GSA counts votes differently in order to endorse Guenther; many graduate students distrustful of Guenther’s “soft no” on Measure J
by Jenean Docter
On Wednesday, the UC Davis Graduate Student Association met in 1002 Giedt Hall to consider four resolutions: to support Measure J, to disarm campus police, to endorse Dean Johansson, and to endorse Larry Guenther.
Donald Gibson, a genetics graduate group student who sits on the Chancellor’s Affordable Housing Task Force., introduced the Resolution to endorse Measure J. Gibson presented the GSA with a PowerPoint presentation describing the current housing shortage in Davis, and claiming that the construction of the Nishi and Davis Live (Oxford Circle) projects would alleviate significant stress on the rental market.
Gibson noted that only two market-rate apartments have been approved since 2000, and estimated that the current Davis rental market falls about 7,150 beds behind current demand—not even beginning to account for the continuous growth in undergraduate and graduate student populations.
According to Gibson, Measure J will go to a vote in just under one month. He also recalled that the Nishi project has been the fourth project proposed under Measure R. Developers project that it would provide about 330 affordable beds, out of a total of 2200 new beds located throughout 700 apartments. The site would include light retain and three- to four-story buildings.
Gibson’s resolution also included a measure to express support for the Davis Live housing complex. Davis Live would be constructed on Oxford Circle Drive, on the site of a former fraternity house next to the Cuarto Dormitories. This proposal includes seven stories, with the first one to two stories occupying light retain and parking needs. Davis Live, according to Gibson, could provide 77 more affordable beds for students.
Members of the GSA expressed skepticism regarding the bundling of support for both proposals. One student claimed that the last time Nishi came up, organizers hired fake grassroots leaders in order to rile up the support of student groups such as GSA and the ASUCD, and have allegedly spent nearly $80,000 to influence the outcome of the current city council election. Whether or not these claims are entirely factually true awaits further investigation.
Other graduate students voiced public health concerns, citing the proximity of a train and freeway to the potential Nishi site. Those students felt that the Davis Live project was more likely to pass because it was not located near these downtown features.
Gibson refuted any potential health hazards caused by traffic for future Nishi residents; proponents of the project believe that taking people off of roads by bringing them closer to campus will offset any increased downtown traffic resulting from the proposed development. Developers have also suggested planting trees alongside one side of the project.
However, the most evident point of contention between graduate students and the City of Davis regarding the Nishi proposal lies with its development of undeveloped land. Some graduate students felt that the project did not go far enough with affordability, and that its addition to the downtown landscape “has important consequences for gentrification.” Some community members also fear that the city will be forced to subsidize Nishi.
According to Gibson, Davis formerly received up to $2 million yearly from the state for the purpose of affordable student housing construction. The official goal for affordable unit saturation used to be 35%. However, even the Nishi and Oxford Live projects offer 10%-12% affordability. This is where the divide between Measure J and R student activists and opponents materializes; at least from the student perspective, no one is arguing that Davis does not need to construct more housing—only that the proposals currently on the table do not go far enough.
Yet student voter-participation remains a significant contributing factor to the representation of student voices in community decision-making. Measure A lost by only 700 votes, according to Gibson, because homeowners wishing to keep affordable housing projects “out of their backyards” turned up at the polls, rather than students.
The GSA voted to pass the resolution, and moved to consider a resolution intended to express support for the disarming of campus police, introduced by Sociology graduate student B.B. Buchanan. He claimed he penned the resolution in the interest of “the betterment of the University community and the safety of its students of color.”
Buchanan’s comparison of police officers to slave holders left multiple GSA members feeling uncomfortable. He maintained that he does not intend to imply that the police are not necessary or are not doing their job, but that he feels that they can do their jobs without lethal military-grade weaponry.
He cited similar movements to disarm campus police at the University of Pittsburgh, Evergreen State College, Portland State University, and the University of Cincinnati as precedents of student organization against hyper-policing and police violence.
Multiple graduate students expressed concerns with the prospect of disarmed campus police arriving to remedy an active shooter situation. Buchanan claimed that police intervene in less than two percent of such situations, and that infrastructural changes—like altering the structure of doors, so that they remain locked—would better prepare the campus to handle such situations. He also proposed that armed City of Davis police might be called under such circumstances.
Buchanan offered community-based response systems to replace “calling the cops” as a preliminary response to the commission of minor crimes. He claimed that police are not trained to intervene in all of the situations in which they are expected to, such as potentially dangerous mental health crises, and that expecting them to do so often proves counterproductive.
The GSA approved the resolution as it currently stood, although a number of students remained vocally uncomfortable with its wording and security implications.
Next, the GSA invited City Council Candidate Larry Guenther to speak to students, for the purpose of considering a resolution to endorse his candidacy.
Guenther claimed that he would represent the interests of graduate students because he was once a graduate student at UC Davis, which he described as a “happy time” in his life, and because he allegedly continues to volunteer with graduate student organizations to further their interests.
However, Guenther’s self-described “soft no” on the Nishi proposal separated Guenther’s local politics from those of students. “I would love student housing, but we get one chance to develop this site,” he argued. According to Guenther, the site must be developed ideally from the start, because it will stand for at least a century.
Guenther noted that he would “be happy if things [housing developments in Davis] were denser.”
Significantly, one student mentioned the fact that Guenther’s website lists him as a supporter of Measure J, in spite of his very vocal “soft no.” According to the candidate, the Measure J listed on his website refers to an old name for the current Measure R that proposes that community members enjoy the right to vote on peripheral development.
Students asked Guenther to clarify his role as the former Vice President of the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association, an organization which urges Davis to “grow sensibly without losing its soul.” Guenther claimed that the organization’s activism against housing developments such as the Trackside project “wouldn’t hurt students much,” because the proposal endeavored to do little for affordability. The Association campaigned to reduce the height of the proposed six-story housing structure to four stories, a compromise with the City Code mandate of three stories.
When asked about his response to last year’s Picnic Day Five incident, Guenther categorized the city’s decisions as a set of “errors in judgement.” He claimed to support disarming campus police, and disapproved of the use of undercover cops by the city. Other than supporting the resolution to disarm campus police, Guenther did not call for any specific reform strategies, but stressed the importance of “transparency and accountability in government.”
When asked about his suggestions for the city’s response to climate change, Guenther cited the photovoltaic units to be required on some levels of new development, and implored the city to examine microgrids and preserve the urban tree canopy.
However, particularly with regard to the issue of Measures J and R, some students were not satisfied. Gibson stood up in front of the GSA, and asserted that “taking a soft no is not the type of leadership I want to see,” and emphasized the role Nishi could play in adding desperately-needed housing units to the Davis rental market as soon as possible. He also expressed worry that if the development is rejected another time, it will be withdrawn altogether. The Nishi project proposed before the current scheme featured only half of the density of the current model, and its planning cost nearly $1 million.
A geology graduate student, however, applauded Guenther’s efforts to listen to students concerns, and express them back to the Davis City Council “when they stonewall.”
The GSA needed to consult its rules in order to determine whether or not the resolution passed. Submitted were 37 of “yes” votes, 37 abstentions, and 11 “against” votes. Because the GSA voting rules do not specify whether a resolution needs a majority of votes to pass or a majority of affirmative votes from people currently in the room, the GSA passed the resolution on the basis of the former qualification.
The next and final political resolution considered by the GSA proposed to endorse Dean Johansson in the district attorney race.
Johansson spoke to students about the role of education in defeating the “prison-industrial complex,” and his faith that a progressive district attorney would play a role in reducing the negative impacts on racial policing felt by Yolo County. He claimed that Yolo County has the highest jury trial rate out of all California counties, that 93% of direct-file cases are of minorities, and that black and brown individuals are ten and two times more likely, respectively, to become incarcerated. Johansson also continued to stress that “one million dollars in education saves fives million in incarceration.”
Additionally, Johansson mentioