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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Good News Bad News For Davis Schools

CTA Launches Campaign Against Class Size Reduction Flexibility

If you read through the numbers reported on Thursday, Davis Schools will likely given some measure of flexibility survive without major teacher layoffs at least through 2010-11. The district got some more good news perhaps when the House passed the stimulus plan that will contain for schools.

Davis will get roughly $2.7 million over the next two years. That includes money for construction and modernization, some for programs for low-income students, and nearly $1.8 million for special education programs. Woodland stands to get far more based on a higher percentage of lower-income students than Davis, but Woodland is also far worse off than Davis.

However, the Senate still needs to approve its own version of the stimulus in the coming week. When it does, there is expected to be considerably less money for the district in it and the reconciliation will mean that Davis will get something, but not what the House version would give it.

Meanwhile, if we go back and look at the budget projections for the district, one of the big caveats was whether or not the district would get Class Size Reduction Flexibility. Allowing the district to raise class size from 20 to 22 would allow it a saving of nearly $1 million per year, which means $2 million by 2010-11.

During his presentation on Tuesday, Bruce Colby suggested that of all the proposals in the Governor's budget, a change in class size reduction or CSR, was most problematic.

Based on a teleconference with CTA President David Sanchez on Friday, I would suggest that actually overstates the possibility of CSR changes being implemented. The CTA is going to war against flexibility in the use of CSR.

Mr. Sanchez said:
"What's most offensive is that eliminating class-size reduction won't save the state one dime. Districts will continue to receive that funding from the state, but won't have to spend that money on class-size reduction, or frankly, even in the classroom."
Let me make two caveats to what I am about to say. First, I am very familiar with the data from Davis' perspective but less so around the state. Everything I know about Davis is that the flexibility is what Davis needs to survive the next two years without cutting teachers or programs.

Second, in general I am supportive of the teachers unions, but I think in this case they are misguided.

Right now, district need flexibility in the money that they receive and we need to trust local districts to know how best to spend it rather than Sacramento.

Also at the press conference was Alicia Gaddis who is chairwoman of the Sacramento branch of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (you might be more familiar with their acronym, ACORN, they do more than just register voters however).
"I can assure you that the districts in poorer neighborhoods will be the first to increase classroom sizes, [which] means the achievement gap will widen."
I would like to see the analysis of how CSR funds would impact that. For Davis, 80% of the money the district spends goes directly to the classroom. The question is where in the classroom it needs to go.

One of the concerns expressed by the CTA and others is that CSR was a process that took years to create and build up. However, relaxing the requirements for a few years until this budget situation is not going to destroy the program.

The bottom line here is that if CSR is left in place, school district like Davis are going to have to eat into their reserves more and eventually they will have to cut their teachers. Across the state schools are cutting their teachers. The only question is whether they can have the flexibility to simply use attrition and retirement to balance their books or whether they will have to deeply cut into HS and other secondary programs to survive.

It's a tough call right now, but if given the choice, most school districts would prefer greater flexibility during challenging times and then they can prioritize their spending needs.

The CTA is unfortunately showing a general distrust for school districts to make these choices.

In the meantime, CSR flexibility is probably now DOA. The CTA this weekend is launching a major ad campaign urging Californians to call the Governor and their legislators to oppose the proposal. Legislators already were expected to remove the proposal from the budget, this is just the coup de grace on that.

For Davis, that means a couple of million in flexibility for the next few years that is gone. The federal stimulus if Davis ends up seeing any of it when the Senate finishes their work will mitigate some but not all of that.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Friday, January 30, 2009

City's Budget Hole Grows--Unmet Needs Will Go Unaddressed

A year ago the city basically identified around $13 million in what it called unmet needs. These were needed projects in a variety of departments that the city needed to undertake but lacked the available money to pay for them. As the Vanguard has mentioned previously, some of these are quite basic road repairs and other vital services.

Right now the city is projecting a growing budget deficit for the foreseeable future. It begins at close to $1.5 million for the current fiscal year and doubles to $3 million next year.

As Finance Director Paul Navazio stated on Tuesday night, the city is going to have to first address the structural and immediate budget problems. That means that these unmet needs will continue to be unmet needs into the foreseeable future.

From the staff report:
"While the growing list of unmet needs – both one-time and recurring – remains a significant concern, current economic and budgetary realities suggest that emphasis should be placed on securing existing revenues over seeking new revenue sources that could, potentially, jeopardize revenues relied upon to provide existing City services."
Right now the city is focusing on addressing existing revenues. They do not believe they will be able to in this climate get the voters to approve tax increases. Therefore the priority at this point is on renewing the existing tax measures--namely the parks tax and the half cent sales tax. One alternative would instead of the renewal of the parcel tax for the parks, combine the the parks measure with an additional quarter cent sales tax to produce the $1.5 million the parks tax is currently generating.

From the staff report:
"At this time, staff is suggesting that the highest priority related to future ballot measures should be the renewal of the ½ Sales Tax (Measure P), approved by the voters in June 2004, with a 6-year sunset provision. This measure currently provides roughly $3 million in General Fund revenues to the City.

Secondly, priority should be given to options for renewing or replacing the Parks Maintenance Tax (Measure G), which was re-authorized by the voters in June 2006, with a 6-year sunset provision. This measure provides roughly $1.3 million in dedicated funding in support of park maintenance activities. In the past, some concerns have been expressed over the appropriateness of assessing this tax on the basis of a flat $49 tax on parcels within the City. Staff has previously been directed to explore alternative funding mechanisms, to the point where the text of Measure G provides that the measure would be repealed in the event that the City secures an alternative means of funding parks maintenance activities."

What is driving this is the basic reality of the situation for the city. The taxpayers in Davis have already been asked to pass two parcel taxes for the school district and one for the library. They will be asked to pass another parcel tax by the school district in either late 2011 or early 2012.

The city does not want to be competing against the school district for tax funds. Right now they are simply looking to renew what they have. That would mean a June 2010 ballot measure to renew the sales tax or possibly fold Measure G into the sales tax.

The problem here is obvious but unavoidable given the city's lack of addressing the unmet need problem previously. The assessment of Navazio and the city is exactly right--the public is not going to approve the slew of tax measures that it proposed a year ago.

In December of 2007, the city was considering a public safety tax placed on the ballot sometime in 2009. At that time, Councilmember Souza even pushed for it by November 2008.

Second, they suggested a new sales tax on the ballot in 2010 with a quarter-cent increase. At that time it would not have subsumed the park tax but rather would have paid for street and road maintenance.

Finally in he called for a replacement of the park tax with an increase in the municipal services taxes.

Now the dilemma. Many will undoubtedly be pleased to hear that these taxes are essentially off the table. However, the downside is twofold.

First, the city is going to have to find a way to cut millions from the budget over the next several years.

Second, the city while cutting millions from the budget over the next several years, needs to find a way to chew into what is now $8.74 million of one-time unmet needs (including nearly $6 million for the fire department which I assume still includes possibly a fourth fire station and a new engine) and $7.35 million in recurring unmet needs, that one is more spread across the board.

In December of 2007 Councilmember Don Saylor said:
"Today we really can look at the structural deficit as we refer to so often as something within our grasp. The numbers are so small that they will be taken care of by small increases in the economic development plans that are already underway."
Councilmember Saylor was wrong. He did not foresee the magnitude of course of the economic crisis bearing down upon us. But he did not recognize that our failure to appropriately deal with the unmet needs would become a crisis just over a year later. The problem was that everyone assumed or at least three councilmembers at time assumed that we could simply tax ourselves out of our hole. Now that is no longer a possibility.

In the meantime, no one dealt with the longer term structural problem namely unchecked employee salaries, and this is not a general statement about employees. There are specific areas that are particularly problematic.

It turns out in December of 2007, that then-Mayor Sue Greenwald was the one who was correct.
"We have a structural deficit, we haven't really done anything to improve it, we've just changed our accounting principals, made them less conservative. But that also means it's going to be more sensitive to downturns in the real estate market and other potentially recessionary phenomena."
She continued:
"We have not only not reduced it [structural deficit] but we've also made ourselves more vulnerable to our PERS contributions."
Mayor Greenwald turned out to be exactly correct and the current Mayor Pro Tem was overly optimistic.

The system has imploded. We have seen our vulnerability to the real estate market downturns and for the first time really to a major recession. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. The unmet needs are still unmet and now there is no immediate plans to meet them.

It will be interesting to watch the impact on this community when the city has to cutback on vital city services. We have already seen push back on the issue of parks and recreation--and frankly that was mere pennies compared to what awaits us.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Thursday, January 29, 2009

District's Budget Workshop Shows Huge Deficits for Next Two Years

The Davis School Board met last night for a budget workshop. Given the fiscal situation and uncertainties in some ways the district stands in a much more challenging landscape than they did last year at this time. The chief reason for that is that while they are working off the governor's budget assumptions, we do not really know what the budget is going to look like if and when it is passed by the legislature.

As a result, the key objectives for the district are to look for ways to build capacity. There is an additional challenge of finding where the district can build in cuts outside of the categorical funds.

The district's priority is to find ways to reduce spending and get by through 2010-11 without taking money from educational programs. That is a tricky endeavor.

If there is good news, it is that despite the uncertainty, despite how bad the economic times are, right now it looks like the district if given flexibility by the governor and the legislature, a big if at the time this is written, the district can escape through 2010-11 without massive layoffs.

In part that is due to the district putting itself in viable fiscal position the last few years, in part that is due to a stabilized enrollment, and in part that is due to the generosity of the people of this district who came through with one-time money through the Davis School Foundation last year and through the passage of Measure Q in 2007 and Measure W in 2008.

Again, because there is no state budget, the district due to laws and regulations still has to adhere to a March 15 deadline for having an interim budget for 2009-10. Right now they are working off the Governor's budget assumptions until and unless there are changes and a more certain path.

The Governor's budget builds in cuts in the range of $2.5 million this year (as in 2008-09), another $3.3 million reduction next year with no funding for COLA, and right now no cuts for 2010 but minimal funding for inflation (COLA) and no funding restoration.

The Governor's budget does provide flexibility. Some of the key flexibility is that it allows districts to transfer money from their fund balance for categorical programs. This means that money that is normally restricted in use can be used for the general fund. For a district like Davis, this is a huge advantage. There is however considerable question as to whether this will hold. Democrats are opposed in general to this kind of flexibility for a variety of reasons.

In addition the Governor's budget also allows the district to reduce its reserve requirement. In essence this is one-time money that will quickly get depleted, but it will allow some districts to survive for a couple of years.

Finally, the Governor's budget, and again, this is subject to legislative approval, calls for the reduction of the school year by up to 5 days. More on this shortly.

The good news for the school district is that ADA is up, meaning there is no the problem we faced last year with declining enrollment. The bad news however is that our cash investments are earning less. In fact, we expect negative interests for the rest of the year. In a normal year these interests would yield around $750,000. Right now, Bruce Colby has this budgeted as zero income, it could in fact end up in the negative somewhat by up to $200,000.

Bruce Colby then showed where we currently stand. We are pretty much operating in the red, living off our fund balance and our reserves with no changes this year. And then we would end up in the hole $2.5 million for next year and $7.7 million for 2010-11.

In order for that not to happen, we are going to have to make cuts. The first set of assumptions are based on the ability to alter the student to teacher ratio from 20-1 to 22-1. That would save us $700,000 just for the K-3 and another $300,000 for the 9th and 10th grades. However, as Mr. Colby stated during his presentation, this is not likely to hold. The legislature of all the cuts and changes is most likely to keep the ratio. As you will see shortly, that will alter these assumption by quite a bit as the district will have to find another million.

How is the district going to make cuts with minimum impacts on education programs?

Well they are going to cut from the district office and not fill vacancies for risk manager, fiscal services, account tech, and board secretary. In essence, Bruce Colby will serve as risk manager and the fiscal services director ends up requiring additional work for him as well. That cuts about $200,000 from 2009-10 and 10-11.

Other cuts will include to counseling services and classified staff reduction. Both of those are simply through attrition. They will simply not fill vacancies. It will not require layoffs.

They will have some spending reductions, we're talking about $100,000 there. They think there is some flexibility in unused parcel tax funds where they can shift around for $200,000.
Finally the issue of the reduction of the work calendar. Right now they are discussing two days which would be $500,000. Every day they do not work, it is $250,000. One of the questions is how much of that has to come from instructional days. The board seems willing to double that to four days given the amount of money this would save. Part of this depends on the legislature approving the reduction of school days.

Those cuts still only save about $2.3 million for 2009-10 and $1.8 million for 10-11. The remainder of the money will come this year from the transfer of categorical fund balance. The next two years they will transfer $1.1 million from categorical allocations. They think reductions in restricted funds can give them $400,000 and for this year there was a $200,000 Adult Education Fund Balance that the adult school director volunteered to give back to the district.

With those cuts, you can see that we remain in deficit spending but we remain in the black across this period in terms of ending fund balance. Notice that the reserve is gone though by 2010-11 which means we could be facing problems for 11-12 if the state budget situation does not improve and it is not expected to.

So if the district gets class size reduction flexibility, we are in decent shape.

Without that flexibility, we are still okay but we have $1 million less next year and $2 million less in 2010-11. That means that our fund balance will be almost gone by then and we will really face potential problems in 2010-11.

The bottom line is that we are most likely going to be okay through 2010-11 given current assumptions and hoping that the state budget picture does not get much worse.

From my perspective it is not clear that we will have that categorical flexibility that the governor has built into the budget. But we'll have to see what the legislature and governor eventually decide when they finally agree on a budget.

Of course all bets are off if the state actually starts running out of money has to default on payments to local schools.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

UC Service Workers Come To Contract Agreement

Take First Step Out of Poverty with Historic Contract

After more than seven months since a week of strikes press for new negotiations, over 8500 UC Services workers reached agreement with the University of California that union officials lauded as the first step to lift thousands of families out of poverty. The agreement includes significant wage increases, a pay system that rewards seniority and a first time ever statewide minimum wage for their job classifications.

According to a release from AFSCME 3299, here is a statement from Kathryn Lybarger, who is a Gardner at UC Berkeley:
“This has been a truly historic fight for all of us. For years, we have been struggling to make ends meet each month on UC’s low wages. Finally UC executives have recognized their moral responsibility to provide a wage increase that will start to lift us and our families out of poverty, and provide better jobs in our communities.”
Lakesha Harrison, President, AFSCME Local 3299:
“After a year and half of negotiations, this is truly a historic day. We have gone on strike, held informational pickets, lobbied, ran television commercials and many other things that were key to get UC executives to do the right thing and readjust their priorities from executives to the lowest paid workers at UC.”
“We appreciate the strong support of many of California’s leading elected officials and community organizations. Lt. Governor Garamendi, State Senator Leland Yee, Speaker Karen Bass, Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, State Senator Gloria Romero, State Senator Gil Cedillo, Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, CLUE and other religious leaders, and many others helped convey the importance to the leadership of the University to get a fair and just contract for service workers. We appreciate their support for starting to end poverty wages at UC.”
This new agreement includes wages increases over five years of 4%, 3%, 3%, 3%, and 3%. For the first time, UC service workers will have a state wide minimum wage that reaches $14.00/hour by the end of the contract. In addition the contract includes the adoption of a fair pay system that gives employees credit for their service and dedication to the University. The agreement also includes stronger benefits protections.

Lt. Governor John Garamendi and a UC Regent released a statement:
“This is a good settlement. It will give some of the lowest paid workers at the greatest university system in the world enough of a salary to meet the minimum needs of their families. It should also be noted that only a small portion of the worker’s contract comes from the state budget.”
This is one of the key points. For those wondering why the lowest paid workers would get a raise during these budget times, the majority of funds do not come from the state budget as we have mentioned in the past. Instead they come from the proceeds from the quasi-private hospital profits.

Just a week and a half ago, about 60 workers went to the San Francisco office of UC Regent Richard Blum. The purpose of their visit was to try and talk to him directly regarding their contract. During their visit, the workers asked to meet and/or talk with Regent Blum in person or by telephone. When Regent Blum denied their request, 20 of these low wage service workers sat down and refused to leave.

At the time, President Yudof's response to the worker demands was to ask that these actions stop despite independent analysis that shows something like 96% of the 8500 UC Service workers receive low enough wages to qualify for some form of public assistance.

Despite the rhetoric from the President, the action seemed to push the process forward and resulted in an eventual contract for the workers.

State Senator Leland Yee has been a strong advocate for the workers from the start.
“I am pleased that the University finally reached an agreement with the service workers. These are tough economic times for everyone, but even more so for these low-wage workers and their families. This new contract is well-deserved and much-needed. While this contract brings the University one step closer to ending poverty wages for all workers, it is imperative that the UC also provides shared governance of the employee pension plan – a role every other public pension plan in the state provides workers.”
This contract seems to be a good start toward moving these workers toward more competitive living wages in the future. It has been a hard fought and long battle, but the workers and their representatives seem excited about the outcome.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Councilmember Souza and the Council Put a Stop to a Rehearing on 233 B

As we reported on Saturday, the City Attorney Harriet Steiner suggested that she erred in her assessment that Councilmember Sue Greenwald was not conflicted out of a vote cast on November 4, 2008 against a redesign of the 233 B Street property. Therefore the city staff determined that the applicant could request a rehearing without going through the normal reconsideration process.

The council will meet at a later point to modify and correct conflict of interest policies. We have discussed this at length already.

Despite applicant Marie Ogrydziak and her chief advocate on the council, Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor attempting to couch this in terms of procedural fairness, the vote really came down to whether or not a rehearing would change the outcome. Ms. Ogrydziak would argue that it would--that councilmember Sue Greenwald had a large affect on the vote and therefore it was only fair to rehear without prejudice.

Marie Ogrydziak read a statement before council. She explained the background of why she believed Councilmember Sue Greenwald's house was within 500 feet. She pointed out that the Councilmember had to recuse herself for a 2004 project at the same location.
"Sue Greenwald should have been recused from the November 4 votes for the 233 B St project. Her votes had two major effects. One was essential for the rejection of a motion to include green considerations in the project approval process. And the other was essential for the appeal of our planning commission vote."
She then snarkly suggested:
"Jokingly we considered plate tectonics as a possible explanation for why four years later Sue Greenwald's property was now more than 500 feet from the 233 B St property."
She then accused the city of engaging in a "creative approach" to "attempt to prove that no mistake was made because there is no conflict of interest."

She continued:
"We believe such an approach starts the city of Davis down a slippery slope."
Ms. Ogrydziak then suggests it might be possible to find a realtor who would finds no impact on Sue Greenwald's property value, but suggests that would be contrived.

Amazingly she then argues for recussal on the basis of Sue Greenwald disagreeing with her vision for B St and that neighborhood:
"For many years Sue Greenwald and a small group developed and advocated a vision for what she sees as her neighborhood including B St. Several of our proposals and our actions run counter to her vision. As a private citizen she spoke against our first project at the 2004 council meeting and twice against our current 233 B project at planning commission meetings this summer... We believe in many ways Sue Greenwald is too close to this project and that she should recuse herself as it seems impossible that she can be impartial on this matter."
She then appealed to the council on the basis of fairness:
"In reality this vote is not about the project but about fairness and support for sound city policy."
Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor advocated for the staff recommendation:
"I think this is a procedural matter strictly, this is a matter of whether in due process and fairness the earlier hearing we had was proper."
Mayor Asmundson initially went along with the process believing that is what the council unanimously supported.
"To be fair we erred in terms of distance, regardless of whether there will be change, we need to rehear the item."
Don Saylor moved approval of staff recommendation. Councilmember Lamar Heystek seconded the motion with the friendly amendment that we "respectfully ask the applicant to work further with neighbors to further modify the design."

This was not acceptable to Mayor Pro Tem Saylor because "it prejudges the outcome of that conversation."

As a result Councilmember Heystek withdrew his second and Mayor Ruth Asmundson seconded the motion instead.

Katherine Hess suggested that if there was a different proposal submitted, it would be appropriate to send it back to the Planning Commission and the Historic Resources Management Commission.

Councilmember Stephen Souza pushed for a substitute motion requesting the applicant work with the neighborhood for changes within the design that came forward and to take that through the Planning Commission and the Historic Resources Management Commission. Councilmember Heystek seconded it.

Mayor Pro Tem Saylor then said he would vote against this on procedural issues and suggested that the
"applicant would have a course of action against the city if they didn't allow a resubmittal with no fees."
City Attorney Harriet Steiner shot that suggestion down:
"I do not believe that the applicant has a legal cause of action against the city by reason of what happened and Sue's participation at the last meeting."
The council danced around for a bit, it appeared that no motion would gain more than two votes. Finally, Councilmember Stephen Souza put his foot down.
"I'm going to be straight out, I'm going to vote against the project if it comes back to us exactly as it was. So we're putting her through the process without any change in the outcome. So what I'm saying in my motion is that if you want to see me vote in the affirmative, you have to change the project. The project has to meet the guidelines as I see them in order for me to affirmatively vote for it. I think it is the best thing for this process to go through a process of neighborhood discussion."
He continued:
"I'll vote against bringing it back for a rehearing because I think it's a waste of time. I don't want our time to be wasted and I would prefer we give direction that's positive."
Councilmember Souza's plea was so strong he pulled Mayor Asmundson with him and the council voted 3-1 to reject the rehearing with Councilmember Saylor dissenting.


I had a problem with the way in which this issue came about. Let us forget for a moment the procedural mess that city staff and the city attorney made of this issue and let us focus for a moment on the applicant.

I will start out by saying on a technical level, I understand her plea for procedural fairness. The issue of whether or not Sue Greenwald was actually conflicted out has not been resolved satisfactorily however from my standpoint and I think the council has taken a good step in getting clarification on this. Based on that uncertainty, I think the council should have deferred the decision if they were inclined to grant a rehearing on that basis.

But frankly Councilmember Souza was right here--and quite forceful about it. The fact is that the reason he voted to abstain and kill the project in November remains just as relevant today. Ms. Ogrydziak in her letter seemed to assume that Councilmember Souza would continue to abstain. That ignores statements he made both before and after his initial vote. Namely that he didn't think this project was appropriate for that site.

More appallingly to me is the fact that Ms. Ogrydziak seems far more concerned about procedural fairness towards her project rather than the feelings of her neighbors. At that November 4, 2008 meeting, former Mayor Maynard Skinner presented a letter signed by all but one of the neighbors in opposition to the project. Mr. Skinner generously came back last night to offer to meet with the applicant to produce a more suitable project but was essentially rebuffed.

To me this entire appeal was a slap in the face to Ms. Ogrydziak's neighbors. How does it further the process of reconciliation if she attempts to essentially do an end-run around the initial decision without addressing a single neighbor's concern? That does not seem like a good faith gesture to me. In fact just the opposite. She was far more concerned about getting her process a new hearing that dealing and mitigating the concerns of those most affected by her project.

Fortunately, thanks to Councilmember Heystek's persistence and Councilmember Souza's forceful and needed bluntness, Mayor Asmundson recognized that any effort to rehear without major revisions to the project would be a waste of the council's time.

Sadly Councilmember Saylor was dogged in his advocacy for Ms. Ogrydziak's project. While at one point he suggested to her that the council had made it clear that they wanted changes, nevertheless, he voted in the end to waste the council's time with a rehearing that would change nothing. Moreover since the city would have waived applicant fees, the city would be eating money in addition to the time to resolve this issue.

At one point, Mr. Saylor suggested irresponsibly that the city might face a cause of action if they did not grant a rehearing--why would he bring this up in open session? If this was truly his concern, why would he not have discussed it with the City Attorney in advance? In fact, the City Attorney had already written in the staff report that she did not think the city was obliged for a rehearing and she was forced to reiterate this point in open council. This was tantamount to a not-so-subtle threat that was made by Ms. Ogrydziak and carried by Mr. Saylor.

In the end, the council acted responsibly by suggesting yet again that Ms. Ogrydziak needs to go back to the drawing board, redesign the project, and for crying out loud, work with the neighbors.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

City Facing Budget Crisis, Cutback on Youth Programs and Award Honoring Slain Teen

In a letter from Mayor Ruth Asmundson pasted on the city's page for the Golden Heart Awards this year, it reads:
"As a result of the death of Andrew Mockus in April 1992, the City of Davis Recreation and Park Commission expanded its commitment to the youth of our community. Forums were held throughout the community to discuss the problems of youth and to brainstorm on how the community could do more to meet the needs of youth.

After careful consideration, the Commission suggested the City Council adopt several recommendations. One of the Commission recommendations was to develop the Golden Heart Award. The purpose of the Award is to recognize outstanding youth in the community. There are two different categories within the Award: the service award and the personal challenge award. The service award recognizes individuals who have given significant service to the community, their peers, and/or their school. The personal challenge award recognizes individuals who have overcome a significant challenge in their life."
However, due to budgetary problems this year, City Staff is recommending that the Golden Heart Award and our "commitment to the youth of our community" be canceled.

In February of last year, the Davis City Council honored nine students with Golden Heart Awards.
"The Golden Heart Awards, which began in 1994, represent the best of the community in honor of Andrew Mockus , a 14-year-old Davis student who was killed by a group of youths in 1992 — an act that represented the worst of the community.

Following his death, forums were held to discuss issues facing the community's youths and ways the city could do more to meet their needs. The city adopted seven recommendations, including the Golden Heart Awards to honor courageous and kind students in grades 7-12."
Recipients last year included:
"Brandon Kitchen, a 15-year-old student at Holmes Junior High School, received a Golden Heart Award for his ability to overcome serious challenges after a biking accident that resulted in eight major surgeries, many months in bed and almost a year in a wheelchair."
The award was created in 1994 following the brutal beating death of 14 year-old Andrew Mockus in 1992.

From a Davis Enterprise retrospective published April 24, 2002:
"Ten years ago today, Davis residents discovered that an unthinkable act of violence -- one they thought occurred only in other towns -- had, in fact, taken place in their own back yard.

On the night of April 24, 1992, 14-year-old Andrew Mockus was brutally beaten and robbed of $2 by three other teens, then pushed into the side of a moving freight train and killed. The incident occurred in a gully near UC Davis, a popular gathering place for youths at the time.

Two days after Andrew's death, Solano County authorities arrested Michael Johnson, 17, and Andrew Childs, 16, both Davis residents and students at King High School. A third boy, 14-year-old Joshua Bettencourt, also took part in the beating but was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony."
At the time of the article, not much was known of the fate of the culprits upon their release.
"Today, little is known about the whereabouts of Andrew's assailants. Childs would have been released from the CYA at age 20, and his public defender, Harvey Bender, said he has not heard from his former client. CYA officials declined to release either Johnson's or Child's release dates."
However one of the youths, would kill again.
"What is known is that Bettencourt's involvement in violence and death did not end on that night in 1992. In December 1995, Bettencourt was involved in a road-rage incident at a Carmichael intersection in which he shot another man four times and killed him. Claiming he shot in self-defense, Bettencourt pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter and served five years in state prison before being paroled last October."
The story also quotes UC Davis Professor Larry Berman:
"That is to me the greatest injustice and the greatest miscarriage of our system, that they're walking on the streets and Andrew is dead," said Larry Berman, who was Andrew's baseball coach. He organized the planting of a memorial grove of redwood trees near the baseball field at Holmes Junior High, where Andrew was a student...

He remembers Andrew as a boy with great potential and a "wicked curve ball..."
"I walk by Holmes Junior High and look at the memorial grove," Berman said. "I remember the generosity of the community as they contributed funds to the grove and the bench that's there. The senselessness has been replaced by the great memories of Andrew."
Now however the community led by the city staff is on the verge of forgetting about not only Andrew Mockus but their commitment to youths.

In addition to staff proposals to eliminated the Golden Heart awards tomorrow evening, they are also talking about initiating "a $2.00 per drop-in rate for the High School Open Gym program."

In other words, they are going to charge youths $2 to play basketball. This is how the city is dealing with their budget problems.

The Recreation and Park Commission reviewed and discussed the various proposed fees for Recreation Activities in November 2008.

According to the staff report they agree with all of the proposed fee recommendations with one exception:
"the exception of the $2.00 High School Open Gym fee. The Commission also expressed their overall concern for the rate of fee increases associated with programs that are primarily targeted to the teen population. The Commission expressed their desire to have a more comprehensive discussion with the Council related to appropriate subsidy of these types of activities."
One councilmember is very concerned about these fee hikes and the loss of the Golden Heart Awards. Councilmember Lamar Heystek told the Vanguard, we should be looking elsewhere for balancing our budget.
"I find it disturbing that we are considering balancing our budget in all the wrong places. I cannot in good conscience vote to charge kids to play "open-gym" basketball. I cannot in good conscience cut the recreational scholarship fund for low-income families by $5,000. And I cannot in good conscience vote to eliminate the Golden Heart Awards, a program that was created in response to the brutal death of 14-year-old Andrew Mockus."
Of all of these, the Golden Heart Awards which honors the life of a fallen youth seem the most outrageous to cut.

It is not even clear there is a cost to the city associated with the awards. Regardless, this seems to be the wrong area to cutback funding. If the city is concerned about youth activities and youth getting into trouble with drugs and alcohol, cutbacks in these areas are the wrong way to go. As are cutbacks in the area of encouraging youth to give back their community. Given the enormous budget deficit, these programs amount to literally pennies. We need to start with the bigger cuts and hold off on these kind of cuts until we have a better sense for what is needed.

I would hope the city of Davis finds a way to continue to honor the memory of Andrew Mockus with the annual awards that encourage youth to give back to their community.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Monday, January 26, 2009

Commentary: City Manager Bill Emlen's New Contract

For those that like to criticize the Vanguard for picking favorites, something that indeed occurs, here is a deviant case. In general, the Vanguard has been supportive of the efforts of DJUSD Associate Superintendent and Chief Budget Officer Bruce Colby. He has helped cleaned up to a substantial degree the mess left behind by his corrupt predecessor Tahir Ahad.

The Vanguard to a large degree credits the efforts of Bruce Colby for keeping the district afloat last year financially and putting the district in position to be able to possibly ride out the next year and a half without a slew of pink slips. In fact, if you look at the article below, without the efforts of Mr. Colby, we would likely be telling a very different story.

On the other hand, the Vanguard has been in general, particularly critical of Davis City Manager Bill Emlen. We can look at his recent handling of the Grand Jury report investigation into the fire department as an example of clear mismanagement. The list can go on and on from there.

However, the Vanguard does indeed need to give Mr. Emlen relative praise compared to Mr. Colby in terms of the handling of their own contract extensions.

Bruce Colby has already drawn criticism from this blog for his taking what amounts to a 5% COLA increase on an ongoing basis during a time when his teachers will once again get zero cola, and during a time when the district will once again have to tighten its budget.

Moreover it seems that district felt that if they did not raise his salary, Mr. Colby would be looking elsewhere and the district may find itself doing a CBO search during these economic times. The district is already without a full budget office staff, to have to find a replacement CBO at this stage would be devastating.

So it seems we can support the job effort but not the approach of Mr. Colby. I write that as one who genuinely likes the guy and thinks he does a very good job.

The bottom line here is principle not the money itself. A 5% pay increase is not going to make or break the district's budget. But the principle of the matter is important as is the loss of flexibility. Essentially, Mr. Colby's raise requires his own office to operate unstaffed in order to accommodate increases in his salary. In short, he's doing more work for the additional pay, the question is whether the district will regret the loss of flexibility in the future.

On Tuesday night, by contrast, we have City Manager Bill Emlen taking the opposite approach. Mr. Emlen is basically saying what we believe Bruce Colby should have said, in light of the current fiscal crisis, Mr. Emlen is forgoing a cost of living adjustment and a merit increase. Mr. Emlen will receive the same base salary as he did last year.

Not that he is going to the poor house with his $158,000 salary. However, on a comparative level, Mr. Emlen is making considerably less than many of his counterparts and certainly than his counterpart with the school district, Dr. James Hammond (let alone Mr. Colby).

We do take some issue with the city council however. Mr. Emlen once again has had the time frame extended by which he would have to relocate to Davis from Vacaville. He now has until June 30, 2012 unless the city modifies the city code requirement for the city manager to reside within the City.

Mr. Emlen has now been city manager for two and a half years. The current claim is the drop in the price of the housing market and therefore the loss of money. However, that is of course a recent excuse. Frankly, this is not the people of Davis' problem.

It was suggested in the Davis Enterprise article that Davis has not suffered from a loss of service based on the fact that Mr. Emlen does not reside in the city. First of all, how was that study performed and quantified? Second and most importantly, this is a matter of principle and following the current laws on the book.

Nevertheless, this is largely a side issue. The city manager has set the tone at least for now, that he is not going to be asking for more money during tough economic times.

The larger question though goes well beyond the tens of thousands in dollars in the midst of a budget deficit that will extend into the millions that the city manager saved the city. The larger question is whether Mr. Emlen can deliver for the city good strong employee contracts that will lead to a sustainable budget into the future. The larger question is whether Mr. Emlen can do a better job of handling crises that arise such as the Fire Department Grand Jury investigation.

The bottom line here is that while we applaud one single aspect of Mr. Emlen's conduct, namely his professionalism with regards to his own contract, we have to question and somewhat harshly the overall job he has done.

At the same time we applaud the job that Mr. Colby has done, we question his priorities when it comes to his own contract situation.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Policies Implemented Last Year and Passage of Measure W Put Davis in Good Position Relative to Neighbors

One of the constant refrains posted on the Vanguard for much of the last year, has been the consistent comparison between the Davis school situation and that of Woodland.

That refrain is typified by this question posted on September 22, 2008:
"Why were Woodland schools able to weather the storm, w[ith] no teacher layoffs, yet we were going to lay off nearly 100 teachers in Davis? That is a huge discrepancy that has not been answered satisfactorily for me."
The implication of the question was that the problems that Davis faced last spring and that necessitated Measure W were based on local problems rather than statewide revenue shortfalls.

The answer generally given to that question was that Woodland was able to survive in part on reserves and one-time money and that their problems were going to come in future years.

It is very unfortunate that those answers have largely been proven right. Davis stands in relatively good position to whether at least the first year and a half of the financial storm based in part on the passage of Measures Q and W, and a good job of managing its carryover funds.

Woodland, unfortunately, on the other hand, is facing what Davis faced last spring.

In article published on Saturday, entitled, "Deep cuts are near for WJUSD," Woodland Daily Democrat reported:
"With no solution in sight to the state's financial problems, Woodland Unified School District staff are bracing for future lost revenue by planning staff reductions and putting cost-saving measures in place."
Oh but there is more:
"But that's just one of the financial hurdles the district faces. Not only are they expecting close to $6 million in cuts in the next 18 months -- about $300 less per student -- but declining enrollment is producing a nearly $700,000 loss."
Wait a second, I could not have read this right. Did they say not only do they face, $6 million in cuts, but are facing $700,000 from declining enrollment. I thought Woodland had a lot of development recently and development helps ensure there is no declining enrollment? I thought Davis needed to develop more so that we did not suffer from declining enrollment. I am very confused.
The district must start making hard budgetary decisions even without a clear plan from the state, interim superintendent Carmella Franco said.

"The problem is that we have to have a plan to the board by February so we can't wait for the legislature," Franco said. "We know they're going to be horrible cuts but we can't wait."

Harsh cuts in personnel and teachers will need to be made by March 15 so that employees will know whether they will continue to work next year.

"We're operating with no guidance," Interim Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Paul Disario said.
Davis is in a similar situation in terms of not knowing what the budget is going to look like, but having been through this last year, Davis is now in far better shape to get by than Woodland.

Woodland is now looking to approve an Energy Saving Program--something DJUSD already has done. They are looking at an across the board reduction of all district department budgets, 10% reduction in discretionary budgets, and a 10 percent freeze in the school categorical funds. Finally they are talking about an early retirement incentive plan with about 120 eligible employees.

The bottom line is that these are tough times for education, the state is going to make deep cuts no matter whose budget plan we look at. Davis is in far better shape now as opposed to last year because of the steps already taken and because of public generosity.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Sunday, January 25, 2009

EPA Reluctantly Agrees to Further Testing of the Superfund Site

The city-county two by two met on Friday at the Davis County Offices for the Board of Supervisors. The two by two is comprised of two members of the Davis City Council, Mayor Ruth Asmundson and Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor, and two members of the County Board of Superivisors, the two Davis representatives, Helen Thomson and Jim Provenza.

One item that was discussed was the issue of the Frontier Chemical Superfund Site and the recent discovery of TCP that has been covered extensively not only on this blog but in this community.

The EPA had been reluctant to do more testing and take additional steps. According to Pam Nieberg, President of the Frontier Fertilizer Superfund Oversight Group, the EPA official had not taken the latest discovery of TCP seriously. This contradicted what City Staffer Mike Webb told the group, that he was confident that the EPA was taking this matter seriously.

However, after community pressure, the EPA agreed to do more testing to determine the source and extent of the contamination.

In a January 15, 2009 letter to Congressman Mike Thompson, the EPA wrote:
"Our analysis of these data indicates the TCP is limited to a small area to the east of the Target building, and at concentrations which do not present a current health risk to the community or Target workers. Nonetheless, to address community concerns, EPA is adding additional sample locations to our current workplan to further investigate TCP in this area. Further, while EPA has been asked by several residents to delay the construction of the Target store while we complete out TCP investigation in this area, we believe the investigation can take place around the Taget development, as the proposed Target building footprint location does not have TCP groundwater or vapor contamination."
Supervisor Jim Provenza however, flatly disagreed with that assessment stating that he thought Target was taking a risk by building the store before the EPA completed its investigation.

While he said it does not presently appear that the TCP is an immediate threat to the public health, he was concerned that chemicals like TCP tend to move. If it migrates under the Target store or to nearby homes, it could vaporize inside the buildings and pose a cancer risk with prolonged exposure.

Jim Provenza further said it was vital that the county and city insure that EPA did not walk away from the site prematurely. Neither the city, county, or state have the resources to do toxic clean up.

Meanwhile the city and county played an interesting game of "hot potato" with the issue. Jeff Pinnow from Environmental Health basically blamed the city for failing to forward enough documents to the county. The city apparently suddenly expressed the desire to have a liaison to the FFSOG, something they had attended sporadically in the past.

Mike Webb told the group:
"We're satisfied the EPA is taking this seriously."
According to members of the FFSOG, Mr. Webb never spoke to their group about the matter, only the EPA.

Pam Nieberg disputed some of the contentions by the EPA in their letter to Mike Thompson.

First, the EPA suggested that the TCP was not a threat to the public's drinking water. According to Pam Nieberg, that was never the group's concern.
"We were never concerned that someone was going to drink that water or that the TCP could get into our wells but that it was an issue of the volatility and carcogenicity of TCP."
Furthermore, the EPA say that the detection levels of TCP were very low.
"Their own toxocologist did the calculations and confirmed that the levels put them into the cancer risk range for anyone exposed to the vapors to long periods of time--like in a home."
Despite the fact that the EPA was surprised by these findings and had no idea where the higher levels were coming from, the EPA was never going to do anything about this except for the consistent pressure from the public.

The city council will have a full report on this matter during the Tuesday City Council Meeting. It was placed on the agenda as a consent item and an informational item, however, it will apparently be pulled from consent and discussed.

Basically, the city is going to attend FFSOG meetings and get updates. The EPA has reluctantly agreed to do more testing.

Meanwhile Target has not poured the foundation as of yet. They are expected to do it next month according to a single-sentence in the Sacramento Bee Article.
"City planners said Friday that the store's concrete slab would be poured next month."
Remember in December, the response from Target was that if they did not pour the foundation by January 5, 2009, it was going to delay the opening. That was one of the reasons that Target could not do any testing. You can go back and look at the previous comments on the subject and all the Target supporters were up in arms about this.

Guess what folks, Target has not poured the foundation yet. It has nothing to do with this issue. They just have not poured the foundation yet. Anyone believe that the store opening will be delayed? I sure do not. It does not take that long to build a store once you are faced with a deadline. The argument was a canard. They could wait for the EPA to complete their tests. They just do not want to. The EPA could have been almost done with their tests by now had they started in November when they found out about this.

As I have said before, this really has nothing to do with Target other than the issue of the health and safety of their workers who might be exposed to fumes from the TCP over time. The bigger concern is determining where the TCP is and whether it represents a threat to those living in Mace Ranch.

It was refreshing to see how little communication goes on between different agencies, particularly the city of Davis, the EPA, and the Yolo County Health Department. Jeff Pinnow admitted they were out of the loop, so too did Mike Webb.

---David M. Greenwald reporting