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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Councilmember Greenwald Conflicted Out Retroactively

Will Council have to revisit November Vote on B Street Project Based on FIVE Feet?

On November 5, the City Council heard an appeal of an application to develop four detached residences on the parcel at 233 B Street. The Planning Commission back in July denied the applications by a 5-2 vote based on inconsistencies with the Design Guidelines. All but one neighbor strongly opposed the design modification. Simply put it was a very innovative design and project that did not belong in the middle of an existing neighborhood.

The city council by a strange 2-2-1 vote where Councilmembers Greenwald and Heystek opposed the appeal and Councilmember Stephen Souza abstained. That vote gave the applicant, Maria Ogrydziak one year to work with her neighbors to come up with a more suitable project for that location. Following abstention, Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor was not happy and provoked an angry exchange with his colleague and frequent ally on the council. 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."
That was clearly the intention of Mr. Souza's vote. What has now happened is that instead of working with her neighbors, Ms. Ogrydziak is working with Mayor Pro Tem Saylor to find a backdoor around the original vote.

Staff report attaches a January 4 letter from Ms. Ogrydziak to City Manager Bill Emlen.

In it she claims that they check and found that Councilmember Greenwald's property was 470 feet from the project and therefore she should be conflicted out.
"If Sue Greenwald had been recused, we would not have lost various votes (with Stephen's abstentions), and the project would still be alive. Therefore, I am requesting a re-consideration for the 233 B Street Project, without added City of Davis or Planning Department fees."
During that meeting, there was considerable question as to whether Councilmember Greenwald could vote on the project. As the staff report reads:
"ownership of property within 500 feet of a proposed development creates a rebuttal presumption of a conflict of interest for a public official."
In other words, anyone within 500 feet of a property is conflicted out from participating.
"Prior to the meeting, Councilmember Greenwald was advised that she did not own property within 500 feet of 233 B Street, and therefore did not have a conflict."
In fact, Councilmember Greenwald did not stop there, twice during the meeting prior to participation she specifically asked City Attorney Harriet Steiner if she had a conflict and was twice told that she did not. Based on that advice, she participated in the vote and discussion of this matter.

Now, nearly three months later, the city attorney is claiming there was an error and she is conflicted.
"This advice was incorrect, however, due to a drafting error in preparing the maps."
I am as concerned about process and conflicts of interest as anyone, perhaps more so. However, I have been told that she is 495 feet from the property. So somehow if she is 495 from the property she is conflicted out, but can vote if she is 500 feet or 501 feet. From a practical standpoint that does not make a lot of sense.

But just because she lives within 500 feet, does not necessarily mean she is conflicted out. She can show that she would not stand to benefit from the proposed development or lack thereof.

Here again we get into utter illogical advice from the City Attorney.
"It is possible that Councilmember Greenwald will seek a determination from a real estate professional, such as an appraiser or broker, that, notwithstanding the fact that her property is within 500 feet of the proposed development, the proposed development will have no impact on her property. If she obtains such an opinion, then she would not have a conflict on this matter. At this time, we do not know if Councilmember Greenwald will seek this further opinion."
This makes even less sense than ruling her conflicted out based on five feet. Councilmember Greenwald was basically told to hire a real estate agent to assess the impact of her property which is on Rice Lane, a side street nowhere in the vicinity of 233 B Street. The likelihood of an impact is extraordinarily remote. And yet, by asking her to obtain the opinion, you risk having an interested party making a ruling rather than the city hiring an expert who is impartial do the assessment. Talk about conflict of interest. Who would find such an expert's view compelling under those circumstances.

Apparently the mere fact of her participation does not negate the action taken by the Council in November.
"Councilmember Greenwald’s participation does not negate the action that was taken by the Council in November. The denial stands. The applicant has asked that the matter be reconsidered to allow a different vote on the applications.

Staff and the City Attorney agree that it is fair to provide the applicant with a new hearing."
Really fair to whom? To the neighbors? To the taxpayers of Davis? To the voters of Davis? To the process of democracy?

Fortunately, there is no guarantee that there will be three votes to have a new hearing. Mr. Souza specifically voted, albeit by abstention, to delay the project because he felt it ill-suited for the neighborhood. It seems unlikely he would change his mind, especially with this procedural nightmare.

To make matters worse, this item was place on CONSENT AGENDA, where it could have easily be hidden from the public and perhaps the council.
"Staff recommends the following approach:

- The applicant to re-submit applications for the project presented to the Council in
- The City to waive processing fees;
- The applications to be scheduled before the Council expeditiously, with no further
Planning Commission review;
- Minimal additional staff work or analysis, but reliance on the previous staff report."
This entire situation is appalling. Ms. Ogrydziak's project was strongly and vociferously opposed by every neighbor except for one. The planning commission denied it. The city council by a strange vote denied it. And instead of coming back and working with her neighbors, she has tried an end-run around the process seizing on an error and a technicality to try to invalidate the vote of one of the councilmembers.

To make matters worse, the city attorney, city manager, and city staff have bought into this.

All of this based on 5 feet (or even 30 feet as the applicant claims)? There have been some baffling things I have seen this city do, this one may take the cake. She presumes Councilmember Souza will still abstain--I think that is rather presumptuous of her given his expressed desire at that meeting and his likely reaction to this kind of maneuver. The Vanguard certainly hopes Mr. Souza does the right thing here and we have faith that he will.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Friday, January 23, 2009

City Needs to Press For Restructuring City Employee Contracts During Economic Crisis

Last night the Davis Enterprise had an interesting article on the status of city countrols for the department heads. The city has put on hold the new contract for department heads.
'We just decided to put it on hold while we deal with the budget issues,' said Human Resources Administrator Melissa Chaney. 'There's nothing pending right now.'

That means the seven people heading up the city's departments are operating under the old contract signed in 2005. Under that contract, the city budgets about $1,478,000 for salaries, health benefits, unemployment, workman's compensation and other items for the city's top employees.

'Right now, we're just trying to figure out where we are with the budget and what ramifications are with the current budget and the current fiscal situation,' Chaney said.
More interesting is that several of the bargaining units in Davis have to renegotiate their contracts this year. The city is facing a $1.5 million shortfall this year and up to $3 or $4 million for next year.

The retirement benefit issue has been a heavy topic of conversation on the Vanguard in recent months. The Enterprise article mentions Antioch has gone to a two-tier system which has dropped the formula from 2.7% at 55 for current employees to 2.5% at 55.

The other possibility is that the employees themselves are asked to contribute more to their retirement than they presently do. That is probably going to have to occur as the CalPers system which had been superfunded during the early part of this decade is now running in a deep hole with the struggles of the markets and other problems.

The two-tier system is generally strongly opposed to by public employee unions, so increased contributions for all might be the way to go.

One pressure that the current city management staff and the council are going to have to fight is going to be the pressure placed on them by the bargaining groups to simply extend the current contracts for a few years until fiscal times are better. That would enable employee groups to wait out the current economic downturn and essentially punt on the tough issues.

Instead the city needs to take advantage of this crisis to fix the structural problems with the compensation system--particularly retirement pensions.

The city is going to need to be tough in negotiations this time because there are not only current bargaining issues of a looming budget deficit for the city, but there are structural problems that will end up further stressing the city's fiscal condition.

As the Vanguard reported last summer, employee salaries rose 50% from 2000 to 2008. Total compensation to employees went from $27 million to $49 million over that period. However, retirement pensions fueled by the increase of the pensions to 3% at 50 for public safety have risen nearly six fold over that time. It is that factor that will further strain the city, especially as it has employees retire at 50 and 55 meaning the city may end up paying pensions for decades after retirement.

Is the city prepared to drag out these negotiations until they solve the problems in the contracts?

Looming ominously is a quote from HR Administrator Melissa Chaney:
"We haven't sat down with any of the bargaining groups. We would probably be looking at sitting down with them at this time of year, we just haven't done it yet."
One of the big questions is the extent to which the bargaining process can have transparency. Bargaining itself occurs behind closed doors. However, the city is looking into ways to make the process more transparent.

Under past conditions, the bargaining took place behind closed doors, a contract agreement was reached and the item was placed on the consent calendar for approval by the city council. That means that unless someone pulled the item off the consent calendar there would be no public discussion of the contract and the only time the council saw it would be at the end of the process.

Some possible changes include a status report to the council on the bargaining process given through out negotiations. Having a public presentation at some point along the way about the contract. Requiring the council to approve contracts like they do city ordinances--a full public hearing on the first reading and then a second reading.

One of the important ideas here is to sufficiently put public scrutiny into the process that both sides realize and recognize they have to defend the contract that they have arrived at. What has happened in the past is that the agreement is made behind closed doors and then the city staff become de facto advocates for the contract. That has produced some extraordinarily generous contracts over the last eight years and has allowed city employees to reap huge benefits at the expense of taxpayers and other projects.

The city in addition to the budget deficit in the general fund also is running about $13 million short on a variety of projects--often repairs and infrastructure upgrades--they have referred to these as unmet needs. Part of the reason for the unmet needs is an increasing portion of the general fund goes to city employees.

The city is facing very serious issues and it will be vital that the public be engaged in this process as they are really the only oversight the city has on contracts to public employees. The Vanguard will continue to press for ways to make this process more open and transparent in hopes that the interests of the taxpayers and citizens of Davis are represented in the process.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Commentary: Don't We Need Three in Town?

If you are one of those who is easily offended at any hint of criticism, stop reading right now. There are a few things that need to be said. Tuesday was an historic day. For those who missed the Vanguard radio show last night, listen to it when the podcast is available. I spoke with Tansey Thomas, who everyone knows and with Wayne Lindsey, who no one has heard of. Wayne is a 21 year old UC Davis student. And yes he's African American. It was neat listening to someone born during the depression and someone born when I was in high school talking about what the election of Barack Obama means to them and for African-Americans.

But now it is time to get back to work, back to the real world. For my other job, I had the priviledge of sitting in a teleconference with Speaker of the California Assembly Karen Bass and Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg. They were flying back from the Inauguration. One of the reporters who wasn't me asked them if they thought the California voters were better served by them going to the Inauguration or given the budget crisis being back in Sacramento and trying to get a budget agreement.

It was a tough but fair question. They gave in my opinion a strong answer. The President is formulating his stimulus plan in the coming days. The California legislative leaders came to Washington basically to see that the President and his team put money into the stimulus plan to help the states. No one has money of course, but at least the feds have the ability to deficit spend.

I relay that story because of what I read later yesterday evening about our leaders from Davis who also went to the Inauguration. I do not want to begrudge them a trip to Washington to watch history. I watched on my couch on Tuesday morning with Cecilia, and we were both glad to be on our warm couch watching it on TV rather than standing in the cold without easy access to bathrooms watching it on a giant monitor. Anyone who knows me, knows crowds are not my thing.

But a few things struck me about the article in the Enterprise. First, unlike the state leaders, there was no official business involved in this trip for our three city leaders.

One line from the article in particular seemed to stick in my craw:
"Saylor chatted after the ceremony from bleachers across from the White House. He was playing a quiz game, and had just correctly named the eight U.S. states that begin with the letter M."
I guess I am glad he can name all eight states that begin with the letter M. I am pretty sure I could have done that in first grade, not that that means anything. I am not sure I would really be sharing that with anyone.

A couple of things that come to mind on all of this. Councilmember Lamar Heystek, if he had said that, would have been lampooned in the local press to no end. He was lampooned for being Max Headroom by Hudson Sangree of the Sacramento Bee after representing the city of Davis in Arkansas and still having the diligence to serve our community and attend the council meeting in a virtual way that was unfortunately a bit technologically challenged.

This was not meant as a shot at Councilmember Saylor. He didn't choose for the paper to actually print that, but I would hope he would be embarrassed that they did. He was probably just making small talk with the reporter. What disturbs me and apparently others a bit more is that the newspaper gave more coverage to this story than they did Davis' City MLK event the day before. 399 words for this story to the 107 word caption under the MLK day festivities.

More seriously, with three councilmembers out of town simultaneously, obviously the city manager runs the city on a day-to-day basis, but what if there were an emergency? Apparently I was told in an emergency we do not need a quorum. So let's say in the unlikely event of a riot, we could have Lamar Heystek and Sue Greenwald decide by themselves that we need a curfew. I can only imagine what else they can do.

You know for years traveling on the plane, passengers were greeted with the instructions, "in the unlikely event of a water landing you can use your seat cushion as a floatation device." I'm sure there are 155 passengers last week glad that that message was drilled into their heads. Fortunately they didn't have to jump into the very cold Hudson River.

Shouldn't we have some kind of rule in this town that precludes three councilmembers from leaving town at the same time? Should we not require there always to be three councilmembers in town so we never have a situation where two councilmembers are calling the shot in case of an emergency? It was just last year in January that we had massive power outages and a city that was not ready to respond.

While I am at it, also wanted to comment on a blurb from Bob Dunning in his column last night.
"FIREFIGHTER ABUSE - my friend Larry writes to say he read in this very newspaper that 'the firefighters had to sit and wait until midnight to hear the summary of the Grand Jury report because it was preceded by 70 speeches concerning a council resolution to end the violence in Gaza.'

That's what happened, Larry - 'Hey, if the Davis City Council is going to take over running America's foreign policy, couldn't it at least adopt Obama's new policy of 'no torture.' ' - well said, my friend -"
First of all, in retrospect, I think the city should have pushed back the discussion on the Grand Jury report given the late hour as they did with the two workshops including the budget workshop that ought to be a huge priority at this point in time.

But second, no one forced the firefighters to sit and wait until midnight. They were not required to be there. In fact only two of them spoke--the fire chief and the union President. They were there for effect and to remind certain councilmembers that they had worked to get them elected and suggest in a not so subtle way not to let them down.

There is more. This notion that the Davis City Council is running foreign policy is preposterous and irresponsible. They are doing no such thing. As Souza pointed out last week, the Davis City Council is the closest body to the citizens of Davis. They are our closest representatives in Government. They are not running foreign policy, they are acting as the voice of the citizens, representing our values to other bodies in government that do not meet in our town.

What we saw the other night is that this is a community that is divided on a key issue in our time. This is a value to the community and now the Human Relations Commission tonight will take up this item and see about creating the type of community forum that can help bring our community together and bridge the gap.

I literally spoke with hundreds of people on Tuesday throughout town at various parties and this was the most common topic of conversation. It is an issue that needed to be addressed. I agree with council's ultimate decision. The council cannot speak for a divided community and should not. And thus discovering the divisions as they did on Tuesday night, they pulled back and realized that a letter was not the appropriate solution at this time and on this issue. But that does not mean this is a topic they should not have discussed even if it meant the delay of vital city business until after three councilmembers came back from having their fun and frivolity in Washington, DC.

If that display of democracy meant this blogger had to be up until 2 am and get only three hours sleep, that's part of the duty. If the firefighters wanted to impact public policy and had to stay there until the wee hours of the morning, well poor them? Give me a break. These guys are getting paid big time by this city, they can wait for their meeting like the rest of us if they choose, keyword is CHOOSE, to attend.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Vanguard Radio

We'll be talking about the new Obama regime and what it means to people in this community and throughout the country. We have one confirmed guest so far, Tansey Thomas.

6 PM Tonight, KDRT 95.7 FM

call in: 530.792.1648

Live stream:

Attorneys For Brenda Cedarblade File Letter of Complaint with District Attorney, Yolo County Sheriff, and Woodland Chief of Police

Complaint Alleges "Non-Responsiveness" to Series of Violent Threats, Acts of Violence and an Overall Pattern of Harassment

On December 17, 2008, attorney Matt Gonzalez from the San Francisco based law firm of Gonzalez and Leigh, fired off a complaint addressed to Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig, Sheriff Ed Prieto, and Woodland Police Chief Carey Sullivan.

The complaint "expresses concern" with:
"the Yolo County Sheriff Department's and the Woodland Police Department's seeming non-responsiveness to a series of violent threats, acts of violence, burglaries, criminal trespasses, and an overall pattern of harassment (some of which are described below) directed at my clients, and all of which were reported to both the Yolo Sheriff's Department and the Woodland Police Department."
The letter lays out four instances including shots fired onto property on May 25, 2008, multiple incidents of burglary and criminal trespass dating to April and May of 2008, threats, and the publication of private and confidential information on a web site.

Mr. Gonzalez writes:
On May 25, 2008 my clients reported three shots fired from a field North of their property at 41070 County Road 18C, Woodland, 95695. The shots were fired from a high powered rifle onto their property while Ted Wilson and several of his employees were working. Two of the bullets sailed over Mr. Wilson's head and hit the roof of the horse arena on my clients' property. After hearing the shots fired and the bullets land, Mr. Wilson located a white pick-up truck and four men in a field northwest of his property. Ms. Cedarblade immediately called the Yolo County Sheriff's Department for assistance.

Upon arriving, the Deputy Sheriff confronted four men in the same white pick-up truck located by Mr. Wilson. As relayed to my clients' from the deputy, the men possessed a high-powered long-range rifle, methamphetamine, and were all residing illegally in the United States. The men told the deputy they were using the gun to "shoot squirrels".
According to the complaint, the shooting constitutes several crimes including "assault with deadly weapon" and "discharge of firearm at occupied building."

However, authorities did not follow up on these complaints and made no arrest.
"Following the shooting Mr. Wilson and Ms. Cedarblade unequivocally told the deputy they wished to press all charges against the shooters. However, Mr. Wilson and Ms. Cedarblade understand that the Sheriff's Department made no arrest of the shooters, and conducted no further investigation..."
Mr. Gonzalez writes:
"Given the shooters' purported explanation, and the clear commission of several crimes, the failure to investigate or file charges raises serious questions about the Yolo County Sheriff Department's policies and procedures for investigating crimes, and their apparent disregard of serious violent conduct directed at my clients."
The next incident allegedly occurred in April of 2008.
"Ms. Cedarblade and Mr. Wilson arrived at home to find that unknown persons had entered their home, as well as the historic ranch on their property. The trespassers left green cards, $2000 in cash, drugs and drug paraphernalia. Ms. Cedarblade also discovered old family photos of her family scattered around her bedroom, as well as childhood drawings and report cards, all things that were not previously in her possession. They also found rat poison spread over their bed and kitchen counter. After notifying the Sheriff's Department, the deputy declined to conduct any investigation or collect any evidence, and told my clients to keep the green cards and the $2000 cash.

On May 22, 2208, my clients discovered photos and documents related to the former occupation of Ms. Cedarblade's father, a former navy defense contractor who worked on classified missile systems, inside their home. The photos and documents - which mayor may not be classified - were not previously in the possession of my clients, and appeared to be part of the personnel file of Ms. Cedarblade's father, including his security clearance."
According to Mr. Gonzalez, though this burglary was reported, no investigation was conducted by law enforcement.

The third incident involved a threatening phone call claiming that there was a hit out for Ms. Cedarblade who then reported this to the Sheriff's department.
"The Deputy told Ms. Cedarblade that a "hit" could mean a hit on a government records search, and did no further investigation - this despite providing the deputy with the name of the caller."
Furthermore private information was allegedly posted on a web site, however, there was never any investigation into this matter by the Woodland Police or the Sheriff's department.

Mr. Gonzalez concludes:
"My clients turned over all information concerning the above incidents, as well as other instances of harassment, to both the Yolo County Sheriff's Department and the Woodland Police Department. But, to their knowledge, neither Department conducted any serious investigation into any of the above incidents, or any other of the reported incidents, despite clear evidence of criminal activity. In fact, my clients expressly requested a criminal investigation to the Sheriff's Department and were told, through their previous attorney, that the District Attorney's office was too busy to do any investigation."
The Vanguard will be following up on this story in the coming days and will report upon any further development.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Obama Becomes 44th President; Davis Celebrates

The Speech

Those perhaps expecting Barack Obama to issue forth a speech on par with Lincoln's Second Inaugural, Roosevelt, and Kennedy were likely disappointed. It was a good speech, it accomplished much of what he wanted to do, but it was not one of his great speeches. It was not on par with his speech after the New Hampshire Primary or even the Iowa Primary, it was not on par with his speech on race following Reverend Wright. Nor was it on par with his acceptance speech in Denver or his victory speech on November 4, 2008.

However despite this and despite the recognition of the tough times ahead it was a festive night in Davis last night as I made my way from party to party. Photos from those parties are below. Here I have a few thoughts on his speech.

While the speech lacks perhaps the elevation, it contains quite a bit of content.

Obama says:
"We remain a young nation, but in the words of scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things."
He's clearly calling for a new time where we put aside our petty partisan disputes.
"In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned."
Here again he calls for the nation to return to an early time and path, an earlier ethos where we are not expected to merely be handed things. He then hearkens back to those who came to this country and those who gave work and sweat to make for a better life.
"For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction."
He then calls on us to remember for those who doubt, that we can achieve big things and have grand ambitions:
"Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions; who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage."
One of my favorite lines from his speech suggests that the times have changed, and old cynicism has been misplaced, old partisan complaints need to move on. This is somewhat his answer to Reagan who suggested government cannot solve our problems, it is the problem. And the answer to Clinton who suggested that the era of big government is over. This is a new day, when we ask and accept what works and changes what does not.
"What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our Government is too big or too small, but whether it works _ whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government."
Another great line suggests that while the free market is the engine of wealth, it cannot go unchecked. We must have market regulation in order to insure prosperity and also some sort of equity.
"Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control, and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous."

He attacks the notion that we must give up our liberties in order to be safe. Hearkening back to Franklin who suggests those who give up "essential liberty" for "temporary security" "deserve neither."
Obama says:
"As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expediency's sake."
At the same time, he calls for the end of the Bush doctrine and a return to a more humanitarian role of foreign policy, one that relies on our friends and alliances rather than goes it alone.
"And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint."
Finally he calls on us to all come together to make this a better place through generosity and a spirit of service.

Much of Davis Celebrates the New Presidency

The people in Davis understand that much tough work lays ahead. That times are very tough. But there is hope and happiness. Part of that is rooted in the end of eight long years of the Bush Presidency. For many the best moment tellingly came when Bush and Cheney got into the helicopter and departed from the White House.

Bush would arrive in Texas to cheering supporters, the last of the true believers it seems. But he looked like an older, weary, person even as he arrived to the hands of his supporters.

He left Washington in a very different scene where mixed crowds heavily leaning to the higher melanin populations chanted, booed, and serenaded him to the words of "nah nah nah, nah nah nah, hey hey hey, goodbye." I had mixed reactions to those responses. On the one hand, I too harbor my anger towards the man and his Presidency. On the other hand, yesterday should have been about the future and not the past. He served his country and Obama said this weekend, he is a decent man whom we happen to disagree with. Pay your respects and be glad that the long national nightmare is over.

For the people of Davis last night it was a mixture of emotions. For the people on the mall, there were tears of happiness. One of the reporters observed that they are used to see women and children in tears at such events, the sight of so many men eyes filled with tears really signalled to them the change.

For me it was a day of almost surrealism. It never felt real like this was really happening. Perhaps part of that is the reality of the enormity of the task that has set in. Perhaps there is more to it than just that.

I was not one of the earliest Obama supporters. I was also never one of the hardest core supporters either. I grew to respect the man for his temperance, his demeanor, and his intellect. I respect him for all of the things that he seems to possess that his predecessor lacked.

But be no mistake. There are many things that need to be done and quickly to undo the worst aspects of the Bush legacy. From that standpoint, going through his speech again, I have great hope because he addresses many of them.

For me the worst aspects of the Bush presidency are when he set aside our liberty for expediency, he weakened the constitutional protections for essential liberties and he did so often for no good reason. The threat of terrorism while real, was often overstated especially in the numerous plots that came up after 9/11. There is no reason that a good security agency could not do its job while allowing people to have the right to privacy. There is no reason that we cannot protect this country while continuing the right to a trial for the accuse, even those accused of being terrorists. Despite the claims to the contrary, it appears innocent people got caught in the net that was cast.

On the foreign policy front, it is possible to be safe, tough, and proactive while working with the other nations of the world. The loss of esteem and respect around the world was a travesty.

On the national front, it is possible to be prosperous while being environmentally sound. The stripping of the clean air act. The failure to develop alternative fuels. The failure to address climate change. The failure to understand that green technology can be an engine for both economic growth AND environmental change are huge failings of the Bush administration.

It is time to accept and embrace science again. Our previous President did not believe in science. No wonder we fall behind the rest of the world in science and math education.

Health care problems identified now 20 years ago and beyond still remain. The loss of productivity from health care is immense. The resources we pump into a broken system of providing health care, not the actual medical care itself, but the provision of it, is self-defeating. Providing affordable health care would make us more productive, more healthy, and it would help take a huge burden off of business.

And that does not even get to economic crisis, the housing crisis, the need to help states like California make ends meet. The challenges that we face are enormous. But we embrace them with hope and optimism. And now we see how the future lies.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama's Call to Action: Why We Cannot Wait

A generation ago in 1961, President John F. Kennedy exhorted the country to take out a new spirit of public service as a new generation took the helm of the United States. Inspired by his call to action, many young Americans would span out across the globe in the Peace Corps and at home came calls for social justice, racial equality, and eventually peace.

In just a few hours today, a new President will take office with as much excitement if not more than that day in 1961. There will be other days to reflect on the pitfalls ahead. There will be other times to reflect on how Camelot and the "Best and the Brightest" to coin the phrase of David Halberstam would end up in the 1960s.

Today we enter a new era with hope and anticipation. We enter a new time where a black President is a reality just as Kennedy ushered in a time when a Catholic President was a reality.

However, there is so much more to the inspiration of President Barack Obama. One of the enduring moments this week, among many which including throngs of well-wishers and supporters gathering in Washington and as notably along his train route, was the image yesterday of the President taking off his coat and painting. Symbolic to be sure, but it was a sign that this President is going to roll up his sleeves and get into the dirty work.

In the midst of all of his excitement was his call to service. He called on people of all ages to give 50 hours to community service a year.

As much as we need a new era of sacrifice by Americans, as much as we need a new call to action, a new call for us to ask what we can do for our country, there is so much more that needs to be done.

For a moment though, contrast this picture with what we saw on September 11, 2001 and the coming days. The country was ready for action. The country was yearning to come together for a national purpose. The country would have heeded any call to sacrifice. One of the big failings of the past administration was the failure to take advantage of that collective moment of unity. Instead it dissolved into polarization. The world was behind us that day and instead we divided it with our ill-considered war against Iraq.

But today I want to talk about the future, not the past. Our communities need Obama's help. Our communities are struggling. We can start at the State level and work our way down. We cannot afford to wait any longer.

California faces a 40 billion dollar deficit in the coming year. It cannot go into debt. Its legislature is polarized by partisan differences and agendas. Its Governor gained not a single vote in support of his budget proposal from his own party. Workers are facing furloughs, pay cuts, and the very real prospect of the loss of jobs during the toughest economic crisis in recent memory.

We need to take back our state. We need the kind of change at the state level that we have at the federal level and the next election is a distant two years away. We cannot wait.

Banks are failing. Businesses that have long histories are filing for bankruptcy and many are closing their doors. We cannot wait.

Our cities are going bankrupt. Our schools are laying off teachers and cutting classes. Our universities are turning away students. Our counties that are relied on to provide for the least of us, are in the worst shape of all. We cannot wait.

Our local community is probably in better shape than most. Just this past weekend, I was down in San Luis Obispo and read about the schools there facing massive layoffs. Our own district is probably going to avoid that fate the next year and a half. But still we will have to find a way to absorb multimillion dollars of revenue cuts. The children are the future of this nation, they cannot afford to become a victim in the line of cuts. We cannot wait.

The city of Davis, long thought to be immune from economic downturn is facing over one million in deficits by next year and over three million the following year. We can always question decisions made and the reforms needed, but the fact remains, even the city of Davis needs help. Our roads will go unrepaired. Our infrustructure aging. And while a few are prospering, the citizens of this town are in need of help just like everyone else.

But worst of all is the County of Yolo. It is facing an $18 million deficit, that is one-third of its general fund operating budget. The County of Yolo is in charge of providing for the least of us. It is in charge of feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and giving medicine to the sick and the old. Our county as it stands right now will not be able to carry on its commitments to the needy in our population.

These are tough times indeed. It is great to serve food at a homeless shelter. It is great to volunteer at a hospital. It is wonderful to donate food for the soup kitchen and clothes to thrift shop. But we must do more. For if the county has to cut services, then there will be more hungry, more homeless, more needy, more sick, and less services to help these people. We cannot wait.

So today as Barack Obama gets sworn in let us celebrate, but tomorrow, we must work.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Should DJUSD Alter its Secondary Education Grade Level Configuration and School Facilities?

An interesting discussion is beginning in the next few weeks, there will be site level meetings beginning tonight at Emerson, tomorrow night at Harper, next Tuesday at Holmes, and a week from Thursday at Davis High. The purpose of these meetings will be to gather input from parents and local residents in particular about grade-level configuration and district facilities.

Currently Davis High School is set up as a Grade 10 through 12 school. That is rather unusual however, most high schools, 90 percent in California in fact, are 9 through 12. Such a configuration represents both advantages and disadvantages as we learned last year through some preliminary discussion.

One of the big advantages is that it allows 9th graders to remain on junior high campuses rather than pushing them to the high school where they face added pressures as has been stated a number of times--it tends to keep the ninth graders younger rather than mixing them with 16 to 18 year-olds.

On the downside, the curriculum for 9th graders is set up more like that of the high school, this forces the junior high to provide those level classes to 9th graders resulting in inefficiencies and economy of scale problems.

In an November interview with the Enterprise, Superintendent James Hammand emphasized the fact that no decision had been made yet.

He said:
"One of the main things I'm seeking is for people to evaluate grade configuration through a couple of lenses... One is the programmatic and instructional lens. Are we configured the best way possible, the best way to maximize student achievement"

"The other lens is the fiscal and physical lens. When you take a headcount of our students, and look at our facilities, are we as efficient and effective as we can be?"
However, a number of groups and community members have expressed concerns about the change.

Becky Linville, Eric Davis, and Paul Stukas recently wrote a letter in opposition to the current proposal:
"We write on behalf of the Davis Friends of Neighborhood Schools, formed to support the current grade-level configuration of Davis schools (K-6, 7-9 and 10-12). We oppose the Davis Joint Unified School District's expected proposal to move approximately 680 ninth-graders into the crowded Davis High School campus of 1,700-plus students.

The district has shown no evidence that such a reconfiguration will assist the academic or emotional growth of our ninth-graders, or any other students in the district. Why risk our district's current academic achievements and low dropout rate by such a profound change?"
On the group's website:
"Friends of Neighborhood Schools believes there should be a compelling reason to change the Grade Level Configuration of the Davis Schools. At this point, we do not believe a compelling case has been shown. We have not seen any evidence or research that shows changes to the Grade Level Configuration will improve the quality of our children's education.

If 680 ninth graders are moved to the high schools next school year, there will be a net increase of approximately 400 students at DHS (assuming Da Vinci High School moves to Valley Oak and 80% of the Da Vinci students will move). Many people in Davis think DHS is too crowded now; how will it be with a net increase of 400 students? [NOTE: The Da Vinci Charter Academy petition approved by the School Board includes 10-12th grades at Valley Oak, and 7-9th grades phased in at Emerson Jr. High]."
The big question at this point is whether this is a fiscal decision or an educational decision. There seems to be costs associated with the current model in terms of providing the range of classes for 9th graders. On the other hand, it appears that moving kids to the high school would have drawbacks as well. As the group stated above, Davis High is already considered too large, and now you could propose making it a campus of 1700 students. The alternative would be to create two smaller high schools, but that would incur cost of converting a Junior High Campus, possibly Harper into a High School Campus.

The real question is whether the current system is actually broke rather than whether Davis schools are unusual. The fiscal environment make such matters important, but educational considerations ought to first come first.

Board President Gina Daleiden:
"I would like the discussion to include a broad conversation about our educational system, including financial, education and facilities uses in the future... It is very difficult to look at any of these pieces in isolation."
Boardmember Sheila Allen:
"I'll be interested in a balanced analysis of both the educational and fiscal impacts of various grade and site configurations. While we need to continue to look for financial efficiencies, we have to ensure that our excellent programs are supported by the structure at our schools."
Boardmember Susan Lovenburg:
"We must consider carefully the educational and social aspects of a change in our current grade configuration, as well as the financial implications. How do we best serve our students given the resources available? And understanding what the community values is an important part of making this decision."
While the issue is likely to cause controversy, the district appears at this point to be going about this the right way, by having meetings and reaching out to the community first before any decision is made. That is the fortunate part of acting proactively rather than what happened last Spring when the district was in crisis and desperately looking for any way possible to save money.

Here are the times and the locations:
* TONIGHT at Emerson Junior High

* TOMORROW NIGHT at Harper Junior High

* Tuesday, Jan. 27, at Holmes Junior High

* Thursday, Jan. 29, at Davis High School
---David M. Greenwald reporting

Monday, January 19, 2009

Reflections on Martin Luther King Day as Barack Obama Becomes President

Every year I have written a special essay on Martin Luther King Day. I usually pick a lesser known Martin Luther King speech to reflect on. At the MLK Dinner last Thursday, I heard an excerpt from the 1967 speech, "Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam."

Dr. King has become so lionized in this country, that people often seem to forget that he was not non-threatening figure that he has now become. He was in his own day radical despite the fact that those on the more radical side felt he was too passive, those on the less confrontational side felt he was too radical.

Indeed, when Dr. King was killed in 1968, it was the heart of 1968 election where Richard Nixon was working hard to take away the south from the Democrats. Nixon was criticized heavily by his advisers and those on the right for the mere idea of going to Dr. King's funeral. If you wonder how much the world has changed in 40 years, ponder that for awhile. One of those who criticized him hardest was a young speech writer and adviser Patrick J. Buchanan.

The point illustrates where much of America was even in 1968.

The year before his death, on April 4, 1967, Dr. King broke his silence on Vietnam.

A few weeks later he delivered the speech from which I now excerpt. Frankly in many ways it could have been written today, as speech in opposition to the war in Iraq rather than the war in Vietnam:
"Let me say finally that I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America. I speak out against this war, not in anger, but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and, above all, with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as the moral example of the world. I speak out against this war because I am disappointed with America. And there can be no great disappointment where there is not great love. I am disappointed with our failure to deal positively and forthrightly with the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism. We are presently moving down a dead-end road that can lead to national disaster. America has strayed to the far country of racism and militarism. The home that all too many Americans left was solidly structured idealistically; its pillars were solidly grounded in the insights of our Judeo-Christian heritage. All men are made in the image of God. All men are bothers. All men are created equal. Every man is an heir to a legacy of dignity and worth. Every man has rights that are neither conferred by, nor derived from the State--they are God-given. Out of one blood, God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth. What a marvelous foundation for any home! What a glorious and healthy place to inhabit. But America's strayed away, and this unnatural excursion has brought only confusion and bewilderment. It has left hearts aching with guilt and minds distorted with irrationality.

It is time for all people of conscience to call upon America to come back home. Come home, America."

The notion that opposition means hate and that patriotism means unconditional support is a notion that has been rooted in the American psyche for a long time. I felt this issue most recently last Tuesday when my loyalty to Israel was challenged because I dared to question the Israeli Government. While I was not directly called a self-hater at the time, I may as well have been for I shared the views of someone who was.

What Dr. King understood was that the issue of racial equality was in fact deeply rooted in the issue of Vietnam. As he understood it went beyond simply race to class. For the very people who were dying in the jungles of Vietnam were those poor brothers and sisters who could not afford a college education to get a deferment.

Moreover, the cause of peace was inextricably linked to the cause of non-violent resistance. And here I criticize my more secular brothers and sisters who failed to recognize the role that faith played in the civil rights and peace movement. The very notion of passive resistence was deeply rooted in the bible and also the words and writing of Gandhi.

The idea of bearing witness, the idea of true love, the idea of loving one's enemy, of turning the other cheek, of turning one's enemy through love rather than through hate and violence. It was a very powerful message.

Congressman John Lewis came under criticism this past election when he compared the rhetoric of some on the right who were suggesting that Obama was a terrorist to that of Geoge Wallace. John Lewis is an American hero as few people probably truly realize. On the bridge to Selma, he was beaten within a few inches of his life.

In David Halberstam's book, "The Children" which chronicles Lewis among other civil rights leaders, one of the most powerful moments came when one of Lewis' chief tormentors in Selma came for a visit to Lewis' Congressional Office to apologize for his actions from 20 years prior. His heart had been turned, not through violence, not through hate, but through the love and convictions of the civil rights movement.

It is that conviction and sacrifice that have enabled the world that we see today.

As King said shortly before his death:
"We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."
The parallels have always intrigued historians and observers. For in the bible, when the Jews were led by Moses, Moses himself never saw the promised land. But without his contributions, the Jews would never have made it.

Tomorrow Barack Obama fulfills the dream of a lifetime that most people never believed that they would see. Just over 40 years from the day that Martin Luther King Jr was killed, he will become the first African American Preisdent of this country.

As we all recognize this will not make the problems of the last forty years vanish and more than it will make the problems of inequality, hatred, and violence of the last 400 years go away.

However, President Obama ran on a platform of both change and hope. Tomorrow he gives us exactly that hope for change. He has long days ahead of him. It will be a difficult struggle. And like Dr. King he may not lead us into the promised land. He may merely open the gates to the new world for us and it will be up to us to walk through them.

But stop for a second. Throw down your ideology, preconceived notions, and your prejudices. Stop and reflect. Look at the crowds of people that gathered to watch Obama's train route. Look at the faces in those crowds. You do not see white America reflected in those faces. You do not see Black America. You do not see blue America. You do not see red America. You truly see the United States of America reflected in those crowds. You see people that for the first time truly believe. You see young black men who can look into their eyes of their newborn children who believe for the first time in their lives that they can be whatever they want to be in life. You see the new hope of a generation, of a people, and of a nation. You see people coming together to give back service to their country. You see the sons and daughters of former slaves casting their votes with the sons and daughters of former slaveholders. You see in essence Martin's dream from 1963.

There is still much to do in this country that still remains divided along all sorts of lines and cleavages and the perceptions of differences.

I close as Lincoln closed from his First Inaugural Address, that ironically Obama quoted from in his victory speech on November 4, 2008:
"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
---David M. Greenwald reporting

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cuts to Education: Is This Really What We Want Our Legacy To Be?

Across the state, local school districts are feeling the pinch of the state budget impasse. Go anywhere and you will see articles about massive layoffs, budget cuts, and most of all uncertainty.

We do not even have a budget yet and everyone knows what is coming down the pike and it is going to be extremely ugly and counterproductive.

The Governor has proposed that one way to save money is by cutting the school year from 180 days to 175 days. That is a proposal that the Superintendent of Instruction Jack O'Connell strongly opposes, arguing that most of the country has 180 or more days.

“Most other industrialized countries are in excess of 200 days a year, and today we go 180 days. This proposal would whack that to 175 days.”
O'Connell further argued that it would place the burden on low income schools that could not afford to pay to extend the school year like more affluent schools could.

He called the proposal "devastating."
"It would particularly hurt our low-income students and students of color. The result would be a further widening of the achievement gap."
With a 175-day school year, California would join Kentucky, North Dakota and a few other states that require the least number of school days. Is that really what we want for our legacy?

The Davis school district currently seems to be alright for the next two years primarily because of the budget crisis we went through last year and the passage of Measure Q and Measure W.

However, one thing the district is hoping for probably is not going to happen. The district wants flexibility in categorical funding. That is a position that the Governor has taken. But most of the Democratic state legislators except for our own Senator Lois Wolk, are opposed to the idea. That is largely out of fear that district would use the opportunity to gut vital programs. That would not happen in Davis, but it is enough of a concern that the district is not going to get that kind of flexibility.

Immediate problems caused by the budget impasse are also devastating. Because the state is running out of cash, money to school district already budgeted for the 2008-09 school year may end up being deferred.

“The Governor’s proposal to reduce current year funding to public education by over $6 billion will be extremely difficult for school districts to absorb. I am particularly concerned about the proposal to defer $2.8 billion in payments due early in 2009 to the next fiscal year. This will create a cash flow crisis for school districts."
California's budget process is now locked up in a three-war of wills. The Democrats at least temporarily tried to make it a two-player game by trying to create a simple-majority solution, but the Governor and the Democrats could never come to agreement on a stimulus package despite agreeing in principle on the budget.

The Republican legislators have not even come that close. They have argued from the beginning against any tax increase. They argue that tax increases during economic downtime will harm the economy.

I don't disagree. The problem is so will spending cuts that will inevitably result in the loss of jobs across the state. California does not happen to have the option of going into debt, so the legislator has little choice to do things that harm the economy.

I believe we need to do both spending cuts and tax increases and try to spread the pain as wide and as thinly as possible.

However, there is a further consideration--where do you make the cuts? And that is a big question when you understand California is not at the top in per pupil spending to begin with. California is not at the top in academic performance. Cuts to education, means losses of teachers, closed schools, increased class size, all the things we have worked so hard over the last nearly 20 years to accomplish.

There is no doubt that we face tough times and tough sacrifices. But educational cuts hurt our future not just the present. I ask again if this what we want our legacy to be or if we should find a different way through this.

---David M. Greenwald