A Lesson in Civic Activism Saves Davis Bridge Program

citycatOn Tuesday night, those who went to the community chambers to see the city council meeting were treated to a rare site, the room was packed with young students.  More surprisingly they were young, mostly Latino students.  Why were they there?  Because the Davis City council had to cut back on Community Block Grant (CDBG) funds this year and decided to give the Davis Bridge Foundation nothing.

Davis Bridge serves around 150 students at local elementary schools and Junior Highs.  The program features after-school homework, tutoring, and other in-school and out-of-school activities.  It is a program that focuses on those students who may be struggling academically, those who are economically disadvantaged, and those who are classified as English learners including a significant number of children of immigrants or migrants.

Back in February, Davis City Councilmember remarked about the Davis Bridge Program in the Davis Enterprise:

“Davis Bridge  serves an unseen population. In Davis, we have very high-achieving schools. … But if you look at the broad statistics, you may not realize that there are also kids who are English learners, and are in a family that may be living at the poverty line, or slightly above it. Yet these families shop at the same supermarkets, walk the same streets, their children attend the same schools.

“It’s hard to realize that we have such families in Davis when you look at the overall test scores, the property values, and the emotional attainment of the community as a whole. But these people are neighbors of ours, and deserve our attention.”

On Tuesday, he was fighting for its very existence.

According to the staff report:

“The Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) and the Home Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) are two federally funded grant programs administered through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The programs are designed to assist local governments in the development and improvement of their community through funding for affordable housing, special economic development, removal of architectural barriers, public facilities and improvements, public services and neighborhood revitalization. While local governments have a great deal of flexibility in the selection of projects, all funded projects must directly benefit low-income residents.”

Typically the programs go before the Social Services Commission who make recommendations to Council.

“Due to the amount of requests for funding more than doubling the amount available for Public Services activities and based on the critical needs list, the Social Services Commission and staff are recommending that four of the seventeen public service proposals not receive any funding for program year 2010-2011.”

Why would the Davis Bridge Foundation, a proven successful program get no funding?

“The Davis Bridge Educational Foundation and Paratransit programs are both educational programs that would be classified as indirect services under the City’s Critical Needs List. Therefore, they received less of a funding priority…  While it is regrettable that the City is unable to fund these proposals, there are some existing resources that can assist a few of these programs. Specifically, staff has encouraged the Davis Bridge Educational Foundation to access the School STEPS Program that is being provided by the Yolo County Department of Education for the next two years. This program can assist with school supplies, transportation to and from school, and other resources for the most at-risk youth.”

That was before the supporters of the Davis Bridge Foundation packed the room and council heard about the program and had to look these people in the eyes when they cut their funding.

Councilmember Heystek once again put it most succinctly when he spoke of the commitment to a segment of the community that often goes unnoticed.

“It’s a pittance.  It’s the least we can do because we’re serving an invisible population.  Statistics that we present in grant applications and when we demonstrate the success of this community, mask the existence of those who are on the lower end of the socio-economic scale.  It masks the existence of those who test scores don’t exceed state averages.  It masks their existence, they are among us.  They are our neighbors.  They are taxpayers.  They contribute to the vibrancy of this community.  If we don’t make a commitment tonight of at least $15,000 to this organization and to this community, I feel that in that respect I assume some responsibility for having failed this segment of our community.  If we don’t make a commitment tonight to this segment of the community, we have failed the whole community.”

The council directed staff to find the funding to support the Davis Bridge Program.  It was a great victory for a worthy program.  It was also a great lesson in civic activism. 

Councilmember Stephen Souza correctly acknowledged the impact of the people present.  He noted that had other groups come down, they might be the ones getting the bump up in funding.  He felt that many of these groups had critical programs that council would support.  And he is correct.  The process was unfair.  Those who organized and packed the room are advantaged.  Had others known to do the same, they might have been advantaged as well.  By the same measure, he voted to support the program.

This is indeed a lesson in civic activism, but as with anything that lesson only goes so far.  I remember now nearly four years ago, over a hundred people came to council to ask them to preserve the Human Relations Commission, and they were derided as rule by mob, regarded as threatening, and lectured by the council majority.

Likewise last summer, several dozen residents of the neighborhood adjacent to the proposed Simmons Ranch development came to council and were lectured by Mayor Pro Tem Saylor who lectured them, “here’s just a possibility that applause and cheering and hissing and booing could intimidate a person who has a different point of view.  Frankly all citizens matter—all of them.  Even the ones who aren’t wearing a red shirt tonight my friends.”

On the other hand, a few months later when the issue of the rotating winter shelters came up, the council had originally voted to support the subcommittee’s recommendation.  However, activists organized community members who can out in force and the council reconsidered that decision.  Without direct public pressure, the council would not have changed their vote.  Interestingly, it was only when I personally pointed out that Mr. Saylor was not equal-handed in his lecture on applause that he suggested that perhaps I was correct in that standpoint.

The bottom line is that public pressure can influence the council’s vote under some circumstances.  When it comes like social issues such as grants for education, shelters for the homeless, perhaps a resolution regarding a war, the council is likely to try to do the right thing if they are shown what the right thing is.  However, when it comes to central policies such as land use, the council already has its mind made up long before the vote, protestations notwithstanding.

For example going back to the shut down of the Human Relations Commission, as Councilmember Souza started reading his comments, someone from the audience called him on it and he said he had just written the comments.  That was likely untrue.  He had made up his mind long before and was not about to change it or even listen to another perspective.

I point this out simply because if the public expects that they can influence the council on land use issues or other issues that are polarizing then they are probably in for a rude awakening.  On the other hand, for less controversial issues the public can influence the council both by raising an issue that council had not considered and neither had staff and by swaying them toward a given result.

Tuesday was a great example, however, in this case, Stephen Souza is correct, the council does need to be careful because the majority of groups did not come out, does not mean they do not have large amounts of community support and it does not mean their projects are unworthy.

There is a danger in changing policy based on public sentiment expressed at a council meeting and there is a lesson for those who are frustrated by the council’s policies.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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13 Comments

  1. davisite2

    It is a truism,as well it should be in Davis’ style of populist democracy, that decisions are largely determined by those who “SHOW UP”, i.e.,political activism and voting in addition to Council appearances!

  2. wdf1

    Programs similar to Davis Bridge operate in other districts through federal Title I funds. Because Davis doesn’t have the critical number of Title I students, it doesn’t qualify for the level of funding to sustain such a program.

    Davis Bridge normally operates from community donations and grants. In these times, those sources have not come through at previous levels of the past, even as the population of qualifying students in Davis grows.

    The program operates at Montgomery, Patwin, and Korematsu Elementaries, and at Harper JH, all schools with the highest concentrations of lower income families. It could operate at additional schools if more funding were available.

    Here is a link to their website:

    [url]http://www.davisbridge.org/[/url]

  3. Ryan Kelly

    The money and assets of teen programming continue to be diverted to other uses. The loss of the use of 3rd & B. Even the Rotating Winter shelter received money taken from the teen services budget after they refused to take more people unless the City provided personnel and funds last winter (then mis-represented what happened to the public at the City Council meeting.) Now the City is cutting funds for one program and using teen programming funds to keep it going. It was my understanding that 3rd & B would revert back to being a teen center, once a bigger space for the Bike Museum was found or built, but the City has now sold the building to the Redevelopment Agency and it looks like that will never happen. Heystek is correct. There is an invisible population that is being under-served. Why isn’t the Social Services commission keeping an eye on this? Or are they only concerned about senior citizens? Where is the Youth Commission for the City of Davis that would speak to these issues?

  4. wdf1

    Some relevant excerpts from today’s story on the topic by Crystal Lee in the Davis Enterprise:

    [quote]The council also directed staff to allocate at least $9,703 to the Davis Bridge Educational Foundation, a nonprofit group that provides academic assistance, tutoring and encouragement for at-risk students in kindergarten through junior high.

    Davis Bridge helps more than 200 students a day through after-school homework clubs staffed by UC Davis students, founder Janet Boulware said.[/quote]
    and
    [quote]After hearing from Davis Bridge supporters, the council decided to give the organization $9,703 – funding that was available from an excess of $64,693 in CDBG money, over what the city had expected to receive.

    ….

    Of that $64,693, the city can distribute up to 15 percent – or $9,703 – to public services and 20 percent for administration of the funds and programs.

    In addition to the $9,703, the council directed city staff members to look for alternative ways to provide Davis Bridge with the $15,000 the organization requested. Funding could come from the CDBG funding for administration or the city’s teen programming budget, the council suggested.

    The discussion about additional funding for Davis Bridge will continue at a future council budget meeting, Foster said.
    [/quote]

    The rest of the story offers more useful background.

  5. E Roberts Musser

    Ryan Kelly: “There is an invisible population that is being under-served. Why isn’t the Social Services commission keeping an eye on this? Or are they only concerned about senior citizens? Where is the Youth Commission for the City of Davis that would speak to these issues?”

    I couldn’t agree with you more. We need to set up another commission to represent Youth in this town…

    Eric Gelber: “So, which hunger prevention or other basic needs programs did the $15,000 come out of?”

    There was an approx. extra $9,700 in CDBG funding that had been divied up and distributed to all hunger prevention and basic needs programs that was directed by the CC to be “taken back” and redistributed to Bridge. The remaining approx. $5,000 was to be pulled from CDBG administrative costs or possibly from teen program funding (since Bridge in some ways has to do with teens).

  6. E Roberts Musser

    DPD: “However, when it comes to central policies such as land use, the council already has its mind made up long before the vote, protestations notwithstanding.”

    Streng and CHA showed up and complained it was unfair that yellow light sites were not to be considered right now, as suggested in City Staff’s Recommendation. Streng/CHA got their way thanks to Souza’s motion and the votes of the CC majority. Very predictable…

  7. Rich Rifkin

    [i]”It is a program that focuses on those students who may be struggling academically, those who are economically disadvantaged, and those who are classified as English learners including a significant number of children of immigrants or migrants.”[/i]

    When Jan Boulware, who was, I think, a Chicano Studies major at UCD, started this program (at first entirely for Latino immigrant kids who needed ESL help especially) and called it the Davis Bridge Program, I got Ms. Boulware confused with Jan Bridge, who was (right around the same time) a member of the Davis school board. I ran into Jan Bridge and told her what a great idea I thought her program was. She looked at me with confusion, but smiled and passed it off. And then a few years later, when I saw Jan Boulware talking about this program, I realized, “Oh, sh!t, she is not Jan Bridge. No wonder Ms. Bridge thinks I am nuts.”

  8. Sue Greenwald

    In keeping with David Greenwald’s new post Wildhorse Ranch reporting, David didn’t bother to point out that I was outspoken in my support of the project, and that Steve Souza had launched into a long discussion of why we Bridge was not an “essential service” before the council majority opinion in support of the project became clear.

    IMHO (and please don’t edit this David, because I am acknowledging that the following is just my opinion) David inserts his own political agendas into his reporting.

  9. Sue Greenwald

    [quote]So, which hunger prevention or other basic needs programs did the $15,000 come out of? [/quote]Of course these are terribly difficult choices. What swayed me was the number of young people who were being served, the fact that most were minority students, and that they cared enough to pack the room in order to maintain a program to help them with homework. It seemed to me that the program was incredibly effective, and that it could pay massive dividends in terms of preventing the explosion of critical needs in the future. And it could be funded without cutting into the (admittedly inadequate) funding allotted to other critical needs.

  10. J.R.

    This kind of decision is the future of the Davis City Council.

    With an ever increasing share of the limited city resources going to
    city staff salary and pensions, less and less will be available for
    critical needs.

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