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Saturday, July 12, 2008

PERB Trying to Stop UC Strike

The Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) is seeking a court injunction in order to prevent UC service workers from carrying out a five-day strike planned to begin on Monday.

PERB, which is the state agency that oversees collective bargaining for public employees, filed a complaint against AFSCME for allegedly engaging in bad faith bargaining in its negotiations with UC for new contracts for patient care and service workers. According to the complaint, the union failed to give adequate notice of the strike and encourage patient care employees to participate in the service workers' strike despite the fact that their absence presented a danger to public health and safety.

This is just the latest in a string of anti-labor rulings by the board that is filled with Arnold Schwarzenegger appointees. It is composed of five governor-appointed members. PERB acts as a judicial body responsible for administering bargaining statutes for California’s public schools, colleges and universities.

At this time, the union denies the complaint has validity and is moving ahead as though they strike on Monday.

This is the second time that PERB has attempted to stop the UC strike. Back on May 29, 2008, AFSCME rescinded its strike notice after PERB ordered the union to resume negotiations. At that time, the union withdrew its strike notice after PERB announced that it would support UC in seeking a restraining order in the event of a strike. The restraining order would have prevented striking outside UC health centers.

According to AFSCME, these workers receive poverty wages as low as $10 per hour. Many work 2-3 jobs and qualify for public assistance to meet their families’ basic needs. UC wages have fallen dramatically behind other hospitals and California’s community colleges where workers are paid family-sustaining wages that are on average of 25% higher. In addition, when workers have stood up for better lives for their families and better working conditions, the University has retaliated by violating labor laws.
96% of service workers are eligible for at least one of the following forms of public assistance: food stamps, WIC, public housing subsidies and subsidized child care, creating a potential burden for CA taxpayers. Increasing wages would not only help lift workers out of poverty, but could positively impact CA and the low- and moderate-income areas where UC workers live as they contribute more to their local economy.
California State-appointed neutral Factfinder Carol Vendrillo, who independently evaluated the viability of a service workers’ labor agreement, found that the university system has the ability to increase pay to these workers.
“U.C. has demonstrated the ability to increase compensation when it fits with certain priorities without any demonstrable link to a state funding source…It is time for UC to take a broader view of its priorities by honoring the important contribution that service workers make to the U.C. community and compensating them with wages that are in line with the competitive market rate.”
Here is a video, put out by AFSCME that chronicles the conditions that these workers live under.

Follow the Vanguard next week, as we cover the UC Service Workers strike and get exclusive coverage and interviews.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, July 11, 2008

November Update: Republicans Fuel Aghazarian's Senate Campaign Against Wolk

Republican Party Gives Big Money to Aghazarian

The Sacramento Bee's Capitol Alert reported yesterday that the California Republican Party poured roughly $345,000 into Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian's state Senate campaign last week. Aghazarian is running for the seat of termed-out Sen. Mike Machado and is opposed by Assemblywoman Lois Wolk who represents Yolo and Solano Counties.

That means that the Republican party has already dumped over one million dollars into this race. However as the Capitol Alert points out, that may have more to do with the lack of competitive State Senate Races than anything else.

The same article reported the party donated $595,000 to former Assemblyman Tony Strickland. Strickland is running against former Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson down in the Santa Barbara-Ventura area in a campaign to succeed termed-out Sen. Tom McClintock (who is now running for Congress against Charlie Brown).
"The races are the only two of the 20 Senate seats up for election in November where competition is expected."
The Capitol Alert goes on to argue this is an uphill battle for Republicans. The most recent voter registration statistics show that Democrats hold a 47 to 31.5 advantage. Four years ago, Gary Podesta, a former Stockton Mayor, challenged Machado. He spent nearly $10 million to unseat him.

However, that was almost a different district. In October of 2004, Democrats held a 10-point registration advantage over Republicans, now they hold a 15.5 point advantage.
"Allan Hoffenblum, the publisher of the California Target Book, which analyzes political races in the state, said the Aghazarian donation was to send a message to GOP donors.

"It is a statement by the GOP leadership that they are going to take that race seriously," Hoffenblum said.

In the early money race, Aghazarian has a significant financial advantage, with more than quadruple the cash-on-hand of Wolk.

As of mid-May, Aghazarian had $530,000 in the bank, with $44,000 in debts. Since then, he has received another $105,000 from three local GOP county committees as well as the big recent check from the state party. That brings his rough total to $936,000.

Wolk had $176,000 in her treasury as of mid-May, with $20,000 in debts.

The Democratic Party, however, is expected to have plenty to spend to contest both seats in the fall. The California Democratic Party reported more than $7.9 million in the bank as of May, a $3.8 million advantage over the Republican Party, which reported $4.18 million."
Hoffenblum went on to say that no Democrat in California will lose for lack of money.

SIEU May Back Redistricting Measure on November's Ballot

Meanwhile, the lack of competitive races will further fuel a push for redistricting.

The big news on that front might be that SEIU, one of the largest unions in the state, may buck the Democratic Party and back Proposition 11, the redistricting measure on the November Ballot.

Anthony York at Capitol Weekly reports SEIU is considering backing Proposition 11, the redistricting measure on the November ballot:
"The fact that SEIU finds itself divided, and possibly at odds with Democratic Party leadership over redistricting is the latest illustration of an internal belief that the union, which represents nearly 2 million people nationwide, is powerful enough to take its own stand, regardless of what other political or labor leaders may think."

"We're large enough to take risks," says [Courtni] Pugh. "We're going to do what's best for working people, and for our membership."
York writes:
"If SEIU does wind up backing Proposition 11, it would be in the face of opposition from Democratic Party leadership in Washington and Sacramento, and from some other state labor groups...

But under the direction of President Andy Stern, SEIU has sought to assert itself as a national political force, orchestrating a divorce from the country’s largest labor organization, the AFL-CIO, and affirming its political independence."
York also points out that during the last election cycle, the union won 11 of the 12 Democratic legislative primaries it participated in.

That includes here in the 8th Assembly District, where union-backed Mariko Yamada was able to pull off what was widely considered a monumental upset primarily due to an influx of independent expenditure money from unions and union support on the ground.

From a political perspective however, this potential move by SEIU makes little sense--threatening to alienate allies and weaken their overall political clout.

It would seem like electing Barack Obama should be the biggest focus from the union--and that is clearly the case.
"Pugh says SEIU members from California will be farmed out across the Western states, developing ground campaigns and focused on boosting Latino turnout nationwide to help boost Obama’s prospects."
Nevertheless, if SEIU carries through on this threat on Proposition 11, it will carry with it some interesting ramifications. In our opinion, that would be a huge strategic blunder for a union that has been mired with internal turmoil and has shwon itself to be an effective organizer on the political front.

In mid-June, the Vanguard wrote more extensively on the redistricting issue. The core belief is that it likely will not have the positive impact that its backers believe.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Board Approves $120 Parcel Tax for November Ballot

The Davis Joint Unified School Board met early on Wednesday to determine among other things, the amount that the District would seek for the November Parcel Tax.

The Board determined that the new parcel tax would be a $120 increase--the amount that they determined was needed to continue to provide the current level of service to the students and the community.

The board also made the determination that the apartment unit rate would be $50 (a slight decrease from the projected $60 increase). That means that the renter's share would like be no more than $25 or around a $2 per month increase. Given all of the rental expenses, the average renter will not even notice the parcel tax even if the property owner passes along the cost to the tenants.

Despite the early hour, a number of community members came to the meeting to express both support and opposition to the board. Representatives from the Teach Peace organization lobbied the board to add a component for peace and conflict resolution education as an inducement to get a number of activists to help on the parcel tax.

There were also a few renters who came to speak out against the parcel tax in response apparently to the flier that circulated in some apartment complexes [see yesterday's Vanguard story].

A fair amount of disinformation and misperceptions are being spread around the community about the parcel tax and the type of taxes that the school district can levy.

Contrary to popular belief, Chief Business Officer Bruce Colby told the board that the school district had no authority to levy a sales tax. Moreover, they also did not have the authority to request another agency levy a sales tax on their behalf. Schools are funded at the local level primarily through property taxes and property owners receive some protection from Proposition 13 that requires a two-thirds vote in order to raise any sort of taxes.

In addition, the district is required to lay out to the public exactly how the parcel tax will be used and the type of programs it will fund. This is a very specific requirement and the district will have an oversight committee that examines the spending to make sure parcel tax money is spent appropriately.

One important point to make, is that almost all of the spending is to hire teachers to run key programs. As one board member put it, these are the programs that make Davis schools what they are.

At the elementary school level, the parcel tax funds three programs--the elementary science program (8 positions), the music program (3.4 positions), and the librarian program (just over 4 positions). Those three programs account for %1.25 million of the $2.37 million total.

At the secondary level, the parcel tax will pay for a number of partial positions including science, math, music, and English. It funds 1.5 positions for the Junior High Librarian Services and it also funds $325,000 for the athletics programs.

In all, these are the programs that faced cutbacks last winter and spring. These are the programs that brought parents, students, and teachers to school board meetings in protest of proposed cuts. These represent a total of around 27 positions that would be saved.


I was expecting that school board to approve a parcel tax that was just slightly under $100 per year. I was surprised that they went as high as $120. However, the reason they decided to do that is that that is what they determined their needs to be. If the community passes this parcel tax, the school district can continue to fund the key programs that differentiates Davis from another school district.

This will be a tough fight. Polling showed at the $140 level, that the public support was only around 57%, well below the two-thirds requirement. The school district is going to have to launch and run a campaign to win this. It is going to be expensive and difficult. They will be running it during a time when most are going to focus on the Presidential Election.

We have seen already that there will be those who actively oppose the parcel tax. In the past, the district has been able to run opposition free. Two weeks ago, John Munn, former School Board Member who represents the local taxpayers association came before the board to lay out what the board needed to do in order to gain the support of the taxpayers association--it was basically accountability factors that the district had already done for the Measure Q campaign and the passage of that parcel tax.

Finally, yesterday at the board meeting, I publicly endorsed the parcel tax. Last winter and spring, I sat in on the board meetings. I talked with students, parents, and teachers. I saw the pain that the budget cuts would cause. I saw the fear in the eyes of the students at the thought of losing their teachers and their programs. And I decided at that point that I never wanted another child to have to go through that painful process again. The idea that children had to march to save their schools, to save their teachers, to save their classes, is simply wrong.

Those who want to hold the district accountable for mistakes made under the direction of others are wanting to punish the wrong people for the wrong reasons. The bulk of the budget crisis that we see is not due to fiscal mismanagement by the current board and district staff, it is due to a devastating statewide economic picture combined with a drop in attendance in the local school district.

The bottom line is that the amount of money needed to bridge the gap without a new revenue source means that teachers and programs will have to be cut. At the end of the day, it is unfair to punish these students for the perceived mistakes of others.

This parcel tax will sunset in three years. The previous parcel tax was passed for four years. That means that the two parcel taxes will sunset at the same time and the district can make the determination at that point, how much the district needs. And the public can then decide if the district has spent its money wisely and can make the determination as to whether to continue to supplement statewide educational spending to make Davis Schools among the best in the state.

The voters of Davis have much in the way of recourse here. They will have full authority to approve this current parcel tax in November. The next year will see three school board members face reelection. And there are always more radical means of expression, just ask Woodland.

Once again, I fully support the passage of the parcel tax. I firmly believe we have no other choice in order to continue to educate the students of Davis to the best of our ability.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Vanguard Radio Tonight 6 PM on KDRT 101.5 FM

The Vanguard Radio Show Tonight on KDRT 101.5 FM from 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM will have two guests: Waterford Mayor William Broderick-Villa and Waterford Unified School District Trustee Vicky Johnson.

Back in March, the Vanguard reported that Waterford was having problems stemming from the relationship between their Superintendent Howard Cohen, a former Principal at Davis High School, and Tahir Ahad and Total School Solutions.

On Thursday, the board will meet to determine whether or not to extend the contract of Superintendent Cohen on the eve of a new school board possibly being seated. Mayor Broderick-Villa, a math teacher and Board Member Johnson will update us on the situation in Waterford and discuss some of the background of what went on there.

There are amazing parallels to DJUSD and its relationship with Tahir Ahad and Total School Solutions.

Landlords Trying to Mobilize Students Against Parcel Tax?

Vanguard Analysis Shows Scare Tactics and Deception Used in Flier Passed Out At an Apartment Complex

The Vanguard received late word last night that some landlords may be trying to mobilize their student tenants against the parcel tax.

A flier was apparently passed around at least one apartment complex outlining the parcel tax, making the case as to why students should be concerned, and then asking them to attend today's school board meeting which is at 9 am in the East Conference Room in the district office located at 526 B Street.
"With our tenants facing higher enrollment fees and gas prices at the pump, we have had increased inquiries regarding the proposed new school tax of $80-$140 per house and $40-70 per apartment unit per year..."
This sounds scary until you actually do the math. First, the general cost passed on to students is about half of the per unit price, meaning they are looking at a $20 to $35 dollar PER YEAR increase. Broken down to a monthly basis, you are talking $3 per month.

Even the increase to $196 PER UNIT PER YEAR for ALL school taxes would mean at most $8 to $9 per month for the student. In other words, students are not going to feel this increase. Landlords may, but not students.
"There are three (3) school age students in the 300 units we surveyed on Alvarado, which averages one (1) student per 100 apartments. One has to wonder how the School Board decided that an apartment should pay half of the amount of a house when there are most likely 50 to 100 kids per 100 houses. Why should UCD student housing pay 50 to 100 times more per student than houses do? Shouldn't the tax be proportional to burden on the school system?"
The logic is somewhat subjective. The public pays for public schools regardless of whether or not there are school aged kids in the residence. The tax burden is generally spread based on ability to pay. The numbers game is somewhat of a shell game to begin with. 50 to 100 times more sounds very scary until again you realize that the student in total is paying at most $8 to $9 per month as the result of the parcel tax combined with all other taxes and would only pay an additional $3 per month for this new tax. Remember many students share a residence, meaning that the burden on each individual is very small.

The leaflet does raise a valid point however here:
"Our concern is that there was no study to show how much burden apartments should carry and that eventually these taxes result in rent increases."
And that is something to look into. However, the point is unfortunately wrapped in some distortions and apparent scare tactics. A $200 per year tax per unit is not going to result in a huge rent increase on a per monthly basis.

The leaflet then shifts the burden to the Davis Schools Foundation. Pointing out that they raised 1.7 million in donations last year.

They ask:
"Should the School Board add a new parcel tax every year to cover costs, or should the School Foundation continue fundraising?"
This is a red-herring. First of all, the school board is not going to add a new parcel tax every year. Second, the school foundation is going to continue fundraising. However, the school foundation, as great as they are, is not going to sustain that level of fundraising indefinitely. The idea was to bridge the gap until the school board could find a more reliable stream of revenue to cover the deficit between spending needs and revenue.

The leaflet then concludes:
"The school board will have to hope the uninformed UCD students will vote for a tax that is unfairly weighted on them, especially at a time when UCD Students are facing an 11-13% increase in enrollment fees."
Unfortunately, message such as this flier are not going to help inform UCD Students. This is basically a scare tactic. This leaflet is completely dishonest. It presents students with basic facts about the parcel tax but in a very distorted manner without breaking down what the actual per monthly cost will be.

They then encourage the students to write emails to the Board of Education, the Superintendent, and the Davis Enterprise. Apparently the tactic got a few students to write in.

There are legitimate concerns that students and landlords alike may share in this process. The school board should have the burden to lay out and education the public on this process. However, tactics like this leaflet are not the answer. It is unfortunate that someone has stooped to this level of trying to scare students to oppose the parcel tax.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Yolo County ACLU Requests Change of Venue for Topete Case

Many who read the Davis Enterprise on Sunday, undoubtedly saw the story that the Yolo County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union called "upon the Yolo County Court to quickly secure a change in venue for the trial of Marco Topete, the accused killer of Sheriff's officer and former court baliff Tony Diaz."

Yolo County ACLU President Natlie Wormeli makes the argument based on the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution, which reads:
"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State..."
The Sixth Amendment, many people do not realize, guarantees the right not only to a speedy trial, to have the right to face the accuser, and to the right to an attorney, but also the right to a public trial.

The ACLU is making a different argument than that of the media, who have argued that this is a First Amendment issue, a freedom of press. And whose primary concern naturally was that the press corps were excluded from the arraignment of a high profile case of public interest.

According to Ms. Wormeli:
"This change [of venue] is necessary to assure basic rights to the accused as guaranteed under the United States Constitution."
She continued:
"The Sheriff's Office forgot the basic charge of the Sixth Amendment... Everyone can understand the emotion the bailiffs must feel at the loss of their comrade. This is no excuse, however, for unprofessional and constitutionally prohibited conduct."
Natasha Minsker, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California added:
"The right to a public trial is a fundamental human right, protected by numerous international treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. An open courthouse is the hallmark of a free society." A public trial concurrently protects both the rights of the defendant and the greater right of the people to know.
The Vanguard had Natasha Minsker on its June 25, 2008 Radio Show which discussed this issue as a whole. [You can catch that show by clicking here, the conversation with Natasha Minsker begins around the 35 minute mark]

Natalie Wormeli believes that this violation raises concerns about who controls the legal procedures in Yolo County--the Sheriff or the Judges.

She wonders "whether the judge of the court can conduct a proper and fair trial in such an atmosphere."
"Those who attended last Saturday's funeral for Officer Diaz, including representatives of the YCACLU, were moved by the obvious suffering of Tony Diaz' family and the heartwarming support from his fellow officers in the face of this heinous crime. It is at these times that the criminal justice system, beginning with the trial court, faces its greatest challenge. When justice is pursued with every attention to fair procedure, even under these exceptional circumstances, then all citizens can be assured that the system is credible, reliable, and fair. The sacrifice of Officer Diaz demands that nothing interfere with a speedy and impartial public trial for his accused killer. The ability of the Yolo County Court to provide such proper procedures is in serious question. To remove any taint or threat of a procedural challenge later, the best thing to do is move the trial to another county."
The Vanguard continues to believe that the best course of action in this case is to move the trial to another county to insure that Mr. Topete receives a fair trial and that if he is indeed found guilty of this crime and is indeed the perpetrator of this callous and horrific act upon a peace officer, who attempted to rescue a baby, then Mr. Topete should spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.

However, above all else, the constitution must be adhered to. The right to a fair and public trial must be afforded to the defendant in this case.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

City Manager Calls for the Hire of Independent Investigator To Review Grand Jury Report on Davis Fire Department

Mayor Asmundson Expresses Concern That Something is "Amiss" In the Fire Department

In a release late yesterday afternoon, Davis City Manager Bill Emlen announced that the city was looking to hire an independent investigator to perform a detailed review of the findings and recommendations of the recently released Grand Jury report.
"The nature and scope of issues raised in this report are significant, and warrant a comprehensive review and response from the City."
City Manager Bill Emlen told the Vanguard that he hopes to make an announcement on the selection of an independent investigator by the end of this week. His first choice seemed to be Police Ombudsman Bob Aaronson but if it is not Bob Aaronson himself, it will be someone like Bob Aaronson. Mr. Aaronson has the advantage of already being on staff and already having familiarity with the city of Davis.

The move follows increasing pressure on the city to thoroughly examine the Grand Jury report released late Monday of last week. Mr. Emlen called the report a "black cloud" hanging over the city. He recognized the need for an independent review that would give the public confidence in whatever finding.

Last week, City Councilmember Lamar Heystek was interviewed on CBS News Channel 13 in Sacramento.
"I think we need to bring in outside help to look into the Grand Jury allegations."
Over the weekend, Mayor Ruth Asmundson expressed her dismay at the turn of events. The Mayor told KCRA TV in Sacramento:
"I was really surprised and concerned that there's something amiss in our fire department."
In the release, Bill Emlen's stated goals for the investigation include:
  • Be clear to the public that we are committed to a thorough, objective evaluation of the Grand Jury’s report.

  • Be clear to all sources that we will retain their confidentiality in bringing information forward.

  • Ensure that those affected in the report are treated fairly and in an impartial manner.
In his conversation with the Vanguard, City Manager Bill Emlen was concerned that it would be difficult to retrace some of the steps that the Grand Jury took. In particular, many of the employees who were fearful of retribution had to have extraordinary steps taken in order for them to feel comfortable testifying. I asked him if the city could also make such assurances to protect their identity, and he said that the city could do that and could guarantee protection. However, he was not sure that would be enough to get them to come forward.

As important is the pledge of transparency. The report is not going to be something done in closed session, submitted in private.
"We are committed to a transparent process with the independent investigator’s report ultimately presented to the City Council in open session."
The law requires the city to submit a response within 90 days of the Grand Jury's report. That means by the end of September. However, Mr. Emlen would like that to be done much sooner.
"Our goal is to respond to the Grand Jury’s report much earlier than is required by law."
One way or another, he believes that this is a cloud hanging over the city. He either wants to exonerate the fire department or take appropriate action as soon as possible.


An independent investigation is exactly what the Vanguard has wanted to see happen from the start.

Bill Emlen's initial statement and reaction was alarming last Tuesday:
"We believe the Grand Jury Report includes several statements that are factually incorrect. Taken together, they contribute to a less-than-accurate picture of the Davis Fire Department."
However, he has now stepped up to the plate and done what needed to be done. This was an excellent statement by the City Manager. He has done everything here that needs to be done. Mayor Ruth Asmundson is to be commended as well for her forceful advocacy to look into this report and not attempt to sweep the problem under the rug.

The Vanguard is hopeful that Bob Aaronson will be the one who conducts this investigation. In 2006, he had to perform a tough investigation in the city of Santa Cruz, investigating allegations that the city police were spying on anti-war protesters. The initial report by the police was conducted by the very person who ordered such surveillance. Mr. Aaronson called the police on an unprofessional report and then castigated them for their unlawful surveillance against the anti-war protestors.

It is ironic that the man brought in to investigate complaints against the police department would have his first major investigation be to look into the fire department.

Councilmember Stephen Souza has been quiet on this issue. It is somewhat ironic however that both at the time of creating the position of ombudsman and in March of 2007 when Aaronson gave his six month report, Mr. Souza called for the ombudsman to investigate more than just police complaints. While it seems impractical for the ombudsman to handle day to day complaints about things like public works, it is more fitting that this type of investigation fall into the hands of person hired to be an independent eye for the city.

The City Manager acknowledges the severity of these charges and recognizes that neither he nor his employees are the ones that should be investigating this report.

Whoever ends up with the investigation has a difficult and unenviable task. As the City Manager acknowledges, the road map laid out by the Grand Jury is a difficult one to replicate. It took the Grand Jury over a year to conduct this investigation. The issues of retribution and confidentiality are difficult ones to grapple with both on the side of individual accused employees as well as whistle blowers.

However, the city has now recognized that they cannot unring this bell. They must press forward and find out if these accusation have merit.

Frankly this is all we ever wanted from the start--a process by which we can determine if the Grand Jury's report has merit and a process by which the city can deal appropriately with individuals if needed.

Hiring an independent investigator helps the city both meet the needs of the public and protects the rights of the employees.

Once again Mayor Ruth Asmundson and City Manager Bill Emlen deserve tremendous credit for doing the right thing in this situation. They have the full confidence of the Vanguard as they move forward.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, July 07, 2008

Word To The Wise: Speak Up Or Nothing Changes

By E.A. Roberts

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Open House given at Atria Covell Gardens, an assisted living facility for seniors. Its purpose was to showcase the new double occupancy suites, which were created as a result of resident complaints. Rent increases for this residential care facility for the elderly (RCFE) jumped to as much as 16% over a two year period, a drastic spike in price. What ensued is a prime example of democracy in action.

Oddly enough, the Davis Senior Citizens Commission just so happened to have one of their regular off-site meetings at Atria Covell Gardens last winter. Without knowing what was coming, commissioners convening the session were greeted with a firestorm of protest. Atria Covell Garden residents had just received word of an extreme rate hike in rent and services the evening before. This feisty group of seniors were infuriated, and let the commission know just how they felt.

Our advice as a commission was for them to complain long and loudly, with Letters to the Editor of the Davis Enterprise, or to the Davis Vanguard, as a way of obtaining publicity for their cause. We also suggested contacting state and local legislators. There were also talks with the company that managed the facility as well. All avenues were sought for redress, including the state licensing board. Just about anyone who was in any way connected with the situation was contacted by these angry seniors.

The result was not only several different bills now wending their way through the legislature having to do with notification of rent increases at RCFEs. In addition, Atria Covell Gardens has made changes to several single suites to accommodate two persons in a shared arrangement - to cut costs for those of lesser income. More of these units are planned there for the future. Had the seniors in residence at Atria Covell kept quiet about their predicament, then nothing much would have changed.

Instead a private company has been encouraged to make necessary alterations to keep competitive with the current market. The fact of the matter is that Atria Covell Gardens represents the only sole RCFE in the city of Davis. University Retirement Commons is the only Continuum of Care Facility (Independent Living Facility; Assisted Living Facility; Skilled Nursing Facility; Alzheimer’s Unit all in one) within town limits. In consequence, these two facilities have virtually no competition, and have been able to charge prices at a rate that is as high as whatever the market will bear.

However, because of the complaints about the sudden, drastic rent hikes at Atria Covell Gardens, there has been the introduction of new legislation which may warn of perceived price gouging. There has also been talk of building another lower cost assisted living facility, for middle income older folks. Both of these factors surely played into management’s decision to devise a way to create more affordable units at Atria Covell Gardens. High praise goes to the seniors that spoke out against their financial predicament; and to private enterprise for coming up with a creative solution! It may not be the perfect solution, but it is a start in the right direction.

Legislation Pending:
  • AB 2101 Author: Wolk [D]; Title: RCFEs; rate increases
Requires RCFEs to develop emergency plans, give residents advanced notice of rent increases, and give prospective residents information about rate increases over the past 5 yrs.

  • AB 2370 Author: Bass [D]; Title: RCFEs; rate increases
Requires RCFEs to disclose annually to current residents their average monthly rate increases for each of the previous 3 years, to be posted near the entrance to the facility and provided to any prospective tenant upon request.
CA Commission on Aging Public Hearing: Health Access for Older Californians

The California Commission on Aging (CCoA) held a public hearing in Yolo County, on the topic of health access for older Americans in rural areas. CCoA is an advisory body to the governor of CA on senior issues. Its 25 members are appointed by the governor, Senate Rules Committee and Speaker of the Assembly. They serve as volunteers, for up to two three year terms.

Our own Dave Soto, of the Area 4 Agency on Aging, pointed out that his organization encourages:
1. A multi-disciplinary approach;
2. Disease and injury prevention;
3. Home-centered services;
4. Transportation options;
5. Technological innovation.
Dawn Purkey of Yolo Adult Day Health stressed the following:
  • Age distinctions should be made when providing services, because the needs for each age group can be so different, e.g. 65-75, 75-85, 85 and above;
  • Service providers need to be protected with programs like respite care;
  • Caregiver assessment tools should be developed;
  • Nontraditional models of caregiving should be tried;
  • Volunteerism should be encouraged.
Nancy Guenther, the Program Manager of the Office on Disability and Health, CA Dept. of Public Health, Injury Control Section advised as listed below:
  • Transportation networks; more transportation options;
  • Mobile units to dispense healthcare;
  • Use of new technology, e.g. videophones; internet interactions
  • Care calls to check on isolated seniors;
  • Health promotion visits;
  • Universal fund, paid by doctors, for language interpreters
Teri Boughton, Senior Program Officer for State Health Policy, CA HealthCare Foundation advised:
  • Allowing greater independence of nurse practitioners;
  • Align licensing requirements with the military, to encourage retired military medical personnel to practice in rural areas;
  • Raise reimbursement rates for Medicare and Medicaid, to encourage doctors to take more low income patients;
  • Encourage development of telemedicine by remote technological devices
Then questions were invited from commission members and the audience. Suggested solutions for improving access to healthcare in rural areas included:
  • Retail medical clinics, as long as there was integration with more comprehensive care;
  • Great ideas are funded through local, state and federal grants; volunteerism; and operating on a shoestring budget;
  • Recruitment of physicians (especially geriatric physicians) with: debt forgiveness as an incentive; and develop hospital districts;
  • Mobilization of resources to come together to meet senior needs, e.g. use of Fish & Game airplanes to medivac rural patients to urban trauma centers, recruit both Vets with medical experience and retired physicians; physicians should tithe 10% to public clinics; medical networks need to work outside the Medicare/Medicaid system, e.g. by municipalities paying doctors to come back on occasion and provide services;
  • National Health Services Corp - education is paid for if recipient doctor works in rural area for a period of years;
  • Provide more transportation options;
  • Push for universal health coverage;
  • Provide more public education on available services;
  • Have sliding scale with respect to fees charged for accessing services.
In proposing transit mobility training as a possible solution to get seniors to their medical appointments, I was lucky enough to be informed by a commission member that he was aware of Yolo County’s grant application to Caltrans for this teaching project. Transit mobility training instructs seniors how to use public transit, so they are not in fear of getting lost or stranded. It will assist them in using public transit to get to a doctor‘s office or medical clinic, by starting them off with group training for a social event. An out-of-service bus is utilized to take a cadre of willing senior citizens by the hand to the local downtown area for lunch, or the movies.

This program is being developed by the Triad Task Force of which I am Chair. Triad is the action arm of the Yolo County Commission on Aging, chaired by Mariko Yamada. The transit mobility training project is being facilitated in conjunction with a private company. Paratransit Inc. already provides this type of training in Sacramento County, so Davis Senior Citizens Commissioner Tansey Thomas and I asked them if they would be willing to expand their services into Yolo County. JD Culver and Kevin Walch of Paratransit Inc. were delighted to oblige! A pilot project would begin in Davis, and expand to encompass as much of Yolo County as possible.

I also mentioned to the CCoA some other projects in Yolo County that Triad has either completed or is in the works:
  • Rebuilding Together - a nonprofit organization that provides safety devices in the home, such as grab bars, wheelchair ramps, smoke detectors, custom railings, toilet risers, etc., regardless of income status.
  • Caregiver Registry - to provide trained caregivers to those seniors not wealthy enough to afford private pay services, but too wealthy to qualify for gov’t subsidized in-home supportive services.
  • Proposition 63 funded mobile assessment team known as the Yolo County Older Adult Program - to assist seniors in crisis.
  • Triad Task Force, a community-based organization willing to take on projects that assist seniors.
  • Building Bridges - an elder abuse prevention program, which is key to the protection of older adult health. Once a senior has been abused, either physically or financially, it begins a downward spiral that often results in the death of an elderly person.
Finally, I noted the need for elder abuse prevention, as key to the protection of older adult health. It was pointed out by me that once a senior has been abused, either physically or financially, it begins a downward spiral that often results in death.

Lesson to be learned: Speak out, or nothing will change for the better. Volunteerism, creativity, and a willingness to address problems are the solutions to a better life for senior citizens.

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.

UC Service Workers To Strike

Last week, 8,500 UC workers announced that they will hold a five-day strike at UC's ten campuses and five medical centers.

According to a release from AFSCME, the union that represents university workers, the strike is for the service workers, however, thousands of medical workers could individually honor the picket lines and not cross it.
"At issue are poverty wages as low as $10 per hour. Many work 2-3 jobs and qualify for public assistance to meet their families’ basic needs. UC wages have fallen dramatically behind other hospitals and California’s community colleges where workers are paid family-sustaining wages that are on average of 25% higher. In addition, when workers have stood up for better lives for their families and better working conditions, the University has retaliated by violating labor laws.

96% of service workers are eligible for at least one of the following forms of public assistance: food stamps, WIC, public housing subsidies and subsidized child care, creating a potential burden for CA taxpayers. Increasing wages would not only help lift workers out of poverty, but could positively impact CA and the low- and moderate-income areas where UC workers live as they contribute more to their local economy."
11,500 patient care workers have also been in negotiations since August of 2007. At this point, they are not calling for a strike although some may decide not to cross the picket line in solidarity.

Last week the Davis Enterprise quoted Nicole Savickas, a UC human resources communications coordinator:
"The university is disappointed that the union has decided to call for a strike of UC service workers at this time... While UC and AFSCME spent the last few weeks of June bargaining for patient care technical employees, the university has not received a response to its last request (from mid-June) to continue discussions for service employees... We hope that the union will reconsider and join us back at the bargaining table to continue negotiations for new contracts for both our service and patient care technical employees."
However, Leticia Garcia-Prado who works as a medical assistant at Cowell Student Health Center told the Enterprise that the university's latest proposal included no substantive changes from the previous offer.

Workers are particularly upset that the well-paid upper management of the university has been receiving pay increases even as the service workers are locked into low wages. Some may question the timing of these strikes and requests for pay increases during times of budget crisis and economic downturn.

It is important to note that 78 percent of the funding that pays for service worker position does not come from the state's general fund. Instead a large portion of the funding comes directly from revenues generated from UC Hospitals. In 2006, UC Hospitals posted $371 million in profits.

Moreover, California State-appointed neutral Factfinder Carol Vendrillo, who independently evaluated the viability of a service workers’ labor agreement, found that the university system has the ability to increase pay to these workers.
“U.C. has demonstrated the ability to increase compensation when it fits with certain priorities without any demonstrable link to a state funding source…It is time for UC to take a broader view of its priorities by honoring the important contribution that service workers make to the U.C. community and compensating them with wages that are in line with the competitive market rate.”
Meanwhile Union officials have said they will not strike before July 12, 2008.


It is disappointing that it has come to this. The University of California system is the finest public higher education system in the country. They offer many students a world class education for a very affordable price. Unfortunately, they are paying their lowest level employees wages that require many to receive public assistance.

Leticia Garcia-Prado takes home less than $2000 per month in her position as a patient care worker. She is earning this in a community where the median income is more than twice that.

The university is using the state budget as a means to hold up this process. But most of the money for these wages do not come from the state budget. It is time that we move forward as a community and no longer accept the UC system paying its wage earners meager wages.

It took the Sodexho workers a number of years, but they finally this spring forced UC Davis to transition them to university employees. This was a good step forward, but now we need to take it to the next level and pay all university employees a good and fair wage for the excellent service they provide to the university and the community.

SPECIAL NOTE: This is the Vanguard's 1000th post. The Vanguard was first published on July 30, 2006 and since September of 2006 has been publishing at least once daily except during the Thanksgiving Holiday. The Vanguard wishes to thank all of the readers who have been around since the beginning and welcome those who are just joining us.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Cal-OSHA Again Shuts Down Farm Labor Contractor Responsible for 17-Year-Old Worker's Death

A few weeks ago, the Vanguard reported on the sad story of a 17-year-old farm worker who died of heat stroke after working for hours in the heat without adequate water, rest, or shade. (Click here to listen to our interview with Marilyn Calderon of the United Farm Workers).

On Friday, the Sacramento Bee reported on an update to the situation. The Merced Farm Labor had been allowed to reopen and send its laborers back to the fields as of June 26 after demonstrating to CAL-OSHA that it met all the requirements for heat protection for its workers. The company had been shut down because it was not requiring its employees to receive heat training.

However, on Thursday, July 3, state inspectors found once again that the company was failing to comply with regulations.

The Stockton Record is reporting that the state is in the process of revoking the contractor license of owner Maria De Colunga who is under investigation for the death of Maria Isabel who died from heat exhaustion in May.

The Record goes on to quote Paul Feist a spokesman for the California Labor and Development Agency, which oversees Cal/OSHA.
Feist said the department is working to revoke De Colugna's contractor license by September, the month her license comes up for renewal.

"Revocation would most likely prevent them from renewing again," Feist said.

"We're not going to let this contractor operate until we're fully convinced they're in compliance," Feist said.
These regulations are not exactly rocket science. They are required to provide water, periodic breaks, and shade. The company had been shut down and warned and they still cannot comply with heat regulations?

Here are the regulations as reported in the Stockton Record.
Companies with outdoor employees are required by state law to provide:

• Training: Train all employees and supervisors about heat illness prevention.

• Water: Provide enough fresh water so that each employee can drink at least one quart per hour, and encourage them to do so.

• Shade: Provide access to shade for at least five minutes of rest when an employee believes he or she needs a preventative recovery period. Employees should not wait until they feel sick to do so.

• Planning: Develop and implement written procedures for complying with the Cal/OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Standard.

Source: Department of Industrial Relations
None of these seem overbearing and most of it is commonsense.

We also now know that Maria Isabel was part of the production team for Bronco Winery which produces the "Two-Buck Chuck"--a best selling wine that is available exclusively at Trader Joe's stores.

The United Farm Workers are working to put pressure on Trader Joe's to change their corporate policies in order to protect farm workers.
Because Maria worked for a labor contractor, she most likely never knew she was part of the production team for Bronco Winery who is better known for Charles Shaw wines--commonly called "Two-Buck Chuck." This best selling wine is available exclusively at Trader Joe's stores. According to Trader Joe's web site, "these super-value wines began as the result of an oversupply of wine and a great relationship with a valued supplier."

Help us ask Trader Joe's to use their "great relationship" to protect the workers who labor to pick the crop. Ask Trader Joe's to implement a corporate policy to ensure that their suppliers are not violating the law by failing to provide farm workers with basic protections such as cold water, shade and clean bathrooms.

Requests of this type are not new to Trader Joe's. Back in 2005 after the Humane Society and customers expressed concerns, Trader Joe's agreed to sell only cage free eggs under the company's label. We commend Trader Joe's for this corporate responsibility and ask them to do the same for farm workers. After all isn't the life of a farm worker as important as the life of a chicken?

Trader Joe's web site says "we listen to what our customers tell us about the choices we give them." Please ask Trader Joe's to listen and take action today. As the exclusive distributor of Charles Shaw wines, they need to take corporate responsibility before more farm workers, like Maria die due to grower neglect.
This morning's Stockton record has an article on Trader Joe's and the UFW.

According to the article here is the connection between the farm and Trader Joe's.
The connection: West Coast Grape Farming is owned by the Franzia family, which also owns Bronco Wine Co., which produces Charles Shaw wines. The selection of wines, sometimes known as Two Buck Chuck, are exclusively sold at Trader Joe's, which caters to health-conscious consumers. Trader Joe's has a store in Lincoln Center in Stockton.
However, Trader Joe's has issued a statement saying that those grapes are not used for Two Buck Chuck.
Alison Mochizuki, a Trader Joe's spokeswoman, said in a written statement that the vineyard where Jimenez pruned does not supply grapes for Charles Shaw wines.

"The company employing the young farm worker has no more of a relation to Trader Joe's than they do to any other wine retailer or restaurant," Mochizuki said.
Further, the spokeperson claims that the company already implements strict policies for its vendors.

"Our vendors have a strong record of providing safe and healthy work environments and we will continue to make certain that our vendors are meeting, if not exceeding, government standards," Mochizuki said.

However Roman Pinal is not buying the explanation. He called the reply a "disheartening attempt to try to distance themselves."

To me this is a very basic request for human dignity. It is appalling that people have attempted in some quarters to justify this tragedy under the guise of the debate on immigration. Regardless of the implications of that debate, there will be farm laborers and they deserve basic workplace protections. What hiker even on a cool day would not bring a bottle of water? Now imagine working all day in the hot sun, with limited breaks, and even more limited water?

Remember that hot weekend in May when it was well over 100 degrees? Maria Isabel was out in the fields working for hours. They made water available to the workers finally after several hours but it was a 10 minute walk and they were only given a 10 minute break. After she collapsed, they put her in a hot van and waited for the other laborers before driving around looking for alcohol. They refused to take her to the hospital because they did not want to admit that she was underage.

As far as I am concerned, they should be in jail for manslaughter. And they should be civilly liable as well.

My patience with Trader Joe's has already warn thin due to local issues involving a proposed Trader Joe's that the company want to open at University Mall in a spot already occupied. They need to step up here and it is apparent that they may not. Until they do, I will not be one of their customers.

The worst part of this tragedy is that basic commonsense at any point along the way would have prevented the death of Maria Isabel. Now it is time for us to examine working conditions in this county and hope that we are doing the right thing.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting