might be streamlined, it lays forth the procedure for Nishi and Covell specifically rather than with the previous section. Even that only adds an additional page.

That gets us to Don Saylor's point. He specifies that "you always have to keep in mind that maybe you didn't get it right the first time." That's of course always possible. But then he never specifies what we might not have gotten right. He offers up no specifics to suggest where it might have been in error. He simply suggests that we talk to commissions about it. Again this is a pretty straight-forward initiative--it requires a vote for land use changes and other than that lays out a procedure that they would have to follow without the voter approval requirement. So what is it that possibly could be changed in the application of this document? Short of specifics, Saylor's point amounts to rhetoric in search of some moderate position that doesn't really exist.

If neither Mr. Saylor or Ms. Vergis can specify applications of this that should be considered for amendment, we should perhaps assume that they are attempting to have it both ways--assuage the vast majority of voters who would vote to renew Measure J while assuaging the vast majority of their core constituency that would like nothing better than to weaken or water down the measure at the very least if they could not muster the political will and support to repeal it altogether.

In short, we must hold the candidates accountable to specify exactly what changes they would make.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

California NOW Responds to Accusations from the Yamada Campaign Regarding EdVoice's Role in their Non-Endorsement in the 8th AD

Last week, Democratic Candidate for the 8th Assembly District Mariko Yamada's campaign manager Brian Micek, sent out a press release accusing California NOW of taking contributions from EdVoice in exchange for California NOW remaining neutral in the 8th Assembly District race.

In a pointed release, the Yamada Campaign said:
"In what may go down as a banner day for the modern feminist movement, the California PAC of the National Organization for Women chose to make no endorsement in the Democratic Primary between Mariko Yamada, a professional social worker and two-term female County Supervisor and her male opponent, Christopher Cabaldon the former President and CEO of EdVoice.

EdVoice funds campaigns for candidates supportive of its agenda to “reform schools” and has already set aside $350,000 in an independent expenditure for Cabaldon’s campaign. In October of 2007, while Cabaldon was still at EdVoice’s helm, the education reform group donated $120,000 to NOW’s Women Vote 2008 campaign."
The Yamada press release goes on to say:
"Yamada received the news of the “no endorsement” decision on April 18th via a letter dated “April 25, 2008” on official California NOW-PAC stationary that includes the moving Susan B. Anthony quote, “Never another season of silence…” in its footer.

Yamada is the mother of two grown daughters, has served for nine years as an organizer of the Yolo County Women’s History Month Celebration and recently sponsored the first Solano County Women’s History Month Luncheon. Both events raise money to add women’s history materials to the Yolo and Solano County Library systems. She will receive the 2008 Woman of Distinction Award from Soroptimist International of Davis in May.

These efforts, among other attributes, did earn Yamada the endorsement of the California List, whose mission is clear: to elect pro-choice, Democratic women to the State Legislature."
Yesterday, California NOW sent out a press release responding to what they called "false allegations from [the] Yamada campaign."

Helen Grieco the executive director said:
"The CA NOW PAC's mission is, first and foremost, to elect feminist women to office. The CA NOW PAC endorses candidates who will fight for reproductive justice for all women and who possess a broad knowledge and understanding of issues important to women's health, safety and equal opportunity."
She goes on to say:
"Our allies at Planned Parenthood and Equality California chose not to endorse Yamada and to endorse Christopher Cabaldon, a CA NOW member."
Furthermore, Ms. Grieco questioned Yamada's commitment on the issues that NOW is most concerned about.
"Mariko Yamada was not seen by our PAC as the strongest advocate for the current issues we face. Unable to support Yamada, the CA NOW PAC chose not to make any endorsement in the 8th Assembly race at this time."
NOW goes on to clarify the accusations by Yamada that their endorsement process was compromised by their work with EdVoice.
"The CA NOW PAC has worked with EdVoice to achieve our shared goal of electing more feminist women to office, including Fran Pavley (SD 23), Carol Liu (SD 21), and Joan Buchanan (AD 15)."
They go on to argue that the claim that NOW received money from EdVoice is erroneous.
"However, Yamada's claim that the CA NOW PAC, "received $120,000 from EdVoice" is erroneous. Neither the CA NOW PAC nor CA NOW has received any funds from EdVoice, rather, EdVoice allocated funds for the shared campaign."
In scathing language, NOW rebukes the Yamada campaign:
"For Yamada to suggest that the CA NOW PAC endorsement process was compromised by our work with EdVoice is insulting."
The Cabaldon campaign has also issued a statement:
West Sacramento-Mariko Yamada's bitter denunciation of California NOW for not endorsing her in the 8th Assembly District last week is merely the latest of weekly rants, hurling accusations at anyone and any organization that does not support her. That pattern of distortion is not new to her campaign--it belies an antagonistic disregard for the integrity of public debate and has revealed that she had no intention of upholding her publicized pledge of running a clean campaign, which is why nearly all of the elected officials who work most closely with her on the Board of Supervisors and the Davis City Council have endorsed Christopher Cabaldon.

