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Saturday, September 20, 2008

State Budget Bad News For Davis Schools?

At first glance one might believe that passing the state budget without the cuts to education that the Governor originally proposed would be good news for schools around the state.

However, at the school board meeting on Thursday night, Superintendent James Hammond reported that the district's budget outlook remains uncertain and even gloomy.

The first problem is that the budget contains within it the authority for the governor to make midyear budget cuts. That was one of the sticking points for the Governor and it makes it very difficult for school districts to plan. Imagine the expectation of state money and to have that state money cut in the middle of a school year. Suddenly the district could be scrambling around for money that it had planned on having. Districts like Davis have almost no margin for error. Across the state, school districts are very concerned about this possibility.

School Board member Richard Harris who also works as a lobbyist in the state Capitol said that he thinks the district is probably worse off now than before the budget was adopted.

The second problem is that there will be little or no cost-of-living adjustments for school districts from the state. Basically that means that while inflation is occurring, the state is not adjusting the amount of money which is equivalent to a budget cut along the rate of inflation in a given district.

The worst problem by far is that the state budget does not address the state's own structural budget deficit. It merely punts the problem until next year's budget. And making matters even worse, the economic condition in the state does not appear to be improving any. Thus the state budget picture looks worse next year than it was this year.

For a district like Davis, that makes it even more imperative that the local voters pass the parcel to enable the school district to continue to operate at current levels. The good news for a district like Davis that resident have been generous in the past with support for the schools in the form of parcel taxes and bond measures.

However, many districts across the state are not so fortunate. School dodged a large bullet when the May revised budget forecast put back a lot of the money that the Governor was threatening to take out in January. The budget largely mirrored the May revise. However, with the prospect for midyear cuts and a worse budget forecast looming for next year, schools are hardly out of the woods. Those districts and students who are most vulnerable will take the brunt of this.

While from the standpoint of many, having a state budget passed was a good thing. At the end of the day, they did not resolve any of the tough issues. As a result, school districts will once again have to look for ways to cut money without cutting teachers and programs, a prospect that will become more and more difficult as time goes on. Luckily for Davis, the voters have the opportunity this fall to bypass many of those problems by approving a modest $120 per year increase in the parcel tax that will enable the Davis schools to continue to function at their present high level.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, September 19, 2008

Across the State Uncertainty Clouds Future for Re-entry Facilities

Budget Lacks Money and State Lacks Credibility in Their Promises

While the people of Madison mount a fight against locating the re-entry facility in their community, it seems more and more that they are not alone in that fight. Across the state, counties and communities are realizing that they have given up more than they bargained for.

Thanks to an anonymous tip, the Vanguard has discovered that the funding for the re-entry facility that was approved this week, may not exist. There are also additional problems that appear to exist with the system.

According to the Stockton Record on September 18, 2008, the state's budget if it passes (and it now appears it will) does not have money to fund AB 900.
"Missing from the budget compromise reached this week in Sacramento was legislation needed to fund landmark prison reform designed to relieve overcrowding in state prisons and local lockups, state prison and local law enforcement officials said."
This has left San Joaquin County in a bigger lurch than it possibly will Yolo County.
"The reform legislation includes $1.2 billion for local jail expansion, and San Joaquin County is slated to receive $80 million of that money to expand its overstuffed County Jail."
"Language to "clean up" AB900 is necessary to pay for jail expansions and re-entry facilities, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. State officials said the cleanup language is needed before California can issue bonds funding AB900.

And if the fix doesn't pass with the budget, it could be at least three months before lawmakers can pass a law to make the necessary changes, law enforcement officials said.

That's three more months that could see construction costs rise and three more months San Joaquin County will have to deal with increased crime rates caused by a jail so full that criminals who should be locked up are on the streets, San Joaquin County Sheriff-Coroner Steve Moore said.

"It's disappointing that this wasn't taken care of in the first round," Moore said.

In a Wednesday conference call, representatives from the governor's office assured law enforcement officials from across the state that fixing the law was a top priority.

"It's very difficult for me to share the same confidence," Calaveras County Sheriff Dennis Downum said. Calaveras County was picked to receive $10 million for its own overcrowding issues.

Concern about not having a funding mechanism in place has other county sheriffs unsure about their own projects, said Jim Denney, executive director of the California State Sheriffs' Association. "It's making it very rough for the local jurisdictions to proceed."
San Joaquin County is not the only county alarmed.

The Monterey Herald reports a similar problem in Monterey County:
"After months of working to find potential sites for a state prison inmate re-entry facility in exchange for $80 million in funding for an expansion of the county jail, county officials found out the money may not be available after all.

In a bombshell announcement to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Sheriff Mike Kanalakis said sources in Sacramento told him the Legislature's newly approved state budget would likely mean the demise of AB 900 funding that would have helped pay for the jail upgrade. The quest for the jail expansion money was the primary reason county leaders promised state prison officials a re-entry facility site in Monterey County.

Under the terms of the state budget compromise that was passed early Tuesday, AB 900 is "for all intents and purposes dead," Kanalakis said. "We're not sure where this leaves us."

Supervisors decided to go ahead with their original plan to ask state prison officials for a six-month extension to identify a site for the re-entry facility in rural Monterey County in case the state budget doesn't pass and the funding remains available. "
Here's perhaps a key point:
"Kanalakis' announcement left supervisors expressing relief they hadn't committed to a site in Monterey County for the re-entry facility, noting unsuccessful efforts to secure promises from the state linked to the site.

Last week, supervisors backed out of a plan to offer the state a specific site, voting to remove all proposed sites in Salinas from consideration and declaring their intention to find a site in the unincorporated part of the county.

They agreed to require the state to provide a series of promises before the county would commit to any site, including that the jail expansion money would be available, that the facility would never be converted to another use, and that the state would provide re-entry program funding.

Supervisor Lou Calcagno said he was always concerned that the state couldn't live up to its end of the bargain. "
Seems we haven't done any of that in Yolo County. Also, why are we only getting $30 million when Monterrey County is getting $80?

So what happened in Monterey County?
"The state has dropped plans to build a prison re-entry facility in Monterey County after local officials failed to meet Thursday's deadline to designate a specific site for the 500-bed lockup.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's decision could cost Monterey County $80 million in state funds that were earmarked to expand the overcrowded county jail.

"They took us off the list," county Supervisor Fernando Armenta said, minutes after a meeting with the CDCR board of directors. "It is very disappointing and frustrating."
Armenta, Sheriff Mike Kanalakis and several other officials traveled to Berkeley for Thursday's meeting of the prison board, where they requested the six month extension.

The county decided it needed more time after the Board of Supervisors last week ruled out building the facility anywhere within the city of Salinas.

Since only Salinas locations had been considered for several months, the county wanted more time to choose an appropriate location in its unincorporated areas. "
A similar problem occurred in Orange County this week, this time their Sheriff's Department dropped the bid.
"The Orange County Sheriff's Department dropped its bid Thursday to receive $100 million in state funds for expanding the James A. Musick jail because of a dispute over ownership of the facility at which a state inmate re-entry program would be housed.

In a letter to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the state agency overseeing the bid and award process, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens cited a requirement that the state own and operate the facility "something that will not work in our community."
This is the crux of the issue:
"That facility would potentially be a state prison and I do not support a state prison in the heart of Orange County," Campbell said. "The sheriff negotiated on a bunch of alternative ways to make sure it could never change, but they wouldn't agree to that."

Ryan Burris, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Department, said the loss of the bid means the county must find other ways to relieve the overcrowding in the county's jails. According to the sheriff's department, there are 1,256 beds at Musick, located on the outskirts of Lake Forest and Irvine. The city of Orange has an agreement with the county that Lacy hold no more than 2,986 inmates.

"We still know that we need to expand the jail facilities to meet demand," Burris said. "They're going to have to look at all of that to figure out the best way to do so."

The original proposal for the inmate re-entry program called for it to be located at Theo Lacy in Orange. In May the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation rejected that plan after city officials protested the move because the re-entry program entailed paroling 292 state inmates into the streets of the city.

Orange Mayor Carolyn Cavecche said she also protested the move because it would have violated an existing agreement with the county not to change the conditions of the jail without city approval.
The more one reads into this issue, the more it seems like the county has made a deal with, shall we say the devil? Other counties are foregoing far larger grants for their jails than Yolo County is. Perhaps the county can look at other ways to finance their jail expansion. I think a lot of people would be amenable to that in lieu of building the re-entry facility. The more I read on this issue, the less it seems to be a good idea.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Threats Punctuate Re-Entry Prison

On Tuesday, I detected a clear lack of interest in the topic of the re-entry facility on this board. The threat gone from Davis, the number of comments dwindled. Supervisor Matt Rexroad noticed it too. He called it proof of NIMBYism. I think a certain degree of that is understandable. I may dislike toxic waste sites, but I'm probably going to act more strongly and more passionately if it is a few miles from my home than if it's across the country. You can call that NIMBYism or you can call that acting locally.

Bottom line here is that I can sympathize with the plight of those from Madison. They felt disenfranchised by the process not only because they lacked the veto power that an incorporated city would have but because their own board member was partially conflicted out of the discussion. Despite what some have claimed, the fact that Duane Chamberlain farms land adjacent to the airport is a direct conflict of interest when weighing in on whether a prison should have been built there.

Supervisor Chamberlain was back on Tuesday to cast the lone 'no' vote. Supervisor Mariko Yamada abstained. The location was approved by a 3-1-1 vote.

The Woodland Daily Democrat described her decision to abstain:
"Yamada said she supported the idea of a re-entry facility for the county, but had heard nothing throughout the discussion to assure her of the "fairness" of placing the facility in Madison. In addition, she noted, she will not be present to see the facility plan implemented, as she is the heavy favorite in the race for the 8th Assembly District in November.

"I'm not doing this because I'm afraid to make either side mad," she told a packed crowd in the supervisors' chambers Tuesday. "By doing this, I'll likely make both sides mad."
The Davis Enterprise added:
"Yamada said while she supports the concept of a re-entry program, 'siting it in a rural area fails two tests - one of these is certainty, and the other is fairness.'"
I must admit, I do not exactly understand her rationale. Why not just vote no if she is uncomfortable with the location?

The Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians and their tribal leader Marshall McKay wrote a letter to the Board of Supervisors urging them to reconsider the Madison site.
"We have serious concerns that the placement of a prison in Madison could thwart what the tribe and county are working to build here, which is a thriving community supported by needed infrastructure, planned growth and economic development."
This process is really somewhat backwards. The next step is a planning process whereby the state will analyze the cite and undergo CEQA process. Should the site not be feasible, the county would likely be granted additional time to find an alternative site.

Now the threats. The neighbors are threatening both a recall and lawsuit. I will deal with the recall first because that has to be dead on arrival. Who are they going to recall? The residents who are actually angry about this live in Chamberlain's district. They are going to recall him. So they are going to try to recall someone else's supervisor? That is not going to work to well. I do not get the sense that there is enough interest in the rest of the county to get enough signatures for recall let alone to enable them to remove and replace someone. Just is not a realistic possibility.

As far as a lawsuit goes it more likely will prolong the process.

I sympathize with the residents of Madison, they do not want this. There is not much solace I can give them, however, there is little evidence to support the notion that a prison would lower property values.

Additionally people fear that the prison could morph into something else. However, the board believes that the site lease agreement of 25 years will preclude that at least in the near future.

At some point, this process needs to move forward. It is unfortunate however that rural residents have found themselves so powerless in the face of such a proposal. That I think is the real tragedy of all this.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Budget That Nobody Wants--And We're Probably Stuck With

Despite a veto from the Governor, this is likely going to be the budget. The legislature expects to override the Governor's Veto this is coming on Friday. If that happens, California will finally have a budget. The Governor will shown to be a powerless figure who occupies the statehouse of the nation's largest state.

