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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Enterprise Pushes For Senior Housing On the Covell Site

Last night, the Davis Enterprise ran a full-1200 word front page special on the push by the Covell Partners to re-package their failed 2005 project as Senior Housing. The push which began with a new proposal before the HESC (Housing Element Steering Committee), continued with a letter writing campaign that eventually nullified the HESC workshop, and continued this fall with a number of handpicked Seniors coming before the city council asking for a senior housing facility at the site formerly known as Covell Village.

The Enterprise article features Janice Bridge, the former School Board Member, who has been on the fore of pushing for a senior housing project. Of course those with a fairly good memory will recall that Janice Bridge was one of the leaders of the Covell Village project as well, serving as Secretary of the group Neighbors for Covell--a very different project that did not offer the senior housing and scale-down options that just three years later Ms. Bridge is now pushing for.

The argument made by Janice Bridge is that their 4000-square foot house is too big for them and they need a smaller house.
'If you could move us old fogeys out of our house and into an age-appropriate space, then instead of creating a new development that is family-oriented that needs new parks and new schools, the kids could go to the parks and the schools that are being underutilized in our area,' said Janice Bridge.

Bridge and her husband, Adam, live in a 4,000-square-foot home on B Street. The house served them and their three children well, but now that the kids are grown up and out, the house is too big.

'I am sitting in a house that is 4,000 square feet,' Bridge said. 'For me, my home is not appropriate for the lifestyle I want to lead. This house should have lots of active kids running up and down the stairs like it did 20 years ago. I look around and all I see are more houses like this one.'
The Enterprise goes on to write that the Covell Village developers have been meeting with almost 600 people who are "curious about or interested in a plan to build a senior-oriented community north of Covell Boulevard between J Street and Pole Line Road."

Interesting that it is not until about halfway through the article that the real agenda appears(although as soon as I saw the article's headline last night, it was obvious where this was going).

The Enterprise continues:
The community would include 'micro-neighborhoods,' a care-continuum, services for seniors and recreation options for a healthier, more active lifestyle than many senior communities offer, according to Project Coordinator Lydia Delis-Schlosser.

The concept has not yet been submitted to the city, but the developers - who also proposed Covell Village on the site, a 1,864 housing unit project that voters rejected in 2005 - hope to submit something to the city soon.

'If we're comfortable with how we're progressing with meeting the needs of the community, then we would like to submit a pre-application in about a year,' Delis-Schlosser said.
According to this article, the plan includes about 800 units and will be built out over 10 years. Sounds reasonable, until you realize it is only on the southern-third of the property, something that does not appear to be mentioned in the article.

The Enterprise continues:
'The biggest benefit to non-seniors is these big houses are opened up,' said developer Bill Streng, one of the owners of the property. 'My block used to have 20 kids, and now it only has four.'

The biggest benefit to seniors, Streng said, is a neighborhood that would have all their needs in one place. Seniors, like everyone else, have different needs and desires, and Streng said he and his partners want to address them all in one place.

'This is something John (Whitcombe) and I want to do, aside from financial reasons, you want to have something to leave,' said Streng, who is 82. 'The more we study and the more we see, the more we want to do it.'
The problem with this article is that it once again appears to slant the article. The article does quote Elaine Roberts Musser (senior citizens advocate and Chair of the Senior Citizen's Commission) a few times.

They bury her skepticism of the project until the very end of the article:
Good transportation is key for seniors, said Roberts Musser, so a senior development would have to include plenty of options - other than personal vehicles - for getting around.

But Roberts Musser would also like the City Council to consider how to pay for all this. The question is, will Davis be able to support a large, senior neighborhood?

'Honestly, and this is personal, but my feeling is I would like to have us worry more about commercial development right now, whatever generates tax revenue,' she said. 'We're so strapped right now. I'm not willing to build more residential when we really haven't built up our tax revenue.'
The problem with this article is that it portrays quite heavily the perspective of Janice Bridge and the Covell Partners. However, there is a whole other side of the story that is either buried in the case of Elaine Roberts Musser or completely untold.

Back in November the Vanguard ran a story on this and suggested that many seniors are not interested in this kind of housing. Much of this push appears to be developer driven. Indeed, Janice Bridge is not a developer, but does anyone else find it interesting that one of the strongest advocates for Covell Village I is now the leading spokesperson again, this time as a citizen pushing for Senior Housing as a means to downsize?

The developers of Covell Village have suggested we need a seniors-only facility. As the Vanguard suggested in November, many seniors do not want to live in a seniors-only community. They enjoy a more mixed community where families with children and even students also live.

That thought was backed up with a slew of email received from senior readers of the Vanguard, many of whom whole heartedly agree.

The question is what type of housing would work best for seniors. Some have suggested instead of facility like an Eleanor Roosevelt Circle, a series of smaller condominiums and townhouses may be the best fit. An added advantage there might be that we could build a small amount over time which would serve the senior population.

The big issue here is that we are again facing the prospect of developer driven development. It is clear that the Covell Village partners are driving the discussion here and in so doing, we are not getting perhaps a clear picture of what seniors in this community actually want.

Thus my first suggestion would be to find out what seniors actually want. How many people are looking to downsize from their current homes? How many people would like to live in a Senior-only community? How many people would be willing to trade for a smaller existing home with another resident?

This type of inquiry should occur not at the behest of a developer, but rather with leadership from groups like the Senior Citizen's Commission. Let us determine what the internal housing demand really is for seniors, what seniors really want, the numbers that we are really talking about, and the time frame that we are really looking at.

Unfortunately, once again, the Enterprise really only brings us one side of the story. They bring us the Janice Bridge story, which many have to view with skepticism given her past support for a very different Covell Village project. What would she have done had Covell Village I passed, pushed for a Senior Housing facility in the Northwest Quadrant?

The Enterprise could have interviewed others from the Senior Citizens Commission to give us a very perspective, perhaps someone like Tansey Thomas,a commissioner, would offer her a very different take. But unfortunately, we do not get that perspective.

For those who want to try to argue that this is a fair and balanced article, consider this, there was a total of 1269 words in the article only the last 79 words of the article expressed any kind of skepticism or alternative viewpoint to the dominant position. The only even remotely skeptical comments are buried at the end. That's fair and balanced? That's objective?

The Vanguard gives you the other side of the story here, talk to seniors, you find a variety of different perspectives on this issue, unfortunately we do not get to hear them in the Enterprise, maybe we will in the comment section of the Vanguard.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Friday, January 02, 2009

Budget Problems Put Crimp in Re-Entry Facility for Yolo County

Opponents of a proposed re-entry facility for Yolo County have been aided by an expected ally--the state's budget crisis and the nation's economic crisis. According to an article in the Sacramento Bee on Wednesday, the state has been unable to sell bonds to pay for public works projects including $1 billion to fund re-entry facilities.

These problems are also holding up the $750 in jail construction funds including the $30 million the county is relying on from the state to expand the jail in Woodland--one of the major reasons for the county's push to build a re-entry facility.

Last month, the Governor, along with the State Treasurer, Director of Finance and Controller who form the Pooled Money Investment Board shut down all pending construction projects due to a lack of money and a mounting deficit that is expected to reach $41 billion over the next year. Construction costs were $660 million a month.

Moreover the prison is being delayed due to the shut down credit markets according to the Bee.

Officials warn that until a budget plan is passed to cope with the budget crisis, the credit markets will be remain frozen in California.

According to the Bee:
"It would be foolish to predict with any degree of confidence when we can get back into the bond market," said Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for Treasurer Bill Lockyer.


Dresslar said Lockyer and his colleagues on the investment board – State Controller John Chiang and Director of Finance Michael Genest – felt it was more important to pay the bills than to start new projects.

Among the estimated 2,000 projects statewide they put on hold are efforts to fix roads, bolster levees and rehabilitate schools.

"We've got a higher duty to make sure the lights stay on," Dresslar said.

The board will meet again in early January and may consider funding some projects already under way, he said. The re-entry prisons are farther down the list. Corrections officials haven't asked the board for money yet, Dresslar noted."
Apparently there are also problems specifically with prison and jail bonds. Lawmakers are needing to fix those flaws with legislation. Attorney General Jerry Brown will not allow bonds to be issued until those problems are deal with. However, the language to fix the bonds is tied up with the rest of the budget--in stalemate.

According to the Bee, while this is largely good news for opponents of the planned facility in Madison, the group Save Rural Yolo County is continuing its lawsuit. If they are wise, they ought to push on the state legislature to cancel such projects during this time of economic crisis as a means to save money and prevent further bond indebtedness.

It was one thing to spend a billion on prison construction during better economic times, but at this point in time, what's the point? The state needs to take a look at this and other issues regarding the corrections system and fix it. The economic crisis is the perfect impetus for reform that is desperately needed in an outrageously expensive and broken system.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Guest Commentary: Research Sheds Light on Wood Burning

By Alan Kandel

Note: Alan Kandel did this article originally for the California Progress Report. Since this issue is coming on the city council's agenda for next week, it seemed like a good article to post here as well. The wood burning issue is not a Davis issue per se, it is an issue that many communities are having to grapple with due to state and federal regulations and new research that shows possible health risks of exposure to wood burning smoke. A Google search of the issue shows how widespread it has become in California particularly.

It’s 2009 and it is no secret - or it shouldn’t be a secret at this point for that matter - that the San Joaquin Valley - located in the state’s mid-section - has some of the worst air quality in the nation. I’m frequently reminded of this through newspaper articles, broadcast news accounts and through use of my own two eyes, nose and lungs. But not all is doom and gloom for just today in the Fresno Bee news article, “Valley wood-burning bans rise, deaths fall,” the message is that consistent with wood-burning bans initiated by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District beginning in 2003, in 2004, there were fewer recorded deaths that could be directly attributed to the burning of wood in fireplaces, stoves, etc.

Bee environmental reporter, Mark Grossi writes:
“The wood-burning bans are preventing at least 50 premature deaths each year in the Fresno-Clovis area and about 30 annually in Bakersfield, a new study suggests.

“The study was completed last month by David Lighthall, who is the health and science advisor for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.”
“Lighthall did the research while working as a scientist for the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at California State University, Fresno.”
According to Grossi and as I understand it, the scientist argues the stricter SJVAPCD air rule - regarding tightening fireplace wood-burning restrictions - “is justified.”

Making the connection between fewer deaths and more fireplace wood-burning restrictions, couldn’t have been easy. Nevertheless, the information is in the report, which can be found here.

Grossi writes:
“Mounting research shows the microscopic soot from wood burning is among the biggest air-pollution threats to the public. The specks, known as PM-2.5, can evade body defenses, lodge in the lungs, trigger many illnesses and result in premature death.”
Specifically, “fireplaces focus PM-2.5 where many people live,” Grossi reveals, something even I can affirm in my own neighborhood, especially on the evening of December 26th. Standing outside on my patio that evening was indeed a very unpleasant experience as the air was more heavily laden with woodsmoke than usual, presumably caused by more neighbors burning wood in their fireplaces than what would typically be the case.

Grossi notes also,
“To determine the impact of the air district’s burning bans, Lighthall studied PM-2.5 exposures in three years before the rule was passed.

“He found that 54 fewer people would have died in the Fresno-Clovis area if the burning bans had been called in 2001 and 2003 (sic)

“Sixty-three fewer people would have died in 2002.”
The incentive for or benefit of not burning wood in one’s fireplace with regular frequency or otherwise, should be obvious. Question is: Is it really?

This article originally appeared on the California Progress Report.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Davis Residents Gather For Peace in the Middle East

On New Year's Eve in a very foggy Central Park in Davis, nearly 100 residents gathered for a peace vigil. The precipitating event was the recent bombing and killing of civilians in Gaza but members of the community deplored the violence and killing of innocent life on both sides of the tragic Middle East struggle.

As we once again begin a new year, it is helpful to use this moment to reflect on the struggle for peace across the world. Once again, I am reminded of the U2 song, "New Year's Day."
"All is quiet on New Year's Day... A world in white gets underway... I want to be with you, be with you night and day... Nothing changes on New Year's Day... Under a blood-red sky... A crowd has gathered in black and white... Arms entwined, the chosen few... The newspaper says, says... Say it's true, it's true..."
The war continues on New Year's Day, and the dawning of the new day and the new year does not change the reality.

It has been over 18 years since I visited Israel as a high school student. One of the events I remember most clearly was several of my friends and classmates who had gone to a beach in Tel Aviv and a pipe bomb had gone off and killed a high school student from Canada that some of them had actually gone to meet. I remember the devastating look on the faces of my classmates, but what I remember most was reading the description of it in the newspaper the next day. When the bomb went off all of the Arabs on the beach grabbed their children and ran for their own safety. Several Jewish youths took off after them, caught up with some of them, and beat them. These were innocent people, the perpetrators were long since gone, but it mattered none. These people were just as much victims as the Israeli targets.

In the ensuing years we have had false promises of peace followed by false promises of peace, but nothing has really changed over that time. The Israelis have superior weaponry and have used that weaponry to rain down on the people of Gaza, many of them just as innocent as the people on the beach that day. They just happen to be there.

The result of these events is inevitably to slow the violence for a brief time as the inhabitants of Gaza lick their wounds. But it also helps to breed the next generation of hate and the next generation of terrorists who remember the bombs raining down on their cities and refugee camps, but do not remember or even care about the precipitating events. The cycle repeats. Violence begets violence. It is a never ending cycle unless we choose to break out of it.

Last night people made references to politics. I want to make a few political comments as well. The Clinton administration took a very hands on approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The result was that the peace process was pushed forward probably past the point where the two sides actually were. The result were treaties that lacked popular support.

The Bush Administration came in and like they with many Clinton policies, they tried to gain separation and over-corrected what they saw as a failed policy. They have taken a completely hands off approach. The result is that we have seen several major escalations in the conflict. Israel a few summers ago embarked on a very damaging but ultimately unsuccessful war against Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon. And now this. The Bush administration has continued with tacit approval for Israeli conduct, but has rarely tried to involve itself.

The last eight years we have not seen progress toward a real solution. Obama needs to take a much more proactive role than Bush did. But he needs to do it in real ways that do not push the diplomatic process ahead of where the populace of both nations are.

It is a tricky issue and one that will likely not be resolved anytime soon.

As a Jew, I am a strong supporter of the State of Israel as the reclaimed homeland of the Jewish people where we can be safe and always have a place to go. In so doing, we must recognize however, that a nation of people inhabited that land for generations following Jewish flight out of the region during the Roman Empire. They have just as legitimate a claim to the land of the Jewish people and they have been prisoners and refugees for decades since the State of Israel was founded.

I deplore violence particularly that against civilians. Both sides have been guilty of that. And both sides must work together in the coming year toward a realistic and lasting peaceful reconciliation.

Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir said during the peace process in 1978 with Anwar Sadat of Egypt: "We can forgive you for killing our sons. But we will never forgive you for making us kill yours."

Both sides must come together in forgiveness this New Year and recognize that the killing by both sides must stop.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lt. Governor Garamendi Speaks in Davis

Last night, Lt. Governor John Garamendi spoke at the Davis home of UC Davis Law Professor John Oakley and County Clerk Freddie Oakley. Garamendi who formerly served as a State Senator for the City of Davis is a Democratic candidate for Governor in 2010. Thank you to my wife Cecilia who took the photos and recorded the speech in my stead as I was under the weather. Here are some of the Lt. Governor's remarks.

We're in the process of making some absolutely crucial decisions about the future of California. I don't think we really understand how important this period is that we're living.

Education, you talk about education, you can talk about Davis or the surrounding area of Yolo and you can see all of the issues right here. You can see those communities where you have real serious educational issues--where you have poverty, immigrants, and minorities. You can see the pressure, you can see the dropout rates, you can see the kind of things that are going on and you don't have to go too far away and you can see some excellent things, excellent education. And of course you have the community college and of course this excellent university. So it's all right here.

Then the pressure on the land as our population grows. This morning 305 million Americans, and somewhere around 38 million Californians, probably a little more than that today, the extraordinary pressure that that's putting on the resources, the land, upon the water, transportation, air, all of those things, it's kind of like Davis.

Not too far away, but impacting this community is the budget of the state of California. At the beginning of the end of that process, it's the most important statement that we make annually about what's important to us. What's important to California? We're in this period of time and we're making a decision right now about what California's going to be in the years ahead. I have to tell, I am very deeply concerned. But I'm also really hopeful because Californians have always had this desire to do better. It's a place where we can do better. It's a place where we can grow and raise our families, where opportunity exists.

At the same time there is a reluctance to reach out and do the things that make that possible. And the reluctance is seen in this year's budget. Actually the last five years of budgets. If that's the statement about what's important to us in California then we are in deep trouble because the things that create the economic growth, the opportunity for people to get a good job, to climb the economic ladder, those investments are not being made. In fact, we're disinvesting. Each year we're investing in less things that create that economic growth, specifically education.

This university in 1990, the day I left the legislature, we spent $15,000 per student at the University of California. Last year we spent $10,000, actually a little less than $10,000. Now that is a statement of what’s important. A similar reduction has taken place at the state university system. There is no way this economy is going to prosper 10 to 15 years from now unless we reverse that and invest in education. K through 12, similarly, all of the discussion about kids not being prepared, all true.

Transportation issues, are we investing in transportation? No we’re not. We’re talking right now about stimulus packages and all of that. Where’s that money going to go? Is it going to go to the kind of transportation that this modern state needs? We don’t know. We’ll make a decision collectively, as a group, as a society. We’ll make a decision, are we going to continue to build the great freeway system which ultimately creates most of the climate change problems for the state of California? Or are we going to go into a different direction, one that moves us toward a modern transportation system? Modern like railroads. Modern like high speed trains. Modern like buses, public transportation systems.

If you take a look at the budgets that are coming down, the answer is we’re not going in that direction. We did pass the high speed rail bond. Will there be money to build it? Possibly. Twenty years ago, Jim Costa and I sponsored two pieces of legislation to establish the high speed rail program in California. We’re patient people, twenty years, it was signed into law and became law in 1990.

If you look at the health care system in the state of California, we have the most extraordinary health care system. It delivers the very best medicine in the world. We have six and a half million Californians that don’t participate in that system. That’s raw, it’s also an enormous drag on the economy. We spend a third of all the money in the health care system on administrative costs. At the new business school over here, you write a thesis, a project and you’re going to spend one-third of your money on administrative costs, they’re going to throw you out as a dumb-dumb. But yet we spend one-third of all the money on administrative costs that’s 17 percent of our economy.

So we’ve got some real issues. And these are decisions that we’re making right now about the future of California.

We’ve made a decision to deal with greenhouse gases. Now the implementation of that, when the going gets really tough, because we have to change the way we spend our money if we’re going to deal with greenhouse gases. We’re not going to be able to spend our money on things that we once did—oil, gasoline. We’re going to have spend our money on renewable. We’re going to have to spend our money and subsidize those things that reduce the greenhouse gases. Fundamental decisions, my vision is to get at those things. To cause us as Californians to once again realize that can do the things to create a great state, that give us a good environment, that deal with the greenhouse gases.

There is enough water in California to deal with the water issues. We can do those things, but not if we do not use our government wisely as a tool to achieve success, as a way of solving our problems. Those folks in California that say that government is bad, they are the worst, they are the people that will cause us to fail. You look down through the history of America, you look down through the history of California, we have always succeeded when two things came together simultaneously—a strong powerful government that put in place programs, incentives, subsidies, and direction and then a strong private sector that working together with government, built the state. It happened every single time we made progress.

Agricultural industry wouldn’t exist as it is known in California today were it not for UC Davis and the investment that public made in Agricultural Research and the Agricultural Extension programs and the water programs and transportation programs and the education programs.

So where are we going as Californians? We’re going to know very soon. What’s happening in Sacramento with the budget today is the worst I’ve ever seen. I’ve been around since 1974 in government and I’ve never seen this kind of thing happen before.

The governor declares a fiscal emergency three weeks ago and then leaves down for a vacation. Hello? Hello is there an emergency? Well apparently it’s not so great so as to disrupt a ski vacation. Come on Governor. You said you’re going to make everybody stick around, where are you?

I tell you these things can be solved. I can see how they will be solved. The Republicans will vote for a tax increase, they will. There’s at least four members of the Assembly that will under the right circumstances vote for a tax increase. They only need five and there’s two in the Senate. I know who they are. And I know that they will vote for it—under the right circumstances—so you have to create the political atmosphere in that building. And you don’t do it by calling people names. You do it by working with them.

The other thing is, we’re the eighth wealthiest economy in the world. We’ve got our troubles. This economy’s not as strong, not as robust as it was two or three years ago. But we’re still the eighth largest economy in the world. We have great wealth in this state and we will make a collective decision are we going to spend that money and invest that wealth in things that create opportunity and economic growth or are we going to horde it, keep it to ourselves, we’re making that decision.

If we took one percent of the wealth that the California economy produces each year, took that wealth, and applied it to education, transportation, dealing with the climate, there would not be a budget problem today. It’s more than a trillion-and-a-half economy. It’s great wealth. How do we use that wealth? Do we use it for short-term, for whatever we’re doing at this moment or do we do what has always been the California tradition, that is to invest. Invest in those things that create opportunity—education, infrastructure, research.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Looking at the Facility Needs for Emerson and Davis High School

There were a lot of strange looks at the Facilities Masterplan introduced back on December 18 to the Davis School Board. The ultimate price for the long and exhaustive wish list was $200 million. Some asked what the value of such a pie-in-the-sky masterplan was, and they would be right to a certain extent. However forgotten there is the fact that this the beginning of the process, not the end of the process of developing a masterplan. Everything possible is now on the table and now begins the process of winnowing down to a workable and realistic plan.

There were two projects however that are not going to wait that long. The highest priority project right now is the track and football field at the Davis High School. Second on the list is upgrades to Emerson Junior High School.

The costs for these projects are considerable, their need is great however.

The school board put the Track and Field as the highest priority. Some in West Davis are undoubtedly groaning. However, there is a logic here that needs to be understood. You get a sense of it watching the presentation on the state of the field. I got a sense of it talking to a few high school students who use the field as well. Basically it is a big safety hazard in several different ways.

The two biggest are the condition of the track itself which makes for treacherous footing and has resulted in numerous injuries. Also the condition of the stands is very dangerous and has also caused numerous injuries. In short, it is a safety hazard and a huge liability for the school district.

The changes needed at Emerson fall into the code compliance category. I'm not going to say they are aren't potential safety hazards but they are not immediate safety hazards. Moreover, according to the consultant the need to make these upgrades is not as immediate. What he told the board was that until the school district has to work on these facilities, they do not need to make the upgrades. Once they work on the facility they would have to upgrade it. That gives the district some time to play with.

The basic hope is that some of the money needed to upgrade the track and field complex at the high school can be raised privately through the Blue and White Foundation. At the meeting, Foundation president Michael McDermott said that the Foundation has raised about $200,000 and has pledges for another $100,000, numbers paled of course by the $5 to $10 million project.

The school district does not have much money in their facilities fund. They basically used the rest of it to complete the King High construction. The $4.5 million that the district got from Montgomery went to pay off the bond they took out for King High when the district discovered that they were lacking the money they thought they had for the project.

There is expressed concern that this means that Emerson will close. There have certainly been rumors to that effect. However, the most important thing that came to light during the meeting on December 18 is the fact that really, Emerson's needs are not huge safety concerns. Emerson according to what we heard and what Board Member Tim Taylor said is not suffering from deteriorating conditions to its buildings. What it needs is to become code compliant and that is something that is neither an immediate need nor urgent.

Moreover, all five board member expressed some form of support for Emerson, it is just they all recognized that the safety hazards of the high school track push that need to front.

As mentioned previous Mr. Taylor dismissed concerns about deteriorating conditions at Emerson as not borne out by surveys by district architects. Board President Gina Daleiden said that the projects are not mutually exclusive. Sheila Allen emphasized the importance of the academic program and facilities at Emerson. Susan Lovenburg wants the planning for a modernization of Emerson to be further fleshed out.

She said:
"I'd like to see some phased-in approaches to Emerson' as well as 'some exploration of different types of programs that could attract additional funding from state, federal and private sources."
In short, as I have been stating all along here, I do not think people at Emerson have all that much to worry about assuming that the district can find ways to remain in the black. The most important asset that Emerson has going for it right now is geography, the logistics of closing it would be considerable.

So while DHS has been pushed up to the front, Emerson seems in good stead.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Monday, December 29, 2008

Scaled Down Wood Burning Ban and Restrictions Before Council Next Week

Back in July, the Davis City Council voted unanimously to support a wood burning ban and send the matter to the Natural Resources Commission to write an ordinance. Even at that point of time, while supportive of the concept of banning wood burning stoves, it was clear that council was well ahead of the public on this issue.

Specifically I worried that the public did not even know this was coming down for the most part until the council had already discussed the issue. In the subsequent weeks and months, as the public has become aware of the issue, the public has turned against the idea of banning wood burning stoves.

Back on August 27, nearly a month after the council voted unanimously to move forward with a resolution, I wrote in the Vanguard:
On July 29, 2008, the Davis City Council unanimously voted to recommend to the Natural Resources Commission to draft a resolution that would implement a full ban on wood burning in Davis with an exemption for hardship.

I will say at the onset here, that I am fully in support of that decision, particularly with such an exemption for people of lower income backgrounds who rely on wood burning as a cheaper means by which to heat their homes in the winter.

However, at the time I was concerned about the way in which this issue had been dealt with by the city, the city council, and the local paper--or that is, not dealt. I got up to speak before city council on the night of July 29, 2008, to recommend two things. First, that we need exemptions for people with hardships. And second, that we needed better outreach before this meeting.

On the morning of July 29, I wrote this article in the Vanguard
. It essentially lays out my position on the technical aspects of this issue. But I believe that for many in this community, they did not know this issue was even under consideration until that article appeared the Vanguard and subsequently an article in the Davis Enterprise on July 31, 2008.
As a result, the Natural Resources Commission has made an alternative set of recommendations from staff recommendations. Both sets of recommendations significantly scale back the original council action approved on July 29, 2008.

The staff report is roughly 25 pages, thus this summary will not do it justice.

However, staff does make five recommendations that if the council approves them, an ordinance would be brought back well before November 2009 which would constitute the beginning of the next burn season.

Staff recommendations:
a) Work with Dr. Cahill and the YSAQMD to establish monitoring to gather specific air quality information, to be used in assessing what further restrictions may be in order;

b) Adopt the following wood burning restrictions: Establish burn/no burn days based on Federal air quality standard of PM2.5 of 35 ug/m3 and apply the same criteria to open hearth and non-certified appliances. Restrictions do not include the eventual ban on open hearth an non-certified appliances. Further restrictions will be revisited once air quality data is collected and analyzed.

c) Work more closely with the YSAQMD to disseminate all manner of information on the wood burning, i.e., health effects, proper burning techniques, etc;

d) Pursue programs that would encourage the change out of old appliances and the conversion of open hearth. This can be done through promotion of YSAQMD’s Woodstove Change Out Program and pursuing funds to increase the grant amount to further encourage change outs;

e) Pursue viability of using resale requirements that may reduce the number of open hearths and non-certified appliances.
Natural Resources Commission Recommendations:
a) Wood burning will only be allowed on “Allowable Burn Days” defined as a forecasted average regional PM 2.5 of 25 ug/m3 (particulate matter) or lower and a forecasted average wind speed from 6 PM to midnight of 5 mph or greater.

b) Wood burning will be allowed a maximum of 6 hours per day per residence and only burning of seasoned dry wood is allowed.

c) Beginning March 1, 2010, wood burning is only allowed in EPA Phase II-Certified wood and pellet stoves and prohibited in fire places or non-EPA certified appliances.

d) A one time permit is required (for law enforcement and educational purposes). Permit issuance would start March 1, 2010.

e) This proposed ordinance does not pertain to any appliances fueled by natural gas or propane and/or designed and exclusively used for cooking purposes.

f) Exemptions are allowed for temporary breakdowns of other heat sources and power outages.
The major difference between two the recommendations is that Staff's recommendation focus on burn restrictions and contains no bans at this time. The NRC bans open hearth and other non-certified appliances but allows EPA Phase 2 certified appliances.

Staff report explains that they have followed Dr. Cahill's approach:
"At the October NRC meeting, Dr. Cahill, a former professor in the UC system and local expert on global climate change, offered to work with the city to gather air quality information. Staff supports Dr. Cahill’s measured approach of gathering specific information that will aide in assessing the air quality and the nature of future action. This would be accomplished through a donation of monitoring equipment and Dr. Cahill’s expertise and time to evaluate data. Staff has met with Dr. Cahill and a monitoring station has been set up."
The staff report does not know what the fiscal impact of this approach will be.

The enforcement issue has been a concern. The idea that the police would have to become the enforcers seems a waste of police resources among other related problems. The NRC draft ordinance includes enforcement as a response to those who burn illegally, staff seems uncomfortable with the notion however.
"While it is simple to suggest that the Police Department enforce the ordinance, the nuances of actually doing so are quite complex. There are several elements that make the draft ordinance difficult to enforce."
The staff report continues:
1. Because of the inherent difficulties of monitoring actual burning time, the 6 hour
maximum burn time is not enforceable.

2. Enforcement is complicated when various appliances are treated differently. Police officers would be required to distinguish between open hearth, non-EPA certified wood burning stoves and inserts and EPA Phase II certified stoves and inserts. Some of this concern is relieved if permits are issued.

3. Police officers would be required to distinguish between seasoned dry wood and unseasoned or wet wood.

4. And lastly, this type of call could be triaged and be a very low priority. It is difficult to estimate what percentage of calls the Police Department would be able to respond to.
This actually only gets to the tip of the iceberg. Quite simply enforcement would have to be treated specially. Because different devices, different woods, and burning time periods are involved, it would make the police's job very difficult. This is not a like a noise ordinance or a smoking ordinance that would be fairly straight forward to enforce. The city probably does not have the resources to deal with the enforcement and frankly this is not what the police should be doing either. This section needs considerable thought and attention--while I might in general favor the NRC approach, it would be very difficult to enforce which might make the staff approach more feasible.

Finally the issue of burn/ no burn criteria is discussed.

Staff's assessment of the NRC recommendation:
"The criteria the NRC recommends uses an air quality threshold that is lower than the Federal standard. To our knowledge, this lower threshold has not been used in any other burn restricting ordinances. The NRC recommendation further adds an additional factor of wind speed which is also unprecedented."
Staff on the other hand:
"Staff believes a more measured approach and collection of air quality data will assist with the establishment of burn/no burn criteria based on the City’s air quality. The data collected will help define the air quality challenges in the City and thus allow for the development of burn/no burn thresholds that target the city’s needs. Staff recommends starting with moderate restrictions, the Federal standard, and then stepping towards a more restrictive ordinance as may be deemed necessary by the results of the data collection."
It is helpful that the staff report includes a chart to show the impact of each regulation:

The bottom line here is that staff's approach is probably the least preferred alternative at this point. The impact to people who have allergies and asthma of wood burning is immeasurable. It is probably a larger percentage of the population than the percentage that makes frequent use of wood burning.

However, what happened was the initial wood burning ban got too far ahead of the public on this issue and there has been considerable blowback over the last four or five months. The result was the need for a more scaled-back approach. Wood burning bans in short need to be slowly phased in and the public needs to be educated on the health hazards involved. That certainly had not occurred in July, which is why we expressed concern at that point in time that the issue had not been properly vetted.

From our perspective, the NRC approach is the better approach than the staff report. It contains the goal of phasing out and banning non-EPA approved devices and has a more stringent measure for no burn days.

However, even with this more scaled back approach, there remains the concern that because it is multifaceted, it will be difficult to enforce. That is not a reason not to pass it, but it does need to be thoroughly examined.

The Vanguard understands the rationale behind the more measured approach, but fears it does not go far enough and is not aggressive enough in terms of dealing with the very real health hazards involved in wood burning.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, December 28, 2008

As Regional and State Growth Rates Fall, What Will Be the Impact on Davis?

The Sacramento Bee reported back on December 18, 2008 that the regional and state growth rates have fallen to its lowest levels in more than a decade.

In six counties surrounding Sacramento which include Yolo, Sutter, Yuba, Placer, El Dorado and Sacramento Counties, the growth rate from July 1, 2007 to July 1, 2008 was only 1.39%. Separately, Yolo County grew at 1.46 percent adding around 3,000 people. Placer was the fastest growing county in California at 2.6 percent. Sacramento grew at a rate below the statewide level at 1.11 percent.

Statewide the growth rate was actually lower at 1.16%.

More people moved out of California than moved into California during this time period.

What does all of this mean for Yolo County and Davis?

Davis has spent considerable time and energy focusing on the issue of growth. One of the arguments in recent years has been that Davis must take on its fair share of new growth. That was a more poignant argument in the early part of this decade was population growth was exploding and the housing market booming.

Regional governance groups like SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments) and RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) have developed models for growth based on allocations of fair share. In other words, the basic model determines how much of the region's growth a given area should accommodate.

The problem is that this has become a moving target for local growth politics. Back during the Measure X debate, the argument used by proponents was the Davis would be penalized if it did not take on its supposed fair share of growth.

However, by 2007, RHNA had come out with new numbers suggesting that Davis needed to take on a much smaller share of growth--considerably less than the current projected growth rate of 1%. When it did however, the debate was shifted in Davis.

First, the 1% growth requirement became a growth cap. Now 1% is the target and the limit rather than the threshold that we need to meet.

Second, the debate in Davis is about internal housing needs rather than regional fair share growth allocations. Frankly this is what the debate always should have been about from the beginning.

In this sense, falling state and regional rates may relieve some pressure for Davis to grow. However, perceptions about the internal needs of Davis, which have thus far been more theoretic and less concrete, have continued to drive the debate.

Frankly, for everyone but the most ardent no-growther, the question is really about where, how, and how quickly we grow. I am not in the no-growth camp. I would also prefer not to put a number on our growth rate.

From my perspective one problem with housing in Davis is that UC Davis has taken on less than its share of student housing. UC Davis has the lowest percentage of on-campus housing in the UC system. There are several advantages for UC Davis to provide more housing. First, they can subsidize it, which lowers the costs to the students. Second, they have a large amount of available land. A good, dense, and environmentally friendly project on the UC campus would go a long way toward helping the city better assess its own needs.

A recent survey of apartments in Davis found that the vacancy rate in the city of Davis increased slightly this fall to .8 percent. However, the rental rates continued to rise by an average of 4.36 percent. Interestingly, though the vacancy rate was higher this year, the rate of increase was also higher than the previous year where a .7 percent vacancy yielded a 4.18 percent increase in rent. This despite the depressed housing market and economy.

In the comparable cities, Woodland saw a 4.1 percent vacancy rate but a 4.8 percent rent increase. On the other hand, West Sacramento nearly has 20% of its apartments vacant and the resultant rate only saw a .6 percent increase.

Clearly Davis needs more student housing. The argument again for UC Davis to provide on-campus housing is first that they have the land and can subsidize the property, but second that UC Davis' growth in recent years is a large culprit in the lack of student housing in Davis. By providing more housing, more single family units within the city could be freed up for people who work in Davis but have not been able to live here.

This is the strongest pressure driving the need for Davis to grow. Earlier this month, the Vanguard suggested one option, similar to what Cal Poly did, which is create a large and dense housing complex on campus. A facility of that sort, highly innovative and land conscious, could take a huge pressure off the city to have to expand its borders.

For all of the talk about internal housing needs, very few of the proposed projects in the Housing Element Steering Committee's top sites have a sizable student housing component. Almost all of them focus instead on single family residences with a few affordable and multifamily dwellings thrown in the mix.

In other words, with perhaps the exception of Nishi, which has other problems, there are no plans put forth to deal with the largest internal housing need we have.

The West Village will break ground this year and provide an additional 2000 units or so for student housing. That is a good start, but with UC Davis continuing to grow and not enough student housing at present, West Village is clearly not enough.

Many residents are not opposed to growth with good, environmentally friendly projects that continue to preserve the character of Davis. The problem is from many of our perspectives, the new subdivisions that we have seen in town could have been plopped down anywhere in the country. That's not the kind of large scale growth we would like to see.

Give me a housing project I can get behind and I will. I would like to focus on environmentally sustainable, smaller houses so that middle income people can afford them, a student housing component, a senior housing component, and a work force housing component.

The city of Davis has already approved housing for Verona, for Simmons, and for Grande. That's over 200 units right there. In addition, West Village will provide a large number of units over three phases. In addition, Lewis is proposing 600 units, on a property that would be better served with a business park. The Wild Horse Ranch will be proposing somewhere just under 200 units in the coming months for a project that would require a Measure J vote.

In this housing market, that is more than enough housing to last us the foreseeable future. I would like to see one additional project, and that would be a high density, UC Davis campus project that provides 3000 to 5000 beds on the UC Campus in an environmentally sustainable way. If we do that, I think we our needs for a while in terms of housing.

The external pressures have lessened and the housing market is in bad shape. That will give us time to work on making what we do have as carbon neutral as possible--a very worthwhile endeavor in the coming years.

---David M. Greenwald reporting