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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Impressions of the First Presidential Debate

Debates are always and invariably not about substance per se, they are often not even about performance, although sometimes they can become about both. I remember vividly four years ago in the first debate, the President George W. Bush looked disinterested, looking at his watch, listless, and uninformed. While he would end up winning the election, his performance at the time put John Kerry back in the game.

I did not get the sense anything quite as dramatic happened last night, but I do think from my biased and partisan perception that on the substance of the debate it was probably as a close to a draw as Obama could have hoped for. However, on the intangibles, McCain may have hurt himself depending on how the viewing public perceived it.

The first point, I think both McCain and Obama did a good job making the points that they wanted to make on both the economy and foreign policy. There was criticism of both that they were not able to articulate the magnitude of the crisis facing the country the past two weeks as the result of the financial crisis that hit Wall Street. Some of that is to be expected because the situation is so fluid and so difficult to assess.

Jim Lehrer, the moderator, for his part tried to pin the candidates down on how the crisis and the potential bailout would change the priorities of the candidates. Neither answered his questions directly. In part of course because they do not know the answer.

The second point though I think is the real pitfall that may harm McCain's standing--or at least has the potential to do so. My impression is that he was rude and condescending in his efforts to demonstrate to the public that he was an expert and Obama was inexperienced and green. Time and time again, he lectured like a professor explaining that Obama did not understand. Time and time again, again to this partisan, it appeared less like Obama did not understand and more like Obama did not agree.

The New York Times analysis bears this out:
More than anything, Mr. McCain seemed intent on presenting Mr. Obama as green and inexperienced, a risky choice during a difficult time. Again and again, sounding almost like a professor talking down to a new student, he talked about having to explain foreign policy to Mr. Obama and repeatedly invoked his 30 years of history on national security (even though Mr. McCain, in the kind of misstep that no doubt would have been used by Republicans against Mr. Obama, mangled the name of the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and he stumbled over the name of Pakistan’s newly inaugurated president, calling him “Qadari.” His name is actually Asif Ali Zardari.).

“I don’t think I need any on-the-job training,” Mr. McCain said in the closing moments of the debate. “I’m ready to go at it right now.”

But Mr. Obama seemed calm and in control and seemed to hold his own on foreign policy, the subject on which Mr. McCain was assumed to hold a natural advantage. Mr. Obama talked in detail about foreign countries and their leaders, as if trying to assure the audience that he could hold his own on the world stage. He raised his own questions about Mr. McCain’s judgment in supporting the Iraq war.

“You like to pretend like the war started in 2007 — you talk about the surge. The war started in 2003,” Mr. Obama said. “At the time, when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy. You said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong. You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong.”
On the latter point, I think was Obama at his best when he was able to articulate his position on Iraq. This is a key for McCain--the fact that he backed the surge and the surge has successfully reduced violence in Iraq. However, Obama's counter was strong--he focused time and time again on Iraq as a distraction and Iraq as a place that we should not have gone and that has weakened our standing in the international community.

People disagree on these points, and that's fine. However, Obama did not equivocate on his position, he did not back down from it, and from that standpoint, he did exceedingly well.

Obama from the beginning to the end, I think did a good job of deflecting some of the distortions in his record. One of my favorite points was when he said that the only reason his record looks so liberal is that he was voting against Bush's policies.

The New York Times analysis suggests that this was no clear winner here--I agree.
"There were no obvious game-changing moments — big mistakes, or the kind of sound bites that dominate the news for days — in the course of the 90-minute debate, held at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. Still, the debate served as a reminder of just how different these two men would be as president as they appeared for their first extended session together before a huge audience, including many Americans who are just beginning to focus on this long-lasting race."
However, from that standpoint, again from my biased perception, Obama comes away better off than McCain. This was supposed to be McCain's territory. McCain came away looking knowledgeable about foreign policy. Obama came away looking like he could hold his own. He came away looking less than risky and more confident and assertive. That is exactly what Obama needed to do on this venue which appeared at the beginning to be stacked against him. Obama did not need to win on points here, he needed to not look outclassed. And he succeeded from my perceptive.

The big question is whether or not McCain's tone and seeming arrogance and condescension will harm him. It will also be interesting to see the Vice Presidential debate next week. For those who watched the Charlie Gibson interview with Sarah Palin, I was singularly unimpressed with her command of the issues. Joe Biden is one of the most knowledgeable people on world issues and Washington Policy. Will Sarah Palin look completely outclassed as Dan Quayle looked against Lloyd Bentsen in 1988 or will she be able to hold her own? That may be crucial to determining whether or not McCain can come back in this race.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, September 26, 2008

What Should Happen with the Lewis-Cannery Property?

The Cannery Park property and how it should be developed is one of the biggest looming questions before the city in the next few years. Some have suggested it needs to remain zone light industrial in order to attract new cutting edge high tech business. Others have pointed out that this is not a viable use for the land and have favored either a residential development or a mixed-use that combines a business park with residential workforce housing.

The city commissioned a viability study that was discussed earlier this week at a joint BEDC-City Council Meeting.

According to the study:
"The Cannery Park site includes 66 acres of the remaining 138.9 acre vacant land supply currently designated for business and industrial park development in the City of Davis 2010 General Plan, or about half the total supply. It also represents the largest infill parcel considered by the 2013 General Plan Housing Element Update Steering Committee and Davis Planning Commission for housing possibilities."
In terms of feasibility the reported offered the following:
"Although the Cannery Park site is a viable and competitive location for business and park development, feasibility of development at the site will be driven in large part by the specific definition of entitlements for this property. This definition is policy driven and requires consideration of the types of uses, intensity of development, and development controls that the City of Davis will permit at the Cannery Park site."

"Currently, the Cannery Park site is partially entitled and it is unclear to what extent the site’s current “Planned Development #01-00 (Industrial)” zoning classification adopted in 2000 can accommodate the business park market opportunities identified in this report."

"Entitlements with highly restrictive, discretionary, and unclear regulatory controls will limit the site’s capture/absorption of business park market opportunities and will negatively impact project feasibility."
This is a key point that the report makes, because apparently the zoning for this site is unclear and incomplete and that may be contributing to some of the problems that they have had finding businesses to come in.

Thus the report suggests:
"Business park development at Cannery Park can be best facilitated by clear rules of development that accommodate business and tenant needs while providing economic incentives for the development to occur."
The study looks at five different scenarios of which we will look at three.
"Scenario 1 -Basic Business Park/No Residential. This scenario assumes that Cannery Park is developed as an 862,000 square foot basic business park that is similar in form, character, and tenanting to the overall Davis business park market. This scenario assumes that the site is entitled to compete for 100 percent of the demand for Davis business park space by permitting occupancy by all types of firms currently in office and flex space in Davis. It would have a 16 year projected buildout and assumes a 55,000 square foot annual absorption rate inclusive of ancillary support uses."

"Scenario 4 -High Tech Business Park/No Residential. This scenario assumes that Cannery Park is entirely developed as an 862,000 square foot high tech business park. This scenario assumes that the site is entitled to compete for about 40 percent of the market demand for Davis business park space by permitting occupancy by high tech uses while not allowing most other uses. This scenario is considered infeasible given its projected 39 year build out period and a 22,000 square foot annual absorption rate (inclusive of ancillary support uses)."

"Proposed Lewis Planned Communities Plan. This scenario summarizes the proposed Lewis plan for Cannery Park as provided by Lewis Planned Communities to ESG. This Plan assumes 225,000 square feet of business park space and 610 residential units. It is unknown to what extent the business park space includes (or does not include) ancillary support uses. This scenario assumes that the site is entitled to compete for 100 percent of market demand. Lewis estimates that this scenario would have 5 to 8 year buildout based on a 28,000 to 49,000 square feet annual absorption rate."
The report goes on to suggest the following impacts of those scenarios.
"Scenario 1 would generate the most jobs (2,586) and business activity with 862,000 square feet of building area and no residential. Annual business revenues are estimated at $301,700,000."

"In contrast, the proposed Lewis Planned Communities plan with 225,000 square feet of building area and 610 residential units would generate the least jobs and business activity of these scenarios. Its annual business revenues are estimated at $78,750,000."

"Scenario 4, the high tech business park with no residential, is excluded from this discussion because it is considered infeasible."

"Scenario 1 would generate fiscal surpluses because fiscal costs to service business park development are typically a fraction of fiscal revenues since employees generally utilize a smaller percentage of governmental services than residents."

"The fiscal impacts of Scenario 3, which would generate 1,034 jobs and business activity in combination with 500 residential units, and the proposed Lewis Planned Communities plan, which would generate 600 to 850 jobs and business activity in combination with 610 residential units, cannot be evaluated at this point because they both would include significant residential development."
Discussion and Commentary

The meeting on Monday generated no action, but there was a clear consensus from the BEDC Commission that the mixed-use model was the most appropriate model to move forward with. Indeed there is much to lend itself to Lewis' plan for the property. The goal is to provide workforce housing in the affordable range. This would be accomplished through a mix of smaller units, larger amounts of open space and shared space, and then about 20 percent of the property being used for a business park.

The breakdown of 80-20 is interesting because they suggest they would generate on the low end about 600 jobs in combination with about 610 residential units, roughly a one-to-one ratio. While there would likely not be overlap between the jobs and the residents, in theory it would make it feasible for less commute and therefore make the project more environmentally sustainable.

The other finding of interest here is that they found that the high tech business park with no residential to be infeasible. The study projects that it would require a roughly 40 year build out period that does not fit in with the goals of the community. Large users, in addition, according to staff want distance from residential and community uses.

The question now as the council decided to bring back the item before the council on a future Tuesday night is what the council will want to do and how quickly they want to go forward with this project.

The community still needs to assess whether they think a plan with 610 residential units and a corresponding number of jobs in the business park is the optimal use for the property.

The other key factor is the 800 pound gorilla in the room, the adjacent Covell Village. There are some on the council that believe that the two sites need to be planned concurrently. However, the people at Lewis do not necessarily concur with that assessment. They believe that there are separate issues on each site that make them very different planning challenges. Lewis is within the city limits, it is paved over and thus the issue of agricultural land and the issue of flood abatement are not there. There is no Measure J requirement for Lewis.

That said, obstacles remain. A plan that would include 600 new residences and 600 jobs will have a huge impact on traffic on Covell Blvd that must be dealt with. From their standpoint, the two sites can be dealt with separately, their plan calls for a community open space park to border the Lewis property on the East. Should a future development go there, the park could be expanded and adapted to accommodate increased needs, but it would not necessitate such a development. The goal seems to be to neither preclude nor require future development.

Nevertheless the future of Lewis seems very uncertain at this moment. The process has not moved forward very rapidly. The council called for a future discussion, but that future discussion may be in the distant rather than near future. In the meantime there has been no EIR planned and the project remains somewhat in flux.

We will see in the coming months what the future holds for the largest undeveloped parcel within the city limits.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, September 25, 2008

City Moves Forward with Living Wage Ordinance

On Tuesday night, city council anonymously moved forward by asking the city staff to draft an ordinance that would bring contracted workers up to $11 per hour or $12.50 per hour should health benefits not be included.

Councilmember Lamar Heystek pushed for the city to move towards a fifty percent of Yolo County median over a period of time. The council direction came on a 3-2 vote with Councilmembers Sue Greenwald and Stephen Souza joining Mr. Heystek.

Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor cynically asked staff about the absence of affected employees at this meeting.
"In all of the conversations we've had on this, I've not seen any of the affected employees in the room, and we've not heard from them, that's unusual, why is that?"

Assistant City Manager Paul Navazio did not have an answer to Mr. Saylor's question.

Later during councilmember comments, Councilmember Heystek responded to this question.
"The reason that I'm here is that I'm on the city council."
Heystek suggested that those impacted are not here because they might not know about or they are dealing with other things such as their families and eking out a living. These individuals are not connected to our community and perhaps do not even know that this is before council. Mr. Heystek then points out only two people came about the sewer rates, and noted that we did not ask where the other ratepayers were.
"People have their reasons for being here. I'm here to stand up for the living wage ordinance that I campaigned for and that the city council anonymously supported."
The issue of cost to the city was cited as a reason by the Chamber of Commerce to oppose this measure.

Steve Greenfield, Davis Chamber of Commerce:
"While the Davis Chamber of Commerce acknowledges the social concerns which motivate the wage ordinance, the chamber does not support the adoption of such an ordinance."
"One of the key reasons why we felt that this was not appropriate is that one of the original reasons why these services were selected by your predecessors to contract out was to save costs, and here we're increasing those costs anywhere from $30 to $200,000, maybe even more."
Sue Greenwald asked in response:
"I was wondering, has the Chamber ever taken a position on the labor contracts of our most highly paid workers, who actually pose a threat to the solvency of the city?"
Steve Greenfield:
"Not that I'm aware of."
Councilmember Heystek made an impassioned plea for social justice.

However, as he noted to the Vanguard, the Davis Enterprise slightly misquoted him which changed the meaning of what he said.

The Enterprise printed:
"'This should be more than symbolic,' he said. 'This should help people. This would allow our most vulnerable population to buy our most affordable housing.'"
According to the tape from meeting, Mr. Heystek said "afford" rather than "buy" "our most affordable housing." The idea that an individual would be able to buy housing on a salary of $12.71 is not feasible or realistic. The idea that an individual could afford to rent an apartment in our affordable housing areas is feasible.

This should not be read as a criticism of the Enterprise but rather a clarification of what the Councilmember said and the meaning of his words.

The councilmember pushed hard for the council to adopt a means by which to increase that wage to the eventual goal of 50 percent of Yolo County median. He said he was willing to compromise on the numbers, but not on the principles of the ordinance. He was looking for a way to get this goal.

Sue Greenwald also made a strong statement for social justice:
"I went over cost and it doesn't cost that much. We give almost no discussion, public discussion, to our pay increases for our highest paid workers. And this is where the real cost to the city is."
If we took our highest paid workers, managers, top bargaining groups she said,
"people who make well over $150,000 total compensation, and one year we cut their cost of living increases by one percent for one year... it would probably cover twice what we're asking here."
"People who are doing high paid jobs could not do their work without the labor, the daily labor of the people who are getting paid below a living wage."
In her closing remarks she added:
"Forget about housing... here we're talking about allowing people who work in Davis to eat... I think it's really important that we don't balance our budget on the backs of the poorest of the poor."
The issue of costs to the city was raised by the Chamber of Commerce, as well as three of the councilmembers.

Stephen Souza via teleconference from Long Beach asked:
"The question is where are we going to cut to have this living wage ordinance?"
However, Stephen Souza stuck to his guns on this issue and voted with Councilmembers Heystek and Greenwald.

Mayor Asmundson opposed the motion on the grounds of cost to the city as did Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor.

While Councilmember Heystek was the conscience of the council on this issue, Councilmember Greenwald raised the pertinent point on costs.

The city of Davis has 61 employees who make over $100,000 per year in salary and overtime alone. Never mind the amount of employees who make over $100,000 in total compensation and the number of employees who make over $150,000 in total compensation.

Right now, according to Assistant City Manager Navazio, we are talking about 18 workers. This is largely a symbolic action except to those 18 workers who will be better able to feed and shelter their families as the result of council's actions on Tuesday.

The real costs to this city are not from increasing the wages to those 18 workers. The Chamber of Commerce has never inserted itself into labor discussions for those 61 individuals making over $100,000. Sue Greenwald brilliantly asked that questioned, I add the question, why is that?

Why is it that we never have an issue when it comes time to increase the pay to the top employees of the city, but the moment we talk about raising the pay for people making basically poverty wages, the Chamber of Commerce and some of the council becomes fiscal conservatives? At least Mayor Asmundson has been consistent looking for ways to hold the line on spending at the top as well for the bottom. That is more than Don Saylor can say.

As councilmember Sue Greenwald pointed out, if we want to make this work, all we have to do is slow down the growth of the top salaries for a single year. So why are we trying to balance the budget on the backs of those making the lowest wages rather than those making the highest wages.

In this way, the situation in Davis is similar to that with the UCs. The UC system holds out raising the pay of the lowest paid workers but has no problem paying out $800,000 to its President. That represents a $400,000 raise over his predecessor.

This past week, the US government made headlines proposing a $700 BILLION bailout for the top financial companies. These companies are going bankrupt and threatening the solvency of the entire financial system. At the same time, they are paying their top executives up to $25 million per year. And the US taxpayers are expected to bailout these companies who are paying these salaries?

We have things backwards in this country. The powers that be hardly lift a finger in protest when the top dogs get their pay, but God forbid we should ever propose even a very modest pay raise for those making the lowest wages.

Councilmember Lamar Heystek is part of the council minority. He has never had a reliable third vote since he arrived on council. And yet through his vision, his tenacity, and his soul, he has willed this to take place. He deserves tremendous credit for the living wage ordinance, a very modest ordinance that helps a mere 18 people who work indirectly for the city of Davis. This is but the first step, but for those 18 people it will be a tremendous help in their every day lives.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Vanguard Radio is Back on KDRT on an ALL-NEW FREQUENCY

Tonight from 6 pm to 7 will be our first show back at the new frequency 95.7 FM. It should be more powerful so people around the city should get it. I'll be interested to see if Woodland can get KDRT now.


TONIGHT: Joy Cohan from DDBA
Oct 1: Dan Wolk will talk about the Legal Clinic of Yolo County
Oct 15: Davis Joint Unified Superintendent James Hammond

Call in number: 530.792.1648


Proposition 8, Same-Sex Marriage Ban Doomed?

When the first Field Poll came out in July showing that 51 percent of the voters polled opposed Proposition 8, it seemed for the first time really that the measure that would nullify a State Supreme Court ruling striking laws that prevented same-sex marriage might be in trouble. Historically at least, ballot measures decrease in popularity as the public learns more about them and as uncertainty grows about the measure.

Working in favor of same-sex marriage ironically enough were the controversial decisions not only to lift the ban on same-sex marriage but to allow marriages to occur. Suddenly California voters dealt with same-sex marriage not only in principle but in fact. Perhaps that has enabled Californians to realize that allowing same-sex partners to wed was not the threat that some had made it out to be.

Regardless of that those initial evaluations, the opposition to Proposition 8 has only grown since then. Last week, the new Field Poll, the bellwether of California polling organizations, found a strong increase in opposition to the ballot measure. In this poll, 55 percent oppose Proposition 8 and only 38 support.

The question now is whether or not the measure is doomed. Neither side of course is willing to concede. Indeed the Yes on Proposition 8 has according to reports this week outraised the No side $15 million to $12 million. However, both sides have ample money for the stretch run and money does not appear likely to be deciding the factor.

Both sides downplayed the significance of the poll.

Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, which supports gay rights said:
“We think there’s 15 to 20 percent that are still undecided on this issue. We do believe that if we can get our message out at least equal to the other side, we will win, but that’s a fund-raising issue.”
Jennifer Kerns a spokeswoman for the "Yes on 8" campaign said:
"That was certainly something we expected to see. Historically, the Field Poll has underestimated support for traditional marriage."
However, the director of the Field Poll, Mark DiCamillo agrees with my assessment.
"Initiatives that are trailing, either at the initial measurement or in subsequent measures, rarely pass. History is working against passage."
Moreover, opinions on issues such as same-sex marriage do not tend to fluctuate dramatically.

Two weeks ago, the Davis City Council unanimously endorsed a resolution opposing the measure in a resolution. The measure brought out a number of citizens on both sides of the issue, however, the No on Proposition 8 side had the majority of the speakers.

As I mentioned a few months ago and again at the onset to this article, I think Proposition 8 is doomed. And I think a key factor to it is that people were able to wed back in June. That action took away part of the wedge issue that opponents of same-sex marriage usually employ. People simply are not going to run in fear of what will happen if same-sex couples are able to wed because they have already wed and most people would never know the difference. The fear of the unknown has been taken away, it has also been humanized. Watching happy same-sex couples, overjoyed in being able to final share their love for each other is a powerful antidote to fear.

I have long suspected that same-sex marriage was an idea whose time was going to arrive. Demographically speaking, the younger generation, people my age and younger, have grown up in an openly gay society. We have gay friends, gay relatives, gay colleagues. Everyone knows at least some gay couples. There is a level of acceptance and a level of comfort that did not exist in prior generations.

That said I would never have guessed that at least in California the time would be now. It seems like just yesterday it was February 14, and I was once again in Freddie Oakley's office watching her giving out certificates to same-sex couples and wishing for the day she could legally marry them. This day seemed so far way on that day. Who knew that only four months she would be doing those ceremonies for real and that in November we would in fact be certifying and formalizing that Supreme Court decision.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What impact will the Yolo County Taxpayers Association's Endorsement Have on Measure W?

This isn't supposed to happen--Taxpayers Associations do not endorse tax increases. At best you have to hope that they will remain neutral. But there it was last week, we heard rumors that the Yolo County Taxpayers Association had endorsed Measure W, the Davis Joint Unified School District's parcel tax needed to offset severe cutbacks from the state.

Those rumors have been confirmed now with an article yesterday in the Davis Enterprise and a subsequent letter by John Munn, former school board member, former Republican nominee for State Assembly, and current president of the Taxpayers Association.

John Munn writes:
"The Yolo County Taxpayers Association board of directors has voted to support Measure W, the proposed parcel tax to maintain school programs in Davis...

Although the association is not pleased by spending decisions that have contributed to the school district's current financial situation, the need for Measure W is real, and opposition at this point would not be in the best interest of the community, where taxpayers have a clear interest in the education of Davis students...

This support, however, comes with a caveat. We expect that the school district and board members now understand how decisions about present spending can lead to future deficits. Therefore, the association will not support future tax measures to pay for deficits created by subsequent board decisions. But this is for another day's debate. Today, we must work together to keep the good things we have, which requires passing Measure W."
Board member Gina Daleiden told the Enterprise in response to Mr. Munn's letter:
"As we are all aware, this year's state budget crisis has resulted in dismal funding for schools across California, and Measure W is needed for local support to save our quality educational programs that state dollars fail to adequately fund...

The district has worked hard to incorporate a high degree of accountability and transparency in Measure W, so that everyone can see it's a wise investment in our community, our kids and our future...

We welcome the support of the Taxpayers Association and their president, former school board member John Munn. We agree we must all work together to pass Measure W."
The question now is how much such an endorsement means. That is a key a question because such an endorsement provides a good deal of cover for the school district who has argued, with good reason, that they have worked hard to put their financial house in order and that this money is absolutely necessary for the district to continue to function at a high level.

The concern that has been emerging has been that this campaign has been low-key. The supporters of Measure W need to sell the need for another parcel tax to the public--some of whom are undoubtedly skeptical. To date that has yet to have occurred and it is desperately needed. It is already the last week in September. The election is less than fifty days away.

There is no doubt that this is a shot in the arm for the campaign. It helps make the case from an unlikely source about the necessity of the funds, but it will only go as far as the backers of this measure are able to get the word out to the public. Something is needed soon to raise the profile of this campaign and sell the message to the public. There is still time to do that, but time is quickly becoming an issue.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wolk Campaign Takes On Aghazarian on Per Diem Issue

It's been quiet, maybe too quiet considering the amount of money that we know Republican Assemblyman and nominee Greg Aghazarian has amassed for his run at the State Senate. Last week it was reported that the Democratic State Central Committee of California had given $250,000 to Assemblywoman Lois Wolk. Until that point, she had been outraised by a hefty margin by her Republican opponent despite the fact that she is a heavy favorite at this point to win the Democratic leaning Senate district.

It turns out the first strike was fired by the Wolk campaign. Those who have watched TV in the last week may have seen it. It is an attack based on Aghazarian's collection of per diem money as an assemblyman.

The ad charges that Assemblyman Aghazarian has collected daily per diem payments of $170 that are designed to pay for lodging expenses for state legislators who live far from Sacramento. However, Aghazarian lives in Stockton, just a forty-five minute drive from Sacramento.
"As an assemblyman, Greg Aghazarian took $180,000 he didn't deserve." spoke with Tom Higgins, campaign manager for the Wolk campaign.
"Tom Higgins, the campaign manager for Assembly member Wolk (D-Davis), said the ad is meant to point out a hole in Aghazarian's stance as a fiscal conservative.

"It doesn't square quite right when you say one thing and do another," Higgins said, adding that Aghazarian collects the per diem on top of his regular salary as an assemblyman of $116,000 annually. "That per diem is really intended for folks who have to maintain a second residence."

Higgins said that Wolk, who like Aghazarian was first elected to the state Assembly in 2002, has consistently declined her per diem money for lodging because she, like Aghazarian, lives within driving distance of the state Capitol."
This is the first salvo in what figures to be a highly contested race. With the Wolk campaign taking an early shot, there is little doubt that we will see a response from Aghazarian.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, September 22, 2008

Addendum to Parcel Tax Post from Saturday

A number of interesting side issues came out of the article on Saturday regarding the parcel tax and particularly the district's spending.

The gist of that report is that the state budget picture with the approval of a new budget is very uncertain for schools. However, commenters have continued to question the district's spending practices and their ability to absorb two million or so in loss of revenue from the state and a lack of COLA to even keep up with inflation.

In particular, there is the suggestion that the district was able to cut $1.1 million from the budget and that therefore those things cut amounted to an admission that there was waste in the system.

Those budget cuts were obtained in a variety of ways including the closing of Valley Oak (something that I remain strongly opposed to), the non-replacement of retired teachers, the non-filling of vacant administration positions, and letting an assistant superintendent leave.

Some of these cuts have led to further questions and I will attempt to briefly address these questions. I strongly urge people who have further questions to talk to the district rather than jump to conclusions. While I would consider myself more knowledgeable than many on the issue of the district's budget simply because I have been covering this issue for frequently, I am hardly any sort of expert or authority on the matter.

One question that emerged this weekend was how Valley Oak's closure was able to save money if there are now programs that are located on the campus.

As people are aware, the closing of Valley Oak did not cause teachers to be laid off. However, there is still a large amount of operational expenses that are saved when a school closes. These include the principal and office staff, library support, teaching specialist support, custodial support, and some utility savings.

The programs that have been moved to the Valley Oak campus were relocated from Korematsu. There is no additional staff for these programs nor are any of these programs new.

The programs are only taking up about half of the campus. There are able to lease space out to other programs such as a Yolo County Office of Education program, Los Rios College, and STEAC.

An additional question came up about the crunch lunch and food improvements. These are intended to increase sales that will enhance the Student Nutrition Program.

As I mentioned in the comments yesterday, food services is a totally separate fund from the General Fund with the exceptions of the Measure Q enhancement. In other words, none of this money is coming from the general fund. The Measure Q funding as people know is required based on laws the bound parcel taxes. So none of this money is discretionary.

The district believes that in order to keep sales up that they need to serve quality food and if they don't, they will not break even and that money will come from the general fund.

Schools are required by law to offer food service as part of the National School Lunch Program. Most of the district's meals go to "free and reduced" qualified students. The district need cash paying students to help cover the cost of the program. If all cash paying students brought lunch, the district would lose money on this program and the General Fund would have to cover the loss.

The crunch lunch does not require additional staff. They were making pre-packaged salads and they were going unsold.

In addition Davis Farm to School is a non-profit partner in this program. No district funds flow through them.

Finally on the energy savings program--it began over a year ago. It was approved by the school board in the summer of 2006. Savings from this program were used in adopting the budget--it is part that $1.1 million they saved. Much of the savings however are mitigations from rate increases.

It is important to continue to ask questions about the district's budget process. It is a very complicated process and I keep learning more and more about it myself. However, there are a lot of assumptions and accusations being thrown out that that are simply untrue. We should try to education ourselves first before jumping to conclusions.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Guest Commentary: DJUSD parcel tax analysis and recommendation

by Don Shor

How should you vote on Measure W? That depends on
-- your assessment of the causes of the current predicament,
-- your guesses about future funding stability, and
-- your faith in your elected officials and district staff.
I was curious about the history of the present predicament and wanted to analyze the district’s finances. For a while, it was pretty hard to find clear information. and the state Dept of Ed site are useful resources. A fellow blogger sent me some statistics and Bruce Colby provided detailed information, and I thank both of them. The conclusions here are my own.

Most of the district’s money comes directly from the state, based on the enrollment. Most of the district’s money goes to instructional expenses: teachers, teaching staff, books and supplies.

Myth: enrollment decreases are the cause of the district’s fiscal problems.

Fact: Paid ADA enrollment has dropped less than .3% per year since 2002-3, a total decrease of only 1.6% over the entire 2002-8 period. This is a total reduction of 134 paid ADA students from 2002 to 2007. Enrollment appears to be up a bit this year.

Costs should be proportional to enrollment, as income is. You would expect the district’s expenses to rise by about the rate of inflation (16% overall 2002-7), adjusted for any change in enrollment (down 1.6%).

Based on those criteria, the district budget for 2007 should be about $67.5 million.
The actual (projected) budget for 2007-8 was $73.8 million.

So over the past six years, DJUSD expenses have increased $6.3 million (10%) more than they “should” have. We’ll call this “extra.”

Where did the money go?

So what expenses were rising faster than the rate of inflation (adjusted for enrollment) in DJUSD between 2002 and 2007-8?

Myth: bloated administrative costs are the problem.

Fact: administrative costs actually rose slower than the rate of inflation.

Teacher pay. With a slight decrease in enrollment 2007/2002, certificated salaries increased 20%. Difference over inflation, adjusted for enrollment: $1.8 million “extra.”

The number of teachers, after dropping slightly from 2002 to 2003, remained nearly constant, at least through 2006 (this number is pretty hard to pin down).

Davis teachers are paid, on average, slightly more than the statewide average. Their benefits package is comparable to other districts.

Teacher pay increases in 2005 and 2006 made up for increases in the previous two years that were well below inflation. But the 6% increase in the 2007 budget is a pay increase above the rate of inflation through 2007.

Staff pay. During the same time period (2007/2002), classified salaries increased 23%. Difference over inflation, less enrollment: $0.9 million “extra.”

The biggest increases were in the 2005 and 2006 school years, when certificated and classified salaries increased by 7% and 11% respectively, each year.

Benefits increased 31% 2007/2002: $1.3 million “extra.” According to one board member, DJUSD benefits had been pretty paltry. They are now in line with other school districts.

Books and supplies increased 61%: $1.5 million “extra.”

Services and other operating expenses increased 41%: $1.6 million “extra.”

There was a big jump in Services and other operating expenses in 2006: 27%, a single year increase of nearly $2 million. This includes increases in utility costs ($400,000), special ed transportation, payments to other districts, legal fees, consultants, and settlements. 2006 was a messy year.

Why didn’t they go broke sooner?

Fortunately for the school district, total revenues increased 22% during this time period, so income was actually increasing faster than the rate of inflation as well. DJUSD had nearly $13 million more money total in 2007 vs. 2002.

So what’s the problem? Unfortunately, total expenditures increased 25%: the district spent $14.7 million more.

Two big factors:

Some district expenses are restricted, and the state has been reimbursing less than these cost the district.

The state is not giving ADA cost-of-living increases, at least for 2008, so revenues will dip.

To their credit, the board has proposed an essentially flat budget for 2008-9 that will not even account for inflation. They are not hiring new teachers, nor are they budgeting for a pay increase. Administration has been trimmed. If they can hold the line on the expenses that are within their control, expenses and revenues are expected to balance in 2010 or so. But there is a gap between revenues and expenses for the next two budget years. School districts can’t run a deficit; in fact, they are required to maintain a prudent reserve.

The proposed parcel tax would bridge that gap in revenue with about $2.4 million per year for three years. It would maintain the current budget level and a healthy reserve, allowing the district to weather future state budget crises. It is unlikely that districts will get a full cost-of-living increase in the next couple of state budgets.

If Measure W doesn’t pass, the number of teachers will have to be cut for at least a year or so. That’s where the money goes, so that is what will be cut. Teachers equal programs and low student/teacher ratios. You can quibble about this program or that one, but it is the total number of teachers that matters. Programs would be cut and student/teacher ratios would increase. Since the lower grades are at state-mandated ratios, the effect would fall disproportionately on grades 7 – 12. Enrollment has been increasing in those grades as it declines in the lower grades.

To some degree, this comes down to trust.

As a strong supporter of Valley Oak, and then the charter proposal, I have serious issues with the board’s actions in the last couple of years. Closing Emerson is often discussed. There has been turbulence in the administration. This parcel tax will not be an easy thing to sell, and I share much of the skepticism others have voiced.

Some recommendations:

The district needs to update its web site and provide fiscal information in an easy-to-read manner.

Staffing should be proportional to enrollment. The district should implement a hiring freeze to adjust for the slight enrollment decrease over the last few years.

Expense increases should not exceed the rate of inflation, or the rate reimbursed by the state, whichever is lower.

Those are simple guidelines an oversight committee can enforce.

So if you have faith that this newly-elected school board will keep expenses in check, and will continue to be honest about fiscal issues, you will probably be willing to vote for this parcel tax on a one-time basis. If you are skeptical, talk directly to the board members and staff about your concerns. I think you’ll find them approachable and willing to provide information.

My own thoughts?

I don’t vote here, but as a local property owner I do pay this tax: business parcels are taxed at $120 per year. My kids went to DJUSD K – 12 as interdistrict transfer students. We went out of our way to bring our kids into this district each year for more than 14 years. The teaching quality and program choices here are excellent. Budget cuts would directly affect those.

Unlike the ongoing parcel tax that voters just approved, the board should not expect this tax to be renewed automatically by the voters. There are no guarantees, but the trend lines suggest that it would not be necessary. But with the loss of cost-of-living increases from the state and the continued increase in mandated, under-funded programs, Measure W gives DJUSD breathing room.

Don Shor is a business owner in Davis, owning Redbarn Nursery.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

City Responds To Grand Jury Report

As we reported last week, the City of Davis has asked Police Ombudsman Bob Aaronson to investigate the findings of the Yolo County Grand Jury's Report that reviewed the Davis Fire Department. The city had 90 days within the receipt of the report to respond to the recommendations. This week's council agenda contains the city's formal response to the Grand Jury's recommendations.

The city has taken the extra step of examining the veracity of the findings. As Mr. Aaronson told the Vanguard last week:
"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."
In a follow up, Mr. Aaronson informed the Vanguard that the city did not need his report in order to respond to the recommendations which are fairly basic and routine.

The city's staff report fully lays out the process.
"As we began evaluating the overall report, it became apparent that the investigation would take longer than the 90 day timeframe mandated for a City response to the recommendations. Our response to the City Council is thus a multi-step process."
It should be both noted and applauded that the city has decided to go above and beyond the statute requirements by actually investigating the findings at which point there will be a report made public.

According to the staff report:
"Responding to the Grand Jury’s report is challenging, as the Grand Jury process necessitates that the City receive only minimal background information about the concerns and/or specific events from which the Grand Jury bases its findings and recommendations. The conclusions drawn by the Grand Jury are serious, and the City has responded accordingly by hiring an independent investigator in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the underlying basis for the Grand Jury findings."
The staff report acknowledges that this response is neither detailed nor lengthy:
"The first step is to fulfill our legal obligation to prepare a response to the Grand Jury, based on the direction given in their report, as has been accomplished by the attached letter. Although Council may have anticipated a more detailed and lengthy response, we want to assure Council that we feel this letter relays to the Grand Jury that we are taking their findings and recommendations seriously and that we have begun steps to implement change where appropriate."
The second step involves the independent investigation by Mr. Aaronson.
"The second step is currently in process: we have hired an independent consultant to gather information related to the Grand Jury report and anticipate formal feedback within the next several weeks. The independent investigator is proceeding with a thorough review and will be preparing additional information emerging from his review. We hope that this information will shed additional light on the underlying allegations in the Grand Jury Report and provide a clear path to make any improvements or changes. Staff will share the information that can be made public and subsequent recommendations with the Council once the review has been completed. We hope to have the overall investigation complete by the end of October."
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."
The city responds to the five recommendations in the Grand Jury report in a formal letter.

Recommendation 08-15: "Revise the promotion testing and selection process to identify and promote the best qualified candidates. Post promotion selection criteria in a public area of the firehouse as well as in the announcement of the promotional opportunity."

City's Response:
"The City is re-examining the promotion testing and selection process used by the Davis Fire Department and anticipates implementing refinements to improve the process and the accountability of the relevant decision makers. We are working on putting guidelines into place that will better assist both existing employees interested in promotional opportunities, as well as senior management making decisions on promotions.

For promotional positions citywide, the City's Human Resources Division ("HR") sends hard copies of all promotional position openings to all departments, including the Fire Department, and hard copies of the notices are posted in each department. In addition, HR sends an e-mail to all employees with city e-mail accounts notifying them of the promotional opening. The promotional position notice includes the job qualifications and criteria for the opening. The promotional opportunity is also posted on the City's website. The City has, and will continue to, make available its promotion criteria to applicants, potential applicants and the public at-large, through internet posting and City bulletin boards, including the bulletin boards at the Fire Department."
Recommendation 08-16: "Develop and publicize criteria for selection to special committees, projects and education opportunities for DFD firefighters.

City's Response:
"Similarly, the City is reviewing the manner of, and criteria for, selecting Fire Department employees for various employment-related opportunities to make sure that they are in the best interests of the City and fair to its employees."
Recommendation 08-17: "Publicly post copies of the revised City of Davis Drug and Alcohol Administrative Policy, 3.4B in the City of Davis Personnel Rules and Regulations handbook. Further, require all current and new DFD personnel to read and sign-off that they have read these documents."

City's Response:
"The City will continue to work to insure that all employees are conversant with the City’s Drug and Alcohol policies. The City has provided its Drug and Alcohol policies to all of its employees. New employees are provided with the policies during orientation and are required to acknowledge receipt of these policies. The City posts the policies on the City's internal employee intra-net. Hard copies of memos describing policy updates are sent to all employees and the employees are directed to the City's employee intra-net to review the entire, up to date, policy. The City is considering additional training for all employees on the City's Alcohol and Drug policies, as part of the City's on-going training program."
Recommendation 08-18: "All City and DFD policies related to drug and alcohol use should be enforced."

City's Response:
"The City does and will continue to enforce its Drug and Alcohol policies. In this regard, the City will redistribute its drug and alcohol policies to all employees to ensure that everyone abides by the same policies related to drug and alcohol use and that all managers and supervisors are familiar with how to address situations where employees may be in violation of the policies."
Recommendation 08-19: "The successor Fire Chief should come from outside DFD with no personal ties to the DFD Union, in order to restore a balanced relationship between DFD administration and the Local Union and its Board."

City's Response:
"While the City understands the basis for this recommendation, the City is unable to artificially limit or circumscribe its employees’ rights to apply for vacant positions. The City will be mindful of the concerns raised by the Grand Jury nevertheless. When the City begins to recruit for a new Fire Chief, the City intends to seek qualified applicants from both outside and inside the City. The City Manager retains the right to choose the most qualified applicant for this position, regardless of whether that person is currently employed by the City."

There are several thoughts that emerged from reading the city's responses.

However, first, I want to begin on a positive note. Our counterparts in Woodland at the Woodland Journal have been focused heavily on the Woodland school district's response to the Grand Jury report. For those unhappy that the city of Davis is spending $35,000 on its investigation, the Woodland School District is paying about $80,000 according to one board member who characterizes the response as: "Half of the responses are lies. The other half doesn’t make sense." The Woodland Journal believes that the findings have been whitewashed.

Thus the city of Davis seems to be at least on the surface taking this far more seriously than the Woodland school district. The city after initially having a response that suggested complete denial of the charges in the Grand Jury report is taking things very seriously and there will be a full and fair investigation.
The Vanguard fully understands that this response is preliminary. The Grand Jury's recommendations frankly were too modest to begin with and thus could be responded to prior to a full investigation. While these are good recommendations to follow regardless of the outcome, they are not sufficient if the allegations are shown to be accurate.

Even to those very basic recommendations, I do not feel that the city's initial response goes far enough.

Let me provide one basic example--one of the recommendations is that "all City and DFD policies related to drug and alcohol use should be enforced." The city's response to this is that it does and that they will "redistribute its drug and alcohol policies to all employees." That does not seem to go far enough. The real question is how they are going to enforce their drug and alcohol policies. Granted that if there is shown to be a problem with drinking specifically, the city may take additional steps, but it seems even in the interim the city could have had a stronger response than the one they gave.

The real test for the city will obviously occur once the report by Bob Aaronson is complete. At that time we will see how if the city is willing to take strong actions, should they be warranted. In the meantime these responses seem to be a formality designed to technically response to the Grand Jury without any kind of substance or initiative. From that standpoint, it seems the city could have done a bit more even at this time in response to very serious allegations.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting