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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Strong Corporate Influence in Energy-Efficiency Research at UC Davis

This week UC Davis announced that the Chevron Corporation has given UC Davis $2.5 million to create a permanent leadership position for the campus's Energy Efficiency Center.

According to a January 13, 2009 release from the University:
"The person appointed to the Chevron Chair in Energy Efficiency will direct the center, which was established in 2006. The world's first university center of excellence in energy efficiency, its primary objective is to speed the transfer of energy-saving products and services into the homes, businesses and lives of Californians.

The new Chevron gift brings the center's funding total to more than $7.5 million. The center's start-up funding of $1 million came from the California Clean Energy Fund, a public benefit corporation dedicated to making equity investments in clean energy companies. UC Davis matched the CalCEF grant with $1.3 million in operating and research funds, faculty time, and office and laboratory space. Other key funders include Pacific Gas and Electric Corp., Edison International, Sempra Energy, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Goldman Sachs."

Speaking today at an event announcing the new Chevron gift, UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef said: "Chevron's endowment will ensure long-term strategic leadership for the Energy Efficiency Center. By bridging long-term research with real-world applications, the director will guide the center in its goal of commercializing groundbreaking technologies, powering economic progress and helping to conserve resources."

The campus will conduct a national search for the person to hold the Chevron Chair, who will expand the impact of the center's research programs through interdisciplinary collaboration, education, outreach and commercialization of technologies. He or she also will continue developing strong links with state and federal government, as well as with international programs.

"Advancing energy efficiency, which is the cheapest, cleanest and most abundant form of new energy, is critical to the challenge of meeting the world's growing energy needs," said John McDonald, Chevron vice president and chief technology officer.

"California has been a pacesetter in energy efficiency, so it's fitting that one of the state's leading universities and California's largest company should partner on the next generation of energy efficiency."

The endowment for the Chevron Chair complements Chevron's ongoing support for UC Davis, which includes a $500,000 gift in 2008 for the Energy Efficiency Center and a $25 million biofuels research collaboration begun in 2006 to develop technology to convert nonfood agricultural waste into next-generation transportation fuels.

Sounds good right? The university getting millions of money from a large variety of huge corporations to fund research on energy-efficiency. One question that immediately arose was a seeming contradiction in a company like Chevron, that makes the bulk of its money selling oil, funding research for energy efficiency, a rising new field that would eventually imperil oil sales.
Indeed, as the background on the press stated:
"Chevron explores for, produces and transports crude oil and natural gas; refines, markets and distributes transportation fuels and other energy products; manufactures and sells petrochemical products; generates power and produces geothermal energy; provides energy efficiency solutions; and develops the energy resources of the future, including biofuels and other renewables."
The Vanguard spoke with Ben Finkelor of the Energy Efficiency Center. He strongly defended the contribution. First he explained that Chevron has created a separate endowment specifically to support energy efficiency. He believes that Chevron and other large companies have as much to gain by energy efficiency as any one else.

He also suggested that such donations have never come with any strings attached. They have never been told what to do by Chevron or any other company. This is simply a new market for the future.

While Ben Finkelor certainly gave an impassioned defense of the reliance on corporate funding for academic research, there still seems to be glaring contradictions in such policies. After all the development of fuel efficient technologies would seem to inherently need to focus on the reduction of the use of oil companies. Is this simply a way for Chevron to earn positive process? Is there a hope that they can somehow make these research centers beholden to their interests among many corporate interests? Or is it as Ben Finkelor suggests, a matter that Chevron has a separate wing devoted to the development of new fuels and fuel efficiency?

It is hard to know for certain. It will be interesting to see who is eventually hired as Chair as the result of this gift. However, one does have to question companies particularly like PG&E and Edison pumping money into fuel efficiency programs.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Friday, January 16, 2009

Mayor Kevin Johnson Surprise Keynote Address Highlights MLK Scholarship Dinner

Last night the sixth annual MLK Scholarship Fund and Recognition Dinner at Freeborn Hall on the campus of UC Davis gave out scholarships to two UC Davis Students and six high school students that will enable them to either go to graduate school or go to college. The fund was co-founded by the late Mel Trujillo and the Reverend Timothy Malone.

Bob Dunning had the honor of introducing the night's surprise key note addresser, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.

Mr. Dunning said:
"Mayor Johnson is the first Sacramento Mayor to lead the NBA in assists. The former Mayor wasn't very good at the assists."
Mayor Kevin Johnson spoke at first about the importance of the election of Barack Obama and like many, that he never thought he would live to see an African-American elected President.
"What I appreciate most about Barack Obama is that he does not believe that he just represents the African-American community. He believes that his Presidency transcends color. That's the best of America. Forty years ago Martin Luther King in his 'I have a Dream' speech he said that we should not judge people by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. In a generation's time, his dream is being realized. We all have a chance to witness it."
Mayor Kevin Johnson said that while we have accomplished much, there is still much to be done. One thing specifically he mentioned was the importance of education and the failure of our education system.

"There's still a lot more to do. Let me give you one statistic that I think ties into the theme today. That is, public education is failing our kids around this country. If Martin Luther King was around today, I could assure you that he would say that public education is the Civil Rights issue of the 21st Century."
He continued:
"You have situation now where a third of our kids are not graduating high school. Half our kids are not graduating high school that are black or Latino. That's just not acceptable. We're talking about America being one of the most powerful leading countries in the world, and it's no longer the case. When it comes to math and science we're 18th and 25th. Our schools are not preparing our young people for the 21st century. What makes matters worse is that if you're graduating high school and you are black and Latino, you are at the same academic level as white eighth graders. If your in third grade, and you're not reading at grade level, 80% of those kids, never catch up... That means your future is determined by the time your in third grade. To make matters worse, that we are building prison facilities based on third grade reading scores. That we are taking reading scores and projecting it forward to know how many people we have that are going to be filling up our prisons.

That's why none of us can sit on our hands or say we want to sit on the sidelines. We all have to get involved.

Among the awardees, first was UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef who announced that he is retiring in June after 25 years year. Chancellor Vanderhoef received the lifetime achievement award.

Chancellor Vanderhoef related a story from the mid-1990s during a time when the board of regents had repealed many of the state's affirmative action programs in advance of Proposition 2009.
"UC Davis Gospel choir helped me make that point quite a while ago about 11 years ago. I was at the board of regents at the University of California. It was in the mid-1990s, it was shortly after the board approved policies that prohibited consideration of race and gender in UC admission and hiring.

The campus at that time had a rare opportunity, it had an opportunity to make a presentation before the regents--a presentation about what we thought UC Davis was and what we thought was important to UC Davis...

I could still picture the major event of that presentation. We were just about to begin and we had this group of students come into the hall. They marched in. Now the regents had been having a very difficult time with students marching into the meeting because of Prop 209 and things that the regents did prior to that. So they fretted about that group of students marching in and seated themselves altogether.

Then they all rose as one body and in fact it was the Gospel Choir. The diversity of faces, the diversity just in general was obvious, it just filled the room before they even mouths. And then they began to sing. It was wonderful. For one thing, the regents relaxed. They relaxed enough so that by the end of the presentation by the Gospel Choir, they gave them a standing ovation.

Afterwards I talked to one of those regents... I said that moving that the regents felt so good about that group of students. He said, I don't think that we've ever seen any university group that showed the diversity that that group showed and at the same time they showed us how wonderful diversity can be. And what it can bring to the stage that other groups cannot."
Dave Dionisi from Teach Peace received a well-deserved award as an Outstanding International Peace Leader. He shared early in the evening a rather moving story about some of the things they accomplished in Liberia in attempting to transform it from a war torn country to now a place where they provide hope in the form of education to young children for just $50 per year.

Mr. Dionisi talked about Martin Luther King and importance of action:
"In the packet tonight, there's a quote from Martin Luther King that I just love about cowardice. 'Cowards ask the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question: Is it politic? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right?' There are many people out there tonight that have the courage folks that are standing up, that ask some hard questions about the Federal Reserve, what it's doing to our country, to ask difficult questions about the massacre in Gaza and what that means for justice everywhere, to ask difficult questions about what really happened on 9/11 and what that means for our democracy as we go forward. I want to say thank you to all of you who have made such a big impact on my life..."
Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald received an award for Outstanding Community Service, she told the students:
"One person can make a change and we can all come together to make a better change. So when Dr. King says that we must sometimes take positions because they are the right positions to take, I want to challenge everyone in the community and students as you go through your studies, as you run into challenging opportunities, some of you have said 'I don't know if I'm going to get into that school,' you know what, knock on that door. And if that door slams on your face, then you go through the window. If the window slams on your face, you go back and kick the door open. I came from a family where we... were in a one-bedroom home, where we shared mattresses, we were very poor. But we never knew it because there was so much love and hope in the family. So don't let lack of finances and lack of opportunities... you keep asking questions and do not take no for an answer."

Professor Bruce Haynes of UC Davis was named outstanding educator:
"We've heard this a few times on the stage here tonight, that sometimes we have to take a position because it's right. That's something that I try to do... I wanted to take this opportunity to say that thing that is uncomfortable but what must be heard. I'm one of the few black professors at UC Davis that is actually tenured. There are few Latino faculty, few Native American faculty, and we're at historical times in the university's history. Never before has there been so many faculty up for retirement, so it is a unique time for personnel change. We have a deep pipeline problem in the state of California. At times I found myself battling with Chancellor Vanderhoef because he had challenging times trying to find diverse faculty. Part of that crisis in education in California really goes back to something that happened in the 1970s, something that no politician seems willing to talk about. That's Prop 13 which is pretty much the reason that education in the state of California left us in the dark ages. It prevents us from keeping up with other states in terms of expenditures, teacher qualifications, training our teachers. I guess I'm putting it on all us to do something about that..."
The Reverend Malone closed the night with a very moving tribute to Martin Luther King as the nation's first African-American President is about to be sworn into office.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Examination of the Use of the Union Hours Bank by the Davis Fire Department

One item issued forth in the investigation by Bob Aaronson that was not contained in the Grand Jury report was the issue of the Union Bank Hours.

The Vanguard had received an anonymous tip about the fire department usage of the union bank hours that alleged that they were using the hours for political activities. As we shall see, the use of union bank hours for political activities would be completely inappropriate.

The anonymous tip read:
"Check out Union Hour Bank and ask what Firemen are doing while on this time. The answer is Union stuff. Campaigning for Angelides, Against Prop 75, Serving and consuming alcohol for politicians, Electing R.Weist to CPF District President (The City sent 6 Firefighters to serve as Bartenders for this event) R.Conroy there as well."
Union Bank Hours and their usage is laid out in the city's MOU with the firefighters. From the city's MOU, here is how the union hour bank works:
"CITY agrees to deposit 24 hours per year ( on July 1, or first business day thereafter) for each participating Firefighter and Fire Captain for deposit in the Union Hour Bank. 70% of time use of Union Hour Bank time shall not incur overtime except with the approval of the Fire Chief. The CITY will provide to the UNION 30 day advanced notice on special training needs and UNION members agree not to schedule Union Hour Bank business during the identified special training. The CITY concurs that course selection and location is at the prerogative of the UNION and they shall provide 24-hour notice to the department for any Union Hour Bank absences. Absences will be charged at straight time. UNION agrees that total Union Hour Bank accrual and carry over shall not exceed two years worth of Union Hour Bank contributions."
The usage of the hours are also laid out in the MOU:
"The purpose of this Union Hour Bank is solely to provide educational training and development opportunities to UNION members and should not involve conducting or participating in other agencies' unions activities."
The Vanguard asked HR Director Melissa Chaney the purpose of these hours. She told the Vanguard that it was basically for the purposes of training and other union specific activities. She was further asked whether it would be appropriate for the union hour bank to be used for political activities. She told the Vanguard "absolutely not" and elaborated that all political activities must be performed off-duty and without the use of city money.

The Vanguard filed a public records request for the union hour bank time sheet. The Vanguard received a general list of how union hour were alotted and how much was alotted overall. However, as the response below explains, the city does not track the usage of these hours.

Here is the alottment of union hours that were used since 2004:

The Vanguard then turned over this information to the independent investigator for follow up.

In the report released by Bill Emlen, it is unclear whether there was annecdotal evidence to support the anonymous tip. We suspect much as the case in the issue of favoritism and retaliation that the investigator simply lacked the time and money to follow up on leads. However, the report is suggestive of a basic problem of lack of accountability.

Two findings in particular draw our attention.

This is from Bob Aaronson's report:
"Union members asserted that, for the most part, the union had complete discretion on how it chose to use/allocate these hours."
As Aaronson points out this runs against the city's MOU which very narrowly prescribes the intended usage for these activities as being "SOLELY to provide education training and development opportunities..." {emphasis added}.

Moreover, as our public records request indicates, the city does not have records on how these hours are used.
"As I understand it, the union does not maintain records of how these hours are utilized and the City has never requested an accounting from it."
The latter being a very consistent pattern within this city as to the lack of accountability and records keeping.

City Manager Bill Emlen writes:
"Because the current Fire MOU stipulates specific acceptable use of this time, the lack of a written record is problematic. Currently, all requests do go through the Chief but the process is strictly verbal. While there is no indication in the investigation that there has been improper use, the lack of a written record is problematic. Effective immediately and for audit purposes, the Chief will be required to keep written records of requests adequate to address the MOU limitations on Union Bank Hours. This information will be forwarded to the Human Resources Division to monitor purpose and hours usage. The City may also discuss union bank hours further during upcoming negotiations with the fire union."
Let us focus in on this sentence again:
"While there is no indication in the investigation that there has been improper use, the lack of a written record is problematic."
Again, this appears to be a case where the investigation simply was not able to look into potential allegations rather than a case where allegations were explored and refuted. This suggests that we really do not know if the union is improperly using city resources for political activity.

An indignant Chief Rose Conroy spoke at council to suggest that these hours are tracked--she said that she has to sign off on their usage and that they are tracked, she simply needs to now add the additional step of recording their usage.

With all due respect to the Chief, she has a very different definition of what it means to track the usage of hours than I do.

Even if the usage of union bank hours was completely appropriate--and frankly there is no indication that that is the case--this practice is problematic both on the part of the Chief for not meticulously tracking how city money is being spent and by the city's HR department for failing to account for the use of city money. This is a pervasive problem within the city that needs to change. There needs to be much greater accountability than we currently have.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Local Activists Urge Congressman Thompson to Support Green Jobs and Obama Stimulus

In an event sponsored by and organized in every Congressional District, a group of 25 local residents met with Ellie Fairclough from Congressman Mike Thompson's office to urge him to vote for the Obama stimulus.

The local event was organized by Mary Zhu. She called on Congressman Thompson to support and help pass President-elect Barack Obama's economic stimulus package. The group said it hops it will help to create new and green jobs for the country.

They also presented Ms. Fairclough as Representative to Mike Thompson with a 365-signature petition that was gathered online in support of Obama's plan.

There were two other speakers. One of UC Davis alum Joseph Stewart, who some may remember from the Choice Voting campaign. Now an alum with a degree in environmental science, he's now looking for work.
"I'm looking for work right now and I can't find work; there's no jobs to be had. I don't know what to do, I don't have a place to live, I'm not sure what's going to happen to my health insurance. It's a really hard situation."
Ellie Fairclough then read a statement from Congressman Mike Thompson:
"It will take help from all Americans to get our country back on track, and the active involvement of every member of our community will be a crucial component of any economic recovery.

Our country is facing some of the biggest challenges I've seen in my lifetime, and it's important that Congress moves quickly to pass legislation to change the direction of our economy. Congress is working with President-elect Obama's team to create legislation that will create or save over 3 million jobs in the next 2 years and invest in infrastructure projects to lay the foundation for future economic growth."
Joseph Stewart said after the statement was read that it sounded great, he only hoped that the Congressman and others would follow through.

---David M. Greenwald reporting