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Saturday, September 13, 2008

City of Davis Getting Water-Jacked on Multiple Angles

Is Council Finally Having Serious Concerns About the Cost of the Wastewater Project?

At some point it would probably benefit everyone to go back through the records and look at the increases in the estimated cost of the wastewater treatment plant upgrade. I believe that since early last year when I first took note of the wastewater project the estimated cost of the project has risen from around $150 million to over $200 million.

Finally, the city council is taking a serious look at ways to reduce the costs. The real question is why has it taken so long? But at least now the council is looking into the costs.

It also seems that the city is finally taking the advice of Councilmember Sue Greenwald and consulting with local water experts to see if there are other ways to make this happen.

Of course, Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor had to dissent on that vote, claiming he was uncomfortable with the process that involved naming individuals who could assist the city. He preferred a more general call for help from interested individuals. That is not surprising given his strong ties with consultants West Yest and Associates who have been contracted to work on this project.

Councilmember Sue Greenwald has always maintained that she has contact with water experts who could assist in this program. However, she has never been willing to name them and to be proactive in recruiting them. This has even led some of her supporters to become frustrated.

However with that issue aside, she has been the strongest advocate for looking at different ways to do both this project and the water supply project which figures to be at least as expensive.

The city has officially until October 1, 2015 to comply with stricter water discharge standards.

Councilmember Stephen Souza suggested that a delay in the project would be worth it if it ended up leading to cost savings for the city. On the other hand, Public Works Director Bob Weir was more reluctant to do so. At one point suggesting that this project was the only certain way to meet new tougher requirements.

My favorite part of this however were the remarks by Councilmember Don Saylor who contacted The Enterprise after the fact.
Councilman Don Saylor told The Enterprise today that his intention with having Emlen continue to work with the project designers while also researching other options was to meet the state's compliance timeline while also making sure the project is the best fit.

'There's a high likelihood that the majority of the project design will remain intact,' he said. 'And so we don't want to lose ground on the progress. ...

'However, it's important that we are extremely confident that we do as much value engineering, cost reduction as is warranted' and carefully consider alternatives.
Value engineering? Is that some nuanced political doublespeak?

If left up to Mr. Saylor, the city would be spending exactly what the estimate says. The process has been altered by the continued outspokeness of some of his colleagues like Councilmember Greenwald who has from day one asserted that this project is entirely too expensive and we should be looking for alternative ways. Mr. Saylor has rejected and failed to consider those warnings until now, and even now, he voted against the project.

He wants to sound reasonable and diplomatic here, but he has taken absolutely no leadership on this issue. Now he plays catch up with some well-rehearsed double speak about "value engineering" and "cost reduction" all the while giving the same tired line about not wanting to "lose ground on the progress."

What progress is that? Forcing through an expensive construction project that will likely double people's sewer rates?

This discussion on Tuesday followed an interesting discussion on existing sewer rates that have been recalibrated to a formula that was poorly explained to the public. Now a good number of people in the public have seen their water rates skyrocket in the last few months using the new system because unbeknownst to them their rates are being calculated using an entirely different methodology.

A member of the public came before public comment and wanted to know why his sewer rates had jumped so much. It turns out there was an item on the consent agenda that related to this.

The methodology has changed from a flat rate to an actual consumption of water during the winter months. There were a little over one thousand people that had excessive rates of charges based on the new methodology.

This happened because a large number of people were not aware that come August 1, their bill would be based on their average consumption rather than the previous flat rate.

I know on this blog the issue has been asked by a few people at least who were surprised by the sharp increase of their water bills. Obviously 1000 people is a small number compared to the total population of the city, but it seems once again that the city somehow failed to convey to people exactly how and when the water rate methodology would change.

Leak detection and water usage in the wintertime are now critical for people to pay attention to.

Here is my concern--listening to the questions posed to Bob Weir by Stephen Souza, Mr. Weir seemed very defensive. The issue is not water usage here, but sewer usage. And yet the metering that they are doing is for water usage. So as Mr. Souza pointed out at one point, there are people who garden year round, that means they are using water during the winter for their gardening. Well if they are using water for their gardening, then the water is not going into the sewers.

Mr. Weir's response?
"Well, we will continue to refine what we are looking at. This is meant to get us obviously a stop gap measure. Then as we look at the 09-10 rates, perfect this, what is the best we can do in terms of what is the wintertime usage of water..."
Did Bob Weir say anything here? Actually I think he said a lot. He's basically admitting that the system is not doing what it is supposed to be doing. It is certainly not measuring sewer usage but rather water usage. Moreover, he is basically admitting that they put a system into place that is costing people a lot of money and they did this as a stopgap measure that has flaws.

Again, the money that they are playing with is not their own money, but that of the public. And yet Bob Weir hardly seemed concerned.

Bob Weir also mentioned that while there was a lot of publicity about these changes, however, "no matter what you do, some people aren't going to get that message." You can miss the committee meetings, miss the Prop. 218 notice, miss the "Utility Connection," or "see it and not have it register."

Are these means of communication sufficient? I think when you are dealing with something of this magnitude, we could be talking about hundreds of dollars per month that many people just cannot afford, the city has to do more. If 10 percent of the public reads the "Utility Connection" I would be stunned.

I have to belabor this point here because I do not think the city does an adequate job of notification. There was a suggestion that they should have done a concurrent sample price scale for a period of time. What that would mean, is that there would be a line in your current sewer bill that said: "your current bill is... " And then the next line would demonstrate their monthly bill using the new methodology. People may still miss that, but for a lot of people that would have been a wake up call.

But the problem is that they think of these things after the fact. The city always seems to be a step behind in their methods of communication and they also seem to make costly changes first and ask questions and resolve it later. Again, the people who suffer from this approach are the ratepayers.

In my opinion, there is a time bomb being lit in this city. For the amount of complaining on this blog on a relatively modest $120 per year increase to keep programs and teachers at Davis Joint Unified for school children, the rate increases from water alone will dwarf that. Just from this methodology change a person could pay more than ten-fold extra per year if they were caught off guard and were one of the unfortunate souls that did not see the city's attempts at communication.

The city council has dragged its feet on these issues and finally is waking up to the fact that the water treatment plant will cost more than they anticipated--which was already way too high for a lot of the residents in Davis.

I am really glad that the city is not taking seriously the prospect of "value engineering" and "cost reduction." To me it seems lip service for being a day late and hundreds of millions of dollars too short.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, September 12, 2008

Cell Phone Laws Hands-Free Restriction--Are people Complying?

Back at the end of June the public was bombarded with news stories on television and in the newspaper that a new law was coming. Drivers would be fined if they are caught using a phone without some sort of hands-free device while driving. The first offense carries with it a $20 and that increases to $50 for subsequent violations.

On the other hand, despite being a clear public safety risk the DMV would not assign a point on people's driving record.

Despite an article last week in the Davis Enterprise which stated that most people are now following the law, I have not seen much evidence of that. Every time I am driving around town, I see a sizable number of people talking on the phone as though no law existed. Perhaps this suggests that people are now aware of the law and stash their phone safely away when they see a police vehicle.

I was curious as to whether or not the Davis Police were issuing citations for the offense.

So in early August, I made a public records request to the police department and was told that there were 42 citations issued in the month of July for violation of the hands-free cell phone restriction.

Of course, there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. Statistics do not mean much without context and so there was little way to evaluate what 42 meant. Is that a high a number? Or a low number?

I surmised that despite the CHP warning in late June that there would be no grace period, perhaps on the street, officers might be giving warning rather than tickets in the first month.

So I waited a month and made the same records request for August and discovered that the number fell from 42 to 27.

So either people were complying more or the police were issuing fewer citations.

My research on this included a few conversations with some in law enforcement, the gist I came with is that this is not a priority for law enforcement in Davis. There is no really assigned traffic officers anyway other than the motorcycle officers. The priority has been to patrol in front of the schools. So any citations would be almost incidental. Thus 69 citations in two months might actually be higher than expected.

Anecdotally, there are two confounding pieces of information. The first is the number of people I have personally observed driving while talking on their cell phones. The other is the large quantity of blue-tooths and other hands-free devices that have been purchased recently.

At the end of the day, I am still torn on the issue anyway. Studies have shown cell phone usage is comparable to drinking while driving in terms of impaired reaction time. TV shows have shown people driving while talking on the phone cannot react to road obstacles nearly as fast as those who have full attention. On the other hand, even holding a conversation hands-free slows that down. The safety issue is fairly clear-cut.

On the other hand, the libertarian side of me would prefer that government impose fewer such laws on the public. If someone is an actual safety risk due to them being distracted on the phone, by all means pull them over. But if someone is basically driving safely and obeying the laws, let them continue to talk on the phone.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Yolo County Releases Draft of Updated General Plan

Draft General Plan Document Released

[FROM COUNTY PRESS RELEASE] (Woodland, CA) – Today, the Yolo County Draft General Plan was released to the public. On September 16, a joint meeting of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission will be held to receive a presentation on the Draft General Plan. The General Plan is the basic document used by local government in land use planning. It provides the comprehensive long-term plan for the physical development of the county, and is often referred to as “the constitution” of the county. All cities and counties are required, under state law, to have one.

The last update was in 1983, based on the county’s original General Plan from 1958. In May 2003, the Board of Supervisors gave direction to begin the current General Plan update process. This is only the third time in the county’s history that the General Plan has been comprehensively updated. While the fundamental land use goals of promoting agriculture and directing urban growth to the cities have not changed, circumstances facing the county have changed. Agriculture requires flexibility to allow it to branch out into processing and tourism related businesses. Similarly, several of the county’s small towns require new infrastructure, investment, and services that can accompany well-designed growth. There is also a greater need for economic development to provide growth and stability to the county revenues that pay for local services. This General Plan update allows the county to examine these issues and chart a course for the future that meets these challenges.

Yolo County is 653,549 acres in size, of which 32,325 acres (just under 5%) lies within the four incorporated cities. Currently, approximately 23,265 residents live in 7,263 homes within the remaining 95% of the county, along side 430 acres of job-producing commercial and industrial land. Under the existing 1983 General Plan, another 11,240 residents, 4,014 homes, and 1,440 acres of commercial and industrial land could be added. The Preferred Land Use Alternative, adopted by the Board of Supervisors on September 18, 2007, is the basis for creating the General Plan update. In addition to the 1983 General Plan, it would allow for another 26,600 residents, 9,500 homes, and 901 acres of economic development through the year 2030.

The four primary proposed land use changes that account for these increases include:
  • Dunnigan community expansion (21,000 residents, 7,500 units, and 430 job-producing acres)
  • Madison community expansion (3,655 residents, 1,305 units, and 116 job-producing acres)
  • New commercial and industrial development in Elkhorn (320 job-producing acres)
  • Conversion to industrial at Spreckels site (69 job-producing acres)
The growth in Dunnigan and Madison is reflective of a desire by the Board of Supervisors to ensure the future sustainability of these communities, including a minimum population to support basic community services as well as carefully structured land uses to ensure that the number and price of homes roughly match the number and wages of local jobs. The growth in Elkhorn and Spreckels is supportive of the Board of Supervisors’ economic development priorities and both highlight site-specific resource opportunities of the county. It should be noted that development in Knights Landing and Esparto is already planned under the 1983 General Plan.

New policy directions in the proposed Draft General Plan focus on the following primary themes:

  • The continuing primacy of agriculture and related endeavors throughout the county, by allowing for more economic innovation and aggressively protecting the water and soil resources upon which farming depends.
  • Modest managed growth within existing towns, accompanied by improvements to infrastructure and services to ensure community sustainability.
  • Expanded protection of a network of connected open space and recreational areas, integrated with the Yolo Natural Heritage Program.
  • Opportunities for revenue-producing and job-producing agricultural, industrial, and commercial growth in designated locations and along key transportation corridors.
  • Manage the existing road network to make the most of existing capacity, while accommodating a diversity of users and alternative modes of transportation.
  • Service levels that allow for the effective and efficient provision of services, consistent with rural values and expectations.
  • A comprehensive approach to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and plan for the potential impacts of global climate change.
  • New emphasis on community and neighborhood requirements that reflect “smart growth” and “healthy design” principles, which complement the unique character of existing developed areas.
All Yolo County residents are urged to follow this important process which will shape the future of Yolo County. Comments on the document will be accepted by the Planning and Public Works Department through November 20, 2008. To view the Draft General Plan, the schedule of upcoming public meetings, or to find additional general information on the General Plan update, visit:

Hard copies of the Draft General Plan are available for viewing and check-out at all Yolo County library branches (visit: for branch locations) and the Yolo County Planning & Public Works (PPW) Department (292 West Beamer Street in Woodland). Hard copies of the Draft General Plan are available for purchase at PPW for $50.00 or on CD for $4.50.


Last summer the city of Davis and Yolo County over the extent to which the city of Davis could control growth on its borders. The city at that point argued that the pass-through agreement gave the city primary land use authority in areas covered by the agreement and any attempt by the county to study the issue would be put the agreement in jeopardy and cause the city to withhold its roughly $2 million per year that it sends from its redevelopment agency to the county in exchange for the county ceding land use authority.

Under strong pressure from residents of Davis including a united from of the Davis City Council, the county almost at the last second reversed course and tabled further talk about creating special study areas on the border of Davis. What is interesting is that after that time, there was insistence by some that this issue was not over. That any tabling of discussion was merely temporary and that the county could reopen the issue at any point in time.

At least in the Davis form of the General Plan that is not the case. Residential growth for the most part appears to be limited to two primary locations--Dunnigan and Madison--ironically enough two areas that had re-entry facilities proposed. As I understand it, Dunnigan for instance has actually lobbied the board for more growth rather than less. I do not know if it is the same in Madison.

There is an interesting article in this morning's Sacramento Bee that Madison now seeks to fight against the re-entry facility. I mention this because while they are not talking about creating a new city in Madison as they are in Dunnigan, adding 3600 residents to the existing population will likely strongly change the current character of Madison. Arguments that there lacks sufficient instruction in Madison miss the point that the infrastructure is going to have to come anyway in order for it to add 3600 residents in the next general plan period.

That is really an aside in the issue of the re-entry facility, but it is interesting to note. As the release says, comments are due by November 20, 2008, so we will see between now and then if this plan stirs up much dissent in Madison and Dunnigan. In the meantime, it does appear that Davis has prevailed in its efforts to determine its own growth. I am certain some will have disparaging remarks to make about that. From my perspective all communities should determine how much they grow and how their character will change. People like to use the term NIMBY but then they forget that people sink their life savings into their homes and property, I guess it's easy to disparage someone else's efforts.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Investigation into Grand Jury Charges Costly to City

In June, the Yolo County Grand Jury released its annual report, in it were reports that severely questioned some of the operations of the Davis Fire Department. City leaders and the Vanguard called for an independent investigation into these allegations hoping that the issue would be resolved one way or another.

The city manager named Police Ombudsman Bob Aaronson as the independent instigator and he has been hard at work interviewing past and current Davis firefighters.

However, on the council agenda this past Tuesday was an item authorizing an additional expenditure of $35,000 to Mr. Aaronson in order to conduct this investigation.
The city's staff report reads:
"Mr. Aaronson’s charge for investigations is $195 per hour plus expenses. Staff had hoped to keep the cost of the investigation below $25,000. It now appears likely that cap will be exceeded as he has already spent many hours interviewing employees and others affiliated with the Fire Department. There has been more interest than we originally anticipated from employees and others to meet with Mr. Aaronson to talk about the Grand Jury findings and it is apparent that for Mr. Aaronson to complete a comprehensive and fair report, additional time and costs are required. As the total amount for the project is now expected to exceed the amount the City Manager is allowed to authorize without Council approval, staff requests that Council approve the attached resolution to authorize the City Manager to execute Amendment #1 to the original contract, which would extend the contract with Bob Aaronson in an amount not to exceed $35,000."
This item was placed on the consent calendar, however Councilmember Lamar Heystek pulled the item from consent and proceeded to ask the City Manager, Bill Emlen, a number of questions about this contract extension. One of the more surprising responses was the acknowledgment that Bob Aaronson's base contract which awards him with $60,000 as a part-time Ombudsman, would not be sufficient to conduct an independent investigation even of the Davis Police Department.

It was my understanding that the reason he was hired was expressly to do these sorts of investigations into the police department as warranted. This has led to further questions about the position and what the position is supposed to do and whether the position's focus has shifted from its original intention. For instance, Bill Emlen mentioned that Mr. Aaronson was instrumental in helping the department to resolve the issue of videos in squad cars. While it is great that Mr. Aaronson could provide that assistance to the department, it does not seem to be the role that he was hired to do. There would seem a number of individuals better suited for the role of fixing the video systems in squad cars.

That said, I have been one of the most outspoken advocates for conducting this independent investigation and I have at this point full confidence in Mr. Aaronson's ability to conduct it and really believe he was not only the best option but the only option to produce a report that would have the necessary impartiality to convey confidence no matter the outcome. Nevertheless aspects of this contract were concerning. During a conversation with Bob Aaronson, he recommended I interview him on the record about these concerns so that he could address them to the best of his ability.

According to Bob Aaronson there will be two different versions of a final report on this incident:
"One that I will anticipate being released publicly and one that I will anticipate being held confidentially."
He hopes to have this completed perhaps by the end of October if not sooner.
"My hope at this point is to be done within the next 30 to 45 days. How it plays out after that isn’t my call."
When Councilmember Heystek asked Bill Emlen what the $35,000 cost was covering, Bill Emlen gave vague and non-specific answers.

Bob Aaronson told me that he would not be provided with support staff on this investigation.
"The investigation includes extensive interviews, document review, basically in my view, I am studying the fire department. It’s hard always to predict what I’m going to decide is relevant to an aspect of the investigation. I am interviewing current employees. I may or may not interview some former employees as well as interviewing people outside of the fire department. In my experience investigations are labor intensive. There isn’t a substitute for that."
Unfortunately he believes that these types of investigations are costly.
"The core problem is that an investigation, I don’t care who conducts it, is very labor intensive. It winds up being very expensive no matter who conducts it."
In fact, it is more costly than even the $35,000 implies.
"The $35,000 does not represent the entire cost of the investigation, because basically I have shifted hours out of the police ombudsman area in order to try to keep down the additional costs. So I would estimate I’ve probably shifted 20 hours so far."
The basic cost of this investigation probably runs from $50,000 to $60,000.
"If it’s going to be a thorough investigation it’s going to cost. Frankly if a jurisdiction I didn’t work in called me, and made this proposal, fire department, about 50 employees, you’re probably going to have to interview most of them, some former employees, there’s this grand jury report, and there’s basically a Jackson Pollack picture of the issues, it’s not a single issue, it’s all of these confused, convoluted issues, I’d probably quote them that it would be at least $50 to 60,000 maybe more."
I did not ask him, though I should have, what work he was doing as Police Ombudsman was being scrapped because of the fire investigation.

However, this additional contract was necessary for a variety of reasons, one of which was that he couldn't use all of his hours as police ombudsman to conduct this investigation.
"It wouldn’t have been feasible for me to try to complete this investigation and basically steal all of my hours from police to do it. In fact, I suspect that certain bloggers would take issue with the fact that the oversight of the police department had fallen off the edge of the table because the fire department investigation was taking precedence."
He suggested that if he had attempted to do that this would have been an eight or nine month investigation based on the number of monthly hours he would use.
"If you read the contract, I think it more or less lays it out. I don’t think anyone envisioned that the contract was going to actually encompass the hours that it would take to conduct my own investigation. That for the most part that contract is there to interact with the public, to review citizens complaints, to do a certain amount of ride-alongs, to basically be involved as oversight as opposed to first line investigation."
Mr. Aaronson also emphasized to me that this is a very rare occurrence. In Santa Cruz for instance, he has had one independent investigation in six years. That is the highly publicized case where the police illegally conducted surveillance on peace protesters.
"I would be surprised if this comes up [independent investigations by the ombudsman] more than every third or fourth year. I suppose there is a remote possibility if the city was satisfied with my report that they might use me more. But my general experience is that it’s with that frequency."
While Mr. Emlen suggested that Mr. Aaronson would possibly need an additional contract to conduct these type of investigations into the Davis Police Department, Mr. Aaronson somewhat downplayed that possibility.

A chief difference between the police department and the fire department is that the police already have investigators capable of conducting these kinds of investigations. They have investigators that primarily do arson investigations, but most fire departments, particularly small departments like Davis do not have professional standards units like those that exist in police departments.
There aren’t people who work for the fire department that have the level of expertise. There are people in the police department that have the level of expertise to conduct a competent, thorough investigation.
As a result in a case like the Buzayan case, Bob Aaronson would like operate more as an auditor than as the primary investigator.
"There are instances where if the decision were made that I felt comfortable with, that the police department would do the initial investigation in something like the Buzayan case."
However, the question as to whether he would need an additional contract to conduct his own investigation appears to be answered in the affirmative.
"I could be involved and it wouldn’t necessarily require an additional contract. On the other hand if I were asked to be the lead investigator on it, it would probably require an additional contract."
In the role of auditor, he believes for the most part, he can review the case and have a general sense if the the investigation was done correctly.
"In my view there’s a way, that once I know the given investigator and I know the quality of their work product because when I audit an investigation, I’m listening to things in their interviews and I’m comparing it with the transcripts and the summaries. Then I go through their analysis with a fine-tooth comb. I’m making sure that they’ve gathered all of the evidence, and talked to all of the witnesses. So I suppose it would be possible to sneak something past me, but it’s pretty hard.

I listen to the recorded interviews of the witnesses, because typically that will tell me a lot about what the investigator did or didn’t do. If I have a heightened level of concern in a given case, I might insert myself more. But generally speaking I find that auditing is a way to provide the oversight function in a cost effective way."
It is the cost of these investigations that drives the form of them.
"In an effort at cost savings, both in Davis and also in Santa Cruz, the vast majority of investigations are conducted by city employees and I audit those investigations."
He continued,
"Part of the reason I’ve taken the job here and I’ve taken the job in Santa Cruz, and when we first did the interview I discussed this, this to me is an experiment in trying to find a way to provide cost effective civilian oversight to jurisdictions that couldn’t support a fulltime function. If you sit down and look at some of the bigger jurisdictions, they spend a lot of money. And even those aren’t even doing their own investigations. This is the big difference around the reason why something like the office of citizen complaints in San Francisco is such a huge budget line item for San Francisco and on the top of that, they have a terrible backlog. If you want to do an investigation thoroughly, you’re going to have to pay for it."
Notably he added:
"You are basically asking for a fancy French meal at McDonald’s prices. And that’s really hard."
However, Bob Aaronson did reiterate that while he was trying to conduct this in a prudent fiscal manner, he was confident he would do an effective investigation.
"I’m not going to do a substandard job."
He elaborated on this:
"I really relish working as the police ombudsman here in Davis. A concern I had very early on, in taking on this additional assignment was that something in the additional assignment would sour people to the extent that it would undermine my ability to go forward as the police ombudsman. One way to have that sour would be to force the city to pay more than they can reasonably bear. Part of the difficulty is that some of the allegations that are raised, are allegations that if true might mean that there are employees that have lawsuits against the city. Six figure law suits. How much do you want to expend investigating six figure lawsuits?"
During the meeting on Tuesday night, Bill Emlen mentioned that Bob Aaronson had paused his investigation while the contractual matter was being ironed out. Bob Aaronson was able to clarify this point.
"One of the things I most fault big investigations for is how much time it takes for them to be completed. So if I have time on my schedule when I’m available for some given assignment I like to really plunge in. I think I got ahead of everyone else. I would up doing a lot of work, conducting a lot of interviews in a relatively short period of time. It became apparent to me that although city officials had been alerted to what the expense was going to be, those things hadn’t been moved into place."
Mr. Aaronson told me that he's probably interviewed between 25 and 30 people already.

He emphasized the fact that the fire department has been extremely cooperative in this entire process.
"A positive sign is that there’s no question that the fire administration has an interest, it has been expressed to me, in as thorough an investigation as possible. They’ve encouraged employees to come and talk to me."
Moreover, he has not felt that the fire department has tried to thwart his efforts.
"I haven’t gotten the impression that the fire department is trying to shut me down or push me away in any way, shape, or form."
Finally he also emphasized that citizens should not be concerned about the quality of the service provided by the fire department.
"If there are people in the public that having heard things are concerned about service to the public, the piece that I can share at this point, neither the grand jury report nor anything that I have seen in my work suggests that the public is being disserved. I think that the quality of fire service in the city of Davis is high."
That has been my experience and belief as well. Whatever issues exist in the fire department, quality of service and work product are not among them.

However the ability of the city to provide vital services is not infinite. The amount of resources consumed by a single department and allegations of misconduct on their part are of great concern to the taxpayer and citizen of Davis. The cost of this investigation, as small as it is in the scheme of things, is just another reminder of the consequences of the failure to resolve issues at a more basic level.

Hopefully the Grand Jury report's recommendations will be thoroughly reviewed and implemented to the extent possible. I do not remain optimistic that much can be resolved in terms of the issues raised by the report in the short term. I can only hope that whatever the result of Mr. Aaronson's investigation, that the city takes his findings seriously and acts on them when necessary.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

County Goes with Madison Site and Eliminates Davis and Esparto

Before all of this began it seemed the word I had gotten from several points was that the Madison site was the best of the three sites picked by the County Board of Supervisors. It is not that the Madison site is perfect, in fact there will have to be improvements made to that site as well particularly with regards to waste water, power, and gas line issues. However, Madison appeared to have the least problems of the three sites.

For all of the talk of NIMBYISM it is plain old land use policies that saved the residents of Plainfield from having a Prison Re-Entry Facility in their backyard. Their research efforts were exactly correct with regards to the issues of that site.

I figured this was a done deal around the time Supervisor Helen Thomson pressed the representative from CDCR about the infrastructure and how CDCR evaluates the process.

According to the representative CDCR does its own site assessment, it determines the costs of what needs to be done which includes the feasibility of the location given the budget that they have. Some sites could be ruled out because they are too costly to build on. And that is really what it came down to for the airport site. Sure they could deal with issues of flooding, roads, electricity, and water. Sure they could figure out how to deal with the issue of emergency service when the firefighter from West Plainfield indicated how taxing it would be to have a facility of this size on their property.

But at the end of the day, these issues all had to be resolved which meant more money would be needed. And the representative made it clear to all that if the CDCR chose the site and if they were going to be the only one building on that site, then they were going to have to pay the entire bill.

Right then I knew that the airport site was out. Of course it took hours of discussions and public comment for the decisions to be made.

Some very general comments that I think are important to make. First, I understand people's frustration about these issues and the way they arose seemingly at the last minute. But there were a number of people at this meeting that were downright rude and made unfounded accusations. Supervisor Rexroad posted a few of the more rude and threatening comments on his blog. A number of those people were from the actual city of Davis. That kind of conduct does not reflect well on this city. We all have strong views and strong concerns, but frankly that is counterproductive. I know when I get rude posts on the blog or rude comments in emails to me, it completely discounts the point that the individual is trying to make.

Second, I agree with many about concerns about the process. Richard Livingston made these comments well during public comment yesterday. I think Supervisor Mike McGowan handled it well. He initially interrupted Mr. Livingston, but then apologized for doing so. He acknowledged that there were concerns about the process and communication and I think handled it pretty well.

That leads me to my next point, Supervisor Duane Chamberlain. I respect this man on a number of fronts. He is one of the most passionate protectors of farmland and county open space there is. However, he did not serve his constituents well yesterday. First, he had to recuse himself because he farms land around the airport. He did this very reluctantly and unnecessarily, in my opinion, pushed this issue to the brink of legality with his refusal to step aside.

Several of his constituents complained that their representative was not involved in the process. They felt disenfranchised. I do not blame them. But frankly I think it is his own fault. He could have handled this situation much better and perhaps should have given up working on that land in order to be a more effective spokesperson for his constituents on such an important issue. The county is still apparently dealing with legality with regards to these matters, but he did eventually turn over the gavel to his colleague Mr. McGowan.

Supervisor Mike McGowan who represents West Sacramento had no real stake in this battle, which made him the perfect Supervisor to chair the meeting. I thought he did an outstanding job. He was a calming influence during a turbulent meeting. He was able to really diffuse tensions rather than ratchet them up. I thought he was outstanding.

In fact, I was impressed as a whole with the Board of Supervisors I thought they asked a number of very good questions. They really pressed CDCR on points about retaining control of this process. I think there is a legitimate concern that this could morph into something else.

There are still discussions to have in fact on these points. One of the key provisions is the future use of the re-entry facility. Can this be converted into a prison down the line and what recourse does the county have to prevent that from occurring? I already mentioned the development agreement mitigations that are needed included waste water management, power, and gas lines issues. Finally, the question of how many people might be served by this facility and which people.

From the CDCR's perspective this has to be 500 people. Five hundred (500) people means it serves people from outside of Yolo County.

Serious questions arose about the type of people who would be housed by such a facility. For instance, according to CDCR level four offenders could be housed there. Of course, they would have to meet specific criteria such as not being problematic inmates, eligibility for parole, and other criteria, but they could under those conditions wind up there. CDCR did however say that this was not meant to serve mentally ill prisoner populations.

Supervisor Helen Thomson was concerned that there not be sexual predators or pedophiles housed at this facility but CDCR could make no such promises.

A common refrain from the public was that the county sold out the public for $30 million. Many in the public questioned the usefulness of such a facility. Some called it basically an experiment.

I am supportive of the concept of the re-entry facility. I think that the current system has failed us. We have basically created a prisoner factory that turns inmates into career criminals. And I think we need to look for ways to avoid that.

Yet the more I think about it I have to agree with Davis City Councilmember Sue Greenwald's comments. First, having rehabilitation in the last year of a prison term probably does not make the most sense. If we want rehabilitation, why not work on it throughout the term?

Second, as others have suggested, this is basically a tool by which to relieve overcrowding. Instead of releasing prisoners directly to the population, they prop up those releases with a year of training. Do not get me wrong, training is important and the ideals here are good, but at the end of the day, this is indeed an experiment. We do not know that this will work. And yet somehow the state has been convinced to put billions into this project under the guise of rehabilitation--a guise that amounts to largely untested assumptions.

Third, many of the people who are supporting these re-entry facilities are opposed to Proposition 5 and efforts of that sort. This is where we can make a huge difference in the prison system. Not everyone who breaks the law needs to be thrown in prison. It is not clear that doing so helps make us safer as a society, nor is it clear that it helps those people thrown in prison become better people.

What is clear is that we are locking up a lot people who are not especially dangerous to the population in jail. It's clear that the system from the courts to the jail cells are clogged with these cases, and we would probably have plenty of room in the system if we just dealt with these kinds of cases differently.

In other words, during the course of listening to the testimony from the public, questions from the County Board of Supervisors, and answers from CDCR, I changed my mind on this issue. I think there is a real concern that once we sign this over, we lose control and an amorphous state agency gets its hands on a facility in our county. At the end of the day, I don't think $30 million is worth handing over control to the state. More to the point, I question using further resources to back up what I see as a broken corrections system.

Madison is indeed the least bad location of the three selected by the county here, but the people of Madison have in a way been sold out for expediency and for $30 million. I hope in a few years we do not look back on this and regret it.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Re-Entry Facility Will Be Heard Today by County and Davis City Council

This morning, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors will take up the controversial issue of the re-entry facility.

While the staff recommendation for the county is to approve the three sites which would fulfill the requirements by the county to identify three sites before a deadline, there is some suggestion that the county may seek to try to rank-order the sites as well. This move may alleviate anxiety for some county residents who are overwhelmingly opposed to the placement of such a facility near their communities.

We have covered a number of different aspects of this in the last few days. Today we will tie up a few loose ends.

Tonight, the Davis City Council will get briefed on the issue. By then the Board of Supervisors may have already made some sort of decision at least in terms of a preference order. It seems unlikely that the issue will be resolved by tonight.

In Sunday's Vanguard, Davis City Councilmember Lamar Heystek expressed concerns both about the project and the process.
"The proposed project is located in the Davis planning area, it would have a Davis address. And the occupants of the facility would be released into our community. So yes, I have very strong concerns."
One of his big concerns was the lack of communication between the county and the city of Davis.
"I had actually heard from neighbors of the area, outside the city limits, before I had heard anything from city staff or the county. That leads me to believe that our city staff was not kept abreast of the plan to propose this site and it leads me to believe that our inclusion in the process was not considered from the beginning."
While Councilmember Heystek expressed concern about the possibility of city services being required for the county airport location, Supervisor Matt Rexroad downplayed that possibility.

In an email from Thursday night, Supervisor Rexroad acknowledged that the road situation might be a problem, but believed that other potential shortcomings could be resolved.
"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."
One of the big questions is who would be required to solve those problems. The city of Camarillo is going through a similar experience with a federally imposed prison hospital that might be built near their city. The city there has argued that they probably do not have the power to the prevent the federal or state government from placing the facility in Ventura County, but they are under no obligation to supply it with water.

The issue of fire staffing and emergency services seems to be more tricky. Currently the Plainfield area is served by a volunteer fire department with two volunteer firefighters. In an emergency at the prison, that would quickly overwhelm them. Who would be required to back them up?

All of these questions could have been resolved had the county been more forthcoming and communicated with the cities.

Councilmember Heystek:
"We want to maintain a positive relationship with our counterparts in the county. We have already learned from the lessons of the northwest quadrant that the city of Davis has a very strong interest in protecting interests not only within our boundaries but also within areas of our county where we have a clear say on, per agreement and per conventional planning principals.

It troubles me that we were not involved at an earlier stage in a meaningful way."
Meanwhile there was word yesterday that another group has an interest in the proceedings with the county today--the Sacramento Central Labor Council and the building trades. They will be looking to ensure that any contract has provisions to use union workers to design the facility. There is indication that these groups will show up in mass today to urge the county to place provisions within any authorization for the re-entry facility that it must have union labor.

However, much has to occur before that can even happen. The board of supervisors meeting will likely be packed today with residents urging that they not build in their backyard.

Stay tuned to Vanguard for the latest news and updates on this situation throughout the day.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, September 08, 2008

District Chief Business Officer Makes Case For Parcel Tax

The Davis Enterprise on Sunday carried an op-ed by Bruce Colby, the chief business officer of the Davis Joint Unified School District and Jim Belenis, a financial planner and a member of the school district's Business Advisory Committee. In it they lay out the situation facing this district--we either need to pass Measure W or face pretty steep budget cuts.

As they put it:
This year's state budget battle - which is still ongoing - put us on notice that we face a new reality. For at least the near future, funding from the state of California will not be adequate to maintain the quality education programs we currently offer to Davis children and teens.
It is a pretty basic but accurate point--the state is cutting its budget, if the Davis public wants to maintain the current education programs, then we have to pony up and replace state funding. If we do not, then we will see cuts.

Last year we were able to bridge the gap with a combination of fundraising from the Davis Schools Foundation and "rainy day" funds.
"The gap between the education our students need and the money we have was bridged this year by two sources of one-time money: $1.5 million from the fundraising drive led by the Davis Schools Foundation and $1.2 million from 'rainy day' funds. This allowed us to rescind more than 100 layoff notices that were given to our teachers and save our programs."
They then lay out exactly what would be cut:
"On the chopping block would be drastic cuts to our elementary school science program; class periods for core science, math, English and social sciences; librarians; our music program; class size reduction in ninth- and 10th-grade English and ninth-grade math; foreign language; and other classes that prepare our children for college or to transition to the workplace."
There are two options then: increase revenue or cut spending.
"Measure W, on the ballot Nov. 4, will let voters decide whether to pursue the first option, increasing revenue.

Measure W assesses homeowners $120 per year, with a voluntary exemption for residents who are 65 or older. Apartments are assessed at a lower rate. The tax will last for three years and expenditures require review by a citizens oversight committee. The parcel tax requires a two-thirds Davis voters majority for approval.

Funds raised by Measure W will go only to preserve these classroom instruction programs and librarians that are threatened by state cutbacks; no new programs will be funded."
If increasing revenue does not happen, then we have to cut roughly $2.4 million from the districts funding next year.
"If Measure W does not pass, we must find ways to slash $2.4 million from the district's general fund early next year. Last spring, district staff, board members, parents and community members struggled mightily to make cuts in the budget that would have minimal impact on students. In order to preserve program and reduce our spending deficit, the district has already reduced its ongoing budget by $1.1 million annually through belt-tightening in administration, operations and staffing."
As we demonstrated before, a huge amount of district money goes directly to the classrooms. That means any cuts have to come from the classrooms.
"The financial reality is that 82 percent of the district's budget goes straight into direct student support in classrooms, counseling offices, school offices and libraries. With maintenance and utilities included, the district spends more than 91 percent of its budget on teaching students and operating schools."
Mr. Colby and Mr. Belenis argue that the district is among the best in the state at putting money directly in the classroom and that the district has done well at containing costs over the past five years.
"This record of delivering funds directly to classroom learning and minimizing administrative overhead is one of the best in the state. If forced to make deep reductions, we have few remaining options that avoid negative impacts to our students.

The district also has worked to keep spending under control, relying on extraordinary staff and community support to maintain excellent schools. Over a five-year period, from 2003-04 to the approved budget for 2008-09, total spending rose only minimally, keeping pace with inflation."
For those who think we can reach these goals by trimming fat, that has been tried and no one has been able to find enough fat to cut.
"Participants in a community budget workshop found little fat to cut. More than 100 community members gathered at the Veterans' Memorial Center on April 7 to answer difficult questions about budget priorities. What was more important: science or math, music or English? Reduced class sizes for 10th-grade English or librarians?"
Bottom line:
"Today we are at a crossroads. Either we find and support additional local funds for our schools, or vital educational programs will be cut. That is the choice we now face in Measure W: Protect what we have today, or begin slicing away at educational programs in our schools."
Commentary on Emerson School Closure

For regular readers of the Vanguard, neither these arguments nor the figures are new. The case for Measure W is very basic. The public is going to have to make a choice as to what their priorities are here. And the choice is a simple one. For $120 per year additional taxes, they can keep the same level of educational funding that we have had the last few years. That means teachers remain in the classroom and schools remain open.

Last week there was a rumor floating around that Emerson would be closed regardless of what happens with Measure W and that the school board had already made that decision.

As near as I can tell, that rumor is completely false. First of all, that would be a Brown Act violation since the board members are unable to discuss policy matters outside of the formal meeting structure. Of course, the Brown Act gets violated from time-to-time. But I have seen no evidence to suggest this has occurred in this case.

Second, I do not see three votes right now to close Emerson let alone some kind of consensus. I do not really want to guess with names, but in the last round it seemed there were three members of the board who were just not going to close that school under almost any circumstance and that was during the budget crisis. I certainly do not see the will to do it if Measure W passes and the district is on sound fiscal standing.

But third, if your top fear is closing Emerson, and I can understand that if you are a resident of West Davis and have a child who is Junior High age, then the most likely way to protect Emerson is to pass the parcel tax. Will that guarantee it remaining open? No. There are no guarantees in life and certainly none in the case of Emerson Junior High. There are issues that could arise that have nothing to do with the fiscal situation that may necessitate its closure. That would have to do with costs to repair and the necessity of making those repairs.

However, if Measure W does not pass, then the district again faces $2.4 million in budget cuts. Last time they figured out they could save roughly a quarter of that by closing Emerson and playing the shuffle game with students across the other two junior high schools. Faced with the prospect of laying off additional teachers or closing a school, the district under those conditions would be far more likely to close a school. Even then, it is unclear that they would. Of course part of the rationale for delaying a decision on closing the school was the speed with which they would have to do it and the impact on the children and parents.

Bottom line, the safest course of action if you are concerned with closing a school is to keep the district at full funding. A budget crunch makes it far more likely to close a school even if full funding does not guarantee it remains open.

The last thing the board wants to do is have more people marching against it after they get the parcel tax passed. It was very difficult for them last year. In private, board members have told me that they did not sign up to be board members to close schools and that anyone who has been through the process would never want to go through it again.

Again from my perspective the best way to keep schools open is to ensure full funding. Last year the Davis Schools Foundation was able to save us from a horrific situation. I do not really get the sense that some of the people who post regularly on this blog realize how bad the situation was or would have been had the cuts actually gone through.

I sat through a lot of those board meetings until the wee hours of the morning. I sat with anxious parents who feared their children's programs would be cut and teachers would be laid off. I sat next to high school students who came out in support of their teachers and their schools.

There is something tragic about a student having to come to a board meeting and staying until late on a school night in hopes that they keep their school open and their teacher employed. I think if more people had been through this and saw the looks on their faces and feel the anguish and anxiety that they experienced, they would see this situation through very different eyes.

Frankly it is something I never want to experience again as an interested observer. There have been good times covering community events and there have been bad times. What happened last spring was by far the most difficult times.

The students, the teachers, and the parents deserve not to have to go through this again next spring.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Issue of Poor Communications Arises Again in Debate Over Re-Entry Facility Location

Councilmember Heystek: "It troubles me that we were not involved at an earlier stage in a meaningful way"

Some have suggested that land use issues are simply means to express fear of prisons in a more acceptable manner. They have dismissed complaints about procedural problems in the county's proposal for a location of the re-entry facility. However, from my perspective, those dismissals fail to understand the magnitude of the impact of this facility on a place like the city of Davis. There has been little to no discussion to this point as to who is expected to provide the vital services for a location such as the county airport.

These are not merely academic exercises, the county for example lacks its own fire department. There are questions about roadways, water, sewer, power, and the like that could have impacts on adjacent jurisdictions such as the city of Davis. These potential impacts should necessitate cooperation and at the very least the common courtesy of advanced notice. Yet, it is clear that this did not occur.

County Supervisor Matt Rexroad has suggested that while "the County certainly could have done a better job in communicating with the people of Yolo County regarding this issue" however, he does not believe he is personally taking a hit for poor communications.

I would tend to agree with Mr. Rexroad here, he personally is not the problem with regards to communications.
"When this issue came up I personally spoke to three members of the Woodland City Council within a few hours on learning more. Later I spoke to a fourth. I personally called the Police Chief and City Manager. Long discussions were involved with all of these people.

I communicated with the city leaders in Woodland and continue to do that on a regular basis. Lately I have not talked much with Martie Dote but I need to do that more. I talked Flory more when he was on the Council. In fact, several times I talked to Art and Dave more when they were both on the City Council in one day than my predecessor talked to me in the entire four years he was in office.

I am hesitant to communicate with the people outside of Woodland on county policy issues. On this blog I lay out my positions on issues and lots of people read them.

You can rip me for a whole host of things..... but lack of communications in not one of them."
However, as Mr. Rexroad points out, it is not his responsibility to communicate to the residents of other districts within the county--and whether it is Duane Chamberlain who represents the rural areas where the proposed facility would be placed, or the city of Davis' representatives Helen Thomson and Mariko Yamada, there has been a fundamental lack of communication between the county and the city, and this is not the first time this has arisen.

I do disagree with Supervisor Rexroad on one point, during a phone conversation he suggested that this location was not within an area that Davis should have any say over. I firmly disagree on that point, I think that the impacts on Davis are rather direct and there needed to be earlier discussions on the possibility of locating the facility on this site.

During a phone conversation with Davis City Councilmember Lamar Heystek, the councilmember expressed strong concern over the proposed project location.
"The proposed project is located in the Davis planning area, it would have a Davis address. And the occupants of the facility would be released into our community. So yes, I have very strong concerns."
At the same time, the councilmember told me that he and the city received "little" or no communication from the county on this issue.
"I had actually heard from neighbors of the area, outside the city limits, before I had heard anything from city staff or the county. That leads me to believe that our city staff was not kept abreast of the plan to propose this site and it leads me to believe that our inclusion in the process was not considered from the beginning."
He continued:
"We want to maintain a positive relationship with our counterparts in the county. We have already learned from the lessons of the northwest quadrant that the city of Davis has a very strong interest in protecting interests not only within our boundaries but also within areas of our county where we have a clear say on, per agreement and per conventional planning principals.

It troubles me that we were not involved at an earlier stage in a meaningful way."
Furthermore, he made the case that the interests of the city extend beyond the geographical boundaries that separate city jurisdictions from the county. These interlocking and overlapping interests have necessitated the creation of bodies such as the city-county two-by-two, but also regional bodies like SACOG and LAFCO to bring together jurisdictions in an effort to forge cooperative relations.
"Much is made about the fact that the city of Davis has a sphere of influence and there's land within our planning area, we as decisionmakers who represent the people of this city have a very solemn responsibility not only to represent the interests of the people who lie within our city limits but also a responsibility to represent the interests of those people even as they lay outside of the city limits. That means that extrinsically our residents have interests that do not lie solely within the city's boundaries. Those interests also exceed those boundaries. So it's our interest and responsibility as councilmembers and as city officials to look very closely at this proposal to ask for and to frankly demand attention and involvement in any process that the county may be undertaking."
Along with the lack of communication, are a variety of reasons why the county needed to involve the city in discussions from the start. It is unclear whether the facility will require access to the Davis system of sewer or water. Supervisor Matt Rexroad believes that wells can provide the cite with water, but what about sewer?

From the city's perspective, any need from the county would tax a system that is already in the process of requiring major capital improvements.

Councilmember Heystek said:
"Our infrastructure has already been so taxed that we barely can afford to serve our existing residents and our existing ratepayers. So adding new service to our water and sewer systems is very questionable. I'm not sure if this facility proposes to tap into the city's water and sewer systems. But, if that's the case, it would be unconscionable for any plan to move very much forward without any meaningful city involvement."
In addition to the issue of water and sewer, fire service is a concern. The airport has a volunteer fire department that houses two volunteer fire fighters. Such a facility could quickly move beyond the capabilities of that small department to provide emergency services. The county does not have its own fire department. So who would have responsibility to serve the new facility in the case of an emergency?

That answer is unclear to Councilmember Heystek:
"I would like to know whether we are indeed obligated to engage in a contract for services if it's not feasible or otherwise in the city's best interest to do so."
What is clear is that such a facility could tax the city already strapped for resources.
"We have talked about five minutes response time issues that the department has brought up and the city has studied. The issue of simultaneous calls has been studied by the department and the council as a whole. Adding more territory to serve clearly doesn't make sense at this time when we are considering how we serve our existing service areas."
The traffic issue was a big concern to local residents on Thursday night. Some have speculated that this is a huge potential problem, others have kind of discounted that problem. Councilmember Heystek pointed out that there has not been any kind of traffic study to date, so it would be difficult to assess potential problems.
"None of us can answer that question specifically since we don't have a traffic study before us. But an EIR for this project, I assume one will be carried out, an EIR with a traffic study would reveal an answer for that."
However, the potential problem of the taxing of existing infrastructure is a big concern to Mr. Heystek.
"You raise a very good point, to what extent will incorporated cities infrastructure be taxed in that respect. You already asked about water and sewer, you've asked about the fire department, and you've asked about the roads, clearly these accumulated infrastructure service impacts drastically effects the way we serve our residents. And so hopefully dialogue between the county and city will be meaningful, productive, full, and comprehensive. I hope that any discussion recognizes and honors the fact that the city has a legal right to participate in the discussion and the process as a whole."
For the Councilmember the problem comes back to communication and shared interests.
"We have two representatives on the city-county two-by-two--actually we have four Davis representatives. I hope that the four Davisites will not only insure that county interests are served but also city interests. And while those interests often overlap, they are not mutually inclusive, that is they don't always overlap perfectly. So it will be interesting to see how the dynamic at that level plays out. I assume that there will be other ways for the city council or board of supervisors to be involved. I will exercise my right to voice an opinion to cast as necessary."
The problem that I have is that this discussion is coming up again. Just last year, the city expressed concerns about lack of discussion prior to the general plan process by the county. The city was caught off-guard at that time about proposed developments on the periphery of Davis. Everyone had suggested that we would learn from those acrimonious discussions that exploded into full-blown controversy, but it seems like we have not.

On Tuesday, the county will formally take up the proposal and will recommend study at the three sites that have been proposed. This fulfills their obligation to recommend three sites for possible locations for the re-entry facility. It appears that the state would then study the sites and that sometime down the line, a decision would be made by the county as to where to place the facility.

The staff recommendation is as follows:

A. Reaffirm the county’s support for the siting of a reentry facility in Yolo County;

B. Approve the list of potential sites for a state reentry facility in Yolo County;

a) County Road 90 and State Route 16 (east of Madison)

b) County Road 86a and State Route 16 (southeast of Esparto)

c) Yolo County Airport

C. Authorize the signing of the Reentry Program Facility Siting Agreement between the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the county for potential reentry facility sites and to comply with Assembly Bill (AB 900);

D. Authorize the signing of Options to Purchase real estate agreements for County Road 90 at State Route 16 (KATHYANNA RANCH, LLC) and County Road 86a at State Route 16 (JOHN DETERDING CO.) for potential sites for a reentry facility."
So no final determination appears in the works for Tuesday. However, we are still left with burning questions about the process. For example, when should the county notify cities about plans that will impact the city and possibly involve city infrastructure or at the very least are adjacent to the cities? Moreover, we know that Brown Act requirements for public notification are extremely low, even placement in the newspaper is somewhat problematic. The city of Davis has community meetings well in advance of new housing projects--why not a similar approach from the county?

People have suggested that these changes would not change people's minds on the subject of prison construction. They are probably correct. But process is an end in and of itself, it is not merely a means to achieve consensus or agreement, although those are worthwhile goals. Proper procedures in this case would not diminish outcry. However, what they might do is allow other jurisdictions to address some of the concerns of residents in advance. They also might have allowed the county to determine early on potential problems at the proposed sites that would have eliminated them well before they panicked the public. All of these things need to change. We live in an information age, and Davis' two supervisors have not sufficiently communicated with their constituents on this issue.

All of these things are correctable in the future if there is an effort to proactively involve citizens in the process.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting