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Saturday, September 06, 2008

West Village Development Takes a Major Step Forward

For those wondering when the West Village development will get moving, the answer is apparently very soon. The University announced yesterday that they had signed the "ground lease" for the West Village and thus taken a major step toward the first phase of development.

According to the release:
"UC Davis and its development partner, West Village Community Partnership LLC, last week signed a ground lease for the project, clearing the way for the design and construction phase of the project."
The University will begin construction this fall on the project's off-site infrastructure, including water and sewer connections to campus systems, a storm water drainage system and entry road improvements.

Ground is expected to be broken in the spring of 2009.

Faculty/ staff housing and student housing could be available as early as fall 2010.

Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef applauded the announcement.
"After years of planning, we are excited to be moving on to the design and construction phase of the project with our private development partners. We are confident that West Village Community Partnership will be delivering an exceptional neighborhood not only for our university community, but for our region, as well."
Ron Zeff, CEO of Carmel Partners of San Franiciso, on of the groups that makes up West Village Community Partnership, said:
"This successful milestone represents our continued collaborative approach with the university to address UC Davis' long-term housing needs. West Village Community Partnership can now focus our full energies and resources to design and construct the West Village neighborhood that incorporates the values, and reflects the aspirations, of the university and the Davis community."
The release laid out the three phases of the construction plan, this being the first.
"As currently planned, the 130-acre Phase 1 includes 343 single-family homes for faculty and staff, apartment housing for up to 1,980 students and a village square surrounded by ground-floor commercial space and the Los Rios Community College District's new Davis Center.

In all, the plan for West Village comprises two phases for a combined 475 new homes for faculty and staff, and housing for 3,000 students. Many of the faculty and staff homes will include small cottages, like those at the 37-unit Aggie Village project adjacent to campus. Cottages will increase the population density and provide more student-housing options.

When the final phase is completed, planners estimate that West Village will be home to about 4,350 people -- including 500 faculty and staff members and their families, plus students. The plan calls for a generous open-space network that offers integrated bike and pedestrian connections to the campus. UNITRANS will provide frequent bus service to the neighborhood."
A key part of the plan is that this provides faculty and staff with below market price housing. The university is believes that this will "assist in recruiting and retaining top talent by enabling them to live locally and participate fully in the life of the campus and community."
"West Village will make this possible by adding to the Davis housing supply and selling the homes at below-market prices for the Davis area. The homes will also have certain resale price limitations to maintain affordability over time."

One of the reasons I have long advocated for the university to help provide housing to students and faculty-staff is their ability to offer housing at below market value. I think the city of Davis needs to work closer in concert with the university toward these ends.

There are a number of very interesting and promising models out there for how to accomplish it. This is one model, but it appears from the last statement that there will not be full equity.

One of the models I would like to see leadership at the university and the city take a look at is what they have done in Stanford. I have mentioned this on the blog a number of times. The housing market in Palo Alto is prohibitive and Stanford found themselves at a severe competitive disadvantage in trying to get top-notch academic talent.

As a result, they developed an innovative program whereby they would help guarantee and finance the loans to faculty for new housing, the faculty members would own the house outright and retain full equity. I would be very interested in seeing how they do that.

In addition the issue of student housing needs to be addressed. UC Davis is the UC with the lowest percentage of on-campus housing. As is the case with faculty and staff housing, the campus can better provide housing at below market cost than the city. They also have available land to make it work.

As we discuss further the concept of internal housing needs, the university must be a part of this discussion. Too often the city and university have been at odds with each other on these projects.

There is one further issue that needs to be addressed now that the development at West Village is imminent. That is the issue of annexation. The models from both the University and the city show that the city is the entity that can best provide the necessary services to West Davis. In both cases, there is a net loss in terms of revenue. However, the project loses less when the city annexes it than when the University runs it on campus. That means it is in the interest of both sides to negotiate an appropriate agreement on how it is to be annexed and run.

There are a number of political issues however that would have been resolved in order for that to be accomplished including whether the annexation of West Village would count toward Davis' growth requirements.

From a personal standpoint as someone who frequently uses the path along Russell as it extends from Highway 113 out to Pedrick Road, I will be saddened with the lose of that beautiful open space as the path heads out west lined with trees and the feeling of serenity. I can only hope they do a good job of design and construction so that they do not turn that area into an eyesore.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, September 05, 2008

Packed House in Plainfield Airs Its Concerns About Re-Entry Facility

A large crowd that likely approached 200 people packed into Lillard Hall at the Yolo County Airport to ask questions about the new proposed Re-Entry facility. Last week, the Yolo County Airport was named as one of three possible sites for the facility.

The meeting was well-attended especially considering it was put together in just two days. Three members of the County Board of Supervisors were in attendance--subcommittee members Helen Thomson (Davis) and Matt Rexroad (Woodland) were there in official capacities. Supervisor Duane Chamberlain represents this location, he was also in attendance and briefly spoke to the large crowd. However, he is conflicted out from formal capacities.

This is a point of controversy. While he does not own the adjacent land, he farms it on a contract basis. There is considerable question as to whether he can discuss any aspects of the Re-Entry policy given his interest in this particular location. This is a point that he is going back and forth on with County Counsel.

He did briefly speak and state in no uncertain terms, he found the site completely inappropriate for this use.

Also in attendance were three members of the Davis City Council--Mayor Ruth Asmundson, Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor, and Councilmember Lamar Heystek. More on this in just a bit.

The presentation was not orderly as intended. People were very concerned about this project and proposed location and often spoke out of turn and gave speeches rather than asking questions. However, it was nothing compared with the situation in Esparto.

From my perspective, the organizers did considerable research on the zoning ordinance, the deed, and understanding the issues with the site itself. They made a very compelling case that this site is not appropriate. Some can be dismissed perhaps as NIMBYISM, but I think to do so is to miss a good deal of very compelling arguments.

This is certainly not an inclusive list, but I will talk about some of the ones I think are critical.

First and foremost, the road infrastructure. Flat out, I do not think the county roads are suitable for the increased volume of traffic that a prison with visitors would entail. There are already safety concerns about the roads, they are narrow, they have farm equipment, and there are frequent accidents with fatalities.

Along with that concern is the distance from major highways and arterials. The closest highway is 113 in Davis. So people would have to drive from 113 approximately 8 miles out to the airport through Covell. On the other hand, the location at Madison is directly off of I-505 making it a far better location from the standpoint of traffic.

Moreover, at present there is no public transportation. Prisoners who would be released would either have to have a family member pick them up at the facility or they would be driven by CDCR personnel to the Greyhound Station in Davis. In addition, non-driving family members would have difficulty getting to the facility--and that is a crucial aspect of the program to re-orient prisoners with their families.

There is concern about lack of emergency services. The Plainfield Fire Station is actually next door. It is composed of two volunteer firefighters. In an emergency situation, they would be severely taxed to respond. That means that the Davis Fire Department would be the logical next option for major emergencies as the county lacks a fire department. The public at this meeting suspect that this facility would make a fourth Davis fire station inevitable.

Along similar lines the ambulance service comes from Davis as well and contains two vehicles. Problems at the prison facility would tax the EMR system as well.

Flooding is a big problem in the rural locations. There is apparently a slough on the backside of the airport, near where the facility would be, that floods every winter. In addition, multiple times each winter, the roads out there become impassable due to flooding. They also mentioned this is on a 100 year flood plain which would have its own dangers.

Power is problematic. Currently there is not enough power from the Plainfield substation to supply all of the power needs. This would need to be upgraded. The residents suggested that five times a year or so they lose power for extended periods of time.

The organizers also suggested that the deed to the property and the zoning are incompatible with these uses. This is somewhat in question as Supervisor Matt Rexroad suggested that recently the county has in the new general plan re-zoned this land industrial. The organizers believe that it is zoned for aviation and therefore only aviation related uses are permitted. They also made an extensive case the prison use for a portion of this land would be incompatible with the airport functions of the site.

For his part, Supervisor Matt Rexroad agrees with the concern about roads. He told the Vanguard:
"I think the road issues is the biggest one in this area. The flooding issue, power issue, and a couple others that were mentioned tonight can be solved and improved for others with this project."
The public was also concerned that the water hook up and power upgrade would be growth inducing, making leapfrog development more likely. In addition, does bringing in 300 employees, many potentially from outside the area mean an increased housing demand.

Supervisor Rexroad disagrees however:
"It is not growth inducing."
He then suggested to the Vanguard that much of these issues would not have come up had the Board of Supervisors proposed an airport expansion project rather than a prison project.

The City of Davis is not happy apparently about the process or the proposal. Councilmember Lamar Heystek told me that the city received absolutely no notice from the county about this proposal. While the location is outside of the pass-through agreement (by a very small margin), it is inside the Davis planning area.

Supervisor Matt Rexroad however disagrees that Davis should have been notified, arguing that this is a location several miles outside of town and they should have no input or authority whatsoever about the project.

However, the project clearly impacts Davis in a number of ways including services and roads. Unfortunately this appears to be standard operating procedure from the county in terms of notification to the city. The city was similarly angry with the county for failure to communicate on the county's general plan proposal that included areas within Davis' planning area that were covered by the pass-through agreement.

The public was angry as well that they seemed to get no notification for this proposal. They found out last Thursday in the newspaper.

From my perspective this is not an acceptable way to do business by the county. I saw the same issues arise in this case that arose during the general plan. The reaction by the Supervisors was somewhat defensive last night. I strongly disagree with Supervisor Rexroad on this issue.

For all of my problems and complaints with the city of Davis on a variety of topics, one thing they do is have community meetings with neighbors of proposed development sites well in advance of the actual issue. Frankly having a press release and news articles a week and a half prior to a meeting is irresponsible.

The city of Davis once again finds itself at odds with the county on development issues.

While I remain supportive of the basic concept of the re-entry facility, the process of this is increasingly concerning me. The prison expansion project for the county has already been approved by the board of supervisors and will cost $42 million for a new pod on the current facility. By allowing a re-entry facility, the county can directly recoup $30 million of that. So a huge vested financial interest by the county is driving the re-entry facility project.

While I think it is a worth-while project, I am not certain I am pleased with how the county is choosing to do business. As the CDCR spokesperson pointed out last night, in order for a project to be approved, the local jurisdiction needs to consent to the project. In the case of cities, that jurisdiction is the city council. In the case of rural areas, the Board of Superivors is the authorizing body.

The problem with this arrangement is that in the case of a city, all five members of the council represent the city as a whole. Whereas in the county, there is only one representative that represents that particular area.

Nevertheless, the cues I am getting seem to be pointing away from this location as desirable place. There is a threat of a lawsuit. The lawsuit may or may not succeed, but it would certainly delay implementation of the facility. That is probably enough to make this location less than desirable to CDCR. Factor in the roads in this location compared to Madison, and I think Madison is much more likely to end up the eventual location than the Airport.

Much of this will be determined next week at the Board of Supervisor's meeting on Tuesday. It is clear that many of these people will pack into the chambers in order to make their voices heard.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, September 04, 2008


The Vanguard is giving out bumperstickers completely free of all charges. All you need to do is fill out the form on the link below and you will be mailed a bumpersticker for no charge and with no strings attached.

Vanguard Newsletter Archives

New feature this week is the Vanguard Newsletter Archives. Every morning, subscribers receive alerts and breaking news via email. It's a good way to keep track of what is going on.

Models Conflict on Whether Davis Needs Senior Housing

Elaine Roberts Musser had an excellent column this week in the Vanguard. If you did not read it, you should. I am following up on it but I will not do it justice.

I start at a midpoint in her article which I think is actually the starting point for any discussion not just on senior housing but on development overall. I think it too often gets over-shadowed in the whole housing debate. The question is one of internal need.

Elaine Roberts Musser writes:
"Necessary to the process will be for developers to consider “internal” community needs rather than “external” needs of those who live outside Davis. (This is not an elitist attitude, by the way, but a recognition that the efforts of the City Council need to be directed toward addressing community problems first and foremost, if at all possible. This is the charge of the City Council.)"
What is interesting about internal need is that regional housing boards like SACOG do not use internal housing need, instead they use what is called a Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) in order to figure out what the "fair share" of growth for a community is. Of course the problem is that at least in part those numbers are externally driven. SACOG like other "Councils of Goverments" is a pseudo-elected body made up of representatives from various governmental bodies. The very idea of a RHNA mandate for growth is a strict limit on local autonomy.

We started this week with a discussion on the reduction of sprawl at a state level. However, communities within that framework ought to have a good deal of say as to how, when, and how much they should grow. Some communities would like to grow quicker than others. I certainly believe that is something within their rights.

A true internal needs assessment for Davis is not surprisingly a matter of controversy. But there is quite a bit of locally driven demand from the university in the form of both faculty and staff as well as students. As I have mentioned at other points in time, the university could go a long way toward helping to alleviate the student housing crunch if they were willing to take up their own fair-share of proposed growths. According to statistics, UC Davis has among the lowest, if not the lowest, on-campus housing in the UC system.

Like any model, internal housing needs depends on the assumptions of the model. And here is where the article by Elaine Roberts Musser to me is so important.

The Housing Element Steering Committee (HESC) determined that there would be "an “internal need” for somewhere between 200 to 400 units of senior housing between now and the year 2013."

Ms. Roberts Musser goes on to argue:
"The members I talked with and a person on city staff are indicating there is very little justification for the numbers arrived at, ostensibly because it is a difficult figure to quantify."
But here is the key point that I think underscores the problematic nature of such projections.
"The notion that all seniors want to downsize is fallacious. An AARP survey indicates otherwise. Actually 83% of those 45 and older would prefer to stay in their existing home, and not downsize."
This is consistent with a number of seniors or soon-to-be seniors I have spoken with. The other key point that many miss, is that a lot of seniors also do not want to live in what they think of as segregated communities or "Senior Ghettos" to use a more pejorative term (remember the original meaning of ghetto was simply a segregated community rather than a dilapidated one. Here is one definition: "a ghetto is an area, usually within a city, in which members of a particular cultural, ethnic, religious or national group live in high concentration, whether by choice or by force.")

Ms. Roberts Musser then raises the key point: if we re-orient the model to use the 83% figure, we come up with strikingly different results.
"If that statistic is applied to:

Tandem Properties’ alleged “internal need” of 800 units by year 2013, the “internal need” shrinks to 136 units;

HESC’s estimated “internal need” of 200-400 units by year 2013, the “internal need shrivels to between 34-68 units.

In fact, the current wait list for Shasta Point and Eleanor Roosevelt, both essentially low-income senior facilities, is virtually zero. As is the wait-list at Atria Covell Gardens, an assisted living facility for the elderly."
These assumptions are instructive however because they allow us to understand in concrete mathematical terms the nature of the debate and why I consistently hear from different individuals very different figures on the need for senior housing.

I want to bring up a second key point, one that was not raised in the Tuesday column, and that is about the nature of the Covell proposal.

Everyone knows the history of the original Covell Village proposal and the ensuing debate and campaign battle for Measure X. The Covell Partners, who I shall continue to reference as such, recognized some of the errors of their campaign and decided to scale-down their proposal.

Except that they really have not. What they have done is broken down the proposals by stages. The senior housing facility will only occupy the lower third of the property. Stages 2 and 3 would follow after successful approval of stage 1. They do not like to publicize this fact, but they have admitted it to various people that they have met with during the course of their outreach or focus group efforts.

In other words, if you were concerned about the Covell Village site because of the size and traffic impacts, then be mindful about how the big picture looks here.

From my perspective, it is going to take a long time to convince me that a senior facility at Covell Village really serves internal housing needs. In as much as I would be willing to support development, modest as that support would be, I would start with meeting internal needs for students and faculty through infill development. And I mean really infill development in properties that are already located within current city boundaries and that are already zoned residential. I do not see a need to develop Covell Village in the next general plan period. As the HESC showed us, we can meet our RHNA mandated growth by relying strictly on infill. I would suggest we bracket this discussion until after we have exhausted those possibilities.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Meeting Tonight in Rural West Davis on Re-Entry Facility

Yesterday I received an email message from a resident from rural west Davis asking me to inform Vanguard readers of a meeting tonight, September 4, out at the county airport approximately five miles from town.

Here is the email that was sent:
While we do not live in Davis proper, the residents of rural west Davis are a part of Davis 'life'.

We just discovered that the County wants to build a prison on top of us!

Our community is having a town hall meeting on the 4th at 7 pm at Lillard Hall [Yolo County Airport].

Since so many Davisites share our community with bicycling and outdoor activities, we believe that having 800 prisoners and 300 support staff roaming in our rural area would negatively affect them.

Could/would you all be so kind as to "get the word out" (mass email) about our meeting? Perhaps some Davis folks would want to weigh in.

We also have a website at: that we just started.

Keep up the good work with your community site and thanks in advance.
The individual also told me that while they support the program, they are concerned about traffic issues with 300 employees. 800 prisoners would completely impact the main agricultural use.
"The county for years has had a policy of growth in cities to keep the rural area open. This proposal is quite out of step with that. There would be greener locations for this facility that would not need its own sewage plant or transportation system. Out here would be isolation for inmates, isolated from the very society that they are to be re-entered into? It's ironic."
I will try to attend the meeting tonight. I will be curious to see if it follows the same format from Tuesday up in Esparto, where two of the proposals now are located. The county has decided that Dunnigan and Zamora are not the best locations. I am very curious as to why they believe that is the case, but think Esparto or Plainfield will work.

At the meeting in Esparto, Yolo County Supervisors Matt Rexroad and Helen Thomson were on a panel along with Sheriff Ed Prieto and three members of the CDCR. Also while not on the panel, Supervisor Duane Chamberlain was in attendance.

Yolo Cowboy, who runs a pretty good blog called the Roughstock Journal covered this yesterday. He did not mince words about his dislike for the proposal.

According to the Yolo Cowboy, there were about 200 residents who went the Esparto high school auditorium.

From his perspective:
"The residents of this community were upset and it showed as comments and questions were shouted from those inside the auditorium. For those on the panel, they must have been waiting for the people to break out the torches and pitchforks.

I would like to apologize for the lack of decorum at the meeting, but I will not.

To understand the frustration felt by the citizens of the Capay Valley, you must understand what we have experienced in our dealings with Yolo County. It seems whenever someone comes to the County and says they have a huge amount of money to give them, if they give a green light to a certain project in a rural area, the green light is given. When the citizens of the affected area object, the County tells them, ‘we need the money, shut up and take it’. The first expansion of the Cache Creek casino? We need the money, shut up and take it. The second huge expansion of the casino? We need the money, shut up and take it. Now the proposed re entry prison, you guessed it, shut up and take it.

The County Board of Supervisors has a job to do, provide services to the citizens of our county with a 326 million dollar budget. I also understand the fact that free money is a rare and welcome luxury. However, this ‘free’ money does have a cost attached to it. A cost that is not easily seen from the cities of Woodland, Davis, West Sacramento. As rural residents of the county, we are told to shut up and take it as our small-town quality of life deteriorates for the common good of the urban citizenry of the county."
I still think this is a pretty good proposal and a worthwhile endeavor. But the county has a clear problem at this point. The cities have veto power and the rural areas both do not want it and in most cases do not have the infrastructure or services to support it well.

Like many others, the Yolo Cowboy thinks we need the facility, but not at that location:
"Yes, Yolo County needs this type of facility; anything that could lead to a decrease in the recidivism rates of parolees is a benefit for us all. However, putting this facility out in a rural area, far away from urban centers with few employers, few volunteer organizations and where a tiny percentage of the prisoners families live, is setting up the program for failure before it starts."
Okay than where? The cities do not want it either and they have actual veto power by the statute. Someone needs to compromise here or someone is going to get angry when the Board of Supervisors finally says, we have the authority to do whatever we want and you do not have enough people to stop us. And then what?

Stay tuned. This issue is just getting started, the board meets next Tuesday to discuss it.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Vanguard Radio Show Tonight: Last Show Before Change

Tonight from 6 pm to 7 pm will be the final Vanguard Radio show at 101.5 FM. The next two weeks we will be off, but we will return on September 24, 2008 on the new 95.7 FM frequency.

Topic for tonight will be the recent Democratic Convention and the current Republican convention.


Don Gibson, President of the College Democrats 6 pm to 6:25 pm
Steve Venables, County Chair for the McCain Campaign 6:30 pm to 7 pm

Lessons to Be Learned From Vallejo's Bankruptcy

Some have openly wondered why the sudden focus on the salaries of public employees in both Davis as well as in the county. In truth, it is a combination of factors that stem from the alarm of what happened in Vallejo to the burning question: can it happen here. Over the course of the summer, we have looked at this question from a variety of different angles. Perhaps most concerning was the seeming lack of concern from two of the victors in last spring's Davis City Council election about the looming and impending problem of Davis' fiscal stability.

These candidates argue that Davis has a balanced budget and it has a 15% reserve. At the same time, we see signs that all is not quite as well. The reports about the city's unmet needs is alarming. Basic repairs are being left undone which means that when they finally are tackled, their costs will likely have gone up. A simple view of the budget picture is that employees salaries have gone up far faster than tax revenues. The amount city has spent on pensions have increased five-fold over the course of just this decade. The city council at every budget workshop has looked toward the creation of new taxes. And finally, the most extreme cost to residents may be a water rate hike that was so explosive the Mayor would not even let a councilmember complete her questioning of a consultant.

With all that as context, we now look at Vallejo briefly as a guideline. Vallejo is not where we are right now, a clear view of that will emerge in a minute. The question is whether Vallejo is where we are going to end up. As we look at this analysis, I think the picture will become very clear as to why we have spent so much time looking at the issue of Davis' fiscal situation this summer.

The 100K of Vallejo

The Woodland Journal has provided us with these figures from a public records request they made from the city of Vallejo.

As you look at these salaries, remember that Vallejo is not even twice the size of Davis. It has a population of 116,000. The median income of Vallejo is $47,000 whereas Davis' is $65,000. The median housing price is also considerably less than Davis at $344,000. That is the context behind these numbers that show rather than 61 city employees in Davis making over $100,000 per year, a stunning, 292 city employees in Vallejo making over $100,000 per year.
Of this list, public safety and in Vallejo's case both police and fire, absolutely dominate the list. Of the 292 city employees making over $100,000 per year, 246 are in public safety--148 police and 98 fire.

As the pie chart shows, over half of the employees are in police and another 35% are in fire.

In addition to overtime, there were also payouts for holiday pay that are not shown on the chart above. It is not clear what holiday pay entails but in some cases it is a huge amount of money. The top wage earner received $232,000 for holiday pay, the second highest wage earner received nearly $200,000 for it.

Lessons to be learned

Some will take from this demonstration some solace that Davis is not in the condition that Vallejo was before filing for bankruptcy. That is 100% correct. However, the concern is that Davis like many cities in California is heading in that direction. The tale of Vallejo is a cautionary one for the rest of California cities to avoid their pitfalls.

Peter Scheer is the executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition. He was a guest on Vanguard Radio back in June.

In May, he wrote a column on how Vallejo's bankruptcy might have been avoided that appeared in the Huffington Post.

Mr. Scheer writes:
"To the familiar litany of causes--falling sales tax revenue, the home mortgage crisis leading to collapsing home prices and lower real estate taxes--there needs to be added one more: Too much government secrecy."
He continues:
Vallejo is broke, and other cities and counties may be close behind, because their personnel costs--salary and benefits for current employees and retirees--are higher than they can afford. While decisions at the state level are partly to blame, ultimate responsibility for the mismatch of revenue and expenses rests with local elected officials who, meeting in secret, have managed to avoid public discussion of the true cost and fiscal impact of the pay deals that they have approved.

If no one is watching, it's easy for public officials to give generous pay and benefit increases without having a clue how to pay for them. That's not so easy to do in a public session, where voters demand to know how much taxes will have to be raised, and how much other expenses cut, in order to make good on the promised increases in compensation. Such resistance is called political accountability, and it obviously depends on public access to the meetings in which elected representatives make their decisions.

Although in theory legislative bodies in California must operate in the "sunshine," the Brown Act, the state's open-meetings law, carves out a huge exception for negotiations with public employee unions. The combined effect of this exception, and separate provisions of the labor code, is to close the door, pull down the shades and turn off the lights on virtually all decisions relating to employee compensation and other terms of union contracts ("collective bargaining agreements").

Negotiating positions are determined in secret, negotiations themselves are conducted in secret, and negotiated contracts are ratified in secret. By the time the public gets to see the compensation provisions of a new union contract, it is already a done deal--indeed, any effort to change the terms likely would be a breach of the contract.

This cozy arrangement is very much in the unions' interest, since transparency would risk public opposition, and very much in politicians' interest, since they get to be generous with public funds without having to be responsible for them. Only one party is screwed: the public.
Finally a cautionary tale for public employee unions across California:
"For unions, bankruptcy court is a potentially costly defeat. The judge has the power not only to protect the city from its creditors, but also to void the union contract and, in that way, force city employees to accept a pay package in keeping with the city's capacity to pay.

The union has none of the leverage with the judge that it had with Vallejo's elected officials. It can't lobby the judge or give him campaign contributions, obviously. Having overplayed its hand, the union now finds itself in the uncomfortable position of having to justify, in a public forum, its claims to the city's limited, and declining, resources."
I agree with Peter Scheer 100%. There is familiarity in the Vallejo situation to our current situation. We are not where Vallejo is. Hopefully we can learn from these lessons. However, there is zero doubt in my mind that we are heading there. All of the trends are pointing to this.

Finally though this is a story about transparency. People have criticized the Vanguard for perhaps focusing too much attention on the firefighters of Davis. Honestly, I have nothing against the firefighters. On a personal level, I like their union chief. I enjoyed myself last summer when I did a ride-along with the department. I learned a lot and they were extremely accommodating to me. This is not personal. This is about public policy and from that standpoint, the city must step in because if Davis goes bankrupt, the firefighters stand to lose as much as anyone else.

People have also criticized the Vanguard for reporting on government practices when there was no clear problem. What I think they fail to recognize is that we need to know what is going on with our government regardless of whether they are behaving appropriately or misusing public funds. Both are important to report on, to know about, and to follow.

Peter Scheer hits the nail on the head in his column. We need transparency in government and for the public to be aware of what the contract are and what the consequences of these contract will be not only this year but down the line. And we have the same problem here that existed in Vallejo. A particular public employee union has tremendous leverage over the current council because of the work they did on behalf of two councilmembers this last cycle to see that they were reelected. The amount of money put in by that union was far more than any other single interest.

As Mr. Scheer points out, when the bankruptcy court comes in, the union will not have the kind of leverage over the judge that they had over the city and the judge has the power to void contracts. I would hate to see Davis come down to that and we can avoid with fiscal responsibility in the next four years. This is crucial time, because the contracts are coming due and negotiations will begin soon. The public needs to watch this situation very closely to ensure that their interests and not just the interests of the public employees unions are represented in the process.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Davis Enterprise Anti-Environmental Policies

I write this in part based on Matt Rexroad's blog entry from yesterday, but frankly I have had similar thoughts lately. There was a time, I would wake up and read newspapers first thing in the morning. But that was really before the advent of the internet and the ability of newspapers to put their content online--much of the time for free. Now if the newspaper is not on the internet, I will not likely read it.

Most newspapers have most of their content available for free on the internet. However, the Davis Enterprise is an exception, though their policy has varied over the two and a half years I have read it. At one point, only the front page articles were available on their website. Then all of their content was posted on the website. Now they have all of the content on the website but it is protected by password and available to those who subscribe.

So I have subscribed to the Davis Enterprise because given what I do on a daily basis, I need to know what is going on in the community--or at least what the local papers--Davis Enterprise, Sacramento Bee, and Woodland Daily Democrat are covering. However, what happens in my household is that I usually read the content online before the paper is delivered and we have a neat stack (sometimes less than neat) of unopened Davis Enterprises that end up going directly into the recycle bin.

Apparently I am not the only one with that problem. Supervisor Matt Rexroad had a similar problem and actually called the paper to see about changing things.
"So I was looking around my house the other day for ways to simplify things.

One thing I noticed is that I subscribe to the Davis Enterprise at home. However, I read it on-line most of the time so I never actually open it when it arrives at my door.

That was an idea. I will tell the Enterprise that they did not need to waste the paper or the effort to get me the paper. Then I would not have to recycle it. They would save time and effort. Life would be great."
Sounded like a good plan to me. In fact, I have been thinking about doing the same thing. Unfortunately that is not how the Davis Enterprise works.
[Mrs. Rexroad] called to tell them to stop delivering even though we would still pay the bill -- I want the on-line access to the news. They told us they could not do that because of the advertising rates were dependent upon it.
Are you kidding me? Somehow the rest of the newspapers in the world are able to manage. But there are multiple points of illogic going on here.

First, they are not actually opening the paper, so in a way, the Davis Enterprise's advertising are not reaping the benefit of the subscription anyway. In fact, by keeping a newspaper delivery where the subscribers do not open the paper, the advertisers are getting a false impression of the coverage of the paper. I wonder how many other people end up doing similar things.

Second, this is Davis. We are supposed to be the environmental model for the rest region if not the state. Yet our newspaper is engaging in unnecessarily wasteful practices by requiring people to use paper when they would prefer to still pay for the service but still have to waste paper.

I use very little paper--or at least as little as I can afford. I get most of my bills online. I read articles and the like directly on the computer screen and I rarely print things out. So it bothers me that I am wasting paper because of a newspaper's policies.

Frankly if I did not blog everyday on Davis and Yolo County events, I probably would not take the Davis Enterprise anyway, but given that I do, I do not feel I have a luxury that many have taken of canceling their subscription.

Papers everywhere are facing difficult times and part of it is because they have not adapted to the new medium. The Davis Enterprise has created blogs on their site that are largely unused and rarely usable. They could do so much more with even their modest resources to create a much better and more innovative product on their website. Some have complained about the McNaughtons in this capacity and suggested that there is a lot they would like to do if they were not being held back.

This is just a single example of where they can improve. I hope that environmentally conscious-Davisites will be concerned about this very simple and very wasteful policy by their local newspaper.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Word To The Wise: Proposed Senior Housing Guidelines

by E.A. Roberts


I usually leave the more controversial issues in DPD’s capable hands, and instead try to provide informative topics of interest on the subject of the elderly and disabled. However, senior housing seems to be a current hot button issue in this community, so I will dare to launch into troubled waters. In so doing, on occasion I will risk giving my opinion on the subject. A previous column I wrote for this blog discussed senior housing, but in a more informative format.

Recently I was invited by Tandem Properties to attend a “focus group”, ostensibly to obtain my view on what senior housing should look like in Davis. Because I am a member of the Davis Senior Citizens Commission, I was very reluctant to attend. My feeling was that as a commission member, I did not want to give any appearance of impropriety in my actions. To attend a developer’s focus group might be construed the wrong way if I was not careful.

Unfortunately, I felt it imperative to go - once fellow commission members urged me to do so, after they had attended some of these focus groups. I began to realize it was necessary to find out what was going on. In the end, I am actually glad I chose to be present. It gave me a heads up on what is in the works for proposal by developers, and an opportunity for me to impart my views to them. As a commission member, it can be a fine line to walk.

It should be understood from the outset that I was the only member of the “focus group” I attended, which felt very uncomfortable. But it also gave me the opportunity to ask lots of questions, and I had many. Here is the gist of what I was told:

  • Tandem Properties wants to propose a senior housing development on the former Covell Village site.
  • The first phase would include 800 units. There is a second and third phase in the planning stages as well.
  • All levels of affordability will be included.
  • The developers are willing to kick in the costs of an AMR station, but not a fourth fire station. They feel to fund another fire station would be cost prohibitive.
  • Many wonderful amenities are contemplated for this senior housing development, including the concept of “telemedicine” - doctor visits via the computer. Their vision is a veritable wonderland chock full of enticing goodies.
  • Tandem Properties has formed a Healthy Aging group, that has put out a newsletter promoting good health for seniors. Naturally, Tandem believes their housing proposal will enhance the good health of any older adult who chose to live in their envisioned senior community.
  • According to the developers, the “internal need” of Davisites should include elderly parents who wish to reside near their adult children already residing here.
  • Downsizing is the common mantra of the developers, who insist -
    • This is what seniors want;
    • It will be for the good of the community because:
      • It will free up more stock for workforce housing;
      • It will bring in more young families to help do away with the declining enrollment problem in the schools.

Since that time, I have also talked with some members of the Housing Element Steering Committee (HESC). One piece of information I have gleaned from them is as follows:

  • They are projecting an “internal need” for somewhere between 200 to 400 units of senior housing between now and the year 2013;
  • The members I talked with and a person on city staff are indicating there is very little justification for the numbers arrived at, ostensibly because it is a difficult figure to quantify.

At my strong urging, the Davis Senior Citizens Commission has elected to take up the issue of senior housing. The plan is to come up with some guidelines for the City Council to follow as it deliberates on any housing proposal. (City staff would prefer the creation of guidelines be done in coordination with the Social Services Commission, which could be problematic - since the constituencies they answer to are vastly different. The Senior Citizens Commission addresses the issues of all seniors, whereas the Social Services Commission concerns itself with the needs of low income and disabled.) This is so that whatever is built will not be “developer driven”, but rather have sufficient community input prior to its proposal being introduced for consideration. The hope is sufficient guidelines will preclude any future Covell Village debacle, as has happened in the past, where the City Council is not in sync with the community at large.

During the “focus group” I attended at Tandem Properties, my input was solicited. In general I remained fairly noncommittal, but did offer the following advice:

  • It is important for any developer to first offer up proposed housing development plans for feedback at various city commissions, such as the Planning Commission, Senior Citizens Commission and other appropriate venues - before making a formal proposal to the City Council. In so far as Covell Village is concerned, there was a perception that developers were attempting to make an end run around process by going directly to the City Council majority for approval. With Measure J in place, that gambit will not be very effective.
  • Necessary to the process will be for developers to consider “internal” community needs rather than “external” needs of those who live outside Davis. (This is not an elitist attitude, by the way, but a recognition that the efforts of the City Council need to be directed toward addressing community problems first and foremost, if at all possible. This is the charge of the City Council.)

To date, I am trying to keep an open mind on the subject of senior housing. I am not anti-developer by any stretch of the imagination. However, as things have unfolded, certain concerns have taken root. The ensuing discussion may help frame the issue of how much senior housing should the city of Davis build for the future.

Up until now, I strongly believe our community housing needs have been largely ignored in favor of a housing policy that is “developer driven”. It has resulted in some unfortunate byproducts, not the least of which is the present public school disaster. Home builders are promising new construction of schools as an enticement to homebuyers - without adequate assurance the school system will have enough in the way of operating expenses to run the new facilities. In consequence, too many schools were built in Davis, which resulted in the closure of Valley Oak Elementary and the threatened closure of Emerson Junior High.

Another unfortunate derivative of new housing is an increase in taxes - brought on by additional city services it inevitably brings. In this day and age of tough budget cuts, and the resulting decrease in state revenue to our city, the escalating tax burden factor becomes critical for our citizens on moderate or fixed incomes. It should be noted the City Council is proposing a new public safety tax. The School Board is proposing another parcel tax on top of the one we already are paying. Water and sewer rates are increasing at an astronomical rate.

Developers are in the business of making money for themselves, and there is nothing inherently wrong with this. However, it must be remembered they are in the building industry first and foremost to maximize their profits. Thus if their proposals are not in the best interests of the city, it is incumbent upon the City Council to raise red flags where appropriate, and get the developers to rethink and revise their proposal. This did not happen with the original Covell Village project.

Instead, it felt as if some on the City Council had already had their minds made up by developers, and merely wanted the commissions to rubber stamp approval. This was an unfortunate position to take, especially in light of the impending Measure J vote. Because some on the City Council failed to first obtain sufficient community and commission input, the entire Covell Village matter ended in an embarrassing defeat at the polls.

Which brings up the issue of Measure J, which will be a thorn in the sides to developers unless it is somehow weakened with amendments. I am a strong supporter of Measure J in its present form, as a check on the abuses of process that often take place in local politics. It ensures that the City Council truly listens to the electorate when weighing in on the important issue of how much we should grow as a city, and in what direction. Any City Council member that tries to monkey with it does so at their political peril.

That said, there are a few disturbing arguments being bandied about by the pro-developer contingent, that I find quite disturbing. The notion that all seniors want to downsize is fallacious. An AARP survey indicates otherwise. Actually 83% of those 45 and older would prefer to stay in their existing home, and not downsize. If that statistic is applied to:

  • Tandem Properties’ alleged “internal need” of 800 units by year 2013, the “internal need” shrinks to 136 units;
  • HESC’s estimated “internal need” of 200-400 units by year 2013, the “internal need shrivels to between 34-68 units.

In fact, the current wait list for Shasta Point and Eleanor Roosevelt, both essentially low-income senior facilities, is virtually zero. As is the wait-list at Atria Covell Gardens, an assisted living facility for the elderly.

It is also completely inappropriate to argue seniors should downsize for the good of the community, to free up housing for the workforce and help end the problem of declining enrollment in our schools. Seniors have a constitutionally protected right to remain in their homes for as long as they want. Furthermore, seniors often use extra bedrooms for visiting relatives, live-in caregivers, and to rent for supplemental income. The elderly often have an emotional attachment to their home as well. Moreover, to sell to a stranger would eliminate the possible transfer of tax advantages of Prop 13 to the senior homeowner’s children.

Nor can one argue, with a straight face, that parents of adult Davisites represent part of the “internal need” of Davis. This line of misleading reasoning is as follows: parents who live outside the city will eventually want to move to Davis, to live where their adult children reside. But logic tells us that just as many elderly parents who live in Davis will want to move outside the city to be with adult children who live elsewhere. Not to mention those elderly in Davis who want to move AWAY from their adult children!

Be it good, bad or indifferent, here are a set of proposed guidelines I would like to see the City Council follow any time they are thinking of approving new housing, along with a checklist. I welcome any and all comments, constructive criticisms and new ideas.

General Housing Principles

A. General Housing Principles

  • COMMUNITY PLANNED - Determination of housing requirements should not be “developer driven”, but accomplished in response to the expressed desires of the community.
    • INDEPENDENT MARKET ANALYSIS - Market analysis of the true community need for housing should be done by an independent consultant who has no ties to the developer/city staff/city council members. The analysis should speak to:
      • Affordability - in which the term is used in its broadest sense to include those of moderate income within the city of Davis.
      • Marketability - determination if there is a true demand for specific types of housing proposed.
    • BUILD IN SMALLER INCREMENTS - Build housing developments encompassing all housing types when practicable in smaller increments (phases), to better ascertain if it is meeting the true ongoing community needs of the city.
  • COST TO TAXPAYERS FOR CITY SERVICES - An examination of cost in city services (additional tax burden) to all citizens, of a new development, should be mandatory as part of any application to build.
    • City services to be investigated would include but is not limited to fire protection, law enforcement, parks maintenance, increase in water/sewer rate increases and the like.
    • Developers should be required to pay mitigation fees in full, to decrease the cost of city services to residents of Davis.
  • SOUND PLANNING PRINCIPLES - Implement sound planning principles that take into account what is best for the entire community, including but not limited to:
    • Avoidance of development in larger flood plains or next to toxic sites;
    • Air quality considerations;
    • Good traffic management.
  • ACCESSABILITY/VISITABILITY - The principles of accessibility/visitability should be incorporated into all new housing.

B. Senior Housing Guidelines

    In determining the need for senior housing in Davis for its citizens, the following factors need to be taken into account in any market analysis:

  • AGE DEFINITIONS - Age definitions or restrictions must be well defined, e.g. age 65 and over.
  • PREFERENCE TO REMAIN HOME - Preference of 87% of seniors to remain in their homes, according to AARP survey.
  • DOWNSIZING - A need to downsize - because either a) there is a medical crisis that requires it; b) the owner of a larger home recognizes s/he can no longer manage its upkeep; c) or there is simply a desire to be among peers.
  • HOUSING OPTIONS - A need for different housing types for seniors, who cannot/do not wish to remain in their homes, should be considered.
    • HOUSING SUITABLE FOR SENIORS - Many seniors are not in favor of living in age-restricted housing, preferring housing suitable for seniors. Creative options should be explored, such as cooperative housing or shared housing alternatives.
    • AGE-RESTRICTED SENIOR HOUSING - Age-restricted senior housing types to be contemplated are as follows:
        • Independent living: cottage, townhouse, mobile home, independent living facility;
        • Assisted living facility (residential care facility for the elderly - RCFE);
        • Skilled nursing facility (skilled nursing facility - SNF);
        • Continuum of care facility.
  • SUPPORT SERVICES - Nearby or accompanying support services should be taken into account for any senior housing built:
    • Transit;
    • Social services
      • The impact of importing seniors from outside the county and the attendant drain on existing city/county social services should be assessed, in determining the overall “internal” need for senior housing.
      • The wait-lists of current city facilities should be factored into the overall picture as to true community need.
  • LOCATION - Because seniors often no longer drive a car, the preferred location for any proposed senior housing should be close to:
        • public transit if there is no on-site shuttle;
        • shopping (especially grocery store and pharmacy);
        • a medical facility.

Lesson to be learned: Planning ahead and getting true community input about housing needs can head off a lot of potential problems in the future. It will also result in projects that are designed for the best interests of the community. While Tandem Properties’ proposal sounds like a veritable Disneyland for the elderly, it will bring with it high costs in additional city services. Without additional commercial development instituted to raise more tax revenue, current citizens in Davis may not be able to handle the greater tax burden required.

(Please note the opinions expressed are solely my own, and not stated as a reflection of the view of the Davis Senior Citizens Commission.)

Fraud Alert: An ad appeared in the Davis Enterprise some weeks ago entitled “The Disturbing Truth About Reverse Mortgages!!!”, touting a free report on the subject. I called the number given, only to connect with a recording that wanted me to leave my name and address. Not a single bit of information was imparted to make me aware of what I might be receiving or give some indication if I would even be interested.. I hung up immediately, since I did not want to take the chance of being placed on some mailing list (sometimes known as a ‘sucker list’), which could then be sold to who knows what unsavory financial predator. What is important here is to note the tiny print in the left hand corner which reads “Paid Advertisement”. If there is a product or service for sale, the retailer should be up front about it.

A notice appeared in the June 26th Davis Enterprise, advising the public that a seminar on trusts had been conducted at the Davis Chamber of Commerce office. It wanted to make sure the public did not construe this as a Chamber of Commerce endorsement of whoever rented their facilities for this seminar. My terse comment would be such a notice was nothing more than “too little, too late”. The disclaimer would have been far more appropriate if stated directly before the seminar, on site. A 1.5 in. x 1.5 in. disclaimer buried among huge ads in a newspaper is hardly sufficient. As an attorney, I have dealt with several cases involving these trust mills, and the results have not always been what they should be. Trust mills tend to be a one size fits all operation, where most seniors have no idea what they purchased or whether it is suitable for their particular circumstances.

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

Monday, September 01, 2008

California On Verge of Re-Writing the Book on Land-Use--Links Growth Goals and Climate Issues

A bill sponsored by Sacramento's State Senator Darrell Steinberg would change the way California does land-use--fusing the issues of urban growth and global warming. The state would use roughly $12 billion per year in transportation funds as an incentive to steer communities toward land-use policies that contain sprawl.

But it is even more sweeping than that. As the California Progress Report cites broad negotiations between a variety of stakeholders.
"The triumph of this bill reflects months of intense negotiations between major environmental groups, the building industry, affordable housing advocates, and state and local governments. Senator Steinberg has been lauded for bringing these groups, often at war with each other in the past, together for this bill. SB 375 marks the first time major environmental organizations, local governments, major homebuilders and affordable housing advocates have agreed on a plan to account for California’s population growth and achieve AB 32 greenhouse gas emission reduction goals at the same time. In return for a quicker process to approve housing under California’s Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), new development will have to consider transportation in planning."
Senator Steinberg said:
"If California is to fully implement AB 32, we must address how our communities grow. SB 375 will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks and improve Californians’ quality of life through smart, coordinated regional planning. I urge the Governor to sign SB 375.”
The Governor now has to sign the bill, he has not taken a position on it, but has championed some of its goals.

According to one analysis the bill would work like this:
"Under the measure, the state Air Resources Board would establish targets for 17 regions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as part of a broader campaign to curb global warming. It then would be up to local planning agencies, such as [SACOG] – to help cities and counties implement land-use policies that would meet those goals.

Regional agencies are expected to encourage more compact development, linking residents to transit, jobs and shopping."
The key to this bill though was Steinberg able to forge broad coalitions together.
"The legislation offers builders density concessions, relief from time-consuming and costly environmental reviews, stronger safeguards against litigation aimed at stopping projects, and assurances that proposals complying with general plans will not be arbitrarily derailed."
The California Progress Report quotes the heads of California League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resources Defense Council--both of whom sponsored the bill--along with the Chair of the California Building Industry Association with strong words of support.

One of the key provisions of the bill is taking RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) and adjusting it to become aligned with the land use plan in that region's Sustainable Communities Strategy which will account for greenhouse gas reduction targets.

The California Progress Report quotes Tom Adams, who is President of the CLVC. He put the bill into historical perspective. The key to this bill is that it puts housing into areas that will decrease drive times. It will create more compact and denser development rather than the continuation of sprawl.
“In my view, SB 375 is the most important land use bill in California since enactment of the Coast Act. It has taken 32 years since that bill was enacted to bring a coalition together who could make major land use change in California. Senator Steinberg has accomplished that in this bill and it is an amazing achievement on his part and we are tremendously grateful for his leadership.

“This is the equation for solving the problems that we face in terms of housing, getting shorter commute times for people. When you have shorter commutes, you reduce vehicle miles traveled. It’s also important to recognize that you reduce traffic congestion.

“What this bill will do is say that regional housing needs assessment and the strategies that will be adopted under the regional transportation planning process will be aligned. The housing distribution throughout the region will be put in locations that will help California achieve its strategic environmental goals of climate policy, air quality, and energy conservation.

“Finally, the bill amends the California Environmental Quality Act, the environmental quality act that is California’s premiere statute for protecting the environment….So that the procedures for environmental review of projects rewards projects that are consistent with strategies that achieve our climate goals, air quality and energy conservation and helps us promote the kinds of transit priority projects that are needed for the future of California.

“Each of these issue areas—land use, the regional housing needs allocation program, and the California Environmental Quality Act are regarded by many people as sacred cows. They certainly are, at a minimum, a minefield for anyone who want to amend them.

“I think to say that we would have just done land use would have been incredible. Or just to have done the housing program or just to have done CEQA. This bill is a trifecta of the impossible. Senator Steinberg has managed to pull together a bill that brings some of the most important and most difficult statutes in the state of California into alignment so that we can achieve housing that is needed, environmental quality, climate policy, air quality, reduced congestion, increased housing choices, and have a better transportation policy for California.”

What does this all mean?

It is difficult to assess what it means for communities like Davis. But I think overall it has several worthwhile goals.

First, we have to start looking toward the development of public and alternative transportation. One of the key hurdles to a good and unified public transportation system in California is our land-use policies that has continued to build out rather than up or create more density. The result is that public transportation is inefficient, it takes too long in many cases to take public transit from the suburbs into the cities. As that changes, we can begin to develop infrastructure that takes us out of our cars.

Second, by building more compactly, by placing precedence on locations that are closer to jobs, we begin to reduce drive times. Frankly, I think most of us would like to eliminate the need for commuting, and this is a good first step.

Third, some may raise eyebrows here, but I think it makes sense, in order to get the other side on board, they attempted to streamline the process of getting approval for projects through CEQA and the environmental review of projects. What this does is say that if projects are consistent with the goals of his project, approval is streamlined and hastened. The goals of the environmental review process are now aligned with achieving reduction of carbon emissions and energy conservations.

This is such a sweeping bill however, that the full consequences of its enactment may not be known for some time. Again, it is unclear how it will impact a place such as Davis. However, even in Davis, the move has been away from sprawl and towards higher density and more infill projects as a means not only to preserve farmland but also to reduce drive times.

One thing that is certainly true, we could not continue with our prior land-use polices of unmitigated sprawl development in the broader sense in California. Encroachment onto farmland not only puts farming at risk, but endangers the environment and increases our dependency on oil. This is a broad step that shows the political skill of Senator Steinberg.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Wrapping up the Week of the DNC Convention: What in the Heck Was McCain Thinking?

Once again a hearty thanks to Don Gibson for taking us onto the floor of the Democratic convention. For me, I am so focused on local politics, that it took some time for me to get into the convention this year. But all in all, the Democrats did pretty much what they needed to do this week--they needed to come together and bury the hatchet from a tough primary season.

Hillary Clinton made that easy on Tuesday night with an electrifying speech that frankly, I thought was better than any speech that she had ever given. And I think it was not even close. It might have been a better speech than she was capable of giving.

Bill Clinton was Bill Clinton. The media spent a lot of time focusing on the personal differences between the Clintons and the Obamas, but they forgot something. With the Clintons, they are professionals first, Democrats second, and only third are they people.

If McCain's goal in naming Sarah Palin was to get the Democrats off the front page, he succeeded. However, if his goal was anything beyond that, I think the pick was an abysmal failure.

McCain expected that Hillary voters would support a right wing, anti-choice, anti-health care, and anti-environmental woman just because she is a woman, he is in for a rude awakening. Hillary supporters rightfully ought to be insulted by this pick. But once again it underscores just how important Hillary will be for this election. If she wants a key post, it is hers.

I know conservatives love this pick because Palin is a conservative. But let's face it, she's not just a conservative, she's an Alaskan conservative.

Her pedigree is just not impressive. I have to believe the Republicans could have found someone more qualified. She's been the Governor of a small state for a short period of time. Before that, she was part-time mayor of a city of 9,000 people. I cannot even think of a parallel person to this in California.

Her parents had to come back from caribou hunting so they could hear her announcement. Her husband is a worker for the oil company.

Do not just take the word of partisan Democrats on this. Gallup found that Democratic women said that the Palin pick makes 9% of them say that they are more likely to support McCain, but 15% less likely.

A Rasmussen Poll shows by a 41% to 35% margin, men said she was not ready to be president. Women more soundly reject her by a 48 to 25 margin.

In the Gallup Poll taken on Friday, overall 39% say she is ready to serve as president if needed, 33% said she is not and 29% have no opinion. That is apparently the lowest vote of confidence for a running mate since Dan Quayle.

Joe Biden on the other hand was seen as qualified by a 57 to 18 margin.

To me this pick does two things, neither of which are good for McCain.

First, it takes away the "he's not ready to lead" issue that the Republicans were attempting to use against Obama. The Democrats focused on that issue this past week. They knew it was a concern. The Republicans were going to focus on it exclusively next week at their convention. The issue is gone because every time the Republicans raise it, the Democrats have a quick counter.

Second, it puts the age issue on the table. Let us face it, McCain is 72. 72 is not old like it once was, but McCain is not in the best of health. He has survived at least two serious bouts of melanoma cancer. Therefore, he needed to have a strong running mate to diffuse any possible concern about the age and health issues. The line would go, well he's old and not in the greatest of health, but you will be in good hands with so-and-so. That defense is gone.

There is actually a third liability that enters the picture--the judgment issue. When they attack Obama as not ready to lead, the Democrats can counter that the first decision made by any Presidential candidate is their choice of Vice Presidential running mates. Obama can say his choice was the well-respected Senator from Delaware whereas McCain's choice was the former mayor from a tiny city in Alaska.

Those close to McCain suggest this shows his gambling side. He has rolled the dice. Privately they wonder if this is a decision more indicative about being down 20 in the polls then in a neck-and-neck race.

I did not understand this pick. I did not understand it when it was made and I do not understand it now. John McCain certainly changed the dynamics of this race, he certainly got the focus off of Obama's speech, but I am still not sure that this is a good thing for him.

When Governor Palin got up to speak, she sounded more like a PTA President than a Vice Presidential candidate. I respect PTA presidents in our local schools, but I guess I just expect a bit more experience from our Vice President. The key, though, is to watch the body language of McCain. He was not calm and comfortable. He was not confident. he was picking his fingers, fidgeting, and playing with his ring. I think this is a sure sign of a lack of confidence. Will the gamble work? We will find out. Right now though, I seriously question the judgment and decision-making of John McCain.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting