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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Eve: Woodburning, Child Abandoning, and a Legislative Surprise

Well Vanguardians, it is that time of year, Thanksgiving. As we have done the previous two years, for the only time during this year, the Vanguard will take a vacation. Today will be the last new entry, barring the biggest story of the year, until Monday morning. Everyone have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.

There are three briefer stories that will be covered in this article


On Monday, the Natural Resources Commission drafted an ordinance on wood-burning stoves. It was not a complete ban that the city is moving towards. However, it would implement no-burn days when atmospheric conditions and the winds are insufficient to disperse the smoke. Even on those days when would could be burned, it would be limited to six hours per day.

The effects would take place on March 1, 2010. The city would study Davis' air quality to determine the impact of no-burn days and the impact a more stringent ban would take place.

The council will take up this issue on December 16, 2008.

I fully understand the reasoning of waiting on restrictions. I also understand why they did not want to undertake an outright ban. That said, I do not think a March 1 start date makes any sense. Why wait until the end of winter to start the ban? What practical sense does that make? What value is that for conducting a study. It essentially means that we are waiting for the 2010-11 winter to get real data on the impact. That is fine, but if that is the case, why not begin the ban on September 1, 2010?

Second point, and maybe someone knows who attended the meeting, but did they put an exemption in for lower income people? Especially if you are not banning wood burning, it makes sense to exempt low income people who use the fireplace as their primary means for heat.

At some point this is going to become like a smoking ban, incrementally it will get tougher and tougher and people realize exposure to even small amounts of particulate matter in the air is unhealthy, particularly for a broad range of sensitive people. (A number that likely exceeds the number of people who burn wood on a regular basis).


Good article in the Sacramento Bee this morning describing the incident and the conditions that led a Davis woman to leave her 14 year old son in a hospital in rural Nebraska.

I suppose not yet being a parent myself, I do not have standing to admonish this woman, since I do not know what she's been through. Taking that chance, I would offer that my first response to hearing this was this was a despicable act by an irresponsible person who should now lose custody of her other two children. Harsh? Perhaps. Let's take a look at what happened.

But on the other hand, it seems that authorities share some of the responsibility here for failing to assist her calls for help. Do we not have a system set up to help people such as her so that she does not have to take drastic steps such as drive 1600 to Nebraska. A few years ago, I did that drive, you can drive from Western Nebraska to Davis in about 18 or 19 hours of driving if you take minimal rest stops.

The Sacramento Bee article seems a bit less judgmental of her situation than I did, running through exactly what the problem was and how she tried to get help.

Fortunately, Nebraska wisely closed the loophole that was supposed to be for infants to prevent infanticide by desperate mothers who are overwhelmed by the prospect of suddenly having to care for a young baby.

As the Sacramento Bee describes, help is hard to find:
" For parents of such problem teens, there is a network of resources available through schools and mental health providers. But there are cracks in the system, and the frustrations of dealing with a patchwork of services.

When authorities declined to intervene after her son raised a knife against the family, she said, her only option was to abandon him in a state that would accept him.

Her son was the last of three dozen older children abandoned in Nebraska in recent months before the state's Legislature closed a loophole in its new safe haven law. Now, only newborns can be dropped off without legal liability there."
According to the article, start with the child's school and school psychologists. However, they warn that students who *only* have substance abuse problems may not qualify for special education.
"His mother, who works as a custodian, makes about $2,000 a month and lives in a modest house, said she was able to get him into a residential treatment program in Sonoma. He seemed to be improving, she said.

But then he started acting out and getting into trouble. It was the same behavior – defiance and aggression, drugs, drinking and smoking – that had caused such trouble at home, she said."
The woman told the Bee that she adopted the son when he was four and he was aggressive toward all his family members--verbally and physically abusive.
"After the latest knife-waving incident, the woman said, she called police, who did little to help.

Police in Davis and Sacramento said such situations are handled on a case-by-case basis, with the officer assessing the nature of the threat and the likelihood of violence.

"There's no formula," said Steve Pierce, assistant chief of Davis police. He said he did not know the details of the particular case, but confirmed police had gone to the house a number of times."
She also called Yolo County Child Welfare Services, according to the Bee, they could only protect abused children, not parents.

Nebraska has sent the child back to Yolo County, now he will be placed in foster care, and a court will decide his fate.

Okay, I still blame the mother after all of this, but I can partially understand her actions. But what really seems amiss is the system. And the worst part is that our social services simply do not have the resources to help in this matter. Nor do we have the systems and protocols laid out. So what does a working class woman who makes a fairly low salary and is apparently a single-mother with other children going to do when these problems arise? She went to the system multiple times and the system failed her?

So at the end of this analysis, I still do not agree with the safe harbor strategy and dumping him on someone else, which she has essentially and completely done, he is now going into a foster care system which is equally overwhelmed and unable to attend to his needs. This is an exceedingly sad case and this boy will likely live a very tough life unless he ends up in a home that will have the resources and patience to make a difference in his life.


In an open race that featured Democrat Alyson Huber and Republican Jack Sieglock, for most of the post-election period Huber had been trailing her opponent by over 1000 votes. This was one of the very few competitive races.

While we have not discussed this race, it is race that I am familiar with and know quite a few people who spent hours working to get Alyson Huber elected to the Assembly.

Well the news came last night that based on the counting of several thousand ballots from Sacramento County, Alyson Huber has surged to a 531 vote lead. She had a net gain of over 900 votes when they completed counting Sacramento County.

There are a couple of hundred ballots outstanding in El Dorado County, and a few in Sacramento and San Joaquin Counties, but not enough to overturn the election. The counties must certify their results by December 2.

At this point barring an unexpected change it looks like Huber will win and bring the Democrats to 51 seats in the Assembly next session. It's not the two-thirds the Democrats were aiming for and not enough to forestall another budget lock-down; however, Democrats will be happy to have 51 seats in the Assembly.

The two sides could not even agree on a package of cuts and taxes to reduce the $17 billion budget deficit for the next two years. Republicans refused to budge apparently on new revenues. The Republicans argued that the plan lacked a spending cap, economic stimulus, and did not contain enough cuts.

At some point perhaps we will realize that we have enough checks and balances already in place that requiring a two-thirds vote makes it impossible to have real changes. Simple majority approval by the legislature and the governor's acceptance are all the checks and balances we really need to do something, but the current 2/3 system does not permit that.

Happy Thanksgiving all! Remember, December 2 is the Virtual Town hall Meeting. Big issues are coming up in Davis in December - that is for sure - and the Vanguard will be there to bring you the most up-to-date information and happenings in Davis. See you again on December 1st!

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Looking to Local, Regional, and National Transportation Goals

There was an interesting note in the Davis Enterprise yesterday about the rising Capitol Corridor ridership. Ridership jumped by nearly 20% over this time last year. Truth is, iti's the 10th consecutive year that ridership has increased.

Gas prices are only one factor in this equation, congested roadways and stressful commutes have played a role as well according to the article.

One of the huge keys to our future will be solving our transportation puzzle. There are some who believe that Americans will never give up their cards. They might be right. The real question is whether you can get them to drive less in cars that are more energy efficient.

I voted for Proposition 1A this year in part because I believe if we had a reliable high speed rail system that could conveniently get us from point A to point B, we would ride the train.

One of the best public transit systems is in Washington DC where the Metro is a cheap, convenient, and safe way to travel within the city and into the suburbs. When I worked in DC over a decade ago, I did not own a car. I did not need a car. The few places the Metro did not take me, I could either take a bus or a cab--and this was rare.

I also lived in Pittsburg, California right next to Antioch one year and took classes in Berkeley twice a year. I would drive five miles in my car, park at the BART station, and take the train to Berkeley. It was quick, convenient, and I could always finish my reading on the train before I arrived for class.

When I took a summer seminar in Stanford one summer, I would come home on the weekends, and I used to take the Capitol Corridor to Emeryville, the Train Bus to San Francisco, and then the Cal-Train to Palo Alto.

Why do I share all of this? Because I believe that we can live in a world where we can take mass transit, and have it be cheap, fast, and convenient. I would love to see a system that efficiency and conveniently connects the Sacramento Light Rail service with BART and Cal-Train. I'd love to see a service of this sort that connects cities across the country, so that you can ride the rails to where you need to go in a quick, cheap, and convenient way.

Europe is way ahead of us in that respect. People will get off the highways and out of their cars if they have an alternative. Unfortunately we need to create that alternative. Our highways are old, antiquated and badly need of being redone. Obama is talking about a public works investment, but if we are going to invest more money and create jobs in upgrading our infrastructure--something we definitely need--we need a 21st century infrastructure plan.

Eisenhower's greatest accomplishment was the creation of the modern interstate system which linked up the country via road. Obama needs to do the same but with alternative transportation.

As we look to the future, let us not merely rebuild the 1950s interstate system that has served us well. Let us make 2010s system of high-speed rails and alternative fuel vehicles that can get us into the next half-century, help us to reduce our reliance on oil, reduce greenhouse gases, reduce driving times, reduce congestion on the highway that leads to pollution and frustration. That is what we really need now.

As gas prices plummet, I have real mixed feelings. On the one hand, it's nice to fill up the car again for $20 or less. On the other hand, I hope it doesn't take people's eyes off the ball. Gas prices at $4 a gallon made alternative fueled and fuel efficient cars economically feasible. It put a priority on developing alternative transportation.

The collapse of the oil market runs parallel with the collapse of the economy, it is also temporary based largely on fallen demand worldwide rather than increased supply. As soon as the economy improves, the prices are headed right back where they were, if not higher. The fallen gas prices are a nice respite to ease the burden on our wallets, but they do not change the bigger picture.

It is interesting that on Saturday, I wrote an article on Obama, talking about the hopeful change in the partisan tone as the result of the new presidency. So far so good. But we still have tremendous challenges that we are facing. That is reality, not a lowered bar. The economic situation worldwide is far worse than many of us realized in September and October. The bailout that used $700 billion was not well-planned or administered. There is no functioning executive office right now in this country.

Unfortunately for the Obama administration, there are just some really severe problems that must be dealt with and they cannot wait. The economy is only one, we must restore our standing in the world after Bush drove it into the ground, we must focus on health care, we must focus on global warming, we must focus on transportation which is linked to both foreign policy and the environment, we must restore our moral standing by removing torture from our policies and closing down Guantanamo, we must restore our rights to privacy, we must restore our environmental laws and enforcement mechanisms. It is unbelievable how much damage one man in a one eight-year period has wrought. And people dare to challenge why I urge that we might not be able to do this in a short period of time--have you looked at the world lately and see how bad things are?

Fortunately, we do not have to wait for the federal government to act. I am hopeful that Prop 1A funding is put to good use, that our region, our state, and our local governments can look toward the issue of transportation, even in these economic times as a priority. We fight over trivial issues and then fail to deal with the real problems as they stare us in the face.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Monday, November 24, 2008

Davis City Council's Annual Goals

The Davis City Council began discussion on their annual goals this past Tuesday. At some point when the discussion moves further along, we can talk those goals. In the meantime, it seems that an interesting discussion may be what people in the community want to see done in the next year.

The better discussion here would be sticking to realistic goals, for example, building Covell Village in the next year is not really practical, however, approving a given housing development might be.

Since it is my blog, I will go first and name five goals I have.

I have numbered these goals for the sake of expediency. As I typed out five, I realized I could easily have written ten. But let us start with five basic goals.

1. Grocery store in West Lake Shopping Center

I will be West Davis Centric for right now. This is really my top goal for the upcoming year. I have lived next to West Lake Shopping Center now for over eight years, unbelievably. Since May of 2006 there has not been a grocery store. Amazingly places like Lamp Post Pizza, the little Mexican place, the Chinese place, and others have not gone out of business, even as West Yost Associates has also moved.

Criticism has to be lobbed at the owner, at least in the past, who first allowed the condition of the location to deteriorate, filled in the cargo bay at the rear of the grocery store, and it is unclear how hard he searched for a grocery store of the approximate size of 15,000 to 26,000 square feet.

A good specialty grocery store could work very well in this location. It turns out there are good amount of smaller chains that specifically design small and middle size grocery stores. We just have to find one to make it work.

There are people right now hard at work trying to find the right store to come into this location. This needs to be a top priority.

2. Road safety at 2nd D / and Pole Line

I put these together. One of the most dangerous locations in Davis is the left turn onto Pole Line in South Davis as you pull out of the Shopping Center. It is like navigating a mine field. First you have a steady stream of downhill traffic from the overpass who are generally driving like it is a thorough fare. Then you need to move quickly onto a suicide lane in the center and merge into heavy traffic. It is easy to miss some in either direction. It is an intersection that either needs a traffic light or needs to be a right turn only. The left turn set up as it is, is a recipe for deadly accidents, and deadly accidents have occurred there.

The intersection at fourth and D is a disaster waiting to happen. The good news is that D street just doesn't have the high volume of traffic. However, there are a few problems with the intersection if you are driving south on D away from Fifth Street. First, it is a two-way stop, meaning you have to stop at Fourth Street, but the traffic on Fourth Street doesn't stop. Some cars do not realize that. Second, because it is a two-way stop, the fact that the view of oncoming westbound traffic is obstructed by parked cars makes it perilous.

Accidents have almost occurred there for two reasons. Either the cars on D do not realize that it is a two-way stop. Or if they do, they can't see the cars coming and almost get hit as they drift out into traffic.

The sad thing is that the solution is simple. Put in a four-way stop. Or more being innovative, put in a round-about. Either way, a simple solution would save a giant pain if you find yourself on D Street heading towards downtown. And during Farmer's Market times, it is not an area that cars do not drive on.

3. Road diet on Fifth street

There are all sorts of problems with Fifth Street between B and L. First, traffic moves way too fast between those areas. Second, you have bikes that do not have a bike lane. Third, you have no turn lanes for people moving off Fifth. Fourth, you have no suicide lanes for cars moving on fifth. The result is that Fifth Street is an accident waiting to happen, and it often happens.

I drive on this stretch all the time, the biggest danger is the car turning onto Fifth Street because they have to wait for the traffic to die down and then they often try to squeeze into a very narrow space. Sometimes they misjudge that space, sometimes they don't see an oncoming car.

Contributing to that problem is of course the speed of traffic moving through there, which is why one proposal is a road diet, that would slow down traffic by narrowing the street to two lanes rather than four. This would cause congestion, which would lead people to avoid the area somewhat, but it would slow down traffic. They could then make turn lanes and suicide lanes to avoid the other problems of turns. It would also free up space for dedicated bike lanes.

This has been a subject of ongoing discussion. The DDBA and the Chamber of Commerce are concerned about the impact of changes to Fifth Street on business going to downtown. Nevertheless, this is an issue that needs to be resolved in a way that addresses safety concerns, bicycle transportation needs, pedestrian cross-concerns while at the same time not harming the downtown. A tough issue, but one that needs to be addressed.

4. Transparency in City Government

Those regulars to the Vanguard understand how heavily our focus looks at open government and transparency. This was an issue that Councilmember Lamar Heystek raised as well and of course we have some ideas.

Last year we raised the issue of the storage of public records. The concern was that the city only stores for instance the recordings of meetings for a few months, passes it on to the library who stores them for two years, but after two years those records are destroyed. So the only record we have of council meetings past two years are the minutes which are by design slim on detail. Thus past conversations and debates are largely lost. The issue was brought up at a joint HMRC-Council meeting this year and the council agreed this was an important issue and they wanted to look into way to store records of this nature.

That is really the beginning of the issue of open government. I would like to see the city pass some sort of sunshine ordinance which recognizes, as other cities do, that governing acts like the Brown Act and the California Public Records Act are minimum standards for open government, rather than the limit for open government.

In my dealings with the city, they have been pretty open to public records requests and willing to work with me for the most part. Unfortunately, the California Public Records Act is one of the weakest open government record acts in the country. That is also a legislative goal as well to strengthen it, but much can be done on this even at a local level.

5. City Council to find working system for council comments

When Mayor Asmundson took over, there was a big concern about her limiting the public comments portion of the agenda. I still think this is somewhat problematic on tough issues, but she does appear somewhat flexible when large crowds come up. To me, you have to stay late to allow members of the public to speak. It does not happen all the time, but when it does, it should be accommodated.

In the meantime, the problem has arisen at the last two meetings when the Mayor has cut off Councilmember Sue Greenwald. Again, I do not agree with limiting time for a councilmember to speak. However, if that is going to occur it needs to occur in a systematic manner. To me, it appears that the Mayor cuts off Councilmember Greenwald quicker than she does other people.

If that is how she wants to run meetings, my recommendation is to announce in advance of an item that each councilmember has a certain amount of time to ask questions and then enforce it across the board. That probably is not the best system to use, but it would avoid some of the current flare ups.

Alright those are five of my council goals for 2009. There are clearly some key ones I missed like vacancies in downtown business, parking in the downtown, transportation, energy efficiency, re-examining the water issue, and much more. I could easily have done ten. I am curious as to what other people want to see.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Would the Gang Injuction Serve Us Well In the Case of the Amtrak Beating?

I post this letter to the editor that appeared a few days ago in the Woodland Daily Democrat. I am not certain I agree with all of the letter. But there has always been something about the case described above that has not sit well with me.

Five of the youths were charged for crimes. Four of them were found guilty. That's of course the headline. It is interesting that while a lot of the news accounts covered the guilty verdicts, a few of them did not note that they were acquitted of the most serious charge--attempted murder.

In fact, from what I see, only the Sacramento Bee reported that they were acquitted of the attempted murder charges.

They were convicted of various assault charges, attempted manslaughter, and of course being members of the Broderick Boys street gang.

But as Mr. McKinnon points out, this case arose about the time the original gang injunction was thrown out. It was sited as why we need the gang injunction. What Mr. Reisig never explained to us is how the gang injunction would have prevented this incident.

The rhetoric was heightened was the beginning, with Mr. Reisig referring to the suspects as "domestic terrorists."

What does not sit well and Mr. McKinnon notes in his letter was the actions of the engineer who was attacked. Why would he get out of the train and confront them rather than call the police? Did his confrontation and punching one of the young men on the tracks six or more times, escalate the incident from simple mayhem and mischief to violence?

I am not trying to minimize the incident, but again, the media descriptions of the incident have never sat well with me. They are too neat. The incident seemed too well-timed to prove a point on the gang injunction.

Does labeling them as gang members help us in some way? Would the gang injunction have prevented this incident? Are we safer with such laws? I have often wondered.

On a personal level I believe that even gang members are covered by the constitution and are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. I will point out the obvious here as well, the legal system isn't exactly stacked in their favor as it is. Law enforcement feels hamstrung in fighting this kinds of crime, and yet we see large numbers of young minority males in jail. There is a disconnect here, and yet I never hear people on the other side question if maybe we ought not take a little different approach to law enforcement. To acknowledge that the heavy-handed, sometimes almost militaristic mindset just isn't an effective means by which to fight crime.

None of this unfortunately answers the questions I still have about this case, even after the convictions. I didn't attend the trial, I wasn't there, perhaps the case was simple and clear cut. But I still find it interesting that most news accounts never bothered to report that they were acquitted of the most serious charge.

The question here to me is not whether these individuals deserve jail time, whether they deserved to be acquitted, a court of law ruled that they did, but the question to me is whether the DA overreached in the case with some of the charges and the overall efficacy of the gang injunction as a crime fighting tool. Some of the asserted facts are bitterly disputed by residents in the affected areas.

---David M. Greenwald reporting