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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Davis DANG on Vanguard Radio Talk About the Prospects for a New Grocer in West Davis

On Wednesday night, on KDRT 95.7 FM, Vanguard Radio had on three members from the group DANG--Davis Advocates for Neighborhood Grocers--Eric Nelson, Russ Snyder, and Katherine West.

Click here to listen to the entire interview: Radio Interview

One of the points they made is that there is a perception that this is a bad location for a grocery store. What they believe has been shown over time is that poorly run stores will not do well in this location. They argue for instance that Farmtown Market did exceedingly well in this location and that the only reason that it left was that the owner, the original owner of the plaza, wanted to get out of the grocer business. He had only gotten into the business to begin with due to the requirements for a grocery store. But it was well run and profitable.

Next came Ray's Market. Ray's Market also did well there but there were logistical problems due to the fact it was Oregon-based and the southern-most Ray's Market location. Toward the end, the Ray's Market did poorly but that in part because of lack of upkeep of the store.

Even Food Fair initially turned a profit but quickly lost money when they never put money or resources into the store. Food shelves were rarely re-stocked and people had no good reason to go there.

Because of the smaller size, what is needed is a store that can cater to people purchasing a meal or two at the store. Which suggests some specialty items but also just as importantly a wide-berth of items so that people can do all of their shopping for that meal at one store.

It is an interesting discussion and worth listening to.

They could not divulge the grocers, but apparently there are several that have expressed a realistic interest in the spot in the last month or two. They seem very optimistic that this spot will be filled and that if it is a well-run store it will succeed.

DANG maintains an active website with a load of information. I have already put the link on the side bar, but click here for more information about DANG, their activities, and how you can get involved.

Supervisor-elect Jim Provenza Hires Staff

Special to the Vanguard

Jim Provenza, Yolo County Supervisor - Elect for the 4th District announced today that he is appointing Gina Daleiden to serve as Deputy County Supervisor. Sandra Rodriguez will continue as Assistant Deputy.

Daleiden is currently employed as the Assistant Deputy to Supervisor Helen Thomson and is President of the Davis School Board. Daleiden is a Davis native and a 4th District resident in South Davis. Provenza and Daleiden previously served together on the Davis School Board.

Provenza stated, “I am pleased to be working with Gina again. She is a brilliant public servant who will work tirelessly on behalf of residents of the 4th District and Yolo County. She will represent my office on committee assignments, work closely with county departments, and serve as a vital link between 4th District Residents and County government.

“I’m excited to work in my home District for Supervisor Provenza,” said Daleiden, “We worked well together on the School Board, and I welcome the new challenges and opportunities ahead.”

Elected to the 4th Supervisorial District in June of this year, Provenza will be sworn into office on Monday, January 5 at noon in a public ceremony in the atrium of the Yolo County Administration Building in Woodland. Formerly the Davis School Board President, Provenza will replace former 4th District Supervisor and newly elected Assemblywoman, Mariko Yamada.

According to Supervisor Helen Thomson, “Gina will have new opportunities and challenges in the lead Deputy position, and I support and encourage her move to this new position. She is well prepared to serve Supervisor-elect Provenza in his first term.

Daleiden adds that, “Supervisor Thomson is a mentor and a friend, and I am happy that I will continue to work with her and her office. I’m thankful to both Supervisor Thomson and her deputy, Laura Bibelheimer, for all they have taught me about county government.”

Sandra Rodriguez, current District 4 Assistant Deputy, will continue in her position. During her tenure as Assistant Deputy to Mariko Yamada, Rodriguez gained a reputation as a hardworking advocate for the citizens of the 4th District and has been of particular assistance to Spanish speaking residents. Ms. Rodriguez stated, “I am happy to be able to help with the transition, and I look forward to working for our constituents and continuing to help the office run smoothly.”

Friday, December 12, 2008

DJUSD Moves Toward Changing Election Cycle

As I mentioned in a previous article on this subject, the move from odd-year elections for DJUSD board members to even-year elections make complete sense from a democratic standpoint and a budgetary standpoint.

From a political standpoint both Bob Dunning and Richard Harris expressed concerns about the major drawback, the fact that the board members would essentially be extending their term for a year. Looking at the issue purely from this standpoint however, obscures the benefits of the move. The biggest being the huge budget impact. But the secondary point being democratic factors. In 2007, around 30% of people turned out to vote for DJUSD board elections, Measure P, and Measure Q. In 2008, over 80% of the voters turned out to vote in the Presidential election and by extension in the Measure W election. Even in an average mid-term election, you are looking at well over 50% of the vote. To me it makes perfect sense and I will share more in the commentary portion of this article.

The board last night had their third discussion on this item without taking a vote. However, there is a clear three member board majority that favors this move pending a vote possibly next week.

The big change necessitating the move is also the fact that DJUSD would be the only election matter on the ballot in odd years and thus would have to bare the full cost of the election.

In a memo from Sandra Fowles, DJUSD Director of Fiscal Services she explains the impact:
"The district shared the ballot costs in 2007 with the Yolo Library District locally and the county costs with West Sacramento, Yolo County Office of Education (YCOE), and Woodland. In 2005 a statewide special election was held and the district shared costs with the state, the City of Davis locally and county wide with YCOE, Esparto, Winters and Woodland. In the election years of 2001 and 2003 the district did not share the costs with another district locally but shared the costs with other school districts county wide. The cost to run a Board member election in 2007 was 245% more than 2005. The cost is expected to increase another 43% for 2009 if Davis Joint Unified is to remain the sole election contest on the ballot for the November election.

The ability to conduct the district election strictly by mail is not currently an option. The County of Yolo is pursing legislation giving Yolo County this right."
County Clerk Freddie Oakley wrote the school district in September:

"The result of using that formula for the first time was a really awful "sticker shock". We subsequently adjusted the billed amounts downwards by removing some of the items that we were billing for the first time. In order to maintain a spirit of fairness and cooperation with the districts, we have permanently removed some of those items from the billing formula - for instance, the cost of my salary and the cost of some "allowable overhead." Any further adjustment would necessitate raising the issue with our auditor and Board of Supervisors.

In discussing ways to reduce or minimize election costs for the districts, we have discussed the advisability of districts changing their election schedules so that they move from the odd-year "Uniform District Election Code" (UDEL) schedule to the even-year "General Election" schedule.

We have posited that such a change would afford the districts the economies of scale that are the result of sharing the expenses of transportation, poll worker costs, "real estate space" on the ballot, and other inflexible expenses."
Board Member Richard Harris remains adamantly against the change, arguing that the voters voted him in for a four-year term, he considers it wrong to take an extra year.

Since he said it very succinctly in his December 4, 2008 letter to the editor in response to Bob Dunning's column, I will use his words from that which he forcefully reiterated last night:
"I will not vote to extend my own term of office because I don't believe elected officials should extend their own time in office.

I consider it a privilege to be on the school board and thank the people who voted me into office last year. But it is their right, not mine, to extend that term.

There may be savings from consolidating elections and I look forward to more discussion about the issue. But as I stated the other night, there are also benefits to school board elections being run separately from other elections.

We should consider those benefits versus potential savings from consolidating future elections without interjecting the notion of unilaterally extending our own terms."
Board Member Tim Taylor however passionately and eloquently summed up the counter-argument which seems to be carrying the day:
"The people elect you to take care of this district, and for anybody to say, well, 2009 we'll just bite the bullet, is not taking care of this district. And quite frankly I think that's thinking of the individual and not thinking of the collective. I think our job is to think about this district and think about the collective and think about what's in the financial health and security of this district. This is not a power grab for anybody, believe me. This is not even a personally wise decision for anybody to do on a personal level. It's only about the district. To think well it's not in my interest or I am somehow violating the trust... is the complete wrong way to look at this. The public has entrusted you with the financial security and the health of this district and if you say I'm going to spend fifty thousand dollars, much less a hundred and fifty thousand dollars, much less five hundred thousand dollars in 2009 that you don't have to spend, you're not entrusting, taking on that public trust ability. And quite frankly that is the beginning and end of the story."
Mr. Taylor doesn't see this as an equal decision, but he said that there are real on the ground consequences

Past Board President Sheila Allen:
"I am willing to take one for the team, to stay one more year if it meant a school could stay open, a teacher's job could be saved..."
She continued:
"I would do all sorts of things for this school district to save programs."
Newly elected Board President Gina Daleiden summed it up:
"I agree with what Tim and Sheila have said because I closed a school, we're still battle scarred from that. I won't do that again for a few more months because I have a funny feeling about it."
Ms. Daleiden continued:
"I think it's a no-brainer when you are talking about laying off teachers and destroying programs."
I agree with the position of Boardmembers Taylor, Allen, and Daleiden. I think this is a no-brainer. Frankly, if the biggest cost is the political future of board members because of this move, it is a small price to pay. It is far better than the prospect of closing a school or laying off teachers. We are not talking about a small sum of money here, we are talking about perhaps half a million or more. That's a school right there. That's perhaps eight FTE teaching positions.

I think Tim Taylor is absolutely correct when he said that the voters elected the board to take care of the district, and this is the best way to take care of the district.

One of the first votes I cast was in an election in San Luis Obispo which consolidated the ballot to even years. From a financial standpoint it makes sense and from the standpoint of democracy, getting good voter participation it makes sense. The 30 percent turnout in 2007 was both a waste of taxpayer money and problematic for democracy. And we saw that the city could support education even when 80%-plus turn out at the polls and I suspect people were as aware if not more aware of Measure W as opposed to Measure Q.

One final point, it seems like they would put the parcel tax on February 2012 ballot and it would take effect for the fall. The downside to that is that if it were to fail, the district would have some difficulty getting it on the June 2012 ballot. But it may be possible. That would be the only hurdle to that dilemma, I know people were asking about it for the townhall meeting.

As Tim Taylor pointed out, this is not a political power grab, this is a prudent economic cost savings during one of the worst financial times ever. If board members such as Richard Harris are uncomfortable with that, and I can respect his trepidation, they can always resign. I do not say that flippantly and I hope that Mr. Harris, despite my perhaps policy disagreements with him, does not resign over this matter.

It appears this will be put to rest next week, I hope they can vote on it and I hope it does not end up a 3-2 vote, which might be more harmful than the action itself.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

School District Latest to Feel the Heat Over Economy and State Budget Situation

This has been one of the roughest weeks in terms of the budget projections that one can imagine. This seems as good a time as any to let people that know that on Monday, I began a job as editor of the California Progress Report.

One of my first official duties in this capacity was to cover Speaker Karen Bass' press conference. Towards the end of her talk, she laid it on the line.
“I think that some of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle are in denial, frankly. And feel that this problem is not as big as $11 billion right now or $28 billion over the next few months, or feel that we can solve this through cuts alone or that we can solve this through revenue alone. The goal of today is to make sure that there is no excuse for the denial of moving forward. I'm saying that on both sides of the aisle, in both houses, and I'm also saying that for the new members especially who come here with wonderful ideals that they need to hear the reality. For returning members, they need to know how much more serious this crisis has gotten.”
Yolo County Budget Crisis

The local dominoes fell shortly after that. The county faces a $3.5 million budget shortfall this year and a stunning $18.6 million deficit next year. That represents almost one third of the general fund budget.

From Wednesday's Woodland Daily Democrat:
"The Board of Supervisors approved cost-saving measures Tuesday that would close at least $3.2 million of Yolo County's current $3.5 million budget shortfall.

The board also directed staff to return in early 2009 with recommendations for resolving next year's $18.6 million deficit, which represents 30 percent of the general fund. The 2009-10 budget covers the period beginning July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010.

The shortfall is likely to increase as the national recession continues and with the state's ongoing financial challenges, county staff reported to the board. The state's current deficit is $28 billion over the next 18 months, with shortfalls projected for the next four years, according to staff.

To shrink the county's current $3.5 million deficit -- the result of a "carry-forward" shortfall from department budgets of the previous year -- the supervisors adopted staff recommended measures that includes the freezing of "unnecessary travel," elimination of non-essential contracts and services, and postponement of some equipment purchases.

The board also authorized staff to implement department-identified savings measures that amount to about $2.2 million; accept voluntary employee salary reductions at a savings of $210,280; and negotiate with labor representatives for mandatory 32-hour furloughs of each employee, saving $585,949 ($271,814 from the general fund)."
The city was the next to fall that evening.

The Vanguard reported:
"At last night's Davis City Council Meeting, the city of Davis was presented data by Finance Director Paul Navazio that paints an increasingly bleak face on the city's fiscal situation. Once thought to be relatively immune to the rise and fall of the economy, the current economic crisis goes deep enough that Davis faces a $1.2 million budget deficit for this year and a $3 million budget deficit for next year.

The culprit is lower-than-expected property and sales tax revenues. For instance, the city expected a 6.5 percent growth in property taxes but they have only seen a 3 percent growth. Moreover, and just as devastating is what happened on the sales tax side where the city typically assumes a 2 percent annual sales tax growth but instead is looking at a 5 percent decrease in revenue from sales tax primarily coming from auto sales, gas, and restaurants.

A few weeks ago we reported that the city of Davis was looking for immediate cost containment which included a five-fold strategy of a hiring freeze, closer scrutiny of overtime, travel and training control, tighter control of contracts, and a limitation of non-essential spending.

The budget forecast for the next five years looks bleak for the city. With the $1.2 million debt for 2008-09 increasing to $3 million next year, $3.8 million in 2010-11, $4.49 million in 2011-12 and $5 million for 2012-13. Part of the problem is that the structural deficit that some have claimed the city resolved, has asserted itself."
DJUSD Budget Crisis

The good news for the school district, if there is good news is that with the passage of Measure W, it looks like the school district will be alright, albeit eating into the reserves for this year. The bad news is that after that, the picture once again gets the bleak. The culprit is the devastating budget situation in the state.

The governor's proposal features roughly a $2.2 billion cut in K-12 funding. THe Democrats feature a $1.8 billion K-12 reduction.

The bad news is that the huge operating shortfalls right now are projected to continue for the next five years.

The key question is how does DJUSD look after the governor's proposal.

According to Budget Director Bruce Colby's presentation last night, the district faces a $1.8 million deficit for 2009-10. Because of some of the categorical fund flexibility in the governor's proposal, DJUSD might be able to shift some of that money around to trafer from state categorical revenues. The district receives about $4.8 million from this. Mr. Colby presents this as a two year option. The district can also reduce or eliminate mandatory class size reductions, this is also a two year option. Finally, as one-time relief, the district can reduce the required reserve level, which would be a 50% reduction or one million dollars.

However, the larger budget deficit challenge will be for 2010-2011. The good news (again if there is any) is that since the district is okay for now, they can focus on longer term strategies for reduction of spending. For those wondering, another parcel tax is not a possibility.

The slide below here is the comparison between the Governor's proposal and the Democratic proposal.

Bruce Colby argues that the final state budget reductions will have significant impacts on DJUSD programs for the next four years. They are going to look to ways to minimize future spending decision in order to maintain a fund balance. They will review and reduce site and district level spending including on categoricals. They will also evauate the need to backfill vacant positions.

One thing that was stressed was the need for community outreach and to discuss with the public and inform them about this process. They are proposing a board budget workshop in early 2009.

As I said at the onset of this article, this is one of the most bleak pictures I have seen in terms of the economy and honestly, I think Speaker Karen Bass had it right--not only are her colleagues in denial, but the public as a whole is really unaware at this point how bad things will get. The real bad news is that this is just the beginning, the country really has not felt the full impact of this economic collapse. Things are likely to get much worse before they get better.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Power Shift on the Council: Souza Emerges As Power Center

The 2008 Elections saw Councilmember Don Saylor win the most votes to ascend to the position of Mayor Pro Tem, Davis' version of the mayor-in-waiting as Mr. Saylor will take over as Mayor in 2010. However, since the new session began, we have instead seen Don Saylor increasingly marginalized on the council. Emerging as the most powerful member of the council was Stephen Souza, who has acted as the swing vote on numerous key contented votes since September 8.

It is a small sample to be sure, just 12 contested votes (i.e. non-unanimous votes), but the pattern is clear. Souza has shaped the council's agenda voting with the majority on 11 of the 12 votes. Not only that, but he has played the role of kingmaker, shaping the direction of the policy. It is not only the number of votes, but the importance of the votes whether it has been on living wage, the Ogrydziak project, Cannery Park, and last week on both J Street and Hunt-Boyer.

Meanwhile it is top-vote getter Don Saylor who have been increasingly marginalized on the council as the vote of extremity, voting on the losing side of contested votes 8 of the 12 times. Mr. Saylor has been the lone dissenter on three of the votes including the Cannery Park, the letter on the Grand Jury Report, and the New Harmony CEQA. In addition, the Mayor Pro Tem has voted with Mayor Ruth Asmundson on the losing end of a 3-2 vote five times. The Mayor herself has been on the short-end of the vote on six votes.

By comparison, Lamar Heystek has found himself on the short-end of two votes, Councilmember Sue Greenwald has been on the losing end of just one vote.

These numbers alone understate the impact of Stephen Souza on the council. For one thing, these are just final votes. A good example is on the Cannery Park proposal. Councilmember Sue Greenwald made a motion to keep the current zoning in place and deny Lewis Planned Communities' application to change the zoning. That vote failed by a 3-2 vote. However, Councilmembers Greenwald and Heystek would then join Mayor Asmundson and Stephen Souza in supporting City Manager Bill Emlen's recommendation to pursue an equal weight EIR.

In another example just this week, Mr. Souza forged out a compromise on the issue of the Hunt-Boyer building where the council had been split as to whether to turn it into a visitor's center or to pursue a restaurant. Mayor Asmundson and Mayor Pro Tem Saylor strongly supported the visitor's center option, while Councilmembers Heystek and Greenwald supported the restaurant. Souza worked out a compromise that passed by a 3-2 vote which would explore both options including putting forward an RFP on a restaurant.

Souza was also the deciding vote on the living wage vote.

Perhaps the most interesting vote was on an appeal of the Planning Commission's denial of Marie Ogryziak's project on B Street. Councilmember Souza abstained from taking a position in that vote. His abstention meant that the project would be denied for at least a year. After that vote there was a public exchange between Souza and Saylor.

Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor was not happy. He informed Councilmember Souza that due to his vote the project would be killed. The councilmember was well aware of the implications of his actions.

The councilmember said:

"I have a major conflict here trying to pit history against the environment."

Mr. Saylor responded:

"So you deny the project by not doing either."

What is clear here is that Councilmember Stephen Souza now occupies the middle ground on the council on most contested votes. His is the swing vote. But for the most part, they are centrist votes. On both the Cannery vote and the Hunt-Boyer vote, he opposed to more progressive position of Councilmembers Greenwald and Heystek and instead forged out his own compromise position.

But there is a notable point along those lines. On both of those votes (these are prime examples), Councilmembers Greenwald and Heystek did not get their preferred option. In both cases however they were willing to compromise and work with Councilmember Souza to get a project or an outcome that was closer to their preferred option than the alternative. In that sense both Greenwald and Heystek have been very strategic in their votes and willing to compromise to get things accomplished. As a result, both Greenwald and Heystek have been in the majority on contested votes 11 and 10 times respectively.

The same cannot be said for Mayor Pro Tem Saylor who has refused to compromise and move from his core position in order to get things done. Despite his rhetoric of moderation, his actions have placed him on the most extreme end of the council this term.

The main caveat to this pattern is that it is a very short period of time, since September 8, 2008 and only on a few votes, 12. But it seems, that a new pattern is emerging on the council and the sharp dividing lines that had existed previously are beginning to breakdown. This is to the credit not only of Councilmember Souza but also Councilmembers Heystek and Greenwald who have been willing to work with Mr. Souza to get things done.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Independent Investigation of Grand Jury Report on the Fire Department Pushed Back Until January

Late on Tuesday night Bill Emlen recommended a change to the calendar on Ombudsman Bob Aaronson's report on the fire department. Mr. Emlen described it as a workload issue pushing the report back from the December 16 council meeting and instead to be carried over until January.
“I will talk with the council members individually regarding the review of the report.”
In addition to the workload issue, Mr. Emlen acknowledged the complexity of dealing with personnel matters.
"A lot of that has to with how we sort of sift through the personnel related areas versus the core issues that are related to the grand jury report."
However, he reassured council that this had nothing to do with withholding a major personnel decision. And he re-emphasized this is primarily about work load issues.

Councilmember Greenwald asked what Bill Emlen could share with the elected leaders of the city.

Mr. Emelen:
"What I’m telling you is that I’d like to have that discussion in a different form because I think we are at this point probably going beyond what we should in this form tonight."
Council was accepting of the delay though everyone expressed the desire to see this to a completion.

Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor:
"I’m looking forward to getting done with this, because it has been far too long for everybody concerned.”
Stephen Souza agreed:
"I too would rather see it as soon as possible, it has been sitting around for a considerable amount of time… It was slated to be here tonight, it’s now on our long range calendar slated to be here on the 16th, the next meeting, and apparently you’re proposing to put it off until January.”
Council was more sharply divided on the issue as to whether they should see the full report or a redacted version.

Both councilmembers Sue Greenwald and Lamar Heystek were adamant about seeing the full version.

Councilmember Greenwald:
“I’d like to get a council consensus that we have access to all the information. The way our form of government works is that we’re responsible when we’re elected. Whereas on the phone you told me that we’re not responsible for personnel, we are ultimately, the buck stops with us. We’re responsible through you, but we can’t evaluate how well you’re doing your job with personnel if we don’t have access to all the information.”
She continued:
“I just think we should as a matter of principle, as a matter of procedure. It’s a matter of accountability in government.”
Councilmember Heystek requested of City Attorney Harriet Steiner that she explain any legal grounds for withholding of information from the council in writing.
"I do agree with Councilmember Greenwald, it is important for us to see the work product of the Ombudsman, this is the first major test of our Ombudsman and we’ve paid over $35,000 I believe for this work product, and I believe I deserve to see as a councilmember the contents. No one is wanting to pry or to be nosy, I think we want to know the quality of the report. It is important that we have the fullest context possible to be able to make decisions or give direction. I’m equally interested in hearing what the city manager’s interpretation of the findings are. But if there is some legal grounds by which we cannot view this information or not be privy to the report that was prepared at our behest, I would like to see a justification of that in writing. I really believe that as a councilmember I need to know why it is that information is being withheld from me and in writing."
However, both Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor and Councilmember Stephen Souza disagreed.
"I think that it’s reasonable to make another point of view known here. That is to the degree that materials and information comes to the City Manager that is personnel related, we don’t look at the personnel files of every employee in the city."
The Mayor Pro Tem continued with a bit of his own John McCain, "that one moment"
"We actually employee those two [pointing at Harriet Steiner and Bill Emlen]. Those are the two we employ."
He continued:
"In terms of policy issues, in terms of behavioral issues that are addressed in a grand jury report, we should hear from the city manager and hear his report. How he has gathered information to arrive at the conclusions and findings that he is going to be presenting to us is his responsibility. Just so that’s clear, I’m interested in hearing from the city manager what his conclusions are based on whatever he has done to arrive at them. I don’t need to know what exactly was stated by any person, at every point in time."
Councilmember Stephen Souza agreed.
"I don’t need all fifty pages, I just don’t."
He continued:
"I don’t need to have the “he said, she said” full story. I don’t. I am not in charge of personnel, except for as Councilman Saylor said, we are in charge of two personnel, that’s who we’re in charge of, we hire and fire them. That is our main task from a personnel standpoint. When it comes to this matter, I want to know from our ombudsman, through our city manager, how he arrived at his conclusions, and give me the pertinent information so I can come to my conclusions about it."
Mayor Asmundson was in the middle, arguing that she wanted to see Bill Emlen's report first and then she would decide if she needed to see the entire report.
"I agree our city manager is responsible to us… He’s asking that this be put to January and staff has been busy with budget issues and trying to juggle other things… There are so many things that staff has been working on and I think that this is in the lower priority to the budget. Even though I think we need to hear about this as soon as the city manager is able to give us the report. Let’s wait for the report and see. If there are more questions about that then we can decide then whether we want the whole report or not. But I’d like to wait until then."
At this point, the council and city manager have now delayed the report until January. That means that the report will have been completed a full two months before the public is aware of the findings. Moreover, the council still has not seen the report either.

It remains my opinion that this has gone on entirely too long and that this process has been badly mishandled. At some point, hopefully we will know whether the very serious allegations that appeared in the Grand Jury report that was released in June are true and if they are, what the consequences will be.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

City of Davis Stares Down A Budget Deficit

At last night's Davis City Council Meeting, the city of Davis was presented data by Finance Director Paul Navazio that paints an increasingly bleak face on the city's fiscal situation. Once thought to be relatively immune to the rise and fall of the economy, the current economic crisis goes deep enough that Davis faces a $1.2 million budget deficit for this year and a $3 million budget deficit for next year.

The culprit is lower-than-expected property and sales tax revenues. For instance, the city expected a 6.5 percent growth in property taxes but they have only seen a 3 percent growth. Moreover, and just as devastating is what happened on the sales tax side where the city typically assumes a 2 percent annual sales tax growth but instead is looking at a 5 percent decrease in revenue from sales tax primarily coming from auto sales, gas, and restaurants.

A few weeks ago we reported that the city of Davis was looking for immediate cost containment which included a five-fold strategy of a hiring freeze, closer scrutiny of overtime, travel and training control, tighter control of contracts, and a limitation of non-essential spending.

The budget forecast for the next five years looks bleak for the city. With the $1.2 million debt for 2008-09 increasing to $3 million next year, $3.8 million in 2010-11, $4.49 million in 2011-12 and $5 million for 2012-13. Part of the problem is that the structural deficit that some have claimed the city resolved, has asserted itself.

The current year sees the need for continued cost containment measures with the balance of the gap being bridged through the use of the General Fund reserves.

Next year becomes critical with the need for expenditure reductions, service reductions, revenue enhancement, and state budget contingencies.

Navazio believes that the once time cost savings could save up to $900,000 which would require the city to eat up to $330,000 from their reserves. That seems rather optimistic on the face of it.

Unfortunately, the city did not provide PowerPoint slides (we believe that this would have been a great slide to show) but basically, police and fire make up about half of the general fund budget. The city is talking about a 5 to 7 percent reduction across the board in departmental budgets. A five percent reduction would save $2.2 million and a seven percent reduction would save $3 million. Of that between $400,000 to $600,000 would come from fire and $700,000 to $1 million would come from police.

The alternative would be for the city council, city manager's office, community development, community services, parks, and public works to take a 7 to 9 percent cut and allow police and fire to only take a three percent cut. The rationale for this is protecting public safety. That would place fire at a $263K cut and police at a $436K cut.

But again this really understates the budget hit we are facing. Last year we identified up to $13 million in unmet needs. These unmet needs were taken off the books so they were not considered part of the deficit and it appeared that the city of Davis had a balanced budget. These again include key infrastructure needs and repair work.

Because of the immediate crisis, they did not spend much time on the long-range financial plan update.

The first priority is the renewal of the half-cent sales tax which generates roughly $3 million per year in June of 2010. The second priority is to replace the parks tax, perhaps by 2011, since it sunsets in June of 2012. Finally they need to look at additional revenue options as well. One of their concerns to look at funding options prior to the sunset of the DJUSD parcel taxes.

There should also be a reminder that some proposed taxes do not include a variety of fee increases. The big ones are going to be water and sewer due to the capital improvement projects.

City Manager's Memo

On December 5, 2008, Bill Emlen sent out an updated memo to all city employees on the city's budget situation.

Here are a couple of key points the City Manager brings up.
"We have worked with individual departments on cost cutting measures including a hiring freeze, and reductions in various travel, training, overtime, and contractual service expenditures. Individually, these actions are relatively small but cumulatively they can add up to something substantive. They are important first steps, but it is clear that more work needs to be done. We are still determining how much savings were accomplished with these initial efforts. As I noted, current estimates are that revenues will likely be down about 1.5 million dollars this year."
"In terms of our budget, we are now projecting that next fiscal year’s shortfall could be in the 2.5 to 3 million dollar range. Add to that the uncertainty over the potential impacts the State budget crisis will have on local government, and you get a sense of the potential challenge we will face with the FY 09-10 budget."
One of the strategies is to retain as much budget reserve as possible.
"Our initial goal is to retain as much of our current budget reserve as we can going into the next fiscal year. To accomplish this, we will need to continue to find ways to reduce expenditures this year. If we are successful, it does not necessarily solve the problem we face in 2009-10, but it does provide some flexibility to cushion some of the budget impacts we are likely to face, particularly if State shifts of local funds become part of the equation. That said, the type of deficits projected by our current budget forecasts make it unlikely we can balance the budget without reductions, and they may be significant."
Here is the red flag:
"In our budget instructions for next year, we are asking departments to develop reduction scenarios in the 5-10 percent range. This information will then be evaluated on a City-wide context considering such factors as equitable impacts among departments, Council priorities and extent of use of budget reserve."
Most of this backs up what was said at the city council meeting, but it underscores the severity of the problem. Council wants to look at recently allocated expenditures and evaluate program priorities.

The unfortunate aspect of this crisis is that even if they cut five to ten percent of their budget, that will just get them by until 2010. The long-range problem is that the budget deficits will increase rather than decrease after 2010. Complicating things are the impracticality of revenue enhancements from new commercial ventures at this point plus a tough credit market precludes other revenue enhancement that is not related to tax increases.

The city of Davis is far better off than other cities or even the state at this point, but the severity of the current crisis compounded with the questionable past accounting practices with $13 million in what is really some sort of deficit stored as unmet needs puts the city in a quandary in terms of how to continue to provide a high level of services to the public.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Vanguard Radio on Westlake Grocery Store

On Wednesday night, December 10, 2008, Vanguard Radio on KDRT 95.7 FM from 6 pm to 7 pm will feature members of the group DANG who will be discussing the latest developments regarding a supermarket in the Westlake Shopping Center.

Call-ins are welcome at 530.792.1648

Live streaming at

Davis Enterprise Joins in Call For Open Contract Talks

In a surprising twist, the Davis Enterprise Editorial on Sunday Morning, "Contract Talks Should Be Open" called for transparency in the city's budget and contract process to city employees in order to "prove to us that the salaries and benefits we promise city employees won't drive Davis into insolvency."

The editorial states:
"FOR TOO LONG and to ill effect, the Davis City Council has gone behind closed doors to bargain with the city's employees. The agreements produced in these sessions have not served the fiscal health of the city. Our council must end this practice and negotiate on behalf of the public in front of the public.

The people who are paying the bills have a right to not only know how much a labor contract will cost them, but the people should be permitted to express their views on each deal before it is a fait accompli.

Most of the budget of the city of Davis goes to its workers. By concealing themselves in locked rooms with labor negotiators, the members of the council don't get the input from citizens they need to make fully informed decisions on the most financially important decisions of the city.

To date, this lack of input and oversight has been costly."
The Enterprise then questions the practice of using recent labor agreements from other nearby communities as benchmarks to help determine Davis' wages and benefits in an effort to remain competitive.

As the Enterprise writes:
"Unfortunately, some of our neighbors have been overly generous and, like lemmings, we have followed them over the cliff's edge."
From the city's perspective, here is Finance Director Paul Navazio's staff report from October 14, 2008 that he offered at the budget workshop.
"First, the City Council has expressed a desire for a more transparent process leading up to formal negotiations with each of the City’s employee bargaining groups. To that end, the presentation will review organizational goals related to employee compensation, summarize the various elements that comprise the city’s compensation package, and discuss the role of comparative market studies in establishing appropriate levels of compensation.

In addition, the City - as well as most other public agencies - has come under heightened scrutiny over the level of compensation paid to employees. Over the past year, selected elements of City personnel costs have been the subject of numerous news articles and editorials. Moreover, the City continues to receive an increased number of formal public records act requests from various entities, ranging from main-stream news organizations, governmental watch-dog organizations, as well as private citizens. As a result, staff believes that much of the information being presented to the general public fails to provide a complete (and sometimes accurate) picture of the City’s compensation structure, and is rarely provided within the context in which the City tackles important policy questions related to employee salaries and benefits.

It is important that the City provide a competitive compensation package in order to recruit and retain qualified city employees, while managing overall personnel costs. At the same time, it is equally important that the public have a clear understanding of the City’s overall compensation structure, and the process by which the City determines appropriate compensation levels."
As the Enterprise makes clear, one of the key failing of this policy, is that if one city goes over a cliff fiscally, it takes all city's over the cliff with them. On the news just last night was the prospect of four major area cities including Sacramento facing possible severe fiscal crisis and possibly bankruptcy.

As they write:
"THAT IS HOW DAVIS ended up with unfunded retiree medical benefits, extremely early retirements and spectacularly expensive pension plans. The other cities gave them to their workers, so we did, too. No one on the outside was paying attention, because no one in the public was allowed to participate in the process.

A cop or firefighter who retires from the city at age 50 takes home up to 90 percent of his final salary plus cost-of-living increases for the rest of his life. If he's married and has a child age 22 or younger, the taxpayers of Davis continue to pay his full medical and dental insurance, now $15,860 a year. Even without the current economic downturn, there is no way the city can afford these lavish promises. "
While we appreciate that the Enterprise has come around on this issue calling for full transparency and a public process, we would be remiss if we did not point out that the Enterprise endorsed those candidates last election who promised to continue more of the same. They endorsed the three candidates also supported by the Davis Firefighter Association who have pledged to continue this unsustainable fiscal practice. And they opposed the member of the council, namely Sue Greenwald, who has been fighting for changes to this policy for five years.

The key question is how we get out of this mess.

The Vanguard joins our Davis Enterprise counterparts in the call for transparency:
"The council needs to invite the public into the process and prove to us in the full glare of the sunlight that the salaries and benefits we promise city employees won't drive Davis into insolvency."
But transparency alone is not enough.

The Vanguard offers three additional suggestions.

First, a freeze on pay increases other than normal step and column increases that have been negotiated into the collective bargaining agreement.

Second, the City Council and Finance Director Paul Navazio need to get innovative. We cannot realistically cut salaries, but what we can do is look for creative ways to scale back and rollback other benefits, particularly retirement benefits to those employees who are due to get 3% at 50 or 2.5% at 55.

Third, the Davis Enterprise is right, we need to stop basing our labor negotiations on the standard practice of surveying "recent labor agreements in nearby communities to determine what wages and benefits." That practice simply drives all cities into fiscal crisis. This is the heart of the problem from the Vanguard's perspective. On a regional basis, all cities are hurting. The city is engaging in a hiring freeze right now as it is, so recruitment is not the most pressing issue, fiscal responsibility is.

Even if we were hiring, would fiscal conservatism harm us in recruitment efforts? We know for example when a fire fighter position opens up, there are hundreds of qualified applicants, that clearly suggests we can slow down the rate of growth in salaries and still get good prospects. Police are more problematic, although there is a suggestion that this is a professional issue as opposed to a local issue. Regardless, one suggestion would be to examine our ability to hire field by field and make determinations of salaries and compensation on a field-by-field basis.

The one good thing is that not only are we not alone, but we are probably better off than some other localities. We will talk more about this later however because things are catching up with the latest fiscal reports suggesting an increasing deficit in Davis as well.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Groups Line Up in Opposition To Mike Thompson for the Interior Position

Most conventional wisdom has Congressman Mike Thompson as one of two finalists for Secretary of the Interior in President-elect Obama's new cabinet along with Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva. Grijalva is the son of migrants and an outspoken critic of the Bush administration's federal land policies.

The Oregonian argues that while hunting and fishing groups like Congressman Thompson environmentalists and other liberals are lining up against him.
"Thompson, whose district runs from the wine country of Napa Valley to the Oregon border, is favored by hunting and fishing groups that like the fact that he's an avid sportsman. And the League of Conservation Voters gives him solid voting scores. In fact, Thompson won national publicity back in 2002 when he held a press conference in front of the Department of Interior with 500 pounds of fish killed by low waters in the Klamath River."
Liberal netroots groups such as the Daily Kos are joining in opposition to Mike Thompson as the Oregonian Reported on Monday.

The Kos argued:
"Mike Thompson takes money from hunting lobbyists Safari Club International (whose members hunt rhinos, lions, and elephants) and won their Hunting Heritage and Legislator of the Year awards. In fact, no other house member took more money than Mike Thompson from SCI... oh, apart from Alaska's Don Young."
The Kos quotes from another local environmentalist blog:
"Mike Thompson, a vineyard owner (and therefore likely more sensitive to the needs of farming than of, say, endangered species), is pissing off local environmentalists:

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat said: "Thompson said the reduced river flow "wasn't about salmon or water, it was about electoral votes in Oregon."" The important political lesson to note here is that these farmers (and voters) were not in Mike Thompson's district.

A real test of Mr. Thompson's environmental credentials would be: is he willing to close down his vineyard and winery friends in his own district by no longer allowing them to suck water out of the rivers and aquifers? Ask the environmentalists who live on rivers like the Navarro about how much water is left for the Salmon once vineyards finish taking their sips. Ask environmentalists in Napa County about pesticides in ground water and runoff."
A letter from 117 environmental groups strongly endorses for Congressman Raul Grijalva:
"We strongly believe that Congressman Grijalva’s background and record show him to be a leader ready for this challenge.

As Arizona’s congressional representative, Congressman Grijalva has shown a broad range of passion and expertise for conservation and management of public lands. He has highlighted the Bush administration’s attempts to undercut science in favor of industry interests and sought ways to work with agencies and environmental groups to better protect public lands. For this, Grijalva has gained respect in the environmental community for his clear and decisive positions on sometimes complicated issues."
Despite this opposition, The Oregonian concludes that Mike Thompson is the favorite for the post.
"Still, Thompson certainly looks as if he is in line with Obama's earlier cabinet appointees. He's someone who has been able to reach across partisan lines and it doesn't hurt that he's gotten lots of backing from the powerful California congressional delegation. And lastly, Obama said during the campaign he wanted a sportsman in the job. "I think that having a head of the Department of Interior who doesn't understand hunting and fishing would be a problem," Obama told Field & Stream."
A Thompson appointment would open up California's First Congressional District, a safe Democratic seat. Assemblyman and former State Senator Wes Chesbro is said to be the favorite for the position if it opens up.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Monday, December 08, 2008

Why is the City Still Sitting On the Independent Investigation into Grand Jury Complaints?

On July 14, 2008 the city of Davis official named Bob Aaronson, the city's police ombudsman, as the independent investigator looking into grand jury complaints that the Davis Fire Department had engaged in a variety and string of misconduct over the previous several years. The charges ranged from drunkenness on city property to a hostile work environment and a host of problems in between.

By all accounts Mr. Aaronson completed his investigation and turned in his report around four weeks ago, the second week of November. However, a scheduled city council report has been postponed. Originally scheduled for this week, it was nowhere to be found on this week's agenda.

In addition, it appears that Bob Aaronson will not even be in town to report to the council and hopefully the public on his findings and to be available to answer questions that will inevitably arise.

Why the delay? The Vanguard unfortunately was unable to connect with City Manager Bill Emlen last week. However, one suggestion that has surfaced is that they simply have not figured out how to handle the report given the sensitive nature of it.

More alarming is the apparent factor that the city council members have not been allowed to view it yet. Thus the elected officials of Davis have yet to make any sort of assessment of the severity of the report.

In part, we can sympathize with the city manager's dilemma. After all it is a tricky situation given the fact that people have come forward as whistle blowers and these people are in need of protection from potential retaliation.

On the other hand, the delay at this point is largely inexcusable. City Manager Bill Emlen was not suddenly dumped this report in early November, he had almost four months prior to work out the end game here--the end game being how to take a raw report and turn it into something the city council and the public could get in an expeditious fashion.

The longer this process continues, the more speculation will build and the messier this situation will become.

At this point, we have to believe that the news cannot be good for the department. If this were a mere exoneration, the city clearly would have released this report already.

We are left to speculate that perhaps the city is trying to bury results in the doldrums of the holiday season. A December 16, 2008 release might suggest that the city is hoping that people will see it and forget about it over the Christmas and Holiday season. On the other hand, it is perhaps more likely that this is just being mishandled. The resolution to this situation is likely not going to occur at a single city council meeting and therefore the situation will drag out beyond the holiday season anyway.

At this point, I want to pose two ideas for the public to think about.

Bob Aaronson's report in Santa Cruz criticized the police for spying on protestors and they also criticized the police department for a conflict of interest relating to the fact that the very official who ordered the spying, was the one who conducted the initial report. The decision in Santa Cruz was made early on based on that the report would be a public report, available for anyone. If you google it, you can find the report even now on the web. Why was this important? It insured transparency in the process. The public knew the outcome of the investigation and could draw their own conclusion.

This decision was made in advance. What appears to be happening in Davis right now, is that no decision was made prior to Mr. Aaronson completing his report. Now the city is bogged down in figuring out what to do about it.

What should have happened? Bill Emlen assigned this to Bob Aaronson in mid-July. When he did, he should have directed City Attorney Harriet Steiner to evaluate the legality of a variety of options given a number of different contingencies ranging from full-vindication of those mentioned in the grand jury report to full-validation of the report. In advance, the city should have made the determination of how to release the information whether it be the full-report, a summary, a redacted report. They should have already known when and how the city council would get to view the info. They should have already known when and how the public would learn about the results of the information.

From all indications, this has not happened. At this point in time, not only is the public in the dark about the fate of this report, but so is the city council. There appears to me to be no excuse for this.

The public deserves to know the outcome of this investigation, and so does the city council.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Sunday, December 07, 2008

City of Davis to Vote To Join Amicus Brief To Petition Court to Invalidate Proposition 8

As a consent agenda item for Tuesday's Davis City Council meeting, the Davis City Council will likely unanimously support a resolution to join an amicus brief petition to the Supreme Court to invalidate Proposition 8. Davis will join a growing list of cities that lack the resources to directly sue to challenge the adoption of Proposition as as the City and County of San Francisco, Santa Clara County and the City of Los Angeles did the day after the election.

On November 5, 2008 San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera joined Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and Santa Clara County Council Anne Ravel in filing a petition for a writ of mandate with the California Supreme Court to invalidate Proposition 8, an initiative constitutional amendment that intends to strip gay and lesbian citizens of their fundamental right to marry in California.

According to Davis' City Staff Report:
The petition argues that since Proposition 8 emanates from an initiative petition it is invalid because it effects a revision rather than an amendment to the constitution. The initiative process may propose only amendments not revisions. For this reason the petition asks the Supreme Court to invalidate Proposition 8.
Numerous other cities and counties have since joined this action.

This is not the first time the city of Davis has gotten involved in this issue. According to the City Staff report, in October of 2007,
"the city of Davis joined in an amicus curiae brief written by Stephen Lewis of the West Hollywood City Attorney's Office, that cities and counties filed in support of San Francisco in the Marriage cases in which the California Supreme Court struck down the ban against same sex marriages relying on due process, equal protection and privacy grounds. In re Marriage Cases 43 Cal. 4th 757 (2008). Mr. Lewis will again be authoring an amicus curiae brief in support of Petitioners position in this case. The amicus curiae brief will be due on January 15, 2008. The Council also passed a resolution against Proposition 8 in September of this year."
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herra wrote the following upon the filing of the suit on November 5:
"The issue before the court today is of far greater consequence than marriage equality alone. Equal protection of the laws is not merely the cornerstone of the California Constitution, it is what separates constitutional democracy from mob rule tyranny. If allowed to stand, Prop 8 so devastates the principle of equal protection that it endangers the fundamental rights of any potential electoral minority -- even for protected classes based on race, religion, national origin and gender. The proponents of Prop 8 waged a ruthless campaign of falsehood and fear, funded by millions of dollars from out-of-state interest groups. Make no mistake that their success in California has dramatically raised the stakes. What began as a struggle for marriage equality is today a fight for equality itself. I am confident that our high court will again demonstrate its principled independence in recognizing this danger, and in reasserting our constitution's promise of equality under the law."
The staff report on the Council Agenda includes the following information provided by Burk Deventhal, who is Deputy City Attorney for San Francisco.
"The petition argues that the California Constitution does not allow a bare majority of voters to use the amendment process to divest a politically disfavored group of its fundamental right under the California Constitution to equal protection of the laws. Such a sweeping redefinition of equal protection would require a constitutional revision rather than a mere amendment. Article XVIII of the California Constitution provides different vehicles for amending and revising the Constitution. Article XVIII allows a solitary citizen, without any public deliberation or review, to draft and circulate an initiative petition to amend the Constitution. But, only the Legislature or a constitutional convention of popularly elected delegates may submit proposed revisions to the Constitution. And the Constitution further circumscribes even the Legislature's power to submit to the voters either a proposed a constitutional revision or a proposal to call for constitutional convention. In either case the Constitution requires a 2/3 vote of both houses of the Legislature.

Proposition 8 provides a compelling example of the reason for the California Constitution's distinction between proposed amendments and revisions. The Constitution requires substantially more process receding the submission to the electorate of revisions because the consequences of a revision can be so much more pervasive and far reaching than the consequences of mere amendments. Proposition 8 is such a pervasive and far reaching measure. Not only does it strip from an unpopular minority its fundamental right to equal protection by enshrining discrimination in the Constitution. Proposition 8 also prevents the courts from exercising their historically significant power to protect unpopular minorities from discrimination. For that reason we argue that a bare majority of the voters without the benefit of the process that precedes a revision may not approve such fundamental and pervasive changes as those proposed in Proposition 8."
This is the issue that was talked about directly after the election the fact that with the court's definition of this issue as a substantive right, the question of whether a simple majority of the public can vote to deny someone of a substantive right--or would such an action require a two-thirds vote of the state legislature as well.

Supporters of Proposition 8, argue that this is simply a matter of majority rule and that the majority has spoken. I have great support for democratic principles of majority rule, however, I do not believe that the majority can vote to take away rights of the people. The produces a tyranny of the majority.

James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper 51:
"It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure."
Madison continued with the solution to this quandary:
"In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions."
Our system of checks and balances were intentionally designed to thwart the tyranny of the majority. However, the founders realized that was not sufficient and thus they developed the Bill of Rights to further protect the rights of people against the inclination of the majority to take away rights from the minority. In Marbury vs. Madison, the court recognized the need for judicial review and since that point the courts have sporadically been used as a check against the tyranny of the majority whether it be a majority of government official or a majority of the voters.

The court faces three questions.
1. Is Proposition 8 invalid because it constitutes a revision of, rather than an amendment to, the California Constitution?

2. Does Proposition 8 violate the separation of powers doctrine under the California Constitution?

3. If Proposition 8 is not unconstitutional, what is its effect, if any, on the marriages of same-sex couples performed before the adoption of Proposition 8?
The city's resolution is very basic suggesting that the voters passed Proposition in November of 2008, a number of entities have filed suit to stop it, the city of Davis joined in an amicus petition in October of 2007 and passed resolution against Proposition 8 in September of 2008, and finally the City and County of San Francisco is asking for communities to consider joining an amicus petition.
"THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the City Council of the City of Davis that the City Attorney, on behalf of the city of Davis, is directed to participate in the filing of an amicus brief to join the challenge filed by the City and County of San Francisco, et al."
Remember according to the staff report, there is no fiscal impact to the city. Davis thus follows cities like Berkeley which chose not to actually sue because it has much more limited financial resources than San Francisco and Los Angeles.

I am less than certain that this should have been a consent agenda item, however, I do think this is something the city of Davis should do. Unlike resolutions against the war, Proposition 8 has a direct impact on the city, the county, and the citizens over whom the city governs. Moreover, joining in an amicus brief is more than a mere symbolic action. This seems like a no-brainer, although the 20% of the citizens who voted for Proposition 8 probably will not agree.

---David M. Greenwald reporting