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Saturday, February 21, 2009

It is Time To End the Two-Thirds Rule

In theory the requirement in California to obtain the consent of two-thirds of the legislature to vote for a budget sounds like an idea that would promote consensus building and bipartisanship. I wish I could say that was in the intent, but it was more mundane. The intent was to prevent tax increases from being enacted. For many years it has accomplished exactly that; however as time has gone on, it has exacted a higher and higher price. It has prevented the type of wholesale structural changes that we need for reform to take place.

It has led to gridlock, forcing budget after budget to be adopted late. It has led to unnecessary delay, wasted time, and worse yet, in a crisis outright paralysis.

An early February Public Policy Institute of California survey showed that for the first time, a majority of Californians supported altering the two-thirds vote requirement to require a 55% vote. That was before our latest drama with the budget.

For years Democrats have wanted to take it on. Now for the first time they are serious about doing so. The only question is how soon they do it and whether or not there is finally the political will for it to succeed.

At the core, were Republicans who seemingly were willing to plunge California into fiscal crisis rather than vote for a tax increase that their own leadership said they had no choice but to support because it was the only way to balance the budget. At which point, at least in the Senate, they got rid of their leadership and elected a more intractable leader.

It was a process that saw one Senator exact a high price in order to finally secure his, the 27th vote in the Senate, and secure the passage of the budget. The price is a constitutional amendment to have an open primary.

Without the two-thirds vote requirement it is clear that the open primary issue would have never come forward. Speaker Karen Bass at the post-budget vote press conference early Thursday morning expressed regret that it came forward in the manner that it did without the kind of public process she would have preferred.
“I will tell you that none of us felt very comfortable with putting a bill forward like the open primary because it was never heard by a committee, there was no public process, that's not the way we like to do business. But the fact of the matter is that just represents one of the many many many difficult choices that we made over these last few weeks.”
She continued:
“If we didn't have the two-thirds requirement to pass the budget tonight's open primary issue would not have even been a concern. We would have passed a budget a long time ago. But you very well know that we needed one more Republican vote in order to pass this budget. And the requirement for that vote was to pass this bill.”
Indeed both Speaker Bass as well as Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg seem ready to lead the effort to repeal the two-thirds vote requirement.

As Pro Tem Steinberg said:
“The answer in my view is to take this two-thirds supermajority requirement. We are one of three states in the country that allows a small minority of members to hold up the progress.... It doesn't really work for California; it worked this time barely because of the magnitude of the crisis... We need to take the question this two-thirds supermajority to the ballot. I feel even stronger now than I did when I started on December 1.”
Speaker Karen Bass was also ready for the two-thirds requirement to go.
“One of the things I want to be voting on, if not in 09, then 2010, and that's the removal of the 2/3rds vote requirement so that California can be like 47 other states in the union. So the next time when we have a deficit like this we won't go months and months for negotiations.”
The big problem is that two-thirds vote requirement does not produce consensus building, but rather political blackmail, horse trading, quid pro quo, and it often requires the passage of pork in order to secure votes.

To the hold outs get the spoils. Senator Lou Correa is getting an extra $140 million in property tax revenue for Orange County over the next two years and $50 million after that. You see, Orange County happens to have the second lowest per capita property tax revenue in the state. You know who has the lowest? YOLO COUNTY.

However Yolo County is not getting that help, despite a $22 million deficit for 2009-10 in a budget of $66 million. Why is Yolo County not getting that help? Because Senator Lois Wolk and Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada did not blackmail the Democratic leadership and holdout for pork or other promises.

Senator Correa was not alone. Senator Ashburn, one of three Republican votes got a $10,000 tax credit to people who buy new homes.

And of course it is well known about all the things that Senator Maldonado got in exchange for his vote. There is nothing new about this though.

There is concern that the deal cut with Senator Maldonado to enable the budget to be passed sets a bad precedent. That was downplayed to a large degree. Speaker Bass argued that these types of things always happen, although it is more likely to be a specific project or even policy.
“Every year the budget is debated and frankly at the end of every session there's last minute horse trading. Until we get rid of the two-thirds vote requirement we will be doing the same thing.”
Senator Steinberg:
“I don't like it and it was an unpleasant part of the process, but I'll tell you what the answer is. The answer in my view is to take this two-thirds supermajority requirement.”
That movement is already underfoot.

The Courage Campaign has already launched a campaign to end the two-thids vote.
"The rule requiring a 2/3rds vote of the legislature to pass a budget allowed a small cabal of extremist Republicans led by Senator Abel Maldonado to hold the state hostage to their demands, as they have done year after year. As Rachel Maddow explained on her show, this is part of a pattern of Republican obstruction across America."
They are not alone. Word is the Democrats in the legislature have already hired consultants to spearhead the initiative drive.

The League of California Cities recently put out a publication where the focus was on the two-thirds vote requirements. The side in favor of retaining the two-thirds requirement is represented by Assemblyman Roger Niello. At least give him credit, he was one of the three in the Assembly to vote for the bill.

John Laird, an Assemblymember and former League of California Cities board member writes for the opposing side.

One of the problems hanging over the process is the fact that Republicans who vote for these budgets put themselves in electoral jeopardy:
"After a 2001 budget in which four Assembly Republicans joined all Democrats in approving a budget, for various reasons not one of those Republican legislators returned after the next election. That experience hangs over every budget."
Indeed this time we saw a conservative blogger put Republicans heads on the pike, threats from Rush Limbaugh, and the very real possibility of recall for Assemblyman Anthony Adams.

The Redlands Daily Facts reports:
Sen. Robert Dutton on Friday asked state Assemblyman Anthony Adams to resign as chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Party after Adams voted in favor of nearly $13 million in temporary tax hikes.


"Anthony Adams has called Senate Republicans `recalcitrant' because they won't support a budget proposal that raises taxes on hard-working California families by more than $13 billion," Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, said in a prepared statement Friday. "It's clear that Assemblyman Adams doesn't represent the core values of the Republican Party and I am calling on him to immediately resign as chair of the San Bernardino Republican Party."
As the Sacramento Bee reported in the Capitol Alerts, he knows this is probably the end of his political career :
Republican Assemblyman Anthony Adams cast his "aye" budget vote at dawn today with full knowledge that, as he has said, "this will probably be the end of a political career for me."


"I think it's important that people know that my caucus is supportive -- that I'm not making any decision lightly," Adams said on his way into a GOP member's office Wednesday. "I'm also not making a decision outside the realm of our caucus. I'm not out there by myself or trying to engage in something that does not have the support of my caucus."
The Bee article continues:
A recall effort against him is already afoot.

The 38-year old lawmaker has been in anti-tax advocates' crosshairs ever since a Sacramento Bee story on Jan. 22 and an appearance later that day on the John and Ken radio show in Southern California. The shock jocks were blasting Republicans, including Adams, for telling The Bee that taxes were on the table in budget talks.

