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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Field Poll: Gay Marriage Ban Losing Right Now

This week, the Field Poll was released showing that Proposition 8, the Ban on Gay Marriage was trailing by a 51-42 margin. This bodes fairly well for the efforts to defeat it.

From my experience it seems very rare that a measure that is initially trailing to reverse course and pass. The tendency in most proposition is once the ads start flying and the mudslinging begins, people develop more uncertainty and uncertainty in propositions leads to no votes.

I think there are a number of other factors that will also lead this measure to ultimately be defeated. But first, some interesting, if not altogether unpredictable splits in terms of demographics.

There is of course a very strong split between Democrats and Republicans on this. 63% of Democrats oppose Prop. 8 while 68% of Republicans support it. Non-partisans also oppose it by a 66% to 27% margin. Given predictions that this will be a Democratic electorate this fall, that bodes well for it going down to defeat. Another Field Poll showed Obama with a 24 point lead over McCain in California and there was a huge enthusiasm gap of nearly 2:1 with around 56% of Democrats excited to cast their vote for Obama but only 20-something percent of Republicans feeling the same.

The age factor is interesting as well. Not surprising the greatest support is among those voters under 30. I've always said that it is just a matter of time because those in my generation, gay marriage is really not an issue. We grew up with gay friends, family members, openly gay people in the community. As such it is just a matter of time before younger generations become a majority. What is interesting is that the baby boomer demographic, those 50-64 for whom gay rights first emerged, is also strongly supportive. It is then somewhat surprising that my demographic would be evenly split being between 30 to 50, although I wonder if there is a break point there.

Ethnically, Latinos are the only group supporting Prop. 8 with whites, African-Americans, and Asians opposing it.

The strongest religious group favoring Prop. 8 are the Protestants at 56-40%, Catholics interestingly enough are evenly divided, but all other religions and those with no religious preference are strongly opposed. Evangelicals favor the amendment by a 66-31 margin while non-evangelicals are opposed 59-34. From these splits, you can basically see where the support is coming from, and that is almost entirely from Evangelical Christians, again not surprisingly.

Here is another reason I think this proposition will lose. Those who personally know or work with gays and lesbians oppose the proposition by 54-40. That group includes three-quarters of the voters statewide. That ties in with my prediction about demographic shifts ultimately rendering this a non-issue. Familiarity tends to neutralize a lot of fears.

And along those lines, I think one of the reasons that this will fail is not captured in the Field Poll analysis. Basically, by the time the election rolls around same-sex couples will have been married nearly six months. The electorate will see that these marriages are not really the threat that they are made out to be. That will help neutralize a lot of the scare-tactics that proponents of the proposition will employ. People will see that same-sex marriages are not a threat to the institution of marriage. They will see that the sky is not falling. Playing into that is that nearly three-quarters of the people in this state know gay people, many will know married gay couples, and this familiarity will lead most likely to people voting against this amendment.

In the end, the best thing that could have happened for this cause for marriages to actually occur. You will have a strong Democratic electorate this fall, enthusiastically coming to polls in huge numbers to vote for Obama, the Republican electorate is not enthusiastic about McCain, they may not come out in huge numbers.

In short, I think this proposition which is already trailing will not pass. Already 62% of likely voters know something about this proposed amendment and I think the trends in propositions are for the no side to gain rather than lose strength.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, July 18, 2008

Programming Alert

I will be a guest on KDVS 90.3 FM this morning from 9 am to 9:30 am with Don Gibson, who is the President of the UC Davis College Democrats. I will be talking about a variety of local political issues. Call in number 530.754.KVDS. You can also listen live on the internet by logging onto .

Friday Strike Update

Today is the final day of the UC service workers' strike. After five days of picketing across the state at 10 UC campuses and five medical centers, the 8500 striking workers will begin returning to their jobs at the end of the day.

According to a statement from AFSCME 3299:
"Though the strike has produced an outpouring of public and political support, UC executives have given no indication that they are willing to lift workers from poverty."
Those who listened to the Vanguard Radio Show on Wednesday, undoubtedly realize listening to both the representative from UC, Nicole Savickas, as well as a worker Matt Tidd, a UC Davis parking officer, that both sides remain far apart.

[To listen to the full Vanguard Radio Show from Wednesday, please click here]

One of the big questions is what will happen to the workers when they come back to work, most of them on Monday.

There have been threats made by UC officials about sanctions for those workers.

Elizabeth Meyer, director of UC Davis employee and labor relations called the strike illegal and suggested that workers could be disciplined.
"We're going to take appropriate discipline up to the fullest extent with the law and in accord with past practice."
Senator Leland Yee and other key legislators have pledged to stand by any UC worker who is unjustly disciplined by an executive on State payroll.

In a letter sent to UC President Mark Yudof, Senator Leland Yee wrote that he was “dismayed by the comments of Elizabeth Meyer and other UC spokespersons who have stated the administration will discipline striking workers to the ‘fullest extent.’”

The Senator wrote in a statement that was released on Tuesday:
“Service workers gave adequate notice of their strike and the law explicitly provides workers the right to strike for fair wages, working conditions, and basic equity. If even one worker is retaliated against or disciplined for exercising their right to strike, I will do everything in my power to appropriately respond to the University.”
Now we learn that State elected officials, many of whom walked the picket line, chastised UC executives for threatening to take disciplinary action against any worker who participated in the strike and thirty-four Assemblymembers wrote a letter to UC executives with their concerns that the threats were counterproductive to reaching a settlement.

On Wednesday the Vanguard reported that a Davis motorcycle officer had been pulling over and ticketing some of drivers who honked their horns in support of the strikers.

The Vanguard spoke to Police Chief Landy Black who confirmed that people had been pulled over for honking their horns, but told us that no tickets had been written for such offenses.

He cited California Vehicle Code as justification for the action by his officers.
California Code: Vehicle Code "27001. (a) The driver of a motor vehicle when reasonably necessary to insure safe operation shall give audible warning with his horn. (b) The horn shall not otherwise be used, except as a theft alarm system which operates as specified in Article 13 (commencing with Section 28085) of this chapter."
Apparently neighbors called into the police complaining about the noise from the honking vehicles.

As someone else pointed out, a lot of the people who live off of College Park Drive work in the University Administration including Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef, so it is little surprise that they might complain about motorists using their horns in support of the striking workers.

This is probably a good example of a case where the police should use their discretion as to whether this constitutes a real public safety risk and a true nuisance to residents, or if this is an attempt by some to silence people whose views they do not agree with.

Nevertheless, the fact that apparently no tickets were issued puts this in the realm of a curiosity rather than a huge issue.

The Vanguard will have more on the strike in the coming days as we look at the impact of the strike and the prospects that a settlement might be reached at some point.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

City Moves Forward with Charter Proposal

It was a 4-1 vote on Tuesday night in favor of the charter. The chief proponents of the charter really wanted a unanimous vote, frankly they were fortunate that they got even four votes.

A charter city is the first step towards allowing the city to enact choice voting. There is a whole lot more they can do with a charter city--both good and bad--but for now it is a very simple charter.

Getting four votes was a chore as it was. Mayor Ruth Asmundson for instance did not want a charter that specified choice voting. So the two main proponents of the measure--Councilmembers Stephen Souza and Lamar Heystek, changed the wording to make the proposed charter very broad and which does not specifically mention choice voting. The council now has to place a separate measure either on the November ballot or a later election to amend the charter and allow choice voting.

Given those changes, Mayor Ruth Asmundson was on board.

Next you had Councilmember Sue Greenwald. She was not that concerned either about the city charter or choice voting. However, she would not support a charter that allowed for binding arbitration.

Just last month, the city of San Luis Obispo, the town where I grew up, was placed in huge bind due to binding arbitration. An Oakland-based arbitrator awarded substantial raises to San Luis Obispo police officers, dispatchers, an evidence and field technicians through binding arbitration.

The San Luis Obispo City Council has no power to change the decision, and instead will have to come up with a long list of expected cuts in order to balance their budget.

According to the July 13, 2008 San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune:
"Under the arbitrator’s decision, San Luis Obispo police officers at the highest step on the salary schedule will make $102,600 by January, before overtime pay. That will make them the highest paid public safety officers in the county and most of the Central Coast. Top dispatchers will make $76,780 before overtime.

The raises amount to 27 percent for officers and 33 percent for non-sworn staff over four years. Finance Director Bill Statler said the raises will actually be 30 percent and 37 percent after compounding one salary increase upon another over the length of the contract.

All five council members have decried the arbitration process, saying San Luis Obispo’s budget health should not be left to an unelected outsider with no stake in city affairs."
San Luis Obispo is a charter city but it is one of only 25 cities in the state with binding arbitration. The voters in the year 2000 approved binding arbitration with a 57% vote after a long campaign by police and firefighters to include it in the city's charter. The sitting city council in 2000, strongly opposed binding arbitration and put an opposing measure on the ballot that same year which was rejected with a 61 percent vote.

Davis City Councilmember Sue Greenwald noted San Luis Obispo during her comments on Tuesday. It will be interesting to note if something similar could happen in Davis by initiative despite the efforts of the Davis City Council.

The lone dissenter was Don Saylor. Don Saylor has been consistent on this issue, questioning whether there was a reason that we need to do this right now and calling it a solution in search of a problem.

Councilmember Heystek responded that the fact that the state was looking to encroach on local control was reason enough to do it.

In my own opinion, I remain somewhat stuck in the middle. In principle, I like the ideal of home rule. I am a believer in local control. There are a number of things that we can do with a charter city that we could without. On the other hand, what happened in San Luis Obispo is a warning that we need to take seriously. We can build protections into the charter, but at the same time, those protections can be undone by a vote of the people.

Toward the bigger issue, I remain circumspect about the idea of choice voting. I respect a lot of people who are strongly in support of it, but I really do not see the added advantage that they do. Frankly, I think a lot of the points that Don Saylor makes on this issue are worth considering. The biggest electoral reform that we need may not be choice voting, but a combination of district elections and campaign finance changes. I don't see a lot of election outcomes likely to be changed by choice voting nor do I necessarily think they should be changed. Don Saylor made the point during a previous discussion, that the moment that choice voting changes the outcome of an election, we may have a huge problem on our hands.

None of these are reasons why I oppose either the city charter or choice voting at this time. Only to say that I remain skeptical of the added value of choice voting and cautious about the possibility of unintended consequences for the charter city.

If the election were held tomorrow, I would probably support the charter city. But these concerns are real.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Analysis: Examining Parcel Tax Poll Results

The Vanguard ran two polls simultaneously from Thursday July 10, 2008 until Monday July 14, 2008.

The first poll asked people who they would vote for in the Presidential Election if the election were held now. 127 people voted in that poll, 95 of them (74%) voted for Obama, 19 (14%) for McCain, 7 (5%) for Nader and 6 (4%) were undecided.

The second poll was asking people how they would vote on the parcel tax. 117 people voted in that poll, 57% said yes and 35% said no with 8% undecided.

The second poll is actually the result we were most interested in. As some people figured out, we ran the Presidential poll in order to get some kind of baseline reading. The poll itself is not scientific, it is not a random poll, we have no idea who did or did not participate in it, we have no idea how representative it is off the population. However, having the Presidential election results give us some clues about the profile that make the second poll more useful than it otherwise would have been.

So now a few observations. I was actually a bit surprised there was only a 10 vote drop off in participation from the Presidential poll to the Parcel Tax poll. It makes it a little easier to evaluate with such a narrow gap. After all, while the blog is focused on Davis, people from outside of Davis also read this blog.

Despite the lack of scientific polling, the results for this poll were almost identical to the district's poll results when they polled for the $140 parcel tax. Theirs was 56% to 36% with 8% undecided.

What's interesting as well is that back in October we ran a poll on Measures P and Q and those numbers showed around 70% percent support, about the same percentage as voted in the actual election.

So the raw numbers of the Vanguard polling seems to be close to the actual results at least on this issue.

What was most important I think, is comparing the results of the Presidential poll to that of the Parcel Tax. The district is relying on the Presidential election and the enthusiasm for Obama to bring out a strong liberal vote that they hope will also support the parcel tax.

However, our results show a significant fall off from Obama to the Parcel Tax in terms of support. Yes on the Parcel Tax got 28 fewer votes than Obama. No on the Parcel Tax got 23 more votes than McCain. That indicates as much as a 33% fall from support to Obama to support for the parcel tax. That's a pretty sizable drop off and it is a drop off in a key group--people who are inclined to vote for a perceived liberal Democrat are less inclined to vote for a school tax increase.

Clearly if you are a strategist for the school board this is a group that you want to target. Ordinarily you would think that people inclined to support Obama would also be inclined to support the parcel tax. However, that is not what is occurring in this case. There appears to be a segment of Obama supporters who are not supporting the parcel tax.

A final observation, there is a lot of expressed opposition in the comments section of the Vanguard. It does appear that these comments represents a very vocal minority of the readership of the Vanguard. Unfortunately, it is a large enough minority to prevent the parcel tax from winning the poll with the super-majority that it needs to pass in an actual election.

As I have stated in the past, I think the school district has made it difficult on itself by putting the parcel tax on the ballot in November. They have also made it difficult asking for $120 rather than $80. Their logic for the latter is that $120 is what they actually need rather than necessarily what they believe they can easily pass. They also do not want to put teachers through a potential layoff process again, like they did last winter and spring.

I understand that rationale, but this election is clearly going to require a tremendous educational campaign. The district understands the concerns of the public and their desire for accountability. They have already built in protections for a number of the expressed concerns.

The district also believes, as do I, that they have no other reasonable choice but to try to pass a parcel tax. If the vote fails, and right now it looks like that is a distinct possibility, it means cutting core programs. I have asked opponents to suggest where they would make cuts--to this point no one's proposal has come anywhere close to the $2.3 to $2.7 needed to balance the budget that the parcel tax will provide. This last winter and spring, was an awful time, with students marching to save their classes and their teachers. The district does not want to relive that, but it will if this parcel tax does not pass.

Key questions still remain. We saw last week people passing around fliers trying to get renters to oppose the parcel tax. A few renters came to the school board meeting in opposition. The question is whether this reflects a larger movement to organize against the parcel tax or if this was an isolated incident.

Nevertheless, the district should be concerned about these results. This is going to be a long, hard and expensive battle and key constituencies may be surfacing in opposition. The next few months will be very critical for the district to organize a strong educational campaign to the public about why this parcel tax is necessary and why this is not a permanent tax increase and it does not represent a new tax every year.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Vanguard Radio Show Tonight from 6 to 7 PM

This evening on KDRT 101.5 FM, the Davis Vanguard Radio Show will discuss the current UC Strike strike from 6 PM to 7 PM.

At 6:10 PM by phone will be Nicole Savickas, UC Human Relations Communications Coordinator, who has been one of the spokespeople for the University of California in this work stoppage.

Then at 6:35 PM, in the studio we will have AFSCME Labor Organizer Cody Duane-Potter and also a service worker who will talk about the strike from their perspective.

We can take your calls the second half hour at 530.792.1648.

If you have questions that you want posed, please post them in the comment section by 5 pm this evening.

Wednesday Strike Update

The strike will continue today for a third day. There were a number of interesting developments yesterday.

Community members from across the state donated groceries and provided food assistance to the strikers who are struggling to make ends meet to begin with and now face disciplinary action for the striking.

UC President Mark Yudof who has just literally taken over in that position, has threatened to take action against the workers for conducting an illegal strike. Mr. Yudof was hired at a beginning salary of $828,084--a salary nearly twice what his predecessor received. With benefits, he receivers nearly one million per year. Yudof quipped at a press conference, “As you can see from my compensation package, I'm not starving to death."

Elizabeth Meyer, director of UC Davis employee and labor relations called the strike illegal and suggested that workers could be disciplined.
"We're going to take appropriate discipline up to the fullest extent with the law and in accord with past practice."
In a letter sent to UC President Mark Yudof, Senator Leland Yee writes that he is “dismayed by the comments of Elizabeth Meyer and other UC spokespersons who have stated the administration will discipline striking workers to the ‘fullest extent.’”

The Senator wrote in a press release yesterday:
“Service workers gave adequate notice of their strike and the law explicitly provides workers the right to strike for fair wages, working conditions, and basic equity. If even one worker is retaliated against or disciplined for exercising their right to strike, I will do everything in my power to appropriately respond to the University.”
One thing that Mr. Yee might suggest is reforming the UC system. UC Regents are largely unaccountable officials, appointed by the Governor. The legislature could move to increase their accountability by putting limits on their term and making them up for reappointment every two to four years. In addition, the amount of money that the UC President receives is beyond absurd. People complain about the demands of people making $10 per hour. The UC President makes almost as much in a month as these workers make in FOUR YEARS.

The Vanguard yesterday evening received an interesting report from one of the AFSCME 3299 organizers. There is a large contingent of strikers at the corner of Russell and College. As cars pass by, they will often honk in support of the cause. However, apparently a Davis Police Officer on a motorcycle began pulling people over for honking and issuing them tickets. According to this organizer, he saw at least three people given tickets for honking in support of the strike. The Vanguard will be investigating this matter and may have more to report later on.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

New Mayor and Council Alters Public Comment

Last night, a citizen came at 7:05 PM to speak to council and was surprised to discover that the public comment period was already over. If that citizen had seen the agenda last night, they would have noticed that public comment period was supposed to begin at 6:45 PM instead of 7:00 PM.

This part of the new change in the council under new Mayor Ruth Asmundson. But it is worse than simply a change in time, it represents a change in the entire procedure by which public comment has operated for the last two years.

Under the previous Ruth Asmundson Mayorship, public comment allotted two minutes per person. When Sue Greenwald took over as Mayor in 2006, she extended the time to three minutes per person, thereby opening up the process. Mayor Asmundson was notorious for cutting people off. We still have on video a scene where a UC Davis official who spoke beyond the allotted time was told by the Mayor, "We're not listening."

However, that pales in comparison to the new policy which seemingly aims directly at cutting the public out of the process almost altogether. Now, the public comment period runs from 6:45 PM to 7:00 PM. Anyone who wishes to speak past 7:00 PM must come back to the meeting after it all of the business is done and speak then.

The Brown Act governs the ability of the public to address of given governance board.
"Every agenda for regular meetings shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body on any item of interest to the public, before or during the legislative body's consideration of the item, that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body, provided that no action shall be taken on any item not appearing on the agenda unless the action is otherwise authorized by subdivision." (54954.3).
This policy falls within the realm of (b):
"The legislative body of a local agency may adopt reasonable regulations to ensure that the intent of subdivision (a) is carried out, including, but not limited to, regulations limiting the total amount of time allocated for public testimony on particular issues and for each individual speaker."
So this policy clearly does not violate the Brown Act. However, cutting off and limiting public violates the spirit of the open government act. There are both practical and philosophical reasons to allow the public better access to addressing their elected representatives in local government. Frankly, the previous policy worked quite well. There was rarely a lengthy public comment period and when there was it reflected a large concern in the community about a particular issue.

The Vanguard hopes this is not an attempt by the Mayor to speed up council meetings. If that is the case, there are better ways to accomplish this. Public comment is a very small component of the meetings to begin with except in rare occurrences.

However public comment is vital toward an engaged electorate. If the school board could listen to hours of public comment for weeks on end when programs and schools were threatened to be cut, so too can the city council.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

More on the UC Worker Strike

Overall, day one of the strike seemed to go as planned. The university threatened letters of reprimand for the workers who walked off the job and onto the picket line. There were a few verbal skirmishes with those few workers who crossed the picket line, but all in all, a pretty good day.

One of the big issues that has led to the work stoppage is that of wages. The union is calling wages that run at roughly $10 per hour, poverty wages.

According to the union's release, these low wages are exacerbated by rising gas and food prices.
"Many are forced to take second jobs or go on public assistance just to meet their families’ basic needs. Skyrocketing gas and food prices have deepened the crisis for UC families that are already living paycheck to paycheck. Typically, service workers live in low income communities farther away from campus, forcing a longer commute and higher fuel costs that use a disproportionate portion of their budget."
Furthermore, the impact of low prices, mean that tax payers are having to flip the bill. Again, according to the union's release:
"Roughly 96% are eligible for at least one of the following taxpayer-funded programs: food stamps, WIC, public housing subsidies, and subsidized child care. By not paying workers enough to support their families, UC executives are pushing these costs onto California taxpayers in a difficult budget year."
The UC Regents have justified their salary offer based on the affordability to taxpayers, but this seems to amount to a shuffling of the deck. UC may not pay for these subsidies directly, but the taxpayers do. All of this occurring as top UC Regent and other top campus officials are getting huge salaries and sometimes huge pay increases on top of those already large salaries.

Lakesha Harrison, President of AFSCME said in their release Monday:
“UC executives don’t pay service workers enough to survive, but expect taxpayers to pick up the tab in the form of public assistance. We expect that from Wal-Mart - not from a public institution – that’s double dipping."
The union is complaining that the workers are receiving 25% less than their private sector counterparts. While the UC's have proposed a pay increase of up to 26% over five years, none of those pay increases are actually guaranteed. Rather they are based on state budget projections, which figure to be in tough times over the next few years as the economy and state budget crisis continue to deepen according to many experts.

Meanwhile, PERB and the UC attempted to head off the strike before it started, going to court to stop the strike. However, the union and the UC did not even agree on the interpretation of the strike.

Matt Tidd, a UC Davis Campus worker said in the AFSCME 3299's release:
“UC executives are not only paying us poverty wages, they are trying to take away our right to stand up for our families. This is a crisis, and we are going to do whatever it takes to put a roof over our families’ heads and put food on the table.”
The strikers were also joined by among other top officials, Senator Leland Yee, who represents San Francisco.

Photo Courtesy of Senator Yee and

Senator Yee's office issued a statement on Friday:
"These workers do everything from cleaning and disinfecting hospitals and dorm rooms, to providing cafeteria service for patients and students, to providing security throughout the UC system."

Senator Yee continued:
"It is unconscionable what the UC administration is doing to these workers and their families... The wages of these workers are dramatically behind other hospitals and even California's community colleges, where workers average 25 percent more for the same work. UC hospitals made over $371 million in profits last year, yet they refuse to provide the workers a fair wage... While UC executives live high on the hog, workers, students, and patients are left in the cold."

He concluded:

"In contrast, UC executives have consistently received double digit pay increases on already exorbitant salaries. Recently, the UC Board of Regents approved over $800,000 for the system’s incoming president. "
Meanwhile the Governor Schwarzenegger issued a statement in support of the court injunction:
"Public safety is my No. 1 priority and this strike could affect the health and well being of many people who rely on the critical services provided by medical support staff. While there may be legitimate issues to be resolved, it is unacceptable to use the welfare of innocent people as a bargaining chip."
The UC Strike is expected to continue until Friday. The Vanguard will continue to provide periodic updates throughout the week.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

City Names Robert Aaronson Independent Investigator

Davis City Manager Bill Emlen told the Vanguard by phone yesterday afternoon, that the city had in fact asked Police Ombudsman Robert Aaronson to conduct the investigation that examined allegations laid forth by the Grand Jury now two weeks ago. These allegations included sleeping in the fire station while intoxicated, improper union influence, hostile work environment, among other things.

One of the chief concerns that Mr. Emlen has expressed has been the lack of sufficient detail to allow for a follow up investigation. The report heavily relies on confidential witnesses, many of whom went to great lengths to avoid discovery that they reported feared would bring retaliation. This included a number of witnesses who apparently parked several blocks away and then walked in the back door rather than parking in the grand jury parking lot.

As the City Manager told the California Aggie in an article that appeared in Monday's paper:
"I've seen these [reports] over the years and I think it is pretty broad in terms of scope and the things they looked at... There are issues in there we wish we had more information on, but we understand why it can't be there due to the need for confidentiality."
The Vanguard asked City Manager Emlen if the investigator would possess the ability to compel testimony, i.e. some sort of subpoena power, and he said they were looking into whether he did or did not have subpoena power. During the course of the debate on what type of police oversight system Davis would have, back in 2006, one of the key questions was whether a civilian review board could have subpoena power. Research indicated that generally such boards had special investigators like the Ombudsman position, that could in fact compel witnesses to come forward and testify. The city ultimately went with the straight Ombudsman in part because of concerns of confidentiality in such matters.

A similar problem exists in this case. In some ways, this report is a personnel complaint as much as anything else and those matters are protected by confidentiality. In fact, Mr. Emlen in the California Aggie article again asserted that some of the findings in the report there are legitimate explanations, but confidentiality prohibits the city from providing those explanations.

There is considerable question on the timing of this report. The law requires the city to respond within 90 days. Mr. Emlen believes that at least some kind of response could occur at that point in time, but there might be aspects that go beyond the 90 period.

City Councilmember Lamar Heystek was the first to call for an independent investigator:
"I think we need to bring in outside help to look into the Grand Jury allegations."
A few days later, Mayor Ruth Asmundson expressed her concern for the situation:
"I was really surprised and concerned that there's something amiss in our fire department."
The California Aggie finds both Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor and Councilmember Stephen Souza responding for the first time.

Mr. Saylor:
"The grand jury report contains several very serious allegations about practices within the Davis Fire Department. I support the city manager's independent review of these allegations to determine the accuracy of the charges and guide any necessary corrections or other actions."
Mr. Souza:
"The allegations about activities by some in the Davis Fire Department need to be investigated by an independent source like the ombudsman to substantiate or exonerate those individuals... I am very pleased that the city manager has initiated the hiring of an independent investigator and a report to the council will follow."
In a release last Monday, City Manager Bill Emlen stated his goals for the investigation:
  • 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.
While this is a difficult process, Mr. Emlen said that he looks forward to a speedy conclusion to this process and will be curious to see what the outcome is.

Robert Aaronson as we mentioned last week now undertakes his first major assignment since being named Ombudsman just under two years ago.

For more information on Mr. Aaronson, please see an early Vanguard story from September of 2006: Aaronson handed down major finding in a police spying investigation.

Also see the Vanguard's August 2007 interview with him.

For the full story on the Grand Jury Report, please click here.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, July 14, 2008

Service Workers Strike At UC Davis

This morning, across the state thousands of service workers went on strike against the UC system seeking higher wages than the $10 per hour many currently receive. This despite efforts by PERB and UC to stop the strike. Last Friday, a judge issued an injunction to prevent the union from striking until at least July 22, 2008 due to supposed lack of notice.

The union in a release responded:
"In an effort to prevent UC workers from standing up for their families, the University sought to stop the strike by going to court. Friday a judge said that workers could not go on strike unless they had given the University the exact strike dates with enough notice. Since UC was served notice of the planned strike dates on Thursday, workers clearly had met the judge’s requirements and expect to prevail in court. UC’s legal action on the eve of the strike was a clear attempt to shift attention away from its refusal to improve poverty wages."
The workers, who do everything from cleaning and disinfecting hospitals and dorm rooms, to providing cafeteria service to patients and students, to ensuring hospitals and campuses are secure, have been negotiating in good faith with UC executives for almost a year. They have remained deadlocked over poverty wages for months.

According to a release from AFSCME yesterday:

Many are forced to take second jobs or go on public assistance just to meet their families’ basic needs. Skyrocketing gas and food prices has deepened the crisis for UC families that are already living paycheck to paycheck. Typically, service workers live in low income communities farther away from campus, forcing a longer commute and higher fuel costs that use a disproportionate portion of their budget.

Poverty wages not only affect workers and their families, but UC executives are pushing the costs of paying poverty wages onto California taxpayers in a difficult budget year. Roughly 96% are eligible for at least one of the following taxpayer-funded program: food stamps, WIC, public housing subsidies, and subsidized child care.

UC wages are dramatically lower than other hospitals and California’s community colleges, which pay 25% higher wages on average. In addition, UC insist on passing on benefit costs, pushing families deeper into poverty. When workers have stood up for better lives for their families and better working conditions, the University has retaliated by violating labor laws.

The Vanguard joined several workers at 5:00 am this morning as they shut down a number of construction sites on campus. This particular site was shut down by just three picketers as construction workers refused to cross the picket lines.


It is beginning to get warm outside, but the strike is going strong. Here are the latest photos from Russell and College where as many as 100 striking workers were marching on the four corners of the intersection.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

UC Strike Moves On Today Despite Injunction

At the request of the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), a San Francisco Superior Court judge on Friday issued a temporary restraining order which prohibits AFSCME from holding a five-day strike at UC facilities today.

Or maybe it doesn't... At least not according to AFSCME officials who dispute the interpretation of the ruling.

According to Saturday's San Francisco Chronicle:
"Judge Patrick Mahoney said in his ruling that the strike likely would cause irreparable injury to the university and the union was enjoined from "calling, engaging in, continuing, sanctioning, inducing, aiding, enticing, encouraging, abetting or assisting" employees from a strike or slowdown without adequate notice."
Furthermore, the ruling prevents the union from:
"engaging in any strike, walkout, slowdown or strike-related work stoppage of any nature against the University of California without adequate notice of the exact dates of the strike."
William Schlitz, spokesperson for AFSCME said:
"We are going on strike as planned. First and foremost, it is the workers' constitutional right to strike."
Mr. Schlitz told another news service:
"We're confident this strike is legal... The reason we're striking is because the university denies its moral responsibility to pay its workers."
The union does not believe that its action would be in violation of the restraining order since the order enjoins the workers from striking without adequate notice or without giving exact strike dates. The union says it provided this notice on July 10 when it called for the July 14 strike.

Lakesha Harrison, who is the president of AFSCME interprets the ruling to mean that the union has to notify the university of the strike dates, something that it has already done.

She told the Davis Enterprise in Sunday's paper:
"We're in compliance... It's our constitutional right to strike, and UC can't take that away from us."
On the other hand, the UC human relations communications coordinator, Nicole Savickas is under the impression that the ruling prohibits the union from striking until a week from Tuesday on July 22. The UC news release says that the university expects its employees to obey the order and report to work as scheduled.

However, the union is moving ahead with plans to strike starting at 7 am this morning, which ought to make for a pretty interesting day.

The Vanguard will be in the field and report on the latest happenings throughout the day. Log on for breaking news and other exclusive coverage.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Commission Finds Blacks Disportionately Face Death Penalty

In recent weeks, Yolo County has seen the conviction of one man in a death penalty case for killing a police officer. Just three days after that sentence was handed down, another man gunned down a Yolo County Sheriff's Deputy. The Vanguard at the time had had a lengthy discussion on the death penalty. Now, we look into the findings of a study on California's Death Penalty by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice (CCFAJ), a nonpartisan statewide advisory board.

What began as a simple question has evolved into a lengthy study about California's death penalty, the results of which would be startlingly were it not for the fact that most people have known or at least suspected this problem all along.

Why is it that 87 percent of first-degree murders in California could be prosecuted as death-penalty case--but most are not? A state commission that attempt to discover whether race has played an inappropriate determining factor as to who gets the death penalty and who does not. The answer is that that data is not available. However, the commission, led by former Attorney General John Van de Kamp is now calling on legislation that requires prosecutors to collect and report all information on their decisions whether to seek the death penalty.

Here is what we do know about the death penalty in California and these findings are chilling.
  • Of 12,000 first-degree murders now in prison, only 5.6 percent of them have been sentenced to death.

  • Five times the percentage of blacks are on death row to their actual share of the state population. The national average is three to one.

  • Since 1977, when the death penalty was reinstated, death sentences have been disproportionate for black defendants to their overall population, to the rate of homicide convictions, to victim data, and to sentencing patterns of other states.

  • Blacks make up just under one-quarter of those arrested for homicide, yet blacks make up 36 percent of the current death row population. Compare that even to Latinos and you find, Latinos make up 46 percent of those arrested for homicide but only 20 percent of the current death row population.

  • It turns out, one of the biggest determinants of whether one faces the death penalty is the race of the victim. 59% of victims in death penalty cases are white. However, only 22 percent of homicide victims are white. This is true across the country--those who murder white victims are most likely to be sentenced to death nationally.
The report makes it clear that none of these numbers prove that race is the reason why some convicted of first degree murder receive a death sentence but others do not.

One possible explanation arises at the law enforcement level, where some have suggested that police investigators work harder to collect evidence in cases involving the deaths of white victims.

In fact this but one problem cited in the 116 page report from the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice.

One of the other stunning findings is that the state spends an additional $117 million per year as the result of just 673 people on death row. That translates to nearly $175,000 per inmate, per year. On June 10th, the California State Auditor revealed that a proposed new death row facility will cost at least $395 million to build, and more than $1 billion to operate over the next 20 years.

The reports also faults the state for failing to provide adequate council.
"The appointment and performance of qualified trial counsel, and the resources available to counsel to adequately investigate and prepare the case, are subjects of serious concern in the administration of California’s death penalty law."
Naturally groups such as the ACLU who have long fought against the death penalty for precisely the reasons highlighted in the report have had a strong reaction to this report.

Several groups have suggested that the death penalty actually makes it more difficult to fight crime because it saps resources that otherwise could be used toward more effective violence prevention programs.

Natasha Minsker from the ACLU who the Vanguard interviewed regarding the Topete Case a few weeks ago issued a statement on the ACLU website.
“We are pleased that the Commission has revealed the honest truth about the excessively high costs of California’s death penalty, and the many costly reforms that are still needed... But we are very disappointed that the Commission failed to call for immediate action to remedy racial and ethnic disparities in death sentencing in this state. Californians expect and demand a criminal justice system that treats all people equally, regardless of race and class... We cannot continue to ignore the evidence that our death penalty is not fairly applied.”
If there is a weakness in this report, it is that the commission did not provide for any remedies toward the immediate problem of apparent racial discrepancies in the rate of death penalty convictions. Instead it focused its recommendations on more expansive data collection in order to determine why some individuals are sentenced to death but others are not.

As the Sacramento Bee reported last week, even these remedies are being opposed by police, prosecutors, victims' representatives.

These groups claim that there is no evidence found in the report to suggest abuse by prosecutors.
"The critics also don't want prosecutors to adopt formal, written, public policies on when they'll seek the death penalty, as the commission has recommended. Such documents would serve primarily to create new grounds for condemned prisoners to challenge their convictions, the critics say."
However, those critics are missing a bigger picture here. The public's support for the death penalty has been trending downward over the last decade. States like Illinois had stopped executing death row inmates while reviewing their system, others like New Jersey have outright abolished the death penalty altogether.

New Jersey's death penalty study "recommended that the death penalty be abolished and replaced with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole."

High costs of prosecuting death penalty cases, lack of evidence that the death penalty deters future crime, in addition to discrepancies in the racial component of death row inmates, have led many to begin questioning the effectiveness and ethical nature of a practice when alternatives such as life imprisonment without parole have been shown to be just as effective at getting dangerous criminals off the streets and away from places where they pose a threat to the public.

Unfortunately, as the ACLU points out, the California commission stopped short of the recommendations by the New Jersey Death Penalty study. However, these findings may renew efforts to either reform or abolish the death penalty in California in the coming years.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting