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Saturday, August 16, 2008

On Rememberance and the Celebration of Life

Just over two years ago, I started this blog out of a sense of disempowerment, a sense of frustration. I had a real sense that something was very wrong in our community. Our government was at times out of line and when a government is out of line it tramples on the rights of individuals everywhere. Not just those individuals whose rights the government's actions directly impact, but all citizens and residents.

From the holocaust we learn the price to be paid for inaction, as the Pastor Martin Niemoller learned all too late. One by one each group that the Nazis came for was greeted with inaction and indifference by the rest of the population. The realization of doom lays in the last lines of the Pastor's sequence: "Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak out for me."

Thankfully, we do not live in Nazi Germany, or anything that resembles it, but this is a universal message, not a particularized one. The price of democracy is eternal vigilance. The ideal of the watchdog is to alert the public when things are unseemly and flat out wrong.

I became a watch dog because no one it seemed was paying attention. I became a reporter (not a journalist but one who reports on events), because no one was reporting. I am tough on government and government officials because I hold them to a higher standard, I believe we deserve better than what we have, and moreover, I believe we can do better than what we are doing.

Along the way though, I learned a few things about humanity and myself. None driven home any more forcefully than it was yesterday.

Yesterday I attended the memorial service for Police Detective Paul Narr. I have gone to many places and talked to many people in various states of suffering and anguish during my two year tenure writing this blog. I thought I was prepared for just about anything. There have been times when I have literally had to cry because the emotions were so overwhelming. For example, covering the death of a 17 year old farm worker hit me especially hard.

It was nothing compared to yesterday. One grows up admiring police officers as the symbol of law and order, the tough guys who protect us from the bad people. They keep us safe while we sleep. Even for someone who has unfortunately had to call the police department to task at times for their treatment of certain groups of people, there is still an air of romanticism.

Standing in the back and watching as one-by-one these big, strong, and tough guys lay their emotions bare for all to see was especially difficult to watch. The subtext was even worse. We are all mortals and we will all one day perish from this place. We all know and accept that to varying degrees and with varying degrees of difficulty.

I think we all know that Police Officers accept the risk on a more daily basis than the rest of the population. Even in a place like Davis, there is a risk when you are on the front line attempting to confront and at times incarcerate people who have broken various laws.

When we see an act like that which happened to Sheriff's Deputy Jose Diaz--we tend to get angry and shake at the senselessness of it all.

When a heart attack befalls one of us, again, we wonder what could have been done to prevent it, but at the same time, I think there is a sense that these things happen.

When a young man of 41, who by all appearances was loved and adored by his family, friends, and colleagues, chooses to end his own life, it stuns us. We do not know what to say or how to react.

One of Detective Narr's colleagues suggested that the Detective was having a tough time. However the general, if unspoken sentiment seems to be from talking to many, that whatever problems he was having, he hid them well. And that makes this all the more shocking to his family, friends, and the community.

I did not know Paul Narr, I saw him a number of times passing on the street, I think I shook his hand a few times and exchanged pleasantries. He was always very cordial and even friendly. But here was a man who was born and raised in Davis, not much older than myself, with a young family, and for reasons that most of us will never understand something happened that convinced him he could go on no further.

It was that subtext that drove the events of yesterday. From all appearances he was a very unique character and a very loved person. I cannot possibly do him justice by repeating some of the anecdotes of those around him, but it goes without saying that he was one of a kind and around the Davis Police Department and this community he will be very much missed.

The final lesson was laid out by Reverend Glen Snyder, whose wife, Pat, is the assistant to the police chief. He read a very powerful passage that I cannot do justice to. But the suggestion in it is powerful, it suggests we all attend a funeral or memorial service every year. The reason is that when you listen to a memorial service, you hear the things that people remember about the departed.

It's not about money or solely about achievement, it's about their humanity and their character. The love for their friends and family. Those are what you are remembered for long after you have been professionally forgotten.

And so this weekend as we go about our lives and enjoy the remaining days of summer, enjoy your families, enjoy your friends, and enjoy your time together because for all of us, it will all be way too short. That is the lesson I learned above all else yesterday.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, August 15, 2008

Re-entry facility: What is it and Why the Controversy

Those who read the Davis Enterprise might have noticed a joint letter to the editor by Davis' County Supervisors Helen Thomson (District 2-Davis) and Mariko Yamada (District 4-Davis). They were writing in support of the re-entry facility.