As the Bee Editorial says:
"Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will reclaim the high ground on the issue that propelled him into the Governor's Office five years ago but has bedeviled him ever since: the state's badly broken finances."
Of course it's hard to feel for this governor after some of the antics he has pulled including threatening the livelihood of tens of thousands of state employees, laying off thousands of temporary state employees, and now threatening to have a temper-tantrum and veto every bill that comes before his desk.

Polling shows that Governor Schwarzenegger is at an all-time low in his approval, but most of the public does not have the stomach for recall. Heck, recall did not work last time and it will not work this time.

No one is really happy about the budget.

Jim Sanders of the Sacramento Bee on Monday reported:
"A key element of the deal would increase by 10 percent the amount of income taxes withheld from workers, and from taxpayers who earn income from investments.

Much of the $15.2 billion budget shortfall would be bridged by advancing revenues to be collected in future years, shifting or borrowing money from other state funds and employing accounting maneuvers. The plan would generate immediate revenue but leave gaping holes in future budgets."
Dan Walters, who I rarely agree with, blasted the budget deal:
"Nobody could have dreamed up a less responsible, more gimmicky, sure-to-backfire state budget than the one California's political leaders cobbled together and were jamming through the Legislature on Monday night to end a months-long stalemate...

"They violated every principle of fiscal responsibility by conjuring up billions of dollars in sham revenues - basically money borrowed from corporate and personal taxpayers that would have to be paid back later - to cover a huge deficit so they could blow town."
Assemblywoman Lois Wolk's comments were surprisingly and refreshingly honest.
"The best you can say about this budget is that it's done. We have managed to keep our schools funded without raiding funds from local government and transportation. That's good.

"The disappointing part is that we have only, as the Governor says, kicked the can further down the road. We failed to address the structural deficit and next year's budget will be even more difficult to solve than this one. Yes, this is a compromise, but it's not one that anyone should be especially proud of. I'm not.

"On the plus side, in addition to avoiding teacher layoffs, I am satisfied that we were able to keep our local law enforcement and rural sheriffs fully funded and prevented some of the most onerous cuts in health services for children and seniors.

"This experience has reinforced my belief that we need to reform the budget process as soon as possible. Allowing a minority of legislators to hold the Governor and the entire state hostage is unacceptable. I am currently working with an independent bipartisan reform effort going on right now called California Forward. This is the most serious reform effort in decades and I am looking forward to supporting their recommendations."
On the other hand, what has the Assemblywoman done to change the outcome? She voted for the compromise.

Basically what the legislature is doing is kicking the can down the road to the next legislative session. They have not done anything to solve the problems that underlie the budget. Schools will face budget cuts again next year. Worker's will face uncertainty about their job security and their benefits. Millions still have no health insurance.

One thing this whole mess has convinced me to do is take another look at the redistricting reform bill. Personally, I think term limits have been a disaster. As this process unfolded, it was clear that there was no big five who could get together and hammer out the details of the budget and then get their members to support it. It was also clear that Governor has absolutely no influence in his party. Some might say that's a good thing, but the problem with it is that he cannot get the membership of his party to agree to his proposals. That leaves the Republican party with the power only to hijack and to negotiate and bargain.

Why might the redistricting plan help? For starters we can hold politicians accountable. Right now, 90 percent of the legislators live in safe districts. It is difficult to hold politicians accountable when they do that, except in the rare condition when one of their own party members can take them out like what happened with Mark Leno defeating Carole Migden.

If you look at the groups supporting Prop 11 there are some pretty good reformist groups on the list--League of Women Voters, AARP, Common Cause, ACLU, advocates from blacks, Hispanics, children, and seniors, among others from the other side which includes Chamber of Commerce, Police Chiefs Association, Taxpayers' Association, Business Roundtable, the list goes on.

I have not decided to support the measure, but I am looking again. Some have suggested that the two-thirds vote is a problem--it is but it is not going to go away. The only way this gets solved rather than postured is if both sides go into negotiations and recognize that they have to do things that they do not want. For Republicans that means some taxes have to go up, perhaps they can decide which ones. For Democrats that means there has to be cuts. If you do not want education cut--and they should not--then you have to find some cuts.

If I were they, I would appoint a six member bipartisan group of legislators at the beginning of the session to come up with a way to reform the system and avoid this trouble from the start. Go through the budget and figure out what can be cut and then agree on revenue enhancements. When both sides hate it, then you know that there has been a good job done. Until that happens, we are going to keep repeating this year's scenario.

The worst part is that the people who get caught in this are not the legislators. Last night on the news they showed all of these state funded senior housing care centers where people have had to borrow from their own savings in order to keep them afloat. If these centers go under, thousands of senior could be put on the street. That would look good right before an election.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fight Against Re-Entry Facility Continues For Madison

For Davis and much of the county, last week was the pinnacle of the fight against the re-entry facility. For those who want to once again go to the NIMBY-issue, here is your fodder. I still believe there are logical and rational reasons for opposing projects of this sort, even when they are near your backyard.

What I do not think is logical and reasonable are all the charges and conspiracy theories that are floating around.

One of the arguments I hear time and time again is that people are afraid to have the re-entry facility in their community because they fear the inmates will be released there.

Now again, if we are talking about legitimate fears, there are some. This will be a low security facility, I hope the county will work with the state to improve upon the security of the facility because that is a legitimate issue. However, what is not a legitimate issue is that prisoners will be released at the location of the facility. That is neither the intent of the law, AB 900, nor is it the intention of the county.

Indeed, the MOU between the county and state takes care of this issue--if there are any questions. In fact, the CDCR is responsible for ensuring that "all inmates released to parole from the Yolo SCRF will have coordinated transportation from the Yolo SCRF to their approved placement in the community based on the inmate’s reentry plan."

As Supervisor Rexroad put it:
"My main concerns about release points is taken care of. Unless someone lives in Madison everyone will be transported to where they live. That was key to me. "
However, as I mentioned the security arrangement could use improvement:
"On a case by case basis, CDCR is willing to provide a boundary fence, as defined in CDCR’s design guidelines at the request of the County. Such fence shall be constructed so as not to unnecessarily restrict visitors, service providers and other non-CDCR personnel from entering the premises to conduct necessary business in connection with the operation of the SCRF. The design of the Secure Reentry Facility Prototype utilizes a secure building envelope that creates a secure perimeter. As a result, no additional security fencing is required or incorporated into the base prototype design."
Finally, the MOU does not address another key fear by local communities on this issue and that is that the building not be transferred to other usages should the program no longer exist.

The termination clause reads as follows:
"This MOU shall automatically terminate without notice after seven years from this MOU’s effective date if the Yolo SCRF is not sited and operating."
But it contains no provision for the building. So it is indeed conceivable from this MOU, that the building could move into new usage. The county should insist on a clauses that transfers the building back to their control if this program and current usage ever ceases.

There is a provision in the siting agreement that would enable the County to terminate it "if the County does not receive a conditional award of state bond funds for construction of a jail facility... and has exhausted or has waived, all administrative appeal procedures..."

In other words, the county will not get stuck with this facility unless they are ensured of getting their $30 million for the prison.

For me those two concerns are legitimate concerns with the MOU and the project.

Many have suggested that this building has to be in an urban area. I am far from convinced on that point. The location of Woodland would actually be a bit better in terms of transportation. But Madison is not a horrendous location. It would be problematic for those coming from West Sacramento, but workable from Woodland and convenient from Solano County which will apparently have a good chunk of the inmates.

The release issue, as mentioned above, is a non-issue. The final point is one of services and infrastructure. Apparently that is going to have to occur anyway. The county clearly intends to expand the size of Madison to begin with. The state is responsible for the provision of services and infrastructure. They will be the ones who do the analysis and it will be interesting to see what would occur if they deemed it too costly.

I am generally one that is sympathetic for neighbor-issues with building projects of all sorts. I believe that people have invested huge percentages of their earnings and life-savings into their property. I think people have legitimate concerns about property values and quality of life. I do not begrudge people who do not want a facility of this sort by them as long as they do not in turn want a facility of this sort by someone else.

The notion of NIMBY means "Not in my backyard" but it implies inherently that they are willing to tolerate it elsewhere. By definition, you are not a NIMBY if you oppose it for all. That does not mean you necessarily oppose it for all with equal force. I may not want a biolab anywhere in the country because I fear any number of hazards may occur, but I will also spend far more time opposing it in Davis than I will even think about it in Virginia. That's just a fact of life.

Where I do have a problem is the breakdown of civil discourse, the irresponsible charges, and conspiracies theories that have emerged.

Supervisor Matt Rexroad reports a lot of angry letters and people that have called him up, yelling at him. Sadly some of those folks are from Davis. I understand people's frustrations, but they have to act like adults. It is counterproductive to yell.

As Mr. Rexroad put it on his blog:
"Over the past couple weeks I have noticed that when people start yelling at me about facts I can't control --- I just mentally turn them off. At that point they just need to yell so I let them go. Reason and rational thought just aren't going to do anything for them."
Then there are threats. For example:
"When you make your decision regarding the re-entry today, do so knowing that God has special places for those who make the wrong choices in life. Knowing all you know about this so called "re-entry", how you can knowingly let down the very people that elected you for the almighty dollar is truely beyond me."
Race Card and Brown Act Accusations

An attorney has written a letter to the Board of Supervisors on residents' behalf. Some citizens are considering filing a lawsuit to stop the facility. Unfortunately the letter from the attorney seems counterproductive at best.

The race card has been played. The letter charged that the "proposed site is discriminatory to the poor and Hispanic community."
"The county recognizes Madison as an economically disadvantaged area. It is home to a large migrant labor camp of almost exclusive Hispanic residents. Is Madison being selected as the proposed site because it lacks a significant affluent white population? Additionally, one author has noted that racism among white staff in rural prisons is pervasive."
I see. Of course Woodland and West Sacramento have sizable Hispanic populations as well. That would leave only Davis as a possible site. Of course, then Davis could claim it is being discriminated against because it is the only predominantly white community. I am being facetious here, but this argument does not hold much water.

Then there are charges of Brown Act violations.

As Matt Rexroad put it:
"The point about the Brown Act does not even contain any evidence -- it just states that the Board of Supervisors broke the law."
Not only do these charges not contain evidence, they do not even contain a description of how the law was violated.

The letter simply states:
"The Conduct of the Hearing on the Potential Sites for this Prison Reentry Facility at the Board of Supervisors Meeting on September 9, 2008 Violated the Brown Act."
Okay, can you now please explain what they did in violation of the Brown Act. You can state it all you want, but if you are going to file a legitimate complaint with either the District Attorney's Office or the Attorney General's Office, you need to have a description of what was in violation of the Brown Act.

These types of tactics are actually counterproductive--they tend to make public officials dig their heels in rather than listen to legitimate concerns--and I think there are some legitimate concerns that need to be addressed. They need to be addressed through reasoned discourse not threats and unfounded charges.

If you do not believe that the site will work--make an argument as to why that is the case, not a threat. I have seen no evidence that the Board violated the Brown Act on this. I do see some issues that need to be resolved. I hope the Board works to revise and strengthen the MOU if they decide to go ahead with the project. And I hope the Madison community at the very least works with them to improve the arrangement.

I understand that the people of Madison do not want this facility and "do not want to be known as a prison town." That I can sympathize with, but they need more than just threats and charges to make that case to the Board.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, September 15, 2008

Should Firefighters Be Paid to Sleep: Questioning the 24-hour Firefighter Shift

Firefighters work in 24 hour shifts. This is a complicated process and increasingly it has become controversial with many groups and organizations now questioning the wisdom of paying firefighters while they sleep on their shifts.

A group called the Vanguardians, a public watch dog group headquartered in the city of Glendale, cover many of the same issues and concerns as the People's Vanguard of Davis. They report of an incident that occurred at the end of August.

The Glendale police apparently have been more forthcoming on the details of this incident than the fire department. A 911 call was placed at 2 am, someone yelled fire and hung up. They reconnected 41 seconds later. The Police are the first on the scene one minute, ten seconds after the call and the second officer arrives just a minute or so later.

However, the police are not able to do much because it is already too hot and smoky. The fire fighters are just a few blocks from the apartment unit fire--but they are asleep in bed and arrived too late on the scene to save a life.

The Vanguardians have put together a timeline. The call was received at 2:00:54 am and dispatched to a station at 2:01:34 that was less than 1/2 mile away. It took them until 2:06:26 to arrive on the scene. They did not locate the victim until fifteen minutes after the call.

The Vanguardians believe that the fact that the firefighters were sleeping at the time of the call contributed to the length of time it took for them to arrive on the scene.

The Vanguardians provocatively write:
"While Firefighters were being paid to sleep, the Glendale PD answered a call for help. Within 70 seconds they responded, confirmed the call and located the smoke filled apartment. The Fire Department arrived 5 minutes later even though they were less than ½ mile away. Even though the GPD pinpointed the area it took FFs 15 minutes to find the victim. Once again this points out another reason to have 12 hour shifts so our City workers can be bright eyed and bushy tailed without having to hop out of bed. No more being paid to sleep!"
While this scene certainly looks bad, especially since it apparently took firefighters five minutes to respond to an incident less than half a mile from their station. Those I have spoken to question whether a faster response would have saved a life. They question whether the victims were alive even at the point at which the police arrived.

There are difficult questions that must be asked with regards to the length of shifts and possible additional costs of having 12 hour shifts versus 24 hour shifts. The 24 hour shift was actually put into place as a cost control measure--helping to reduce overtime and cut overhead.

But it does appear that increasingly the idea of a 24-hour shift is being questioned--from both a safety point of view to the employees and now the public.

The Vanguardians cite research from OSHA Complaince Advisor:
"The common practice of working 24-hour shifts at U.S. fire and emergency organizations may be ripe for change.

That's the viewpoint of Chief Robert Avsec, long-time member and instructor with the Chesterfield County, Virginia, Fire and EMS. Avsec writes on the website "Changes may stem from decreased employee safety and decision-making capabilities while working 24-hour shifts."

He also cites increased organizational liability and changes in worker attitudes about schedules.

Avsec refers to a National Sleep Foundation study that found sleep deprivation has an adverse effect on physical health and well-being, cognitive performance, and mood. Wonders Avsec, "How functional is an EMT or paramedic in an ambulance at 2 a.m. when he or she has been awake and on duty since 8 a.m.?" Also, according to Avsec, more than half of all EMS accidents involve ambulance operation."
This is an old article from 1999, but it offers some advantages of a 10-hour day and a 14-hour night shift. The day shift would start at 8 am and end at 6 pm while the night shift would go from 6 pm to 8 am the following day.

The article cites improved safety as a key reason.
"Although it requires no additional staff, the 10/14 schedule offers a variety of advantages and opportunities.

Improved safety. Fatigue is a major factor in personnel safety. A physically and mentally challenging incident in the early hours of a 24-hour shift could subject fire personnel to injury or even death due to fatigue and decreased alertness at an incident that occurs later during the same shift. In addition, when personnel must handle multiple incidents during a single shift, the competence of the crews and the quality of service may be compromised. For example, is it in the best interest of someone needing sophisticated care to be the crew's 20th patient during a shift?

The 10/14 shift can provide relief for fatigued and extremely busy individuals and crews through proper rest periods at the end of the 10- or 14-hour duty shift."
Other cited advantages include reduced sick leave time and overtime pay, improved quality of life for personnel, increase productivity, improved project management, more opportunities for creative scheduling, among others.

[Read the full article here]

On the other end of the spectrum some have actually argued for longer shifts such as a 48 hour shift. The argument is that once you go past 24 hours, it doesn't really matter. And during slow times, that may be the case. However, on those rare occasions when firefighters have to respond to emergencies all day long whether they are fires or medical emergencies, there has to be a decreased ability to function properly.

It is unclear if the incident in Glendale was preventable by a change from the 24 hour shift. There would likely need to be an investigation. However, if the evidence shows that an arrival at one minute into the call could have saved the life, then the city is possibly going to face liability on it. There is no legitimate reason that it should have taken the department that long to arrive at a scene just half a mile away. Right there, that is a red flag.

These are all questions that need to be explored. I have heard compelling arguments from both cost and safety standpoints in both directions. One thing that is clear, we need to find out clearly if there is solid evidence to support the 24-hour shift both from the standpoint of costs and the standpoint of safety. Based on that evidence, we can make an informed decision that is not based either on tradition or on fears. Protecting the public is our top goal--making sure that the fire department provides top-notched and affordable service to this community is absolutely vital.

In my conversation with Bob Aaronson, who is investigating the Grand Jury report on the fire department, it was reassuring that despite whatever other problems exist, Davis is still getting great service from 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."
However, that top level of service does not mean we cannot question other aspects of the department. The remains, should firefighters be paid to sleep.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Back to the Big Box Battle: Is New Ad Campaign Deceptive

One of these days, I am going to do a full blown comparison of prices of Wal Mart to other stores. According to much of the research on Big Box retail, is that big-box retail creates the impression of lower prices is by having a few goods that are quite cheap. Stacy Mitchell, who came to Davis last year, is the author of "Big-Box Swindle."

Mitchell argues that Big-Boxes have a number of select products that are essentially "loss leaders" that are used to create an impression of overall lower costs. For instance they may highlight a few items like DVDs and have them appear to be at very low prices, while most of their goods are around the same price you would get at a local business.

This came to mind a few weeks ago when I saw Wal-Mart's latest commercial in their new marketing campaign, "Save Money, Live Better."

The ad points out that the cost to a family of buying a take-out pizza is on average around $14. However, Wal Mart's take-and-bake pizzas are $8. If your family eats pizza once a week every year, that’s an annual cost savings of more than $300.

Sounds great, but the problem is that it is misleading. The ad compares apples (take out pizza) to oranges (take-and-bake pizza). As anyone who orders pizza on even a periodic basis knows, one pays far more for pizza that is already cooked than for pizza that you have to cook yourself.

In fact, a quick look at two comparable locations showed that Safeway in Davis had a 14 inch take out pizza for the same amount as Wal-Mart claimed their pizza cost. Costco had one for $9. Papa Murphy is the chain pizza place best known for take out pizza. Prices vary, but one can get a large take-and-bake pizza for less than $10 at Papa Murphy's and in some cases for as low as $7.00.

The point of this is that Wal-Mart's ad is at best deceptive. It makes a price comparison that is for two different things. By comparing the price of take-out pizza to take-and-bake pizza, Wal Mart distorts the price differential.

So where does that leave us? First, it leaves us with the thought that if you are trying to save money on your household budget do not order a pizza take-out because you can probably feed your family for far less money even if you go into the prepared food section which is generally far more expensive than making it yourself.

Second, the idea that Wal Mart has the lowest prices still remains questionable. I have no doubt that people can cite some examples. I would at some point really like to go down the list on a number of core items to see what the price comparison really is.

But third, why go to misleading ads to sell your products? Wal Mart clearly has taken a hit in recent years for a number of their predatory business practices which has led communities to attempt to freeze them out, stores to close, and legislators to take action.

There are real questions about the damage done to local business by a Wal Mart. Money gets sucked out of the community and the local town pays a huge price for a modest tax revenue.

All of this leads back to Davis because Target is frankly just another version of Wal Mart. They have broken ground on Target finally. You probably saw the pictures of the pro-Target city councilmembers jumping for joy at Davis' version of big-box retail.

The city of Davis is of course claiming (perhaps hoping is the better word) that Target will lead to an increase of $600,000 in tax revenue. Money that the city desperately needs--but is probably a drop in the bucket compared to the increasing costs of the city's top employees and their pensions and benefits. Indeed, research suggests that big-box stores can become crime magnets which may lead to the need for additional police officers. That may eat into that $600,000. As would the loss of business from elsewhere in the city.

The city is getting its Target, the question is how much will cost us--not in terms of money but in terms of losses to our character and by diverting away people and money from our downtown which according to all the councilmembers who ran for election this past spring has never been better.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting