A terrible tragedy occurred three weeks ago on September 20 in the early morning hours at KetMoRee. The young and promising life of Peter Gonzales was taken and the Davis community was justifiably shaken by this tragedy.
Despite this tragedy, the community has not leaped to drastic measures, instead turning to careful and measured response. The Vanguard next week (Wednesday, October 14 at the Davis Police Station) will be hosting a forum and community discussion that hopefully will be another step to allow us to figure out our path forward.
Unfortunately, it seems not everyone is moving forward in such a measured and thoughtful approach. Yesterday’s Sacramento Bee front page story casts Davis in a less than favorable light, “Davis struggles with identity amid recent violence.” The Sacramento Bee loves to paint Davis as a sort of odd-duckling in the region – focusing on its quirks and eccentricities rather than its charm and grace.
Davis is struggling with no identity crisis. We are what we are. We are host city to a world-class university that is on the cusp of greatness. The Bee recently covered UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi as she began laying out the vision for the 21st Century.
At the same time, Davis has probably not ever lived in a bubble. While this remains one of the safest communities, our identity has at times been tied with tragedy. There was the 1980 kidnap murders of UC Davis sweethearts that was finally resolved in a 2012 conviction of Richard Hirschfield. There was the killing of Thong Hy Huynh in 1983, which among other things led to the creation of the Human Relations Commission.
More recently we had the brutal double homicide of an elderly couple by Daniel Marsh in 2013, and the murder-suicide by Joseph Hein back in March.
These events do not define the community. Sacramento and other areas of the region have far more crime, violence and murders than Davis.
That the Sacramento Bee would cast Davis in such a confused light is not surprising, given their long-term view of Davis as a provincial, self-absorbed community that has quirky rules like noise ordinances, growth restrictions and, of course, the toad tunnel.
What is disappointing is that Davis’ mayor –without the consensus of the city council backing him – would buy into this notion.
In front of Mishka’s, Mayor Wolk told the Bee, “This is Davis and we’ve got a problem here… We can’t just move on like nothing happened here. We’ve got to see what’s going on and what we can do about it.”
But do we have a problem here? That is one of the questions we have and continue to ask. When the Vanguard received the list of calls for service at KetMoRee it listed 525 since 2010. That’s about two calls a week.
But a vast majority of these calls were minor, including flagging down the officer, public contact, follow up and drunk in public.
There were 11 calls for battery, three for assault, two for rape, one for assault with a deadly weapon and, of course, now the murder. That is 18 violent crime calls in five years, or just over three a year. While that is 18 too many, I am not convinced that that constitutes a crisis of identity for the city.
But the Bee plays this up, calling it “a tale of two Davises.” By day, one populated with UC Davis students, “an increasing[ly] studious and high-achieving bunch,” while by night, the Bee writes, “an increase in nightlife options over the past five years has turned the bucolic ‘Bicycle Capital of America’ into a party destination for young people in greater Yolo County and beyond.”
The Bee writes, “Police say concern is concentrated on the G Street corridor between First and Third streets, where several restaurants and bars morph into dance clubs that draw heavy traffic on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.”
Mayor Wolk, who graduated in 1995 from Davis High, “remembers when Davis had a quieter – if not quirkier – reputation. This city of about 66,000 residents once was the punch line on ‘The Daily Show’ for financing a ‘Toad Tunnel’ that would prevent amphibians from getting squashed by cars on Pole Line Road. Fights occasionally would break out at downtown bars, but the idea of guns and knives being drawn was foreign to a place where farmers markets remain among the biggest social gatherings.”
For the mayor, “(Downtown) has changed in many ways for the good, but in some ways for the not-so-good in the horrific death that occurred… I think things were kind of bubbling, but the murder was the final straw. And it’s a matter of time before it happens again if we don’t do anything.”
The Bee juxtaposes the drop in violent crime citywide from 265 in 2004 to 84 in 2014 against the rise in attacks downtown, which they say “coincides with nightclubs opening in the G Street area, including late-night club scenes at KetMoRee, Tres Hermanas and G Street Wunderbar.”
They cite 39 incidents of “serious crime” downtown, distinguishing that from 20 violent offenses which include six weapons violations and two gang-related incidents. So, for all of the talk about the increase in “gang-related” activity, we are talking about two gang-related incidents, which includes the murder.
And, in fact, reading their numbers, the numbers are going down even in the supposed problem area of downtown. In 2014, there were 54 incidents in the downtown, and 65 in 2013.
Assistant Chief Darren Pytel gave the Bee a similar quote to what he gave the Vanguard, “We haven’t seen a significant increase in the number of calls, but we’re seeing changes in the types of calls… We’re seeing more violence, fights and weapons cases – knives, pipes, display of firearms.”
One of our panelists next week will be Sergio Saenz, the owner of Tres Hermanas. He told the Bee he is shutting down the nightclub portion of the popular Mexican restaurant at the end of October. He related the story of a patron last year who pulled a knife on a bouncer after being kicked out of the facility.
Dan Wolk summed up his thoughts: “We shouldn’t be approving another nightclub without having this community conversation… I have to be honest: I don’t think we should have more of these nightclubs downtown. If we’re going to have nightclubs, it can’t be the status quo. You’ve got to have more security. You’ve got to have more limits.”
Again, I completely support the need for community discussions. But we need to keep this stuff in perspective. Violent crime overall is down in Davis – and down rather dramatically over the last ten years. Even in the downtown, it appears – despite concerns – that the incidents have actually declined over the last two years.
Finally, Davis is not struggling with an identity crisis. There is a real world out there and, really, Davis has known this for a long time.
I have another concern, as well, as I have expressed. Right now, while drinking is apparently down, you can see on Thursday through Saturday during the late night a steady stream of students walking down Russell to the downtown. That means that, even if they get intoxicated, they are on foot rather than in cars.
If you shut down the night scene in Davis, and push those students to neighboring communities, you may end up slowing down the downtown violence while increasing the frequency of drinking while driving.
Whatever decision we make should be based on data and reasoned decision-making.
—David M. Greenwald reporting