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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Update: Jim Provenza's Election Finalized

I received word late yesterday, that the remaining ballots had been counted by the Yolo County Election's Office and that Jim Provenza's vote total actually went up slightly and remained over 50%. Mr. Provenza informed me that his challenger John Ferrera had graciously conceded to him.

On Wednesday night, I had a conversation with Jim Provenza on KDRT 101.5 FM. We talked about a wide range of subjects including his election and the surprising Assembly Campaign.

If you would like to listen to that broadcast click here and select the June 4 show.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Commentary: Examining the Feasibility of a Parcel Tax

Somewhat lost in the midst of the election is the ongoing discussion over a possible parcel tax.

One of the key issues that the district faces is the ability to control its own revenue sources. This is actually a statewide problem because as budget revenues statewide get tight, schools feel the pinch.

Right now though the GOP on a national level seems reluctant to admit it, this is one of the worst economic times I can remember in the past 25 years. You have a disastrous housing market which will lower the amount of property tax revenue to schools. You have a basic crisis with gas prices which finally threatening to spread to the rest of the economic sphere.

As Bruce Colby, CBO of Davis Joint Unified noted, the state budget in the face of this recession with be challenge for a number of years. This means that there will be fluctuating amounts of state money coming to school districts.

Despite recent budget crises of its own, Davis Joint Unified is actually in better position than most school districts to weather this storm.

First, they have a strong support base locally that has provided them with a parcel tax.

Second, when a crisis did arise this year, the Davis Schools Foundation was able to raise an additional $1.7 million.

As bad as things looked in January and February, we are getting off almost unscathed in June.

But the problem is that while the Davis Schools Foundation was able to raise $1.7 million this year, it is a one-time influx of money, to help the district on an emergency basis.

According to Bruce Colby's numbers, an annual parcel tax of $80 would raise the equivalent amount of the $1.7 million. That is $80 on top of what people approved just seven months ago in November.

Will voters in bad economic times be willing to pay out an additional $80? Hard to say.

But there are more complicating factors. Because of the fact this is a Presidential Election, we can expect between 77 and 80 percent voter turnout in Davis. Last year, the turnout was in the 20s for the school board election. Many of those people were committed to school issues and that is why they tend to look toward those type of elections to place the parcel tax that required two-thirds of the voters to approve it.

Given a wider audience, we have to have look to see if that general election electorate will be as supportive of a parcel tax as others.

On the other hand, I think that the electorate is engaged on this issue. As we talked to community members, the schools along with national issues were tops on people's minds. Still this would have to be a leap of faith. And it is a fight that the district cannot afford to lose. We know what an additional $1.7 million in budget cuts look like. It is not a scare tactic to suggest that if they lose, they will be laying off 100 teachers. It is unfortunately the truth.

I know the district will look into their options and will be carefully planning their course. That is the wise and prudent thing to do, but at some point, I think they have to recognize that they really have no other choice and they are going to have to get good polling to tell them how to pitch this to the public.

We cannot in the end, I think, punish our children for the mistakes that adults have made. The district has worked very hard to get its fiscal house in order, and I think they deserve a shot to not have to lay off 100 teachers.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, June 06, 2008

Three Days Later: 8th AD is Still A Stunner

To illustrate how improbable Mariko Yamada's victory over Christopher Cabaldon was, let us recount a few key watermarks in the race.

Almost from the start, it seemed an uphill battle as Cabaldon had the audacity in January of 2007, weeks after Lois Wolk officially took office for her third and final term as Assemblywoman, there he stood in Yamada's home town with two of her colleagues, two members of the Davis City Council, two members of his own city council, and the Mayor of Woodland (and to boot Jeff Monroe was in uniform that day, but attended the event to show support for Cabaldon).

It seemed before Mariko Yamada even announced she was way behind and she never caught up (or so we thought).

To make matters worse, Yamada had turned off a large portion of her base in the Spring and Summer of 2007 with an ill-advised support (or at least non-opposition) to study areas on the Davis periphery. Large numbers of people who had been supporters of Yamada turned on her. There was talk of recall. A hundred people showed up for the County Supervisors meeting in July. Even the divided Davis City Council spoke with one voice.

In the winter of 2008, Cabaldon had engineered a seemingly easy victory for the party's endorsement. Even a few controversies at the pre-endorsement conference faded away to a resounding victory at the party convention.

Later that same week sitting Assemblywoman Lois Wolk broke her official neutrality to back Christopher Cabaldon. He stood in Suisun City with his three predecessors Lois Wolk, Helen Thomson, and Tom Hannigan. It was the perfect photo-op.

You had dueling headquarter openings--a packed houses for Cabaldon's openning while at the same time, Yamada had about 30 people for an envelope stuffing party.

Nearly every major elected official backed Cabaldon. Mayors, Yamada's own colleagues, Supervisors, School Board Members, past members of the legislature, the Democratic Party, everyone except for most of the major unions. But judging from the efforts of the unions at the party convention, that would not be a big deal.

But something happened to change all of this. If there was a villain in this stage it was EdVoice. There was a moment at the party convention that was almost a portent. After Cabaldon received a resounding victory in the 8th AD Caucus at the convention, the Yamada folks had a few hours to garner signatures to pull the nomination once again off of consent. But a group of people in orange shirts showed up and were very coy about who they were and they shadowed the Yamada people trying to dissuade delegates from signing up. It was a very creepy moment in the election.

By April, the citizens of the 8th Assembly District were deluged with mailers. One a day for weeks. Three weeks out, we were starting to hear from people who had been Cabaldon supporters. They were complaining about too much material. Some were environmentalists concerned with the waste of paper. Others were becoming uncomfortable with the big money and corporate backing.

And yet, even at this point, it seemed a formality. The Yamada campaign was still struggling to gain traction, seizing on minors issues such as the booting of Cabaldon's car.

In fact, the first counterattacks by Yamada's IEs focused on the car booting, Wal Mart, the WRONG achronym, things like that. And again, it seemed they were desperate and grasping for straws.

EdVoice was relentless. But now the union IEs were starting to match them piece for piece. EdVoice struck back. Three viscious and largely unfounded attacks. First, the pay increase, which was dubious at best particularly since the pay raises were tied to judicial salaries and not under the control of the board directly. Second, the Latte piece which called a $91,000 jobs programs for the disabled wasteful. Finally, an desparate and untrue attempt to link Yamada to the embattled Yolo County Housing Authority and the blatant lie that suggested a linkage between that organization and foreclosures.

Cabaldon's well-financed and well-organized machine proved no match for the larger and better organized labor machine that worked relentlessly the last week to turn out supporters across the district. By the time it was over, Yamada had engineered a stunner. When absentee ballots were reported and Yamada had the lead, everyone knew that it was over. The lead held throughout the night.

This is probably the second most stunning victory that I had seen. The only one more stunning was almost 15 years ago when a largely unknown College Professor Walter Capps beat the party's handpicked choice for a Congressional nomination. Professor Capps stunned everyone by defeating that individual. So much so that the Republican nominee had to change her victory speech.

Mariko Yamada's victory in a heavily democratic district means almost certainly the third straight election of a Davis-based Assemblywoman. However, she is of a different ilk. For the first time in 12 years, Craig Reynolds will not be Chief of Staff in this District.

If there was a villain in all of this, it was EdVoice. Their excesses opened the door for this victory. Their mail barrage turned people off and their unfair attacks were the coup de grace for the election.

Independent Expenditures are in many ways a real problem. Campaigns lose control of their messages. They are largely unregulated and unaccountable to anyone. And yet they can drop hundreds of thousands and change the dynamics of a race. That is what happened here. EdVoice likely the culprit here and labor likely the hero on behalf of a Yamada Campaign that had previously been outspent and out-organized.

For Cabaldon it is a major setback for a talented and still young politician. People were tounting him as a potential future speaker. Now, he is left searching for his future.

For Yamada it is the beginning of a Sacramento career. She has wounds to heal still and fences to mend both with her opponent's former supporters and her own.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Commentary: Looking at the Taser Death of Ricardo Abrahams

It has been just over a week since the death of Ricardo Abrahams.

According to accounts in the local paper, the man was in his late 40s, had checked into Safe Harbor Crisis house which is a short-term program for people who have mental health issues that they need to resolve.

The police were called in after he left the facility to determine if he posed a threat to himself and the public.

When the police found he was confrontational and ignored their instructions. He became increasingly agitated.

It was at this point that they determined he needed to be taken into custody. They used their Tasers. The Taser did not have an immediate effect. Apparently they tasered him a total of four times and also struck him with the batons.

It was during that process that Mr. Abrahams died.

I was not there and have not talked to anyone who was on the scene. However, while acknowledging that, there are several concerns about how this proceeded.

I have spoken with several officers and several people who work with the police on these types of issues. Everyone is concerned with the use of the Taser in this case, particularly the use of the Taser four times and the baton strikes.

The first point to note is that the individual was mentally ill. Automatically there should have been an expectation that the individual might not be responsive to some commands and instructions.

Was the person a danger to himself or the public at this point? They describe him as agitated but unarmed except with a pencil. So was there a need to immediately get him into custody or could they have called someone better able to console and calm the man?

The officers I talked with said they knew little about the officers involved on the scene, but suggested there is often an over-reliance on tools such as the Taser rather than the ability to understand and control the scene verbally and to recognize that an individual might not be responsive.

Tasers are marketed as an non-lethal alternative to firearms. However, as the Sacramento Bee article pointed out there have been 300 deaths since 2001 of people who have been shot by Tasers. Of course from those stats it is hard to determine if there is a net loss of life or a saving of life by its use.

However, increasingly people are complaining that Tasers are too quickly administered because of the non-lethal marketing as opposed to other techniques.

These are all questions that need to be answered.

Again, I will stress I was not there nor was I in the officers shoes, but based on media reports I am very concerned with how this was handled as were most of the people I spoke to, again, several of them were experienced police officers.

Meanwhile in an interesting twist, the Yolo County District Attorney's Office is not investigating this case because Mr. Abrahams was an intern with their department.

Woodland police investigators are conducting the investigation with help from the Sheriff's Department and several of the local law enforcement agencies. The Attorney General's Office will receive the results of the case for review.

This is the type of case that would seem to beg for some sort of independent investigation. We will see what they come up.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Jim Provenza to be on KDRT Tonight

Join us on KDRT 101.5 FM from 6 PM to 7 PM. Special Guest will be Jim Provenza, 4th District Supervisor elect. He will take your calls at 792-1648.

Incumbents Wins in Council; Saylor New Mayor; Stunners in Assembly and Supervisor

It was not a good night either for me or the Progressives in the Davis City Council Election. Don Saylor was the top vote getter, meaning he is Mayor Pro Tem and will be Mayor in 2010. Stephen Souza finished a close second. Sue Greenwald was re-elected to a third term but finished a rather distant third. Sydney Vergis was fourth. Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald and Rob Roy wrapped things up.

We will have a more thorough analysis, but Sue won by finishing third in an all-incumbent vote in a number of precincts as well as heading up the more traditional progressive vote in the core, although her coat tails were not there. Sydney Vergis was the true third vote for Souza and Saylor, never finishing above third in any precinct.

Frankly, the bigger news was in the Assembly, where Mariko Yamada who looked down and out just a month ago, surged late to a narrow but decisive victory over Mayor Christopher Cabaldon who had managed to attract the support of most of the Democratic officeholders and the three predecessors at Assembly However, Mayor Cabaldon who had a large war chest and an even larger support from EdVoice, may overplayed his hand. Meanwhile the unions came in, spent half a million, and then just plain out organized the seemingly well-organized Cabaldon machine.

Mariko Yamada won in both counties by over 3%. She won almost all of Davis and surprisingly almost all of Woodland while Cabaldon won in his hometown of West Sacramento. Around three weeks ago I started to hear residents who had been supporting Cabaldon grow concerned with the large amount of mailers being thrown around. Yamada's IEs went on the attack. And when EdVoice responded with largely false attack ads it seemed to backfire. When Yamada was ahead after the absentee count it seemed all over (and it largely was).

Meanwhile equally stunning was the victory by Jim Provenza over two candidates. The shocker here was not that the former school member finished first, that seemed a foregone conclusion given the way the last few weeks worked out. What was really stunning was that he could get over 50% in a three-candidate field and avoid a costly and heated November runoff. But he too had over 50% in the absentees and stayed that way throughout the night, finishing a seemingly safe 50.5%.

Provenza was by far the best known of the candidates entering the race, but John Ferrera seemed to have seized the momentum early this year. He outraised Provenza. Beat him out for support from the Capital. But the one thing he could not do was get key labor endorsements. Provenza was able to close the gap on money and then the IEs took over and dumped a huge amount into the race. Kennedy finished at a respectable 15%, about where we thought given her stature.

So Jim Provenza represents the big victory for the beleaguered progressive left in Davis. It is hard to figure if Yamada's victory is a blow from the progressives, many of who were angered by her stance on county growth. And the Council race was a huge disappointed despite Sue Greenwald hanging on for a third term.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

California Aggie Endorses Sue Greenwald, Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald, Stephen Souza

For some inexplicable reason the California Aggie decided to have their endorsement interviews on Sunday and announce their endorsement the day of the election. To put this into perspective, students at UC Davis had early voting last week. Talk about diluting their influence.

Nevertheless the student newspaper makes their three endorsements which oddly enough includes neither twentysomething candidate.

For Sue Greenwald they write:
"Davis is one of the last true college towns remaining in California, and its uniqueness and charm are treasured by virtually everyone who lives here. No other candidate has demonstrated such a resolute commitment to preserving that character.

This does not mean she is anti-growth. She understands there is a severe lack of housing in Davis for many segments of the community, especially students. She is the only candidate who has actively sought to pressure the university to provide more on-campus housing for students, which is a fundamental part of the solution."
For Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald:
"A labor organizer, UC Davis graduate and community activist, Escamilla-Greenwald will bring a fresh voice and a unique blend of qualifications to the council.

Of all the candidates, she is the most qualified to act as a voice for students. Escamilla-Greenwald and her husband rent an apartment in Davis, so she is well aware of the need for a renters' bill of rights. She has made strides to connect with students, coming to campus to meet with a range of student groups.

She is not just the students' candidate, however. Her experience as the chair of the Human Relations Commission demonstrated her commitment to hearing from underrepresented groups. Her training in mediation and conflict resolution will enable her to bring together the many constituent groups in Davis."
Finally for Stephen Souza:
"Souza is a bona fide environmentalist and has a passion for incorporating green practices into public policy. His proposal to expand a solar production site outside of Davis to meet or exceed the electricity needs of the city is particularly intriguing. This would not be a simple undertaking, but he clearly has the drive to make it happen in his next term.

Perhaps Souza's most appealing characteristic is his enthusiasm. He clearly enjoys his job as a councilmember and is probably the friendliest and most approachable. This personality draws people in and engages them in the political process, something of which a town like Davis can never have too much."
Each of the newspapers that cover the Davis area have made their endorsements now.
  • The Davis Enterprise went with the straight developer ticket: Stephen Souza, Don Saylor, and Sydney Vergis

  • The Sacramento Bee surprisingly went away from a developer ticket for the most part endorsing only one developer candidate (Saylor): Sue Greenwald, Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald, and Don Saylor.

  • Now the Aggie has made their selection: Sue Greenwald, Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald, and Stephen Souza.
It is time for everyone to vote. Win or lose, the Vanguard will be back as usual tomorrow.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

ASUCD Senate Passes Resolution in Support of Living Wage

In a resolution authored by ASUCD President Ivan Carrillo, Co-authored by Senator Steven Lee, and introduced by Senator Lula Ahmed Falol, the UC Davis student government unamously voted in "support of the establishment of a living wage for City of Davis employees."

In the resolution, the students register concern that the city of Davis hires "for-profit contractors for the ongoing provision of certain municipal services such as tree trimming, custodial work and landscaping" and these contractors pay as little as $9 per hour to their employees.

These wages preclude employees from even being able to live in affordable housing the city of Davis and the wage is larger than $4 per hour less than that for the lowest paid direct wage earner from the city of Davis.
"The City of Davis prides itself on being a progressive community with the aim of advocating social justice for its least advantaged members; and... the broader financial resources of larger employers such as the City of Davis places them in a better position to feasibly provide a living wage that places workers above poverty level."
The ASUCD "supports sustaining a community in which City of Davis employees can adequately support themselves financially within the city of their employment"

And they urge "the Davis City Council to pass an ordinance establishing a living wage requirement for City of Davis employees engaged through for-profit service contractors"

They also note that the current budget does not include a living wage in its provisions and thus in their resolution they call on the Davis City Council to include a living wage in their budget and to pass a budget that pays these employees a living wage.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, June 02, 2008

Commentary: Growth, Growth, Growth

There are actually a lot of issues in Davis that do not involve growth directly. But as the city council campaign winds down, in the end it is all about growth.

How is Davis going to grow, where, and how fast? To answer that let us look at the key questions from this council and before the next council.

Measure J Renewal and Measure X

The first answer toward that is the question of Measure J's renewal.

Two former Mayors and a Former Davis Councilmember, Ken Wagstaff, Julie Partansky, and Stan Forbes, each who sat on the council that would put Measure J on the ballot weighed in on that yesterday in the Davis Enterprise.

They write:
"No on X proved we need to keep Measure J: The obvious demonstration of Measure J's merits was the Covell Village/Measure X election in 2005. Having approved a subdivision of more than 1,800 homes, the council was required by the Measure J law to have the project ratified by the voters.

Most of the homes to be sold by the project would have been unaffordable to the average Davis worker. Traffic on Covell Boulevard would have been 'intolerable,' according to the environmental impact report. Despite the developer outspending the citizen opposition by more than 10 to 1, the voters rejected the project by a 60 percent no vote.

Had there been no Measure J, a massive project the public did not want would have gone forward. The only way the community could have stopped it would have been to create an organization to gather thousands of signatures and force a referendum vote.

Some say the public should not have the right to vote on growth issues. We disagree. Growth fundamentally affects our quality of life. It affects the taxes we pay. It is vital that citizens have the insurance that Measure J provides.

Moreover, it is evident that City Councils do not always act consistent with the public will. Even after their approval of Covell Village was soundly rejected by the voters, at least two members of the council, one of whom is seeking re-election, tried to justify what they did by saying the public just didn't understand the project. After countless public hearings, and after the Covell Village developers spent more than $500,000 trying to 'educate' the public about their plans, this attitude is condescending and insulting to the voters.

The next council will determine whether Measure J is left intact or gutted. We believe the reasons Measure J was necessary when enacted remain unchanged. Indeed, given the experience of Covell Village/Measure X, the necessity of Measure J is even more manifest."
The differences on Measure X/ Covell Village among these candidates is clear. Sue Greenwald, Rob Roy, and Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald opposed Measure X in 2005 and will oppose a new iteration of it if it comes forward. Don Saylor and Stephen Souza led the charge for Measure X and would likely support a new version of it. Sydney Vergis claims she also supported Measure X and would support a new version of it.

1% Growth Guideline

There are really two issues here--one is how fast we grow and one is where we grow.

The council recently renewed the 1% growth guideline. During the Measure X debate, we were told repeatedly that if we did not meet the mandated growth demands, Steve Gidaro would come in and impose growth on us whether we liked it or not.

Now the message coming from Souza and Saylor is that the 1% is a cap and a target, not a mandate. They cite our relatively growth rate the last four years. Sydney Vergis has been advocating a broad range of new housing to meet our housing needs including development on the Nishi property.

Sue Greenwald, Rob Roy, and Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald have suggested that 1% is too fast to grow. We should look to approve housing based on the projects not based on some artificial growth cap. Moreover, the RHNA mandate is for considerably lower than 1% to meet our internal housing needs.

What is clear is based on Housing Element Steering Committee's report, most of the growth in the next decade or more can be met with infill development. Both sides somewhat agree on that while disagreeing on what infill is. Both Wildhorse Ranch and Nishi would require Measure J votes, but some have suggested given their locations that they are really infill. Then again, they have called Covell infill as well. None of them meet the true definition of infill.

There are basically two key components of infill. First, it must take place within existing communities or established areas of the city. It could be a vacant lot or a piece of land with dilapidated buildings. Second, they must have existing city services and infrastructure. Neither Nishi, Covell, nor the Horse Ranch fit those definitions. They all currently have agricultural uses, none of them are within the city, and none of them have existing city services already within them.

Regardless, of the definition of infill, we have heard constant rhetoric about as Saylor puts it, "canaries in the coal mine," the danger signs of lack of growth. Souza laments the number of students who have to commute into Davis. Sydney Vergis talks about the need for a range of housing so that generations can live together in Davis.

All of them suggest that while they do not support sprawl (Covell is not sprawl to them apparently), they are concerned that people who live and work at UC Davis have to commute to Davis.

Frankly I think everyone is concerned about this issue, there are a range of solution to it being offered.

However, when they start talking about only 44 new housing permits, it begins me wondering about something. There is an argument that the cost of housing in Davis is so high because of our slow growth policies. They are argue that these policies are making Davis an elitist exclusive town. And that the answer to affordability is of course to build more houses.

A few weeks ago, we showed a data analysis that suggested that there no relationship between the number of residential permits and the cost of housing. The cost of housing in Davis trended almost exactly with the cost of housing in Sacramento.

One of the reasons Measure J passed is that in 1998 there 1013 new housing permits followed by 954 in 1999. That's roughly a 3% growth rate based on current figures.

What Souza and Saylor do not tell you is that they have overseen a period with among the slowest growth in Davis for the past several decades. In 2002, we had 307 new housing permits followed by 277 in 2003. In 2004, the year they took office we had 135, then 250 in 2005, 104 in 2006, and just 44 last year.

What happened? Some will say this is a manifestation of our slow growth policies. But what really happened is that they pushed for Measure X/ Covell Village in 2005. When that was rejected by the voters, they had no back up plan. They put all of their eggs in the Measure X basket.

When Souza and Saylor complain about the lack of growth in Davis, they are as much to blame as anyone. They backed a Measure J project that was too large and the public did not buy and then had nothing else to offer for two years. So despite a 4-1 pro-growth majority from 2004-2006 and a 3-2 pro-growth majority (which is really all you need to pass things in Davis anyway) from 2006-2008, the Souza-Saylor led council has resided over one of the slowest growth periods in Davis history.

It is therefore somewhat ironic when you hear people like Sue Greenwald or others pushing some of the infill development plans and people are skeptical that they will ever get built.

The best opportunities for growth that actually meets our internal needs rather than feeding more commuters as Covell Village would have, rest in projects around the core of Davis and also with the university. The university houses among the fewest students on campus of any university. They have the most available land to expand student housing and that would alleviate the 1% apartment vacancy rate in the city of Davis.

I have heard Souza and Saylor complain about that rate at almost every council campaign forum, yet no one ever asked them what they have done during their four years on the council to address that. Covell Village certainly was not going to address that.

My own preference for growth would be to look toward some of the infill sites and put in smaller units--duplexes, condos, and town houses. Put them near the core of town so that people do not have to drive to downtown. Work with the university to help provide housing for students and new faculty members. If you are concerned about families with children moving into Davis, the best thing we can do is provide housing for young university employees who are most likely to have families. I do not see a need to build outside the current boundaries of Davis for at least the next general plan period. Smaller, more affordable units, can accomodate much of our so-called internal housing demand and if we do it right, we can meet those needs within the current boundaries of our town.

Getting Back To Measure J

The three strongest candidates on preserving and maintaining Measure J are Sue Greenwald, Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald and Rob Roy. Both Don Saylor and Sydney Vergis have suggested looking at possible changes to Measure J. Ms. Vergis in particular has suggested it is long, cumbersome, and complicated and wishes to make non-substantive changes to streamline it.

The problem with that approach, as we showed a few weeks back is that Measure J is long but it is very straight forward in terms of its language.

The framer's of Measure J were very thorough in their work to insure that there were no loopholes to the ordinance. However, the language itself is simple, direct, and to the point. Any attempt to streamline the ordinance would actually weaken it greatly.

For that reason, for those who view Measure J and a key component of our land use policy and a key feature of the democratic nature of this city, ought to support those candidates who would continue the measure in its current form and seek to make it permanent.

Preserving the Character of Davis

Everyone talks about the character of Davis. For me it is about the charm and atmosphere of this city. You walk through the core of town and there is a unique feel. Of all the things that have happened under the current city council, one of the moves that I disliked the most was the B-Street Visioning Project.

That old neighborhood directly east of campus between A Street and Russell is one of my favorite places in all of Davis. As you walk down third, you really feel that you are in a college town. You have the shops, the students, the old cottages, and you just have a feel for it. It is the part of town when I first visited in 1993 prior to becoming a graduate student, that I fell in love with and one of the reasons I applied to come to school here and eventually made it my home.

I understand the need for more density if we are not going to grow beyond our current borders. But you also have to do it while maintaining the character of Davis. At times in this city, we have done a great job with the concept of adaptive re-use. Taking an existing structure and adapting it to a new use. I have been less of fan when we tear down an old structure and build a new one. There are a lot of ways we could have revamped B-Street while maintaining the character of that neighborhood. This was not one of them.

Some have questioned the feasibility of the PG&E site. But there is so much that it has to offer while maintaining the rest of downtown as the walkable, bikeable, small town feel.

Regardless of what happens tomorrow, there are many issues with which this city has to wrestle with and the Vanguard will continue to be on the front lines of those issues.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, June 01, 2008

City in Dire Financial Condition

Throughout this campaign, Incumbents Don Saylor and Stephen Souza have made the bold claim that we have balanced our budget with a 15 percent reserve. However, that claim has been disputed by Incumbent Mayor Sue Greenwald and several of the challengers who argue that the balanced budget claim masks the huge problem of unmet needs.

Indeed the residents of the city of Davis saw the dire warning signs on Thursday when the Davis Enterprise ran the startlingly truthful and bold headline:

"City lacks funds to keep up with needed street repairs."

Below that is the ominous warning:
"But while streets, bike paths and sidewalks will stay in good condition for the immediate future, the city's current proposed funding allows streets to deteriorate while the cost to repair them will climb exponentially."
The unmet needs are not some kind of budgetary extra that require funding when we get the money--they are essential upkeep and repairs and upgrades that if we do not act on them now, will cost far more in the future.

City Manager Bill Emlen acknowledged the problem:
"There's lots of concern about the sidewalks and the bike paths. Realistically, it's going to be hard to address them."
The Public Works Department report is rather dire. The bottom line:
"This backlog will continue to increase steadily if additional funding is not allocated. The higher maintenance backlog will result in increased future costs because expensive treatments will, unfortunately, be necessary if less expensive treatments aren't utilized in a timely manner.

"The cost to maintain or repair roads exponentially increases as time goes on."
As the Mayor Sue Greenwald pointed out this is part of the deficit. And if we do not meet these needs, the costs increase.
"Citizens consider sidewalk maintenance, roads and bikeways essential services, so we can't just redefine it away and say we have a balanced budget. We call them unmet needs, but they're really part of the deficit. I consider that semantic."
Meanwhile, in Wednesday's Davis Enterprise column, Rich Rifkin described in vivid details the trainwreck approaching if we do not contain costs.

Mr. Rifkin rightly sounds the warning:
"By drastically reducing spending on capital projects, the all funds budget appears to be in surplus.

And counting just ongoing expenses and income, the general fund is sort of balanced. The city expects general fund revenues of $39.7 million and plans to spend roughly that next year. However, that "balanced budget" is misleading.

The reality is the general fund will be in deficit for the third year in a row. Next year's shortfall, made up of one-time expenditures, will be $436,286, almost $100,000 worse than was projected last year. Since 2006, the general fund reserve has declined by one-third, from $9 million to $6 million.

We are also short an additional $3 million in 2008-09 needed to pay for ongoing repairs to our streets and sidewalks. That is not a one-time deficit. We will be short this money every year for the foreseeable future, inevitably leading to brutal and unsafe road conditions in Davis."
But all of this really gravy. The real problem lies in the unfunded debt of around $40 million for retiree benefit liability:
"As bad as that sounds, it doesn't approach what is really wrong. The biggest problem is the rapidly growing retiree medical benefit liability. This unfunded debt stands at around $40 million, more than six times what we have left in the general fund."
This was not a good news week for the some of the incumbents or the firefighters. The firefighters, pardon the pun, must be feeling the heat.

They felt the need to respond in the Davis Enterprise with a letter to the editor. Something that they have never done. But unfortunately, their response does not address the heart of the concerns.
"We, the Davis Professional Firefighters Local 3494, would like to thank the citizens of Davis for their ongoing support for the job we do. Performance surveys consistently show that the public is "very satisfied" with the service we provide. "
This is a typical sleight of hand. No one, has complained about the service that the fire fighters perform. No one. The complaint is strictly about the cost of that service to the taxpayers of Davis and the impact of that cost on the city budget.

Moreover, do not try to turn this into a public safety issue. If we do not have the funds to repair our roadways, bike lanes, and sidewalks, that is a safety hazard that far exceeds the hazard of paying the firefighters less in medical benefits when they retire, paying them less than the $150,000 they receive on average in pay and benefits, etc.

The firefighters go on to say:
"Contrary to recent reports, none of the candidates we are supporting this year was a member of the City Council when our retirement plan (the industry standard across the state) was approved in 2000. "
It is true that none of the current candidates they are supporting this year was a member of the City Council when their retirement plan was approved. It is also largely irrelevent.
"The statement in a recent letter to the editor that, "Saylor and Souza have already voted to sweeten our firefighters ' retirement to way beyond fair! Only our mayor, Sue Greenwald, had the courage to say no" is completely false."
It is true that Saylor and Souza did not vote on the 3% at 50. But because of the way that formula works, they did in fact sweeten the firefighters' retirement by drastically increasing their salary, so it is not "completely false."
"The Davis City Council approved this plan on July 12, 2000, with a motion made by Susie Boyd and seconded by Sue Greenwald. With one member absent, the motion carried with Mayor Ken Wagstaff, Sheryl Freeman, Susie Boyd and Sue Greenwald voting yes."
As Mike Syvanen, Sue Greenwald's husband explains in a response letter in today's Enterprise:
"Sue voted for this, along with the rest of the council, accepting the argument that it could be dangerous for firefighters to work in the extreme heat with heavy gear."
However, when the firefighters' contract came due again, Sue argued vociferously against the contract and did not vote for it."

Why? Because total compensation had risen to nearly $147,000 per person before overtime. Captains receive $166,000 per year plus they averaged $29,000 in overtime last year.

The firefighters go on to discuss criticisms about overtime pay--again missing the point.
"Additionally, we are being questioned about overtime pay. The fire chief or a qualified representative must approve any overtime hours worked beyond our normal 56-hour workweek."
Again this is a misdirection, the real question is not who approves the overtime, but the amount of overtime and the reason why captains receive overtime, and the reason why firefighters receive more in salary and benefits than the Fire Chief, Police Chief, and City Manager.

It is obvious that the firefighters are feeling the heat. But they have not addressed a number of the key complaints including the level of influence peddling that dwarfs any other campaign expenditure in this race.

In closing their letter they write:
"The safety of the citizens is our top priority."
One must question that. We have this week the announcement about the inability to repair our streets. That is going to lead to safety problems for the citizens. The city is going to need to probably raise revenue to address these concerns, but at the same time, the firefighters are pushing for another tax to pay for a fourth fire station, a new truck, and more personnel. If we cannot keep our streets in good condition, that is a real safety problem for the citizens.

We question the IEs in the Assembly Race, but how about questioning an IE from an interest party in the Council Race. They have likely spent in excess of $25,000 to $30,000 in this race both in direct contributions and their IE. We also see the stakes--protecting their overtime pay, their $150,000 base salary and benefits, and their 3% at 50. All of which is going to lead to the citizens of Davis not to be more safe, but to be less safe because of deteriorating road conditions.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Advocates for People With Disabilies Condemn "Latte" Mailer

On Saturday Morning at the Davis Art Center, advocates for people with disabilities gathered to express their anger and outrage at a mailer sent from Ed Voice.

As we reported yesterday, the ad question spending $91,000 for what it calls "coffee service." However, it ignores the fact that the coffee cart is just part of a new Yolo County training program that will help people dealing with mental illness learn valuable job skills and empower them towards independence.

The program was passed by the Yolo County Board of Supervisors by a 3-2 vote along party lines.

The Sacramento Bee's ad watch roundly criticized the ad:
"$91,000 for coffee service?" reads one flier attacking Yamada, a Yolo County supervisor, for voting to subsidize a coffee cart in a county building. "What was Yamada thinking?"

Turns out it's no ordinary coffee cart – it's designed to provide jobs to people with mental disabilities.

Yolo supervisors voted 3-2 to commit $91,000 to the Turning Point agency for equipment and training. The money stems from a 2005 tax on millionaires that can be spent only for mental-health services.
At the top of the ad, they quote an unnamed Yolo County Supervisor: "When I first read it, I thought it was a mistake. When I heard the explanation, it was worse." Of course what they do not tell you is that that county supervisor was Republican Matt Rexroad.

Supervisor Rexroad reports on his blog yesterday:
"I am now getting hate mail from people for voting against that coffee cart. I am telling you right now --- I will never vote for anything like that coffee cart -- ever. I am proud that I voted no."
This simply illustrates the partisan dimension to the vote. The problem of course is that Cabaldon is a Democrat trying to court Democratic votes.

Marilyn Moyle was one of the participants in the press conference yesterday. She is the Chair of Yolo County's Mental Health Board and a member of NAMI. She described in detail how her son benefited from similar vocational programs in landscaping.
“I’m very concerned about the misleading information that has been mailed out.... I know how important vocational opportunities are for mental health clients – for their recoveries and their self-esteem.”
Christine Totah is a local advocate for people with disabilities. Her son is 12 and has autism. She is also the Treasurer for Mariko Yamada's campaign due to Supervisor Yamada's longtime advocacy for people with disabilities.

Ms. Totah expressed anger, outrage, and disgust at the mailer.
“The mailer really turned my stomach as a taxpayer and a voter.

Even though my son is only twelve, I feel I need to stand up and defend this program and make sure this service stays in place for him because he will need job coaching as he grows up so he can be a productive member of society.

Our coffee cart is an educational service and when compared to the cost of institutionalizing someone suffering from mental illness, the $91,000 is a bargain. It’s one of those issues where a taxpayer in Yolo County can be really proud of where their tax dollars are going.”
She also wondered about an educational advocacy group such as EdVoice attacking a program that at its base is an educational program.

While the Cabaldon campaign has not provided an official response to this, there is a general sense around the community that EdVoice went way too far with both this ad and the Yolo County Housing Authority ad. There has also been considerable backlash against the slew of IEs against Cabaldon by various union interests.

On the other hand, internal polling now shows this is now a neck and neck race. A month ago, Cabaldon was going to walk away with this nomination, now that is very much in doubt. Without the IEs on behalf of the Yamada campaign, they were sunk. This caused groups like the Teacher's Union to go hard and negative the last few weeks. The EdVoice folks had access to polling as wll and quickly went negative against Yamada.

Campaigns go negative because it works unfortunately. These IEs are accountable to no one and they have almost no regulation. At the end of the day, Yamada would not be in this race without them.

So where does that leave the public and the political process? It is hard to say. This race is not alone in that effect either.

From the perspective of public discourse this is a tragedy. The ads launched by EdVoice were untrue for the most part, misleading, mean, and vicious. At the press conference yesterday, families who had children with disabilities felt victimized by the Latte ad. The Housing Authority Ad was a disgrace. The CTA sending out a picture with Cabaldon's car booted was petty and disgraceful for an organization that should be advocating for children, teachers, and education.

Someone has to say no to this stuff.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting