Jack Webb as Joe Friday, circa 1950’s & 1960’s – Following the Vanguard article on February 24 about my becoming a candidate for the Davis City Council, there were several comments about my record on the Davis School Board and other past activities. While I don’t expect everyone to agree with me or the results of past decisions, I would rather that discussion of my record be based on factual information.
Much was made of what happened on “my watch” at the Davis School Board and labor strife during my School Board service. Actually, there was very little labor unrest while I was on the School Board, but there was much strife during the final two years of the prior School Board. I think this had less to do with Board Members than the State budget. Before I was elected in November of 1997, Pete Wilson had completed his first term as Governor during a period of severe state budget deficits. No money at the state meant lean times for school districts as well, which grew into dissatisfaction and distrust by teachers who were threatening to strike. After my election, along with Marty West and Joan Sallee, the state economy was improving and state budget deficits became budget surpluses. We (the Board) opened the District’s financial books to dispel distrust and held workshops with teachers to help improve communications. The result, along with more money from the state, was four years with much better labor relations.
Although there were concerns about having elected a crazy conservative to the School Board, I was rarely the most conservative Member on issues that came to the Board during my four years. As is often the case, individual opinions varied widely despite political labels. Other Board members were often more likely to be critical of spending or advocating disciplinary measures, and we could all count votes to know when not to bother with an idea that was not going anywhere. I think I can summarize my relations with other Board Members by saying that I was lucky to serve with such good people. During my four years, we had the opportunity to hire a new District administration (aided by retirements soon after the election) and hired about half of all teachers (following retirements and other reasons for leaving), we reviewed the qualifications of every new teacher we hired and successfully negotiated teacher’s contracts that provided assurance about the proportion of new money that went to salary and to other district needs, we put in place new academic standards, started the ball rolling on new schools while doing extensive maintenance work on existing schools, passed a bond measure that was half as large as the one that failed at the time of my election and were then able to use these funds to do about twice as much as had been included in the bond projects list (as a result of good and innovative staff work), and we renewed the school parcel tax to support additional academic programs and school services. I left the Board at the end of 2001, and other than the on-going building program (which was put in place prior to growth changes following Measure J), the credit or blame belongs to others.
I did later serve on the Best Use of Facilities Task Force that recommended closing Valley Oak Elementary School based on both District finances at that time and changes in the location of students. This was not easy for the Task Force members or (especially) the involved families, but it made sense because there was more than enough capacity at Korematsu Elementary, which was much closer to most of the students. The District, however, did not follow through with the saving money part of the Task Force recommendation and eventually moved the Da Vinci Charter High School into the former Valley Oak Elementary site. This has caused me to think that the District misled the Task Force about money problems, which reinforces my desire to understand overall finances.
It is correct that the Unz initiative prohibiting bilingual education was passed while I was on the School Board and that I did not support it. This was not because bilingual education is a good idea, but because we did not need another universal mandate on California schools. Eliminating the extra state money for having a bilingual program would have had the same effect unless a district felt so strongly that it provided funds from its own resources (in other words – local control). Having grown up in a rural area and going to school with many children whose parents spoke primarily Spanish, I already knew how quickly younger students learned English in school and that differences seen in traditional academic achievement measures were often the result of family priorities. But in fact, bilingual education hardly existed in Davis, since the closest we came to it was in the migrant school program. I had not been happy to lose a school site to Spanish Immersion, but this was done before I joined the Board, and was primarily offered to non-Spanish speaking students (and became difficult to continue under the initial criteria for enforcing the Unz initiative). Davis does have many non-English speaking students, but they are often children whose parents are at the University and who speak many different languages from all over the world. These students spent most of their time in regular classes with some additional time in classes with specially trained teachers who used props and other means of helping children from many nations understand English.
There also was some mention of my work with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, where I was the Department’s soil scientist and was involved with forest practice regulations. I well remember the controversies over logging on Pacific Lumber Company properties and the substantial reductions in harvesting rates that the Department was eventually able to enforce – although never enough to satisfy those who demanded no logging at all or the owners and loggers who wanted more. I could go on at great length about evaluating and measuring sediment, but will just say that it is a very tricky thing to do in terrain with some of the highest sediment production rates in the world that are primarily controlled by episodic climate and landslide events. Harvesting in the Freshwater and Elk River watersheds was significantly reduced to decrease the frequency of downstream flooding (based on health and safety codes), Bear Creek sedimentation was caused by a single, very large landslide that could not be connected to logging, I don’t remember ever working in the Van Duzen River watershed, and the Eel River watershed takes in most of the interior Coast Ranges between about Willits and Fortuna, including the Van Duzen River and other major tributaries, so useful generalizations about logging are difficult to make.
I think that Wdf1 may remember the Taxpayer Association, and my, positions on Davis tax measures better than I do. In general, the Yolo County Taxpayers Association did not oppose, and on at least one occasion supported, “emergency” and “temporary” parcel tax measures that had a clear purpose and not too distant expiration date. The Association also did not oppose renewing the long-running parcel tax providing for additional academic and student services. Both the Association and I were not in favor of the School Districts latest parcel tax that rolled together the emergency and added services parcel taxes into a single, larger parcel tax because this removed the emergency status while diluting the special uses for the tax dollars. In other words, it has just become another part of the overall school budget. This does not leave much on which to base future accountability and places the District at greater financial risk if voters were to someday say no.
It is true that I did not support the surface water project (Measure I). This is not because I have anything against surface water, but because I believe that we neither need nor can afford the proposed project – for much more detail on what is happening to water and city services costs, see the spreadsheet and its description document printed in the March 5 Vanguard article about my candidacy. In brief, Measure I asked the voters of Davis if they liked the looks of a luxury car without telling us the price. Now we are trying to decide what we can afford.
My position on economic development is that I would want to be sure that a proposal makes sense, including whether claims of additional revenue pencil out, the layout fits into the City’s transportation and utility systems, job creation statements seem reasonable, and we can maintain a cohesive City footprint. I don’t bring a lot of preconceptions to this subject, but would insist on a review process that provides sufficient information to make a decision on behalf of the community. I do expect that there will be more questioning about this during the campaign that will lead to more specific answers.
Comments following the Vanguard article also included a wide-ranging discussion about matters other than my positions or record for which there is no need for me to respond.