Christopher Cabaldon is proud of his longstanding partnership with California NOW during his tenure as President of EdVoice, as they worked together to elect pro-education, pro-equality legislative candidates like former school teacher Fran Pavley, former higher education committee chair Carol Liu, and school board member Joan Buchanan.

California NOW's choice to not endorse Mariko Yamada reflects the consensus of women leaders in the district and feminists committed to equality. Christopher Cabaldon is the sole endorsed candidate of the Planned Parenthood PAC, Equality California, and all of the 8th District's elected women serving as mayors, supervisors, and state legislators, as well as several former presidents of California Women Lead (formerly CEWAER).
The Vanguard was unable to contact Brian Micek for a response today, but if he sends out a response later today, it will be added to this article.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Interview with Assemblywoman Lois Wolk--Part III

On Friday April 18, 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 final of a three-part interview. In this segment, the Assemblywoman discusses land use, housing, seniors, health insurance, and her legislative accomplishments and goals.

9. How can the 5th Senate District balance the need for housing and jobs to accommodate huge projected growth with the need to preserve agricultural land and environmental protection?
That’s a tremendous challenge and it’s a challenge we feel throughout the central valley. People are looking for housing, they’re moving to these areas, they haven’t stopped moving to these areas and we need to do a better job of planning. We need, and I hope we would have a resurgence of what we had years ago when we looked at regional planning, strong regional planning. The blueprint was a good example, but that’s only for the Sacramento region. We need that for the entire Senate 5th District. San Joaquin has done a very good job as well of beginning the process of a blueprint. They have strong transportation organization, but there needs to be an overall planning effort that connects transportation, land use, planning, all the agricultural preservation, and environmental preservation. All of the pressures that come from growth have to be looked at in a connective fashion—and we don’t do that. We don’t do a good job of that. We need to do more of that.

It is very difficult, but now is probably the best time to do that. The reason I say that is when you are in a recession that you are right now, and you don’t have the pressure of housing on you, the overheated market, you have an opportunity to take a step back if you are in local government, and look out several years. Look out five to ten years. Look out twenty years. Preferably, look out thirty years or more and do some fundamental planning for your region. We don’t do a good job of that in California. We should do more.

I have introduced 2501, that includes climate change in all water planning in the state at every level. I think that has to occur. That’s one response to what we know is coming and needs to be addressed. The other bill that was part of the flood protection package, was a change in general plan law, to require each community, city and county, to incorporate flooding in a comprehensive way into their general plans. Many communities still don’t do that, but they will have to do that by the end of next year, including the maps the maps that will be given to them of the different flood plains. So there are efforts to do that and there are some pieces of legislation currently that aim to do the same for transportation and air quality and housing. I support those, I think that they’re to put forward.

I recognize however, that much resistance comes from local communities because land use is a local prerogative. I would just encourage, as I did when I was on the city council and the board of supervisors, regional efforts that Davis can’t do it alone, Woodland can’t do it alone, it is important for Yolo County cities to be working together in partnership and to be working in the greater region on all of these issues—that’s essential. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but that’s what needs to happen. It’s a tension between the local government responsibility as a constitution for land use and the state’s overall overriding interest in making certain that the state as a whole deals with these challenges. There’s a tension there and it’s a healthy challenge.
10. Everyone it seems is for health care reform. What approach do you most advocate for and more importantly, how can you get it passed in the current climate or will you be looking toward 2011 with a Democratic Governor?
My greatest disappointment was that we were unable to enact health care reform. My position has always been, whatever health care reform comes to my desk in the Assembly, I will vote for—whether it is single payer, which I have supported, or the Speaker and Governor’s proposal, I supported that, and I co-authored John Laird and Darrell Steinberg’s bills to expand healthy families, to insure the children. My greatest disappointment is that this year, since we were unable to insure every citizen that we were unable to insure and expand healthy children, the healthy families program and thereby insure all children.

This will have to be done at the federal level. I am looking forward to the election in November. I think within a year after that, we will see a health care reform. It will be similar to the SKIP program, basically the federal government has to set a floor and then California will rise above that floor. Each state will or not depending on their needs and demands and values. I look forward to this election because I think that health care reform is on the national agenda. It is the number one for people. It has surpassed education in many polls statewide—not yet in my district. It is up there. It has risen dramatically. It has to be dealt with. I look forward to working on that before we have a new governor.
11. What other issues do you think are vital to your candidacy for the Senate and your record as a State Assemblywoman?
Well one of the areas has been my focus on seniors and elders. The elder abuse legislation which was landmark legislation to require banks and financial institutions to report elder financial abuse when they think it’s occurring. That took us two years, it was a difficult piece of legislation. We had a great deal of support for it. I’m very proud about that. I’m currently looking at end of life issues—nursing homes, assisted living facilities, issues. We are a growing and changing population. We’re growing older, we have a demographic surge, and people are living longer. They are not living next door to their relatives any longer. They need at times housing and medical care. They need continuums of care, they need services at certain times and not at others. They need the flexibility of being able to go back and forth between the housing and nursing home, homebound care, there are all permutations of the things that seniors need as they age.

I’d like to work on these, but we haven’t had a lot in that area. We haven’t had enough oversight. And it is a tremendous wave. The baby boomers are coming. We have to be prepared for that. What we saw in Davis was a very good example of that. We have two facilities we built in the 90s—one in ’89, the University Retirement Facility, which I was instrumental in getting approved and working toward. That was in the 1990s, it is twenty years later. When Atria took over Covell Gardens the rent increases were dramatic. That was very difficult for many of the existing residents. At that point, alternative were not and are not available. I think that’s a real lack in our community. We haven’t thought about the changes in our demographics that are coming upon us not just in Davis, but countywide and statewide, practically and statewide that would allow choices to be available to seniors.

Frankly, we have an expansion in the needs of children as well—childcare. Because of the changes in the family, there are very different demands that the family requires that we’re not confronting. Changes in home to school transportation for example, single-parent families have incredible demands on them, childcare, the need for preschool, there are a whole series of things that we have to do for children as well, that have to reflect changing times. So I look forward to working on those of those issues in the Senate.

(Follow up on the situation at Atria Covell Gardens regarding the power situation in January and rent).

I think there are two parts to that. I disagree with you that the Davis City Council couldn’t do anything. For the immediate, their fire department was absolutely wonderful in getting there, getting people out of the elevator who were trapped there, and being ready to be partners in whatever emergencies are provided, and that’s ongoing not just in crises, they’re always there.

I have introduced legislation to make certain that emergency plans have to be serious. If they provide services dependent upon electricity, in particular oxygen and a number of things that they have to have a backup generator. I’m sure that that will pass and be signed by the governor.

The issue of rents—whether adequate notice and adequate justification is given for these rents. There are a number of things that could be done better—mechanisms for appealing it if possible. Here’s the issue with Davis, yes there are problems that were highlighted by what happened. We don’t have enough facilities in Davis. It took a city council to approve ten acres of land for the University Retirement Community using the redevelopment agency and new development to make that happen. And it took a city council prior to mine—Mike Corbett, Anne Evans, and David Rosenberg—to approve Covell Gardens in 1988 or 87, recognizing the need for a senior facility. We need more of them. There was no place to go.

If you are 76 or 85 and you are faced with, and you’re relatively healthy and your rent goes up and you have a limited amount of income, you have no other place to go. Your choices were limited. That is something that the Davis City Council can directly assist with. I know that those are difficult conversations to have given the current view about growth, but if we’re committed to infill, what about infill projects? What about some vision in terms of creating alternatives for those seniors. There are going to be more and more people like that—are we going to send them away from Davis? That is what I was faced with as mayor in the 90’s. People were leaving the community because we did not have a university retirement community. And because Covell Gardens at the time was only senior housing. It did not have any assisted living. It changed over time. Where are those facilities? I don’t know of any in the planning process. That may be the case in Woodland as well, in fact, it may be true in California. We have to do a better job of anticipating demographic surge and the needs that that group presents and ready for it. That’s what a public official should be about, and especially at the local level where land use is in their control.
12. What accomplishment in your political career are you most proud?
I have a lot of them. I am very proud of the flood protection package, the Cache Creek Wild and Scenic bill, that Cache Creek will forever be wild and scenic. My grandchildren will be able to experience that creek and their grandmother had something to do with making it wild and scenic. Also the landmark bill on elder protection—elder financial abuse. I’ve accomplished a number of things that aren’t pieces of legislation. I’ve managed to solve a number of problems that resulted in making the school districts healthier financially. Getting the $4 million for Marguerite Montgomery was a wonderful success. I also years before saved $14 million for the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District and I’m working now to help the Dixon School District achieve a reserve with their sale of property which needs legislation. A lot of these things gave me a great deal of satisfaction because they made lives and situations much better for people. I like to solve problems.
13. If you accomplish one thing as a State Senator what would it be?
I have two things. To insure every child in this state, that would be the first thing in the next two years. The second thing would be to develop a steward for the delta. A medical home for every child in the state of California.
---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Sierra Club Yolano Group and the Davis Neighborhood Coalition Plan a City Council Candidates Forum

Please come to the Community Chambers on Wednesday, April 30 at 7:00 PM to hear candidates for the Davis City Council answer questions regarding important environmental, neighborhood and community issues. The council candidate forum is sponsored by the Sierra Club Yolano Group and the Davis Neighborhood Coalition. The forum, which will run until 9:30, will also be recorded and broadcast live on our local government channel. Candidates will answer questions submitted by Sierra Club and the Neighborhood Coalition and also take questions from the floor. The Community Chambers are located at 23 Russell Boulevard in Davis.

Attending or watching a forum is a great way to participate in the political process. The format of this forum is designed to provide an educational experience for the public regarding the views of the City Council candidates. The public will have the opportunity to review the questions and background materials at the beginning of the forum, and to participate by submitting their own questions.

This forum has been timed so that voters can make informed decisions when voting for the Davis City Council. The absentee ballots for this election start going out on May 5. The last day to register to vote is May 19, and election day is June 3.

For more information regarding the forum, please contact DNC Chair, Holly Bishop at 753-2773 or Yolano Group co-chairs Pam Nieberg at 756-6856 and Stacie Frerichs at 758-0807.

Word To The Wise: Reverse Mortgages - A Blessing or Curse?

by E.A. Roberts


The credit crisis has reached epidemic proportions. Homes with adjustable rate mortgages are being foreclosed on, parents are now beginning to have difficulties obtaining student loans, and home equity loans are becoming the next serious trouble spot looming on the horizon. In consequence, the nation is now spiraling into a recession with the value in homes plummeting. Banks are tightening credit requirements, with everyone holding their breath to see how bad things are going to become.

Interestingly enough, home equity loans, also known as reverse mortgages, have become a recent hot topic of conversation locally. An article appeared in the March 27, 2008 Davis Enterprise, with the headline, “Are home equity loans next round in credit crisis?”. Yet paid advertisements on the subject have been materializing within the pages of the same newspaper, with the caption, “Yolo County Seniors Discover Simple New Way to Solve Nagging Money Problems!” By the way, the words “Paid Advertisement” appear in very small print at the top of these ads, which many seniors would have difficulty reading.

What is a home equity loan, also called a reverse mortgage? It is a loan against a home that does not have to be paid back for as long as the owner lives in it. With a reverse mortgage, the value of the house can be converted into cash without having to sell and move out or repay the loan. The owner taps into whatever “equity” has built up in the home over time. The cash received from a reverse mortgage can be paid out by the lender (mortgage lender, bank, credit union, or savings & loan association) to the recipient in several ways:
  • all at once in a lump sum (which can be used to pay off an existing mortgage; or an annuity can be purchased);
  • regular monthly cash advances:
    • Tenure - equal monthly payments as long as borrower continues to occupy the property as a principle place of residence;
    • Term - equal monthly payments for a fixed period of months selected by borrower;
  • as a “Line of Credit”;
  • or any combination thereof:
    • Modified Tenure - combination of line of credit and monthly payments as long as the borrower continues to occupy the property as a principle place of residence;
    • Modified Term - combination of line of credit and equal monthly payments for a fixed period of months selected by borrower.

Reverse mortgages differ from other home loans in other respects. The borrower:

  • does not need an income to qualify for such a loan;
  • does not have to make any monthly payments;
  • must be 62 years of age or older;
  • must own the property in question and occupy it as his/her principle place of residence;
  • must have paid off any mortgage or have only a relatively small balance remaining, with no other debt encumbering the property (with the exception of some state and local government loans);
  • participate in a consumer information counseling session given by an approved Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) counselor.

The dwelling must:

  • be a single family home (no limit on value of the home) or up to a four unit home in which the borrower lives in at least one of the units;
  • or Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-approved condominiums;
  • or manufactured homes and leased land;
  • And meet FHA property standards and flood requirements.

A reverse mortgage does not have to be repaid until the borrower moves, sells, or dies. Lenders recover their principle and interest once the home is sold. Whatever proceeds remain after sale goes to the homeowner or their survivors. A homeowner can never owe more than the fair market value of their home. If the profit from the sale is insufficient to pay the amount owed, HUD will pay the lender any shortfall. HUD’s Federal Housing Administration (FHA) collects an insurance premium from all borrowers to provide this sort of coverage. It should be noted that a borrower cannot be forced to sell the home to pay off the mortgage, even if the mortgage balance grows to exceed the value of the property.

The amount that can be borrowed will depend on
  • the borrower’s age (the older the borrower, the greater is the amount allowed to be borrowed),
  • the current interest rates,
  • other loan fees,
  • and the appraised value of the home for that area (lower of the appraisal amount or FHA mortgage limit for the area, which ranges from $200,000 in rural locations to $360,000 in urban settings).

Generally speaking - the older you are, the more valuable your home is, and the lower the interest rates are - the more can be borrowed. However, the more equity used now, the less is available in the future.

Virtually all lenders charge adjustable interest rates on HECM loans. The rate can increase or decrease over time, tied to the current one-year or monthly US Treasure rate, subject to a “cap” of 2 percentage points per year and 5 total points over the life of the loan; or a 10 percentage point “cap” over the life of the loan for a monthly adjustable interest rate.

More costly private loans backed and owned by private companies that develop them are known as “proprietary” reverse mortgages. Because these companies have the ownership rights to the loans, they decide which lenders may offer them. Whereas federally insured Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) loans are backed by the federal government and may be offered by any lender approved by the FHA. If your home is worth more than HUD’s limit for your county, a proprietary reverse mortgage might give larger cash advances than an HECM. It also may cost less than an HECM in the earlier years of the loan.

The most expensive proprietary reverse mortgages will charge “contingent interest” in the form of “shared equity” or “shared appreciation” fees. The borrower will owe a percentage of the home’s value:

  • when the loan is repaid - “shared equity”;
  • since the loan was taken out - “shared appreciation”.

There are also reverse mortgages available for low income seniors that are low cost public sector loans offered by state and local governments:

  • Deferred Payment Loans (DPLs) - commonly known as “redevelopment funds” or “community development block grants”, giving a one-time lump sum advance for repairing or improving the home;
  • Property Tax Deferral (PTD) - provides annual loan advances to be used to pay property taxes.

Let’s take a simple example, to make things clear to the uninitiated, because reverse mortgages are often not well understood and complicated. Suppose Mr. & Mrs. Q, both 65 years of age, own their own three bedroom home in Davis. Purchased 20 years ago at $150,000, with $50,000 as a down payment, it was encumbered with a $100,000 mortgage. $40,000 is still owing on the mortgage. The present market value of the residence is $600,000 (a pretty typical example in Davis, where appreciation of houses has been quite high). To determine the amount of equity in the house that can be tapped into for a reverse mortgage, the following calculations are made:

Present Market Value: $600,000
Mortgage balance: $40,000
Current equity: $560,000

Mr. & Mrs. Q have a number of options. They can establish a line of credit to borrow against from time to time; request a $40,000 lump sum to pay off their mortgage; take monthly payments over a selected period of years; accept monthly payments over their lifetime so long as they continue to live in the house as their principle place of residence; or some combination of the aforesaid. Sounds as if Mr. & Mrs. Q are sitting on a gold mine, with the world as their oyster, right? As it turns out, like everything else in life, there are advantages and disadvantages to reverse mortgages. Some pros and cons are obvious, others much more subtle.


  • Because Mr. & Mrs. Q are only 65 years of age, they will not necessarily be able to tap into the entire $560,000 in home equity. HUD documents give the following example: “…based on an interest rate of approximately 9%, and a home qualifying for $100,000, a 65-year-old could borrow up to 22% of the home’s value; a 75-year-old could borrow up to 41% of the home’s value; and an 85-year-old could borrow up to 58% of the home’s value.” It appears that currently, a 65 year old can borrow roughly up to 25% of the home’s value.
  • Another wrinkle are fees charged for application information. There have been difficulties with some senior citizens being charged thousands of dollars for information on reverse mortgages/home equity conversion loans for material that is available for free. Thus HUD recently directed reverse mortgage lenders to stop doing business with companies that charge such fees. Homeowners who were charged for HUD approved reverse mortgage counseling should call HUD’s toll-free housing counseling line at 1-800-569-4287.
  • Reverse mortgage programs generally do not lend on cooperative apartments or mobile homes. Some manufactured homes may qualify, but only if they are built on a permanent foundation, classed and taxed as real estate, and meet other requirements. (Rancho Yolo Senior Mobilehome Park folks in Davis, who are trying to become a cooperative, should take heed of this potential pitfall and investigate!)
  • The debt on your property grows ever larger as cash advances keep coming in and no repayment is made. Interest is then continually added to what is owed. Hence the reason reverse mortgages/home equity conversion loans are called “rising debt, falling equity” loans. As the amount owed increases, the equity in your home (fair market value less any debt against the home) generally decreases. This is the opposite of a “forward” mortgage, in which regular monthly payments are paid toward the debt to make it go down. Thus “forward” mortgages are called “falling debt, rising equity” loans. In a “forward” mortgage, debt is used to turn income into equity; whereas in a “reverse” mortgage, debt is used to turn equity into income. In both cases, debt is used to turn what the borrower has into what the borrower wants!
  • A reverse mortgage may become due if:
    • there is a failure to pay property taxes, homeowners insurance, homeowner association fees;
    • declaration of bankruptcy;
    • the home is not kept up but allowed to go to waste;
    • abandonment of the home;
    • perpetration of fraud/misrepresentation;
    • eminent domain or condemnation proceedings;
    • renting all or part of the home;
    • adding a new owner to the title;
    • a change in zoning;
    • taking out any new debt on the home.
A lender may step in and make cash advances to cover such expenses.
  • When the last surviving borrower dies, sells the home, or fails to live in it for the previous 12 months, then the reverse mortgage becomes due and owing. The total amount owed (loan balance) will equal:
    • all cash advances received, including any made to pay loan fees/costs;
    • all interest on cash advances;
    • up to the loan’s “nonrecourse” limit (lender does not have recourse to anything other than the home).
If the borrower sells the home, the loan is paid back from the proceeds of the sale, or from other funds if the borrower has them and elects to do so. If the loan becomes due upon the death of the borrower, the loan can be repaid from the sale of the home or from other assets in the estate or by obtaining a forward mortgage on the home. Thus the borrower in a reverse mortgage situation must fully understand that such a loan leaves less money to prospective heirs. Furthermore, if the borrower faces medical problems that require a permanent move to an assisted living facility or nursing home, the loan will also become due.
  • Out of pocket costs for a reverse mortgage can be extensive and staggering:
    • interest charges;
    • origination fees;
    • closing costs such as title search & insurance, surveys, inspections, recording fees, mortgage taxes;
    • monthly servicing fees,
    • “equity-sharing” fees,
    • “shared appreciation fees”,
    • “maturity” fees

    Of course these costs can be “financed” as part of the loan. It is essentially impossible to compare the true cost of reverse mortgages unless their Total Annual Loan Cost (TALC) rates are considered. Federal Truth-in-Lending law requires mortgage lenders to disclose the projected annual average cost of these loans that includes all costs and benefits, taking into account nonrecourse limits. The TALC shows what is being paid in total for the money a borrower gets to spend.

  • TALC rates depend on two major factors: time and appreciation.
    • TALC rates are generally greatest at first and decrease over time, because -
      • Initial fees/costs become a smaller part of the total amount owed;
      • The likelihood increases that the rising loan balance will catch up to and be limited by the nonrecourse limit.
    • TALC rates depend on changes in a home’s value over time.
      • The less appreciation, the greater the likelihood will be that a rising loan balance will catch up to and be limited by the home’s value.
      • If the home appreciates at a robust rate, the loan balance may never catch up to and be limited by the home’s value.

    Thus if a senior resides in their home past his/her life expectancy or the home appreciates at a low rate, then the borrower might get a real bargain in the reverse mortgage. But if the borrower dies, sells, or moves within just a few years or the home appreciates a great deal, the true cost of a reverse mortgage could be extremely high. For an explanation of TALC, on the internet go to

    There are some serious TALC shortcomings:

    • TALC regulations assume all borrowers will request half their creditline at closing and none thereafter. Therefore it does not reveal how different true costs of loans can be based on a borrower’s pattern of creditline advances, nor does it reflect the value of a growing versus flat creditline.
    • TALC regulations assume the initial interest rate on a loan will never change, when interest rates are almost always adjustable.
    • TALC disclosures do not take into account:
      1. The total amount of cash received from the loan;
      2. The amount of equity the borrower/heirs are able to keep at the end of the loan.
  • Any cash advances received from a reverse mortgage and kept past the end of a month are considered as a “ liquid asset”. If total liquid assets at the end of the month are greater than $2,000 for a single person receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI - a needs based disability program run by the federal government) or $3,000 for a couple, the borrower could become ineligible for further SSI payments. Any annuity advances reduce SSI benefits dollar-for-dollar, and can also make the recipient ineligible for Medicaid. The borrower on a reverse mortgage should limit loan proceeds to what he/she expects to spend in one month’s time.
  • Investing money obtained from a reverse mortgage is unwise. It is highly unlikely that the borrower can earn more from an investment than the loan would cost.
  • Purchasing annuities using a lump sum cash advance from a reverse mortgage can be dangerous.
    • Many annuities do not provide fixed monthly cash advances. The financial return of “variable annuities” may be tied to the stock market.
    • There may be extra costs involved such as increased interest charges, a sales commission, or a surrender charge to stop an annuity.
    • With an annuity, the borrower is locked into fixed monthly advances for life, but with reverse mortgage advances, switches to lump sum or creditline can be had at any time.
    • Annuity advances are counted as income by SSI and Medicaid, and reduce cash benefits dollar-for-dollar, and might make the borrower ineligible for these public benefits.
    • Annuity advances may be partially taxable. Interest charged is not deductible until the loan is actually paid. Loan advances are not considered income.
  • In consequence, the borrower must wrestle with the following questions:
    1. Is a reverse mortgage appropriate for the borrower’s particular situation? What are other options? A deferred payment loan; tax deferral loan? Sell and move into a smaller home; rent; move into a senior facility appropriate to current needs, e.g. assisted living facility, nursing home? Or can the borrower remain in the home by tapping into public benefits, such as: Meals on Wheels; SSI; MediCal; utility discounts; in-home supportive care; transportation; tax reduction programs?
    2. If a reverse mortgage is deemed appropriate, when should it be taken out? Now, or at a more advanced age or when the home is worth more, making the amount available to the borrower greater? If the borrower waits, will the interest rates increase, making the amount available to the borrower less?
    3. And what amount should the reverse mortgage be for? Should it be for a credit line, monthly, or a combination of those? If a line of credit, how much should be used now as opposed to later? Should it be a growing or flat credit line? If a monthly advance, should it be for a term of years or as long as the borrower lives in the home, or would a purchased annuity providing lifetime advances no matter where the borrower lives be best?

Lesson to be learned: Reverse mortgages have various drawbacks and are quite complex for a variety of reasons. There are countless predatory scam artists and unscrupulous mortgage lenders ready to pounce on the unsuspecting. Many counselors are employed by the mortgage lender themselves, which creates a built-in conflict of interest. It should give any senior pause - before they decide to encumber the one valuable asset most older adults have - their home.

Further advice: Be careful about -

  1. Anyone eager for you to get a reverse mortgage, including family members, friends, caregivers or salesmen;
  2. Anyone who has ideas of what to do with the money once it is received from a reverse mortgage;
  3. Anyone trying to sell a reverse mortgage;
  4. Anyone trying to get a signature agreement to pay them for any purpose.

Try to choose a lender that is a member of the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association (NRMLA), an organization that has developed “best practices” for their industry. (For a complete list of lenders, go to: Seek a second opinion from heirs, or a trusted friend or professional, depending on your particular situation. There is a three day recission rule allowing cancellation of a reverse mortgage if the borrower has second thoughts.

AARP Model Specifications for analyzing/comparing reverse mortgages -
  • All reverse mortgages turn home equity into three things:
    1. Loan advances to borrower;
    2. Loan costs paid to lender/others;
    3. Leftover equity paid to borrowers/heirs at the end of the loan.
  • Analyze any reverse mortgage by asking three simple questions:
    1. How much would the borrower receive?
    2. How much would the borrower pay?
    3. How much would be left at the end of the loan?
  • Actual figures will depend on three things:
    1. Actual credit advances taken during the life of the loan;
    2. Actual interest rates charged on the loan;
    3. Actual changes in the home’s value during the loan.
Note: The above information was gleaned from HUD and AARP self-help documents, etc.

Assist Rebuilding Together: You can save money while raising money for Rebuilding Together! Verizon will give $1 for every call made to their new free directory assistance service (similar to calling 411), from April 26-May 31. 1-800-THE-INFO (1-800-843-4636) is a TOLL-FREE service providing business phone numbers, addresses, local searches and more. By using the number you will support Rebuilding Together’s mission of preserving affordable homeownership for low-income homeowners. (Rebuilding Together installs safety devices such as wheel chair ramps and grab bars in homes of the elderly and/or disabled. Its expansion into Yolo County was brought about by the Triad Task Force, the action arm of the Yolo County Commission on Aging & Adult Services.)

***Elaine Roberts Musser is an attorney who concentrates her efforts on elder law and aging issues, especially in regard to consumer affairs. If you have a comment or particular question or topic you would like to see addressed in this column, please make your observations at the end of this article in the comment section.