"I dare with the full knowledge that this will probably be the end of a political career for me," Adams told the radio duo. "But the fact of the matter is California is in a place where they need people who are willing to sacrifice their own personal agenda for what's right."
The radio hosts responded by posting an image of Adams' decapitated head on a stick on their Web site.
Truth be told, Anthony Adams is much closer to a hero in the budget battle than Abel Maldonado ever was. He never tried to hijack the process or hold the state for ransom. Instead, he did what he believed he needed to do to protect the state of California and exercise his constitutional duties as an elected official. For that he is probably looking at the end of his political career.

This weekend it is reported that at the Republican's state convention that the six Republican lawmakers will face the possibility of censure by their own political party.

Who would want to subject themselves to that? Who will do so in the future the next time a budget fight comes down and the legislators have to grapple with unpleasant choices? This is not done. There is a possibility that the May revise will be bring even worse news.

The movement is already afoot to repeal the two-thirds vote requirement. On February 18k, 2009, a ballot initiative was already circulating with the California Secretary of State's webpage to do exactly that.

In fact there are two of them.

The language of the first:
"STATE BUDGET. REPEAL OF TWO-THIRDS LEGISLATIVE VOTE REQUIREMENT. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Lowers the legislative vote requirement necessary to pass the state budget, and spending bills related to the budget, from sixty-seven percent (two-thirds) to fifty five percent. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Unknown changes in the content of the annual state budget. Fiscal impact would depend on the composition and actions of future Legislatures. (08-0022.)"
The second one would retain the two-thirds vote requirement for raising property taxes but remove it for the budget.
STATE BUDGET. TAXES. REPEAL OF TWO-THIRDS LEGISLATIVE VOTE REQUIREMENT. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Lowers the legislative vote requirement necessary to pass the state budget, spending bills related to the budget, and budget-related tax increases, from sixty-seven percent (two-thirds) to fifty-five percent. Retains sixty-seven percent (two-thirds) vote requirement for property tax increases. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Unknown state fiscal impacts from lowering the legislative vote requirement for spending and tax increases related to the budget. In some cases, the content of the annual state budget could change and/or state tax revenues could increase. Fiscal impact would depend on the composition and actions of future Legislatures. (08-0023.)
As this process shows us quite clearly, we need to change the system for so many ways. First, in an emergency we get a watered down budget that often does not fix the problems.

Second, it leads to delay. Had we passed this back in September of last year, the tax measures could have gone on the November ballot rather than this year's May ballot, and the state could have saved the multimillion dollar cost of a special election. Moreover, the delay cost the state billions of dollars, it costs people jobs, it delayed infrastructure projects that will cost money as well.

Third, it leads to political blackmail. It encouraged holdouts to extort prices for their votes. It gave them perks and rewards for holdout and but the people in districts where the legislators did not hold out often need the help just as badly. The process is inherently unfair.

Fourth, it leads to death threats to politicians, usually Republicans, whose career are now threatened for doing the responsible thing.

And just for good measure, Assemblyman Laird mentions another drawback to the two-thirds process.
"As I write this, the budget is almost two months late. The Democratic legislative committees and the governor have long since proposed balanced budgets with some new taxes, none of which include borrowing.

If by the time you read this, there is borrowing in the budget, it is not what the governor or a majority of the Legislature wanted. It will be the two-thirds requirement that will have leveraged it in so the budget process can conclude. To add insult to injury, often the very interests that leverage borrowing into the budget won’t actually vote for the budget — leaving it to the rest of us to approve a budget that includes things we find distasteful.

It’s said the two-thirds requirement protects fiscal responsibility. I think the opposite is true. We got where we are now with the two-thirds requirement. This is no way to run the government of the eighth largest economy in the world. This needs to be changed. There’s a reason 47 other states do not do this — and that their budgets are adopted on time."
Laird is exactly correct. We do not have fiscal responsibility. We did not pass a responsible budget in September of 2008 and we did not pass one now. We have more borrowing, added pork, we have not fixed the state's structural problems, we have special measures on the ballot, etc. Nothing even resembling fiscal responsibility occurred due to this process.

There is always talk of ending the two-thirds requirement, this time, it appears that there just might be the political will to do it.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Friday, February 20, 2009

DJUSD Looks at State Budget Impact

DTA Stakes Out Position Against Salary Cuts

For the first time, DJUSD last night began working with real budget numbers rather than rough approximations. The bottom line is that California education took a pretty hard hit and unfortunately, they did not get the kind of full categorical flexibility that they were hoping for. In the coming days and weeks, we will examine some of these numbers more thoroughly.

Right now, we will just offer a brief summary of the district's budget picture and focus on some interesting responses from DTA and the community regarding the issue of the Davis High School Football Field and Track Renovation as well DTA's believed preference to take the 20 RFK's rather than a salary reduction.

But first a brief look at the budget climate at least right now. The state decided not to cut the number of school days. So the 180 day school remains in effect. The school district could have saved $250,000 for each day that was cut from the schedule, but that did not make it to the final budget.

Nor for all effective purposes was flexibility in the text books categorical funding. That would have been a way to save over $800,000 by forgoing updated English and Math text books. But again, that is not to be.

Finally, the speculation is that the state is going to soak up all of the federal stimulus money in order to balance their own budget. There was at one point speculation that DJUSD could get one to two million from that pot, but that is believed to be off the table as well.

There is some categorical flexibility, but that flexibility is off-set by nearly one million in categorical fund reductions. Moreover, there are decreased penalties for going over the 20:1 ratio for class size, but it is not a full flexibility either.

In short, the district is going to have to find a way to reduce its deficit and the most likely to occur either through salary cuts to employees or through pink slips.


What is becoming interesting at this point is where the teachers and DTA stand in terms of what the district ought to be doing. Several came up and spoke during public comment expressing displeasure at the district's decision to fund the construction of the new DHS football stadium.

This has become a source of great criticism within the community. Indeed in the Davis Enterprise yesterday appeared two letters criticizing the building of the new stadium.

The most pointed read:
"'Teachers asked to take 2.5% pay cut' along with a higher headline citing the school board's decision to proceed with a $4 million plan to upgrade the football stadium. What a travesty!

Obviously, a stadium is more important than classrooms and teachers and student learning."
Coupled with the criticism during public comment, Superintendent James Hammond responded in perhaps his most heated manner yet attempting to explain once again the funding issue.

What the district needs to understand on this point is that they are not only losing this public relations battle, they are getting killed by it. In terms of the facts, the district is right, the funding sources are different, funds that are available for construction cannot be used for instruction.

Guess what? The public is not going to understand that. They see multimillion dollar upgrades to a football stadium and at the same time the district is contemplating about cutting teacher positions or asking them to take salary cuts, and the public is going to be suspicious of the school district.

The district now puts itself into a bad position. They either have to try to explain this to the public, which will be difficult and perhaps not fruitful. Or they can allow these beliefs to fester. There is no election at this point in time, but people do not forget these kinds of things.

From the teachers standpoint, DTA President Ingrim Salim laid it on the line last night.
"I want to address the stadium question because it is out there. I think what you should all be aware of is that certainly there is different pots of money and many of us can grasp that, but not all of us does. That’s just confusing. It’s going to be really hard to mitigate the effects of the confusion.

The second piece from the DTA standpoint is that while probably from the community standpoint they supported the stadium, certainly within the teaching community, they really wanted to see Emerson renovated. There’s not a way to fix that perception either."
The teacher issue thus is somewhat different. They understand the funding differences, at least in theory, but they believe that the priority should have been Emerson rather than the high school.

The district has a difficult position here because they are correct on two essential points. As mentioned before the funding. And the second problem is that the current situation is untenable. You have a serious safety risk, and that is a liability to the district.

However, the timing of this could not have been worse.


Ingrid Salim's follow up comments were just as interesting. As she laid out for the district the likely but not official DTA position on salary cuts. Basically they would rather take the 20 position cuts rather than a reduction of salary.

Here is her lengthy statement from last night:
"Last year we did have reserves and yet we RFK’d 114 people. So people are just suspicious even though I can look at the budget numbers and see what happened as a result of last year and now we’re not being quite so conservative. But last year there was money in reserves that weren’t applied immediate to personnel. So we RFK’d people, we didn’t end up laying off, and we backfilled. We filled back in with DSF money… But we didn’t use those reserves right away. So that might give some understand about why people keep questioning about are there reserves and are suspicious that there might be. I personally don’t question that, I think we’re using them differently than we did before. That’s just the background of where that suspicion comes from.

The last piece of that is that it’s just real hard to correct misinformation that gets out. Whenever people are defensive and afraid for jobs and for money or whatever they certainly spin things. We can do our best job to try to correct misinformation but it’s just a battle. So just to know that. We can civilly disagree but the battle of misinformation will still be there. And perceptions are very hard to fight.

The other dicey piece is that you asked both unions to consider salary cuts and where w are is a combination of all of these perceptions. The reality is that we would have to have all of our membership voting or over half of them… Our union will be doing a survey to see where people are in terms of what they want to do.

But the undercurrent that we’re getting if we’re really talking about 20 jobs, and last year it was 114 and we weren’t talking about a salary cut, that probably the majority of the people say that’s okay. It’s okay to cut 20 jobs. Basically that’s programs that probably need to be tightened anyway if we’re going to have sustainable education with a smaller budget. The bulk of people that we’re hearing and getting information from, and like I said we don’t have a formal hearing to say that for sure, but that’s sort of the sense we’re getting…

We’re certainly going to ask, we’re certainly going to push forward with this concept, and there are people who say no, let’s take a cut for everyone. But that’s kind of what’s out there right now.

The final part is that there are places where we’d say it would be okay to increase class size, for instance at the 9/ 10. I’m not speaking for DTA, I’m just saying things that we might say. The 9/10 English and Math to [a class size of] 24 instead of 22. That’s not a huge impact on class size reduction. That would be preferable to something like considering a salary cut.

We do worry about the logistics of putting into place something like a salary cut or anything like that, because of the exit strategy—when do you change it? What happens to retirees? And all those little tiny things that just seem huge and overwhelming.

We will start that process next Tuesday [petitioning our members]. We’re pretty comfortable about where things are right now in terms of going forward. We’re going to be going over the budget pretty closely ourselves, finetooth combing, trying to find other ways to meet this deficit."
From my standpoint, the position laid out by Ms. Salim makes a good deal of sense from the teacher's standpoint. Salary cuts are problematic for a number of reasons including the difficulty of making ends meet during tough economic times.

Furthermore two other essential points were raise. First, the sheer number, if it is indeed 20, one would think the likelihood of anyone losing their job was pretty small. For one thing you have attrition through retirements and through people moving.

Second, she makes the point, a point that was made on this blog at times, that if we want to have a sustainable education on a smaller budget, and a smaller budget is the reality right now, then tightening up the programs is probably a way to do it.

The part that somewhat surprised me is that the teachers support a slight increase of class size at the 9/ 10 level, a level given full flexibility by the state, from 22 to 24. She argued that was not a huge impact on class size reduction but was preferable to taking a salary cut.

The bottom line here is that a salary cut would have to be negotiated with the DTA through the collective bargaining process. This was a strong and public signal that DTA is not there right now.

The school district has an ongoing perception problem in dealing with the DHS stadium repair. They had better get on top of that issue or it could backfire on them in the future.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Word To The Wise: The Foreclosure Nightmare Part 2

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee!--PART 2

By E.A. Roberts

Part 1 was published Thursday February 19, 2009

Where Do We Go From Here?

1. Stop encouraging the policy of lending money to folks who do not have the wherewithal to repay.
• Disallow subprime loans, in which borrowers clearly do not have the resources to make payments.

• Use government subsidized “affordable housing” strategies to place low income consumers in homes, rather than pawning off the responsibility to the private sector, which is largely unregulated.

• Encourage people to live within their means.

• Disallow gimmicks by private enterprise that addict consumers to spending.

• Government should set a good example to consumers by balancing its own budget.

• Government cannot keep bailing out private enterprise, which is becoming all too common an occurrence.
2. There must be more government oversight and regulation from the beginning, rather than after the fact, of the following:
• Lending standards

o Proof of employment should be obligatory;
o Sufficient income required;
o Adequate down payment necessary
• Bank/lending institution practices

o Exorbitant executive compensations/perks should be disallowed;
o Compensation should be tied to economic health of company;
o Expensive retreats for non-business purposes should be disallowed.
• Sale of securities

o What type of things can be sold as securities and how can they be sold?
- Ban subprime loans for sale as securities;
- Ban bundling of different types of securities.
o Insist on and enforce an objective credit rating of securities.
3. Make originator of loan accountable for any default - institute tracing system if mortgage is sold as security.

4. Crack down on predatory lending practices.
• Ban Adjustable Rate Mortgages altogether;

• Make sure customer is fully informed as to each and every term of a loan;

• Have strict guidelines for loan refinancing;

• Limit what lending institutions can charge in fees and interest;

• Punish lending institutions that do no conform their behavior to the law
5. End the political and ideological rigidity and polarization that has taken hold in this country. We need to get back to pragmatic policies instituted for the good of the country. Blaming one party or the other is fruitless. There is plenty of blame to go around on both sides of the aisle, in private enterprise, and in regard to consumers.
• Push to obtain minority votes is polarizing this nation;

• Protecting business at all costs is destroying this country;

• Campaign contribution methods are corrupting our political process.
6. Encourage lending institutions to do the right thing, by not giving them any bailout money unless they agree to all of the following:

• Recapitalization of the banking system;

• Restructure mortgages by -
o Eliminating Adjustable Rate Mortgages;
o To avoid foreclosures, restructure existing mortgages -
- From ARMs to fixed rate mortgages;
- Extending time due;
- Decreasing interest rates.

• Limit executive compensation/perks.

• No lavish parties at the company’s expense.

It is predicted that this nation should be done with subprime loan foreclosures in the first quarter of 2009. I am not sure I agree with that statement. There is no doubt the housing market will be flooded with bank owned homes - from one quarter to one third of all homes for sale will be bank owned. This occurrence could push down housing prices even more, perpetuating a vicious cycle, but it could also attract bargain hunters (and speculators).

Borrowers can escape negative equity by dropping their house keys in the bank mailbox and walking away - except they still may be held responsible for any loss the bank takes on the eventual sale of the house at auction. But abandoned homes are a plague on the neighborhood. They often fall into disrepair, and offer an attraction to looters and squatters, dragging down property values of the entire street. Housing market deflation can produce overshooting on the economy’s downside.

Lenders could forgive part of the mortgage or renegotiate the terms of the loan a) from an adjustable rate mortgage to a fixed rate one, b) keep the teaser rate for an extended period, c) increase the length of the loan and/or decrease the interest rate. But because subprime loans have been bundled in a pool with other mortgages sold to a diversified group of investors, the packaging process puts the borrower and lender a labyrinth of a distance away from each other. So the ability to renegotiate has become nearly impossible. Subprime loans packaged into securities skyrocketed from 32% in 1994 to 81% in 2006.

The solution to the “distance” dilemma might be to give the legal right to change the terms of mortgage loans, or forgive part of them, to servicers who collect payments on behalf of creditors. Another idea floating out there is for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government sponsored enterprises whose loose lending policies (prompted by Congress) helped get us into this mess, could buy/guarantee any existing home mortgage at a fixed discount from current principal, e.g. 15%, with the understanding the new mortgage would be supported by federal credit guarantees, with interest rates reduced to perhaps 5% with the payment schedule lengthened. Once these mortgages become liquid/tradable, it would improve the liquidity of the entire financial system, or so the hope goes.

Lesson to be learned: Don’t borrow more than you can afford. Save, save, save. Diversify your investments. Don’t trust everything you read or hear. Bring a good healthy bit of skepticism to the table. Know that not a single person is immune from financial ruin no matter how careful one is. Make sure to keep up with the news, and keep involved in the political system, especially the local scene. Locally is where you can exert the most control on what goes on with your tax dollars.

Part 1 was published Thursday February 19, 2009

Elaine Roberts Musser is an attorney who concentrates her efforts on elder law and aging issues, especially in regard to consumer affairs. If you have a comment or particular question or topic you would like to see addressed in this column, please make your observations at the end of this article in the comment section.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Breaking News: Budget Passes - Maldonado Casts Deciding Vote

After an all night session - 45 hours for the entire session - the State Senate voted early this morning 27 to 12 to approve a massive state budget that includes spending cuts, tax increases, and borrowing money to close to $40 billion deficit. California has been at a standstill for the last five days as legislators grappled over a state budget. Governor Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders struck a deal with Senator Maldonado in exchange for providing the third needed vote to pass the state budget. The three Republican votes for the state budget came from Senator Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria), Senator Dave Cogdill (R-Modesto), and Senator Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield).

Senator Maldonado agreed to give his much needed third vote by negotiating three major concessions. One concession in particular may benefit Maldonado if he runs for higher office. As part of Senator Maldonado’s negotiated deal legislators have agreed to place an open primary on the June 2010 ballot. The proposal would have an effect on congressional and state races in 2012 and beyond possibly helping Republicans win some seats that were lost during the last election cycle. Under the open primary plan proposed the top two candidates in an open primary election would face off in the general election. Candidates would not participate in partisan primaries, but would be able to maintain their party identity on the ballot.

Senator Maldonado will be termed out of the state Senate in 2012. It is rumored that he is strongly considering a run for the position of state controller in 2010 and used this opportunity to gain leverage that could benefit him in his bid for the position. Sources close to him say that he has not yet decided if he will in fact run for state controller.

Some legislators strongly objected to the open primary bill but voted for it anyway because they believe it is more important to avoid a cash crisis and ward off the planned shutdown today of hundreds of construction projects valued at over $5 billion.

The second concession that legislative Leaders agreed to eliminates the additional 12-cent gas tax, which was estimated to have brought in $2.1 billion through June 2010. As part of the changes, a five percent surtax on income taxes will be replaced by a 0.25 percent increase in each income-tax bracket. The new formula would raise approximately $400 million more in income taxes than the previous proposal. The remainder of the lost gas-tax revenues will be replaced by federal stimulus money and $600 to $700 million in line-item vetoes from the Governor.

The third concession by Senator Maldonado was a constitutional amendment to exclude legislative raises in deficit years. This constitutional amendment will appear on the May 19 special election ballot. Maldonado attempted to eliminate legislative pay altogether when the budget is late; however, legislators believed the idea to be unconstitutional.

Many Democrats and political observers fear that Maldonado strong-arming the legislature may set a bad precedent for future attempts at getting a budget on time.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Guest Commentary: Addressing Safety Concerns and Design Changes to Fifth St Corridor

by Steve Tracy

image by Maren Walker, Landscape Architecture student, UC Davis

This past Tuesday evening the City Council considered changes to the design of the 5th/Russell corridor, between A and L Streets. Opportunities to put missing bike lanes on the street and deal with ongoing safety issues have been missed in the past. We hope this time the community can learn from the experience in other similar situations, set aside fear and emotion, and support a decision to create a safer street that will serve everyone better.

In February of 2005, the timing of the traffic signals was modified at the intersections where F and G Streets meet 5th Street. The new timing, called “split-phase” in traffic engineer vernacular, allows only one direction of traffic on 5th Street (eastbound or westbound) to flow at a time.

Now left turns off of 5th Street at those intersections are “protected” because oncoming traffic is stopped with a red light. This eliminated many dangerous broadside accidents at the F Street and G Street intersections. The Public Works Department should be applauded for addressing a serious problem created when drivers rushed into unsafe left turns against oncoming traffic.

However, the changes fixed only part of the safety problem on the 5th Street corridor. The new signal timing brought on an additional 30 seconds of delay for most drivers using the corridor, which has led to other hazards.

For example, in the average rush hour, only one car a minute turns left from eastbound 5th Street to northbound F Street. The new signal timing imposes a 30 second delay on drivers westbound on 5th, all for the safety of that one driver. Avoiding that delay has drivers making unsafe turns into the residential neighborhoods north and east of downtown to avoid the signals at F and G. These neighborhoods now see much more speeding by impatient drivers, and traffic volumes on alternative routes have increased.

In the four years since the split phase signals were installed, accidents have continued or worsened, especially at the unsignalized intersections in the corridor. This is the record from March of 2005 through the end of 2008 for the entire corridor, A Street to L Street:

109 accidents total
19 pedestrians or bicyclists hit by cars
63 personal injuries requiring treatment

With the current financial crisis threatening City services, we have a situation where 10% of all traffic related calls made by the Police and Fire Departments on streets in the entire City occur on 10 short blocks of a single street.

A recent AAA study reveals that the cost to individuals and society of a single injury in an automobile accident averages $70,000. So in less than 4 years we have run up a 4 million tab on 5th Street. Please, it’s past time to correct this situation.

The best solution also happens to be the cheapest:

It is shown in the graphic above. It’s commonly called a “road diet.” This sounds like a bad term, because we usually don’t like diets, but this one leads to a healthy street. This design technique has been used in literally hundreds of similar situations across the country. Yes, there was initial opposition in many cases, but the results speak for themselves. We are aware of only two cases where the design was completely or partially undone. In fact, many cities went on from their first trial road diet to redo other streets. It works.

This design merges the two center lanes into a single lane for left turns. In time, portions of this lane can be landscaped to beautify the street. We gain a lot of flexibility by merging the left turn lanes: It provides the room to paint in the missing bike lanes. It provides for faster through travel because demand activated left turn arrows can be installed. This all fits between the existing curbs on 5th Street. It requires only paint, and some new traffic lights at F and G. The existing lights can be reused elsewhere.

Between A and B Streets, the only change would be to restripe the vehicle lanes to remove excess width, and stripe in bike lanes. Again, this all fits between the curbs. Almost 50% of the traffic coming east from UCD in the evening rush hour turns off of Russell at B, so this is the logical place to drop the extra lane which isn’t needed beyond that point.

Other communities engaged in road diet projects to address safety issues, with great results. Accident reductions often have been at or over 50%. The severity of crashes and injuries has seen an even more dramatic reduction, because vehicle speeds are lower, set by the prudent drivers at the head of the lines. Aggressive speeding is virtually eliminated. More information and examples are available at the Old North Davis website.

(Click on the top right to expand and view the full PowerPoint presentation)

Fifth Street Project

Arguments that have been made against fixing 5th Street:

We need 4 lanes to carry the car traffic—That is not what the model conducted in 2005 showed. In fact, it revealed that travel times in the corridor between A and L Streets will in fact go DOWN as through traffic flow is better organized in a single lane. That is why so many other cities that have removed lanes from 4 lane streets have seen traffic volumes go UP after the street was fixed. These reworked streets often carry 50% more traffic than 5th Street does. It seems counter to logic, but here is why it works: We do not really have a 4 lane street on 5th between B and L at this time—we have a 2 lane street with 2 left turn lanes. Many drivers make left turns at the frequent cross street intersections. While waiting for a gap in through traffic, they sit in the middle lane and block the cars behind them. Stopped buses (70 a day on this section of 5th), bicyclists, and cars slowing down for right turns also impede traffic flow in the lanes next to the curbs. Aggressive speeders slalom through these obstacles, threatening every user of 5th Street.

We need a 4 lane street for trucks to get in and out of downtown—This simply is not true. The only 4 lane truck access to downtown requires trucks from Sacramento to go completely around Davis on I-80 and Hwy 113, then come in from the west on Russell Blvd. No many do that. Even then, they must negotiate 2 lane streets all through downtown, as delivery truck drivers have successfully done for years. All other truck route access to downtown, from Richards Blvd., B Street, L Street, 1st Street, and 2nd Street is on two-lane streets.

Fire trucks will not be able to get down 5th Street—In fact, emergency responders will have it easier. The bike lane will be available for the single lane of cars to pull into, clearing the way. This is quicker and safer than two lanes of vehicles trying to merge into a single line.

There will be long lines backed up at the traffic signals—Again, this is simply not true. Restoring conventional signal operations at F and G Streets will eliminate 30 seconds of delay. Currently, a driver caught at a red light must wait out green lights for two other traffic streams. That wait will be cut in half, and so will the number of vehicles joining the line at the red light. The single line will be the same length as the current double line.

Bicyclists need to ride somewhere else—This is not consistent with federal, state, or City of Davis policy. As we struggle to reduce global warming, all levels of government must promote clean transportation technologies. A recent Complete Streets directive from Caltrans headquarters (DD-64-R1) states “Therefore, the Department and local agencies have the duty to provide for the safety and mobility needs of all who have legal access to the transportation system.” The Davis General Plan “Primary Bicycle Network” map shows bike lanes on 5th Street between A and L Streets. Let’s get them painted, to accommodate the hordes of cyclists now riding in the gutter, in the lanes, and both directions on the sidewalks.

Pedestrians need to go to the signals to cross—This is unfair, and also unsafe because of the heavy traffic volumes at those intersections and all the cars turning across the crosswalks. It takes over 5 minutes for a pedestrian who wishes to cross 5th Street at J Street or D Street to detour to the nearest traffic signal and then walk back to their route, gaining only 50 feet on their trip in the process. Why expect this of people on foot, when the redesign will reduce delay for the people sitting in air conditioned comfort in their cars?

Only the selfish people in Old North Davis want this—At the City Council hearings on this issue, 3 dozen people from all over Davis spoke up in support of the redesign. They talked about the chaotic street that makes them not want to drive downtown to shop, about the automobile accidents they had been in, and how hostile the street is for them on bicycles. Yes, we in Old North want 5th Street fixed. We are shocked that the business owners are so entrenched in their opposition, in spite of all the evidence that this design works. We are their best customers. Many of us are downtown every day spending money. We don’t clog up the streets, and we don’t take up parking spaces. We just want to get there safely.

It will never work in Davis—It already does. We don’t have to look any farther than B Street. Between 1st and 5th Streets, B Street carries almost exactly the same number of vehicles daily, and more bicyclists. These are the same drivers, in the same town, on a street that is the same width between the curbs. It has a single lane in each direction, a shared left turn lane, and bike lanes. Just like the design for 5th Street that is in the General Plan.

There were 30 accidents on the 4,000 feet of 5th/Russell between A and L Streets in 2008, 8 of them involving bicyclists or pedestrians. In contrast, the 2,000 feet of B Street between 1st and 5th Streets had only 6, one involving a bicyclist. This is the safety improvement we can expect on 5th Street with the proper design.

As we stated at the top of this essay, our Public Works Department has demonstrated in the past that safety is their priority. The solution to the safety issues on 5th Street is right before us. It’s time.
For updates go to:

Word To The Wise: The Foreclosure Nightmare

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee!--PART 1

By E.A. Roberts

As more heartsick seniors come to me as a volunteer attorney for advice on foreclosure options, I feel compelled to comment on the following issues as I see them:
  • Reasons for the plight of our vulnerable older adults;
  • How we as a nation arrived at a “mortgage meltdown” scenario;
  • Possible solutions to resolve the mess, on a global and more local scale.

Seniors as a group have been hit harder than most because of the housing bust that has plagued our economy recently.
  • More often than not the elderly are on fixed incomes, with no way of obtaining work to supplement their earnings to recoup financial losses.
  • As the retirement accounts and investments of seniors have tanked in the dismal economy, payouts are impractical and dividends nonexistent.
  • The frail are frequently beleaguered with huge medical expenses, as they are afflicted with serious and life-threatening ailments.
  • Various expenses are financed on credit cards, that are eventually maxed out.
  • Borrowing against equity in the house becomes difficult, as the value of homes declines in a stagnant housing market.
  • Because seniors are usually the ones with the wealth in this country, they are also the primary targets for predatory lending.
  • The elderly do not have the luxury of time to regain their financial status once lost.

How did the federal government, Wall Street, lending institutions, and the individual consumer contribute to the deep economic recession our nation finds itself in? There is plenty of blame to go around, but the analysis is important, to give some idea of what can be done to correct flaws in the system, so this never happens again. Vain hope I know, but I am ever the optimist.

In 1977, President Carter signed into law something called the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). It required banks to have an affirmative obligation to meet credit needs of the communities in which they were chartered. The directive was passed in response to perceived “red-lining”, a policy of banks denying loans for those living in high credit risk inner-city neighborhoods where ethnic minorities tend to live.

Efforts to enforce the law were sporadic until an error laden 1992 study was disseminated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. It purported to prove racial bias in mortgage lending, despite the fact that actual statistics did not support the conclusions reached in the report. Entering the stage at this point was the Treasury Department. In 1995 it prompted the issuance of new CRA regulations: lending institutions had to demonstrate “investment” in poor, higher-risk neighborhoods if they wanted a satisfactory CRA rating.

Much of this money invested went to “counseling” groups such as ACORN, these people priding themselves on making loans to persons with poor credit and little or no savings. Then in the late 1990’s, Fannie Mae, the nation’s biggest underwriter of home mortgages, came under pressure - from the Clinton Administration; the banking industry; and mortgage companies - to make more loans to subprime borrowers. Subprime borrowers are those with high credit risk. A little history will be helpful here to explain what happened next.

Since World War II, thrifts/savings and loan companies profited by taking savings deposits, while paying customers interest, and lending that same money at slightly higher interest rates to homebuyers - as 30 year fixed rate mortgages. Home ownership increased from 45% in 1940 to 65% in 1965, assisted by GI loans made available to military veterans. In 1970, when demand for mortgage money outstripped supply, the government decided to purchase 30 year fixed rate mortgages from thrifts. The mortgages were guaranteed against defaults, pooling them to be sold as a bond to investors. Investors received a stream of payments from homeowners, while thrifts got a cash infusion to lend more money to homebuyers.

In the 1980’s, a new kind of financial product was being touted at Salomon Brothers Investment Bank, called Collateralized Mortgage Obligations (CMOs). A CMO is an investment based on bundles of residential mortgages sliced into sections called “tranches” to be sold separately to investors. Each “tranche” paid a different interest rate and had a different maturity date. The person that dreamed up this idea moved on to become employed by Prudential Securities.

Prudential began selling increasingly exotic securities based on mortgages, credit payments, and car loans. The math behind these investments became so complex and lucrative, a crew of quantitative researchers was required to price them. This industry became known as “structural finance”. Wall Street brokered the deals and collected hefty fees, seeing it as a new opportunity for profit. Loan officers charged fees as much as 5% of the loan, or received kickbacks for tacking on extra percentage points to the interest rate. Clients for these products were mutual funds, pension funds and other large investors.

Just before Bush took office, the technological investment bubble popped, some believing the timing was engineered by Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Greenspan was conspicuously seen at a Democratic party fundraiser with Al Gore during the Bush-Gore Presidential Campaign. As a result of Greenspan’s tinkering with the federal interest rate at the right time for the Dems, Bush would be saddled with a huge domestic problem at the start of his presidency. By the end of Greenspan’s term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, inexplicably Bush refused to see the viper in his nest - failing to oust Greenspan when the opportunity rose. On top of that came the 2001 terrorist attacks, plunging the economy into a serious recession.

The Bush Administration, led by none other than Greenspan, slashed interest rates to encourage lending and spending. Lower interest rates spurred the housing market, creating a housing boom. The average 30 year fixed rate mortgage fell to 5.8%, the lowest rate since the 1960’s. I know at the time it occurred to me as a bizarre phenomenon. Greenspan had also encouraged the use of Adjustable Rate Mortgages to increase home ownership. I personally never liked these type of loans, and when house shopping myself, refused to take anything but a fixed rate mortgage.

Much of the housing boom was driven by loans made to customers with little savings, modest incomes, and checkered credit histories. They were talked into taking adjustable rate mortgages with low “teaser” interest rates, that ballooned to much higher interest rates after two or three years. Borrowers didn’t have to worry about balloon payments - they could sell at any time, often at a hefty profit, as long as the price of housing inflated steadily. And of course the investors who bought subprime loans enjoyed higher returns.

These subprime loans required no documentation of the borrower’s income; no proof of employment; no money down. For example, a McDonald’s employee earning $35,000 a year received a $500,000 loan, a person in jail was awarded a mortgage, illegal immigrants were being given loans. Worse yet, credit rating companies, which investors relied on to gauge risk of default, gave many of these securities high grades. So Wall Street had no shortage of customers for subprime products, including pension funds, foreign investors, as well as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Warning signs of the disaster to come appeared in 2003, as homes with subprime loans started going into foreclosure. Subprime mortgages had mushroomed to 20% of all loans, triple the level of a few years earlier. Greenspan ignored the alarm bells, and “couldn’t remember” if he ever told his successor at the Federal Reserve, Ben S. Bernanke, about the burgeoning subprime loan problem looming on the horizon.

In 2006, signs of weakness in the subprime industry were harder to ignore, as more homeowners defaulted on loans. Many homeowners defaulted in the first three months of purchase; others defaulted as the lower “teaser” rates ended and the higher balloon payments kicked in. Seventy percent more homeowners were forced to foreclose in 2005 than the year before, with thousands of new homes left unsold. Profits of banking institutions fell.

Panic set in. Yet if the subprime lender stopped taking brokers’ riskier loans, by increasing restrictions, brokers might take both riskier and higher quality loans elsewhere. The loan sales force at lending institutions worked on commission based on number of loans made. So fraudulent loans were a big part of the subprime debacle. Borrowers’ signatures were forged or incomes artificially pumped up. Borrowers themselves lied about how long they intended on living in the home, to qualify for a lower interest rate - then turned a quick profit by selling within a short period. Borrowers defaulted so quickly, subprime lenders did not have time to pool mortgages and sell them off as securities.

In 2007, Bear Sterns, a New York investment bank, had two hedge funds (funds that handle money for wealthy investors) invested heavily in securities backed by subprime mortgages. Both were on the brink of collapse. Investment banks that had purchased subprime mortgages to pool them were now demanding subprime lenders take back defaulted mortgage loans - arguing that misrepresentations had been made. Lenders were forced to accept the returns, not wanting to risk further damaging their relationship with the investment banks. The entire industry was choking on the sheer volume of loans sent back.

Subprime lending companies tried to sell off bad loans and could not get rid of them, so took a huge hit. Subsequently there was an attempt to tighten standards, but by then it was too late. Banks lending cash to subprime lenders cut them off, and many subprime lenders filed for bankruptcy. Bernanke and others at the Federal Reserve stubbornly still would not see how severely the troubles with the subprime loans would cascade through the economy.

Credit raters downgraded subprime-backed securities that they had previously touted. Banks, anticipating their own losses, began hoarding cash, and refused to lend. The credit crunch sent the stock market into a tail spin. Finally, in July of 2007, Bernanke at last got the message. The Federal Reserve aggressively cut interest rates to encourage banks to lend. An alliance of counselors, lenders and other industry participants, called HOPE NOW, would attempt to help borrowers avoid foreclosure by renegotiating mortgage terms. (In my experience and that of many others, the track record of this alliance is poor at best.)

However, the nation’s biggest banks began reporting unexpectedly large losses. In 2008, Bernanke finally acknowledged that the problems begun in the subprime market would affect the prospects of the broader economy. Nevertheless, Bernanke would only admit a recession was possible! Now, some state-run funds will not invest in mortgage-backed investments. Some forecasters are predicting three million or more homes will go into foreclosure.

Part 2 will be published on Friday, February 20, 2009

Elaine Roberts Musser is an attorney who concentrates her efforts on elder law and aging issues, especially in regard to consumer affairs. If you have a comment or particular question or topic you would like to see addressed in this column, please make your observations at the end of this article in the comment section.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Vanguard Radio Tonight

Join us at 6 pm on KDRT 95.7 FM as we continue to talk about the state's budget crisis with a representative from the largest employee union in the state, SEIU. You can listen to the livestream:

ALSO TONIGHT... College Democrats honor Lt. Governor John Garamendi

The Davis College Democrats are proud to honor Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi's leadership in protecting higher education, confronting the global climate changes, and plans to revitalize our economy. We are also honoring Yolo County Supervisor Jim Provenza, who formerly served on the school board for the Davis Joint Unified District and emphasized excellence in education for all students while addressing the achievement gap affecting minority, low income and Spanish speaking students. He also fought for improvements in the special education program. In addition, during his tenure as President of the School Board he was instrumental in winning back 4.5 million dollars in funds for the school district. In addition to these progressive leaders Congressman Mike Thompson will also be attending as a special guest.

Through student and community activism, the Davis College Democrats have demonstrated dedication to promoting the values and goals of the Democratic Party. In the past six months, the Davis College Democrats registered over 4,000 voters at UC Davis, made 3,000 calls for GOTV, hosted rallies for Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi and Mayor Gavin Newsom, and campaigned for Charlie Brown's 4th Congressional District race and for Jim Martin's Senate run-off in Georgia. We passionately fought against Propositions 4 and 8 and plan to lobby for same-sex marriage at the United States House of Representatives.

The Indigo Awards will be held at the Best Western Palm Court Hotel in Davis at 234 D st. from 6 to 8pm Wednesday February 18th. Tickets will be $25 and $10 for students.

Is this When the Planes Start Landing on the Lawn?

It is ironic that Sacramento chose yesterday to honor Captain Chesley Sullenberger who heroically managed to land his imperiled aircraft into the Hudson River and averted disaster by saving his crew. It is ironic because the plane analogy is a metaphor for what is happening right now in Sacramento. In this case the state is out of fuel and needs emergency money in order to land and avert a crisis.

As Senator Cox spoke yesterday on the floor of the Senate, he made reference to a number of metaphors including a correction of Senator Calderon’s botched reference to “Chicken Little.” Senator Cox spoke about the straw that broke the camel’s back, implying that the state taxpayers could no longer bear the load of the tax burden (a tax burden that by most measures ranks somewhere in the middle of the country).

Yesterday was a day of rumors. A day where it was rumored that there was a deal in place and that Senator Cox was ready to flip. It was for that reason that all ears were on the oldest member of the Senate as he rose to speak yesterday afternoon. Instead, those listening, left more confused than they began.

The big news happened in the middle of the night, when the Senate, long rumored unhappy with Senator Cogdill who had cut this deal, finally dumped him and replaced him with the more strident Senator Dennis Holligsworth—a strong opponent of the budget deal that Cogdill negotiated for his caucus.

This is progress? Perhaps only in the sense that Cogdill was incapable of delivering the two other votes besides himself needed to end the stalemate. Where this leaves any deal is now gravely in doubt.

The situation only gets worse from here as Speaker Bass told reporters during her media availability.
“If we don’t pass the budget you know that the situation will get so much worse.”
She went on to lay out the consequences—20,000 layoffs by Governor Schwarzenegger for starters as soon as today. The next step is to stop the remaining infrastructure projects, a process that will lead to the loss of 90,000 jobs and a tremendous ripple effect.
“This is just one more reminder that just one more Republican Senator needs to do the right thing and vote for the bipartisan compromise.”
That appears no closer to happening than it did yesterday.

There are many that suggest that what is actually needed is for some of these dire consequences to occur. There is an air of disbelief. In a sense Senator Cox’s metaphor of “Chicken Little” is apt. There is a sense that some of the voters, residents, citizens of California believe that these things are never going to come to pass. That we will not shut down jobs, close down state agencies, and cease bridge construction mid-span.

They do not believe that the state will run out of cash. They do not believe that tens of thousands will be laid off. They do not believe that the state will default on loans. They do not believe that money for schools and prisons will cease. They do not believe.

The question that is unclear is whether the Republicans do not believe that the sky is falling, or if they know all too well and they do not care.

They should take heed. The lessons of history abound. The year was 1995, the Republicans had just taken over Congress. They believed they had a mandate to shrink the size of government, to end government as we knew. These revolutionaries stormed the barricades and believed they could do whatever they wanted.

They went toe-to-toe with President Clinton, they shut down the government, and they lost. They overreached. Their movement has died.

The people did not like big government, but they did not want their government shut down and its leaders bickering over who was to blame. They blamed the Republicans for this shutdown, their ideological fervor got the better of it. The people simply wanted a better government, not an ideological crusade.

The Republicans are making the same mistake again. No one wants more taxes. But few want to see California's government to cease to function.

In a way these are the last vestiges of this movement. The people of California do want their government to live within its means. But they also do not want vital services stopped and government to cease to function.

We are not talking about just a little bit of less government. Anyone who read Skelton the other day has to recognize how deep you have to cut to get to $42 billion. It’s not just a little snip here and there. You do not use a scalpel to perform this operation. You use a sledgehammer. A sledgehammer to put it mildly is a blunt instrument. Cut off $10 billion to education. Cut off billions to roads and bridges. Cut off billions to law enforcement. Cut tens of thousands of jobs to state workers who do things such as enforce the law, keep the inmates in prisons, hand out unemployment checks, process forms at the DMV, and the other vital functions that government performs on an everyday basis. Guess what—killing all of that, does not solve the problem.

The Republicans created their own budget in December using only spending cuts, they barely got halfway there and the cuts were deep and devastating.

Our plane is out of fuel. The passengers on that plane only has a small sense of what is to come. Unfortunately unlike the heroic Sullenberger, the pilots of this state, are arguing and bickering. Some of them appear to actually want the plane to crash. Only then will people realize the danger.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Inside the Numbers: A Further Examination of the DPD Turnover Rate

Yesterday's Sacramento Bee ran an article that found that Citrus Highets and the Davis police departments have the highest staff turnover rates among other law enforcement agencies in the region.

To add fuel to the fire, the Bee recessitates old charges that the climate in Davis involving complaints of racial profiling and the Halema Buzayan case were the prominent if not primary culprits for this turnover rate.

"High-ranking officials from the two departments blame a variety of factors ranging from a new department's normal break-in period to the way a racially charged incident was handled."

The Bee quotes Assistant Chief Steve Pierce discussing issues involving the arrest of Halema Buzayan, then 16 in 2005, along with accusations of racial profiling.

"Davis Assistant Chief Steve Pierce said his department changed its retirement calculation, making retirement more attractive for some officers. In addition, several officers left to work in newly formed departments in Citrus Heights and Elk Grove.

Pierce also said some employees felt uncomfortable working in the city following a 2005 incident involving a 16-year-old Davis High School student arrested for a misdemeanor hit-and-run. Her parents alleged racial bias because the girl is Muslim.

During exit interviews, some departing officers remarked that they "don't want a car stop done on a person of color blowing up in (their) face," Pierce said."

However, that paints at best an incomplete picture. The Vanguard spoke to Davis Police Chief Landy Black who provided context to both the initial interview as well as the data.

First he provided the actual breakdown of those who left from 2006 to the present.
Retirement: 5 (3 sworn)

Attained promotion not available with DPD: 4 (2 sworn)

Failed to complete academy/field training/probationary period (dismissed by DPD): 2 (both sworn)

Non-sworn personnel became sworn officers elsewhere: 3

Resigned to take comparable position elsewhere: 5 (4 sworn)
By his count that allows for at most four sworn officers who left the department under the conditions that were describe prominently in the Sacramento Bee article.

These data suggest a much more mundane explanation for a high turnover rate. Some simply retired, others were able to get promoted to positions unavailable to them in this department, a few failed their probation, and a few became sworn officers elsewhere.

Under those conditions, the turnover rate is neither alarming nor unusual.

Chief Black also suggested that the comments attributed to Assistant Chief Steve Pierce, while accurate were taken somewhat out of context. His comment regarding exit interviews was not unsolicited but rather reflected a direct question from the Bee reporter who asked him point blank what effect the Buzayan incident had on people leaving the department. There was no emphasis made by Assistant Chief Pierce, according to Chief Black, on the Buzayan factor.
"It is unfortunate that the Sacramento Bee article makes it look like he/we put an emphasis on it. He didn't and we don't."
Chief Black continues:
"I was hired after a period of some internal and external turmoil. There was an expectation placed on me to take steps to mend internal and community relations. While I will take credit for what I've done to meet that expectation, the officers and leaders of this department have taken great individual and professional initiative to rehabilitate an image that they and I believe was unnecessarily tarnished. There is always room for improvement, but the vitriol was over the top in many folks' estimation.

I cannot speak to the character of the officers who left in 2006 or early 2007, but the officers who remained and continue to work here have done so, in large part, due to their commitment to this department, their peers, the law enforcement profession, and the citizens & community of Davis."
Chief Black also took on the issue of racial profiling.
"Racial profiling continues to be a publicly debated issue. We are aware of that and the fact that the perception of racial profiling still exists. We continue to develop our department and train our personnel to conduct themselves in ways that minimize the perception of racial bias. Our recruitment and training focuses on finding and developing professionals who have the capacity and inclination to understand the dynamics of a multi-cultural society and are able to be resilient and welcome transparency as a means to improve trust."
Brief Commentary:

From my perspective, it is unfortunate if the Sacramento Bee believed it was important to stir the pot on this issue. I received a number of emails on this article and felt it was important to find out the rest of the story from the Davis Police Department.

This issue rekindled an issue that had arose back in 2006, when many accused community activists including my wife, the chair of the Human Relations Commission at the time of creating an atmosphere that had led a large number of police officers to leave the department culminating with the Police Chief at that time, Chief Jim Hyde who took a job in Antioch.

The truth is that while it appears there may have been some police officers who left for those reasons, it was not the huge number that was being represented in the media or at city council meetings by members of the community.

While the issue of racial profiling remains a sensitive issue in parts of this community, the overall tone of discussions have change drastically. The departure of the previous chief along with the arrival of Chief Black and Ombudsman Bob Aaronson have helped change some of this.

While many undoubtedly still blame my wife for fanning the flames, many of these incidents were taken to her from people within the community and to the best of her ability she followed the charge of the Human Relations Commission as the only place where people could go to air grievances of this nature at that time.

It is my hope that we have all learned from that incident and should an incident of this sort arise in the future, we can all handle it better and avoid a repeat of what occurred in the winter and spring of 2006.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

Guest Commentary: Vote No to Green Initiative Slush Fund

By Derick Lennox

Don't be duped into raising your own student fees.

The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF) is a campus ballot measure that attempts to mislead students into funding a $269,000 special interest slush fund. A history of unfulfilled promises at other UC campuses has proven that for TGIF, "greed" has become the new "green."

UC Davis would not be the first campus to be let down by TGIF's big promises. The same program has been implemented at other UC schools, such as Berkeley, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz. In each case, voters were lured by the chance to "develop, propose, and enact sustainable projects" using the collected student fees. In the past two years, TGIF has racked up over a half-million dollars in unused grant money at these three UC campuses. In hindsight, that money should have stayed in students' pockets to pay for the increasing price of education.

We should learn from others' mistakes.

Less than half of the proposed Davis fees will go to student grants. The rest will be spent on a $40,000 staff position, while an estimated $30,000 would be needed for office and accounting services, according estimates from a Student Services and Fees Administrative Advisory Committee meeting. Thankfully, the most useful misdirection of "green" funds would be the 25 percent spent on university-required return-to-aid, assisting PELL-grant eligible students. And with the average public university student graduating with over $10,000 in debt, why not spend all the money on financial assistance instead?

In tough economic times, only greedy special interests would want to tax us doubly. Thank goodness, this is one fee hike to which we can say "no." After all, James Quinn, professor and co-director of the information center for the environment, reminds us that UC Davis receives more environmental research funding than almost any other school in the country.

Since 2002, statewide UC fees have more than doubled. And already, UC Davis has the highest campus-based fees in the system—three-times greater than at campuses like UCLA. Budget shortfalls almost forced us to say farewell to many needed services last spring at the Learning Skills Center, financial aid office, and campus recreation (just to name a few). Despite expecting another fee hike next year, TGIF makes no effort to respect our financial burden.

The possibility of financial abuse is ripe as this seven-member committee decides how to spend your money. The current language of the initiative should offend any person in favor of responsible governance. Appointments from the university administration—not students—will fill three positions on this student fees committee. Meanwhile, half the student members will have a mandated connection with the same environmental advocacy communities that will be receiving the grants.

If your intuition shouts "conflict of interest!" then you're not alone. Opponents to this boongoggle include the president of Davis College Democrats, the chair of Davis College Republicans, and the ASUCD president, controller, and University Affairs director.

Numbers aside, you may think that this is just a quarterly $4 fee—the price of a fancy latte or trip to the Coffee House. But remember, this fee will not help the environment or create sustainability. If history rings true, TGIF will misuse hundreds of thousands of dollars at the cost of many UC Davis generations to come.

With these facts in mind, students should take pride in not being cajoled into fronting the cash for a special interest slush fund. Let's vote together to defeat this ill-conceived initiative on February 18 and 19 at

Derick Lennox is a fourth-year undergraduate and member of the "No on TGIF" campaign.