The re-entry facility is something that has been in the works for a few months now, but I have not until written about it. I figured after reading the letter that I should do so. But I first, I had questions so I went to fellow County Supervisor Matt Rexroad. Some people wonder why I have an affinity for Mr. Rexroad, but I will tell you why--I spent one hour yesterday on the phone with him, grilling him over the issue. I disagree with Mr. Rexroad far more often than I agree with him. But it was he and not Thomson or Yamada that convinced me that the re-entry facility is the right thing to do.

It is actually a very interesting issue because it cuts across a number of other issues including law enforcement, rehabilitation, and yes even land use. The latter is probably the most controversial part.

I first heard about this issue in early March. At that time, I was told that Yolo County had absolutely zero chance of getting a re-entry facility. However, the Board of Supervisors were also told by checking the box, they were eligible for $30 million to help fund an expansion of the county jail. The expansion of the county jail was going to happen anyway at the cost of $42 million, by getting state funding, Yolo County has received nearly 60 percent of that funding.

As Thomson and Yamada wrote:
"The county jail has been at capacity for seven years with 3,200 inmates annually released early due to lack of space."
So there is a clear need for the upgrade, but with the state and county hurting for money, getting state funding makes this project possible.

Again, at the time, there was zero chance that Yolo County would get a re-entry facility, so it was basically free money.

However things changed rather quickly and in May not only did Yolo County receive the $30 million, but they received notice that the state would be building a re-entry facility--built and operated by the state and funded by the state. Again--no cost to Yolo County.

What is a re-entry facility?

As it was described to me, instead of inmates being released back into the population immediately, the re-entry facility spends a year preparing them in their home county for re-entry into the public. They are given training and rehabilitation programs that enable them to transition back into their community.

As Thomson and Yamada write:
"Intensive treatment and rehabilitation programs in re-entry facilities are designed to allow a transition period to connect inmates to community services and support systems, provide evidence-based treatment, treatment of substance abuse and mental illness, and to develop a plan for a crime-free life upon release."
This is not a half-way house.

The inmates are not released at night to go back into the community. They are housed on the location for the entire period. However, unlike the prisons, they are back close to their family. So the family can visit them more frequently and start getting back into their lives. All of this is aimed at trying to help them reestablish their social networks and prevent recidivism.

Remember these are people who were going to be released back into the population anyway. Would you prefer them go through programs such as these that might give them a chance at a normal life or would you prefer them to go back to the population.

As Thomson and Yamada write:
"Currently, inmates in state prison are required by law to be released back into the community in which they lived prior to their incarceration. They are given $200 cash, a bus ticket and a 'good luck,' with little prospect of success. Today they are being released without treatment or survival skills, and 70 percent of them ultimately return to state prison. Yolo County parolees return to Yolo County.

Research shows that offenders are more likely to be successful on parole, and less likely to return to prison, when they receive intensive programming focused on their needs. Re-entry facilities are a new paradigm in California corrections, with a strong program focus on rehabilitation."
From my standpoint these are solid goals. The people who will be housed at this facility will be either from Yolo County or Solano County. It seems likely there will be some kind of partnership between the two counties.

So why the controversy?

It basically comes down to fears by communities that building such a facility would reduce property values and then land use issues.

The facility will be consistent with commercial zoned property. Now Rexroad believes that it would be best to be placed in an existing city, that means Davis, West Sacramento, or Woodland. However, Woodland has already said basically "hell no." You can imagine the response in Davis. One suggestion was the Covell Village site--I can only imagine the response to that one. And they do not think West Sacramento is the best location. Regardless of what the Board of Supervisors think, under AB 900, which is the authorizing and funding law, cities have veto power. So do not worry, Davis will not have a re-entry facility. Even the council majority is not foolish enough to try to push that one through.

Right now then, the county is looking perhaps at Dunnigan and Zamora which is unincorporated and thus under county control. The residents there are up in arms.

In July, there was a meeting in Zamora on the Re-entry facility. The Zamora Community Hall was packed with over 200 people. Complaints range from water and transportation issues--valid issues that the county will have to address. On the other hand, there were accusations of secret meetings and Brown Act violations that are not accurate.

As Rexroad pointed out at the time, the same people making accusations that this is a done deal, completed in secret, are outraged because the Board of Supervisors did not have answers to all their questions about details that will have to be addressed and worked out later.

What is ironic is that they have no problem with proposals to turn the area into a 25,000 person city, but when the re-entry facility with 300 good and well-paying jobs is proposed, people fear their property values when there is little evidence that it will have any impact on them. In fact, it might help their property values because it brings jobs to the area. These are good paying correctional jobs.

The advantage of Zamora and Dunnigan is that it is accessible to both Yolo County and Solano County. It is right on the junction of I-505 and I-5. That makes it an easy drive from Vacaville and Fairfield and not bad for Woodland, West Sacramento or Davis.

Despite protests to the contrary, the County has not made the final decision on where to locate the facility just yet. If the meetings in Zamora were any indication, it is going to be difficult to please any community. That issue aside this seems like a solid and well-intentioned initiative.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sheriff Prieto Supports Proposition 6, Should You?

One of our Woodland blogging counterparts is the Woodland Journal, Dino and the Realist (and you think I use a pseudonym to blog under) do a very good job of following Woodland politics in addition to some Yolo County politics as well.

On Monday they had an interesting post where they show links to five different newspapers, each having the respective County Sheriff writing an editorial in support of Proposition 6. It turns out that each of these articles have a different byline but they are the exact same article.

Here is the link to our own Sheriff Ed Prieto's letter.

Sheriff Prieto writes:
"Whether California faces rosy or gloomy times, we must always make public safety the number one priority. If our streets, parks and schools aren't safe from gang violence and other crimes, then nothing else really matters."
He goes on to argue:
"Democratic members of the Budget Conference Committee have approved deep cuts to public safety programs including the Citizens Option for Public Safety, which provides for front-line law enforcement, and the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act while altogether eliminating several vital programs such as California's Methamphetamine Interdiction Program and the Small and Rural County Sheriffs Grant Program. Combined with a proposed corrections package that puts some offenders back out on the streets without supervision, these cuts will significantly exacerbate the ability of law enforcement to provide essential public safety services. These programs are critical in preventing our most at-risk youths from joining gangs, getting involved in drugs, and entering a lifetime of crime."
What else does this law do according to Sheriff Prieto:
"In addition to protecting important gang prevention and intervention funding, this initiative prohibits bail to illegal aliens who are charged with violent or gang crimes; it creates tougher punishment for gang crimes, drive-by shootings, methamphetamine distribution and victim intimidation; it helps victims who have been intimidated by gang criminals and it funds victim-witness protection programs in our communities."
Finally he gives you the link to a place where you can get more information: .

It all sounds good until you do a little more research on the act.

The sponsor of this bill is none other than Mike Reynolds. If his name sounds familiar, he was the author of the "Three Strikes" bill that is on the books, you know the one that has no exception if the perpetrator commits a third non-violent felony, which means people have been put into jail for a long time for fairly minor third crimes. So if you like "Three Strikes," then perhaps this is a good proposition to support. If you have concerns about it, then read on.

Some of the opposition to Proposition 6 includes the California Democratic Party, the California Professional Firefighters, the California Labor Federation, former Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks, the California Teachers Association, California National Organization for Women, the Los Angeles City Council, the League of Women Voters, California Church IMPACT and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

You might be asking why groups like teachers and women's groups are in opposition to a law enforcement bill. Not to mention labor groups.

There are two main reasons for this type of opposition.

First, opponents claim that it "divert(s) billions from California's schools, hospitals and childcare centers. By funding failed prison and policing policies, it would deepen the state's ongoing budget crisis."

It's a simple budget matter. If you have a finite pie of government spending and you give money to prisons and law enforcement, you have to take it from schools and health care.

Hence opponents cite this information:
"Half of Californians are in favor of cutting prison spending. only 3.6% of Californians are in favor of cutting health care funds and 5% in favor of cutting school funding. Proposition 6 will increase funding to prisons and cut funding to health care and schools."
From a budget standpoint it seems that this might not be a good time to cut money to health care and schools while funding more prisons.

Other arguments against this bill focus on the specifics of the bill and it seems to me that these specifics are probably subject to debate by reasonable people.

For instance, it forces youth convicted of any "gang-related" felony to be incarcerated as an adult rather than tried in juvenile court and housed in a youth prison.

It forces recipients of public housing subsidies to submit to annual criminal background checks--this has an obvious bent toward what is happening in Antioch. It would then make individuals with recent criminal convictions ineligible for subsidies. Worse yet it criminalizes people on the lower end of the socio-economic scale.

According to the website for opponents of Prop 6, it:
"Target(s) undocumented immigrants by denying bail to those charged with violent or gang-related crimes and requiring local sheriffs to inform Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the arrest and charges of people who are undocumented."
There are concerns that individuals who are listed in gang databases but who are actually affiliated with gangs could be falsely prosecuted under this provision. (Here's the source on that point).

For me, it seems like this imposes a lot of new rules on the criminal justice system that need to be clearly thought out in terms of their consequences. Voters will often vote for these measures because they want to be tough on crime. This one has a chance to fail because of the economic issues, but frankly some of the provisions could have startlingly unintended consequences.

It seems that the Sheriff's want the additional resources and I cannot blame them for that. But if it comes at the expense of beleaguered schools, it seems to me that we will just be feeding into the problem of law enforcement in the future by taking money from present education.

So for that reason alone, I am voting against it. And I am alarmed at a number of the provisions in the law. I am saddened to see the Sheriff supporting such a measure just to get additional funding.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Vanguard Report: Re-Examining Davis Police Overtime

source: city of Davis Finance Department

As you can see on the chart, breaking down overtime by Division, the Fire Department has the vast majority of the overtime with $1 million of the $1.93 million total. And public safety accounts for $1.68 million of that total or roughly 87 percent.

According to a tip last week, we learned of a an "extra duty" program that is sometimes given to police officers in their time off. For instance it could be for various groups event who contract with the city, it could be for patrolling apartment complexes for four hours at a time when they have had problems with parties. Some officers like to pick up the extra work, some do not.

The groups who request the extra duty officer get sent an invoice and the officer gets paid time and a half. The city accounts for this under program number 5619--everything listed under 5619 is being paid by sources other than city money.

It turns out, roughly $70,000 of that $627,000 in overtime is not paid for by the city but rather by these private groups.

Of the officers on our 100K of Davis list, the following officers received 5619 money:

Douglas Bates received $22,338.36 of his $56,959.39 OT from 5619
Glen Glasgow received $1,612.86 of $21,487.22 OT from 5619
Darren Pytel received all of his $1426.12 OT from 5619
Paul Doroshov received $734.57 of his $20,765.48 OT from 5619
Scott Smith received $14,426 of his $37,333.13 OT from 5619

For the full listing of all 5619 expenditures, please click here.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Language of Argument for Charter City Ballot Initiative Sparks Disagreement Amongst Supporters

In mid July, the Davis City Council by a 4-1 margin, voted to put a Charter Proposal on the November Ballot. The Vanguard has learned that Councilmember Sue Greenwald has decided not to sign the ballot argument in favor of the measure out of concerns for the accuracy of the language.

The language in question is:
"There are no additional taxes involved in becoming a charter city, nor does it increase the city’s ability to raise or impose taxes in the future."
According to Councilmember Greenwald she did not sign the ballot statement because in her view, the phrase was not accurate.

The concern here is that under a charter, a city can impose a property transfer tax which would impose a tax any time an individual moved from one home to another.

Under general law status, a city cannot invoke a property transfer tax. So the first step a city must take is to adopt a charter city. Becoming a charter city therefore removes a major hurdle towards imposing the tax.

On the other hand, neither City Manager Bill Emlen nor City Attorney Harriet Steiner agree with this assessment. As Bill Emlen pointed out to the Vanguard via a phone conversation, even if the Charter passes, the only way to impose a property transfer tax is to amend the charter by a vote of the people of Davis. That is a significant hurdle and similar to the hurdle that it would require under Prop. 218 standards for other types of taxes.

In City Attorney Harriet Steiner's "Impartial Analysis of Measure N" she argued that Davis would "remain subject to all State Constitutional limitations."

These include:
"... those on taxation and property related fees, such as Propositions 13 and 218. No new taxes could be imposed without voter approval."
For those concerned about taxation, this is a key point that is formalized by the City Attorney putting it into writing. It therefore appears that by-and-large the ballot language is largely correct--for most practical purposes it does not increase the city's ability to either raise or impose taxes in the future. It may give the city an ability to have additional means by which to raise taxes, which is I think what Sue Greenwald's point is. However, even those additional means by which to tax are still subject to voter approval--this is the current process by which taxes can be increased now.

Councilmember Stephen Souza who signed the document along with Mayor Ruth Asmundson, Councilmember Lamar Heystek, and former Mayor Jerry Adler, said that he and co-signers of the argument "stand by the truthfulness of the Argument for Measure N."

While I understand the point that Councilmember Sue Greenwald makes--becoming a charter makes it possible to have a property transfer tax--I think that the argument's language is accurate. If this charter passes, it will be no easier to raise or impose taxes under a charter than it is now. The voters of Davis will still make the final determination on taxation although they may have more options to choose from in terms of the means by which taxation can be imposed.

I have not decided whether I will support or oppose this charter. I still believe I have a good deal to learn about the charter before I can make an informed decision. However, from what I have read and from those I have spoken with in the last few days, I do not believe the issue of taxation should be a determination as to whether or not people support the charter. Everything I have found indicates that the protections in place under a General Law City will remain under the proposed Charter.

That said, I do agree with Councilmember Greenwald that a property transfer tax is unfair as it puts the tax burden on those who either wish to upgrade to their "dream home" or who wish to downsize to a smaller more affordable home, perhaps later in their lives. There it puts a burden on younger families looking to get a better home and older citizens who are looking for a smaller and more manageable home as they enjoy their later years. This does not seem to be an equitable distribution of the tax burden.

Moreover, I am concerned about the burden being placed on citizens to live in Davis with the growing pressures of the city's budget. The current salary structure and increase in budgetary allocation to upper management salaries is putting a strain on city resources. It is currently forcing the city to forestall critical repairs to roads and other infrastructure in order to balance the budget. We are going to have to pay for this imbalance either through less services, more taxes, or greater pressures to continue to develop. This does not even include the current discussion on water and the possible large increases to water rates that residents may have to face. For those worried about the cost of homes pricing people out of this community, the high taxes and high utility rates at the very least will exacerbate that trend.

However, from the perspective of this initiative on the ballot, it does not appear to change the protections that residents have against future taxes.

The question before us should examine the reasons why such a change should be necessary. Councilmember Don Saylor has been the only consistent dissenter on council on this issue. He has repeatedly questioned whether there was a reason that we need to do this right now and has termed it "a solution in search of a problem."

Proponents have pressed for these changes out of a desire to see a Choice Voting system be implemented. Choice Voting requires the city adopt a Charter in order for it to be legal to implement. The question I think people need to look into is what the possible unintended consequences of a Charter City might be and then whether those potential consequences are ultimately outweighed by the benefits of a possible Choice Voting system.

These questions will not be resolved today, however at this point it appears that tax concerns should not be a reason to oppose a Charter City initiative and Measure N.
---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Commentary: Limiting Public Comment and Free Speech Considerations

There has been an interesting debate both on the editorial pages of the Davis Enterprise and in the community itself with regards to some of the new regulations that Mayor Ruth Asmundson has imposed both on the length of council comment and more explosively it seems on the length of public comment.

Her decision to limit the public comment period to fifteen minutes has drawn heavy criticism. Unfortunately, the rhetoric has been couched in grandiose terms such as freedom of speech and the Brown Act.

While freedom of speech is ostensibly government by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it has always effectively been subject to time and place restrictions. Public meetings could not function with complete freedom of speech which would allow anyone to talk at any time. The need for order is balanced against the right of the public to have access to their local government. Thus enters the Ralph M. Brown Act in California which governs access to local government bodies.

Section 54954.3 governs the right of the public speak. Subsection (a) reads:
"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 (b) of Section 54954.2."
However even in this case, the right to speak is not an unlimited one.

Subsection (b) allows the legislative body to 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."
Finally subsection (c) essentially protects the right to public criticism of policies, procedures, programs, or services of the agency, but not beyond the current protection offered by the law. In other words, the Brown Act does not protect individuals from slander and other prohibitions on speech, but it does in general prevent the agency from shutting down dissent.

In the debate that we are dealing with, subsection (b) is the one that is applicable. It is here that we find that the actions of the Mayor are in fact legal under the Brown Act. "Reasonable" is always a judgment call and it also appears that her body could probably overrule her on policy, but obviously given her majority status, that is not going to happen.

That said, as with so many other provisions for open government in California, I believe that the Brown Act provides the minimum standard under which an agency should operate, not the maximum standard.

An active and engaged public is vital to this community. By limiting public comment, we begin the limit the chances for the public to participate in their own government and this I think will likely produce unwanted and undesirable consequences.

As has been pointed out before by members of the public and members on the council alike, the number of times in the last two years that the public consumed more than 15 minutes at a council meeting one could count on one hand. And it always surrounded an issue of great controversy and therefore of great import. On those occasions, what is the harm of the body of representatives to the public to listen to public input?

There is nothing more frustrating, as we have seen in the past, for the public to come to a meeting, speak on an issue for a long period of time, only to watch as the councilmembers make their comments from prepared statements as though the public's comments have no impact whatsoever on the council's final decision. Nothing is more frustrating than that except perhaps the public not even being able to fully speak out on the issue.

At the July 22, 2008 city council meeting, a number of members of the public spoke out against the new policy.

Jean Jackson, a prominent member of the public was especially eloquent:
"Your new policy of only having fifteen minutes of public comment before the meeting starts--it's not Democratic. It shuts down opposition. It shuts down good ideas, I get inspired by listening to public comment from people. It shows lack of flexibility and you are doing a great disservice to the citizens who want to participate in government and their sense of empowerment. You wonder why people don't sign up to be on commissions, well when you give them fifteen minutes public comment for all the issues, it really shows that you are not interested in what people have to say. I really urge you to get the citizens involved and not belittle us by allowing only fifteen minutes of public comment."
However in the Enterprise, members of the public such as Sheryl Patterson defended the policy. Ms. Patterson is correct that the council not violating the Brown Act (and likely not the American with Disabilities Act) with their policy. However, she also went too far in defending the policy.

She argued for instance:
"The purpose of a council meeting is to address items on the agenda."
The Brown Act actually specifically provides for the public to address items that are not on the agenda provided that the council is proscribed from taking action on those items.

Her final statement, I think misses the point as well:
"Just get to the meeting early and sit by the podium if you need to speak first. It's not that hard to be heard."
Under normal conditions, that is correct, it is not difficult to speak as a member of the public. But if a large number of people have decided to speak on a given subject that could become a bit tricky. The concern is the point about cutting off debate after 15 minutes--something that most weeks is not going to be an issue. But on those weeks that it is, what does Ms. Patterson suggest for those meetings to those individuals who did not get a chance to be heard?

This weekend, Kevin Klein in a letter to the Davis Enterprise weighed in on the issue and argued that free speech does exist at meetings.

Mr. Klein actually straddles the fence on this issue suggesting:
"I would think a better solution would be for City Council to assess the length of each meeting, and if need be, spilt public comment to two parts (before and during agenda items); and then asking those waiting to give public comment if they could wait until later in the evening. "
However he also offers a note of caution for the council:
"The one caution I would give to the council, though, is to not set public comment at the end of their meeting (which is almost always after 11 p.m.). To do so would be an act of denying citizens reasonable access to public comment otherwise required by the Brown Act."
That of course leads one to wonder exactly what the council would gain by splitting public comment. If the idea is to move the agenda forward more quickly, it seems to me that splitting the public comment section does not aid in that. It is better to allow the public to speak up front and then move on to scheduled council business.

This is an issue that is not likely to go away in the near future. The council has the authority under the Brown act to limit public comment in this manner. The question before all of us is really whether the council should in this manner and whether that really furthers our goals in the name of expediency.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, August 11, 2008

New York Times Covers Former Davis Police Chief

Even if the article in Sunday's New York Times were not about our old friend, former Davis Police Chief Jim Hyde it would be pretty fascinating.

That is because in a lot of ways there is tremendous change going on in American society, equivalent perhaps to the changes that occurred in the 20th century when large numbers of African-Americans fled from the south to northern cities which in turn spawned a flight of white city dwellars to the suburbs. Now the rising cost of urban housing is causing almost a reverse migration with many whites moving back to the cities and many African-Americans fleeing to the more affordable suburbs aided at times by programs like the Section 8 federal housing program.

Writes the New York Times:
"Under the Section 8 federal housing voucher program, thousands of poor, urban and often African-American residents have left hardscrabble neighborhoods in the nation’s largest cities and resettled in the suburbs.

Law enforcement experts and housing researchers argue that rising crime rates follow Section 8 recipients to their new homes, while other experts discount any direct link. But there is little doubt that cultural shock waves have followed the migration. Social and racial tensions between newcomers and their neighbors have increased, forcing suburban communities like Antioch to re-evaluate their civic identities along with their methods of dealing with the new residents."
In addition to these forces, the foreclosure crisis plays a role as well:
"The foreclosure crisis gnawing away at overbuilt suburbs has accelerated that migration, and the problems. Antioch is one of many suburbs in the midst of a full-blown mortgage meltdown that has seen property owners seeking out low-income renters to fill vacant homes."
Like I said, this would be an interesting story even without the presence of the formerly polarizing police chief of Davis in the story. The issue of "overbuilt suburbs" could probably keep us going for a week with talks about new waves in smart development and questions about what will happen to suburbs as towns struggle to redevelop their cores in hopes of cutting down on the need to consume gasoline in commutes.

For all the talk about racial reconciliation, it appears that the presence of African-Americans in a town like Antioch is just as explosive today as the notion of forced busing and integration was in the 1970s. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

On the front lines of these kinds of cultural struggles is often the face of law enforcement and it is here where our old friend rears his head once again and plants himself firmly in the conscience this time not just of Davis but apparently the entire nation.

The action filed as Antioch last month claims discrimination, intimidation, and illegal property searches. Police allegedly routinely questioned and harassed Section 8 residents about their housing status, writing letters to the county's housing authority recommending termination of subsidies.

According to the Times article:
"A December 2007 study of Antioch police records by Public Advocates, a law firm in San Francisco, counted 67 investigations of black households, compared with 59 of white families; black households, it found, are four times as likely to be searched based on noncriminal complaints and to be contacted by the police in the first place."
Like any profiling claim, the contentions are difficult to sustain even with such statistics--for all statistics can be a matter of coincidence as well as intent.

For their part, Chief Jim Hyde of the Antioch Police Department denies these claims.

But here is a very telling statement in the New York Times article:
"Chief Hyde also said that the local housing authority was not meeting its obligation to screen tenants properly, and that as his department focused on nuisance issues, the police had become a de facto enforcement arm of the federal government."
The question that immediately jumps to my mind is whether this an appropriate role for the police department to play. I understand the frustration that the police may have if the federal government is being negligent in its duties to enforce its own laws, but at the same time, if the police have gone beyond their own charge, they invite these sorts of complaints and law suits.

The Times article tells a number of stories about white residents complaining about the problems that the Section 8 housing has brought.

There is clear conflict within these stories on the one hand fear and on the other hand a recognition that there is a racial component to that fear and wondering if that is an appropriate response.
Laura Reynolds, 36, an emergency room nurse, said that she often came home to her Country Hills development tract after working a late-shift to find young black teenagers strolling through her neighborhood.

“I know it sounds horrible, but they’re scary. I’m sorry,” said Ms. Reynolds, who like her two friends said she was conflicted about her newfound fear of black youths. “Sometimes I question myself, and I think, Would I feel this way if they were Mexican or white?”
Is this is a legitimate fear and concern or is it being overblown by cultural and racial stereotypes? The problem that I fear is that some are playing on the legitimate fears of residents to their own political advantage. This is far from a new phenomena.

Brad Seligman is a lawyer with a nonprofit civil rights advocacy group based in San Francisco, the Impact Fund. They are one of the groups along with the ACLU, Public Advocates, and the NAACP that have accused the city's police department of racial profiling.

Mr. Seligman is quoted in the New York Times saying:
“Instead of driving while black, it’s renting while black.”
The New York Times talks about an African-American couple, Thomas and Karen Coleman, two of the plaintiffs.
In June 2007, a neighbor told the police that Mr. Coleman had threatened him. Officers from the police community action team visited the house and demanded to be allowed in.

“I cracked the door open, but they pushed me out of the way,” Ms. Coleman said.

The officers searched the house even though they did not have a warrant, said the Colemans, who are now part of the class-action suit against the department. The police questioned Mr. Coleman, a parolee at the time, about his living arrangement. He explained that he and his wife were separated but in the process of reconciling. The police accused the family of violating a Section 8 rule that only listed tenants can live in a subsidized home.

After the raid, officers made repeated visits to the Coleman home and to Mr. Coleman’s job at a movie theater. They also sent a letter to the county housing department recommending that the Colemans be removed from federal housing assistance, a recommendation the authority rejected.

“They kept harassing me until I was off parole,” Mr. Coleman said.
If the account of the Colemans is accurate, we see a number of problems with not only the police's conduct, but their role in this process.

First, even as a parolee, police cannot enter a person's residence without a warrant and without permission to enter.

Second, the police accused the family of violating a Section 8 rule but the family's situation was obviously more complicated than that. Frankly it is not the police's authority to enforce Section 8 rules which are federal. Moreover, by inserting themselves into the process they probably overstepped their boundaries.

Unexplained in this story is the fact that obviously there was no evidence that Mr. Coleman threatened anyone, otherwise they could have simply arrested him and revoked his parole.

Even if the authorities in Antioch technically acted appropriate here, a questionable contention at best, their insertion into this process is part of the problem. Instead of calming the situation down, they seem to be throwing fuel on the fire.

This is part of the problem I had with the Police Chief while he was in Davis. Two years ago, I obtained public records that show that Chief Hyde in response to citizen complaints about police conduct and in response to the HRC pressing the issue, instead of diffusing the situation, launched a PR campaign against the HRC from the police station. Emails show efforts by the police chief to drum up opposition to the HRC. Emails show derogatory statements made by the police chief to the HRC, its chair, and others in this community. While the Chief perhaps had every right to mobilize a counter response to the HRC's complaints, the method in which it was undertaken was polarizing and increased the heat and the tensions.

Moreover the police chief chose to finally take a new position in Antioch, a move he had been looking to make for some time, long before disagreements with the HRC arose. He chose that opportunity to throw the final fuel to the fire, further inciting tensions as he left the scene and forced those who stayed in Davis to clean up his mess including a number of lawsuits that the city currently faces from actions, which took place under his command.

These patterns seem to be reemerging in Antioch. Thus far, it seems that the police chief has the backing of the Antioch Mayor and City Council who also gave him a raise this month. The next question will be how much teeth this lawsuit has and whether the findings by the court, which figures to be a long and drawn out process, will vindicate or indict his current practices.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Commentary: Needle-Exchange Program--Needed to Be Mended But Not Ended

This past week, the County Board of Supervisors on a somewhat rare party-line vote, decided to continue the needle exchange program that will cost the Yolo County taxpayers $100,000 per year.

This despite tangible evidence of problems with the program.

One of the biggest problems with the program at this point has to do with the number of unaccounted for needles.

There were 61,752 needles that were passed out but only 50,499 needles that were turned back in. That leaves 11,253 unaccounted for needles. Needles that are reportedly showing up in parks and other areas where children frequent.

Supervisor Matt Rexroad, a strong opponent of the program found it unacceptable that that many needles are unaccounted for.
"That seems like a ridiculously high number."
Supervisor Rexroad also said as he has previously that he thinks the money could better be spent elsewhere.

Back on July 2, 2008 the Vanguard interviewed Matt Rexroad but also program administrator Rachel Anderson from SANE (Safer Alternatives Through Networking and Education).
Rachel Anderson did a good job of laying out why it needle exchange is a very important and helpful program. One thing that it does is help people who would otherwise have little contact with social services get into contact with people who can help them in a setting where they can get help rather than face punishment for their drug problem. Studies have shown that not only do needle exchange programs help to reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis, but it also helps to reduce the drug use.

There is always a fear that somehow a needle exchange program might encourage people to use drugs, but that seems rather farfetched. People are not likely to suddenly start using IV drugs because clean needles are available.

Given the cost of health care and the cost to the county services to care for people with these kinds of chronic diseases, if the $100,000 program even reduces the number of infections by one, it almost pays for itself.

So while I am sympathetic to Matt Rexroad's argument that he poses on the radio show that it could be better used for children's health care, I think this is still a worthwhile program to explore.

My concern however is that it is obviously listening to the testimony and reading articles that the program has administration problems. The number of unaccounted for needles is in my opinion completely unacceptable.

So what does the 3-2 majority do to tighten up the administration of this program? Not a darn thing! It does nothing.

I am a liberal who supports these kinds of programs but they darn well better work. And if they are not working right, make them work. To often the problem with government is that those who support these programs are afraid to admit when there are problems and those who understand that there are problems with the program just want to kill the program. There is thus no one invested in making the program work.

Part of the problem that some have told with this program is that everyone knew it would be a hot buttoned issue and so there was a protection mechanism from the administration of the program who tried to keep any problems at the lowest possible level in order to prevent what has now happened. The problem is that that approach clearly did not fix the problem and the program ended up in the spotlight.

Instead of trying to fix the program, everyone either tried to cover up the problems or use the problems to destroy the program.

That still does not explain or justify why the Board of Supervisors now apparently fully briefed on some of the problems with the program, made no effort whatsoever to fix the problem.

Again, I fully support the program in concept, but I remain baffled that those in charge have not made efforts to make it work better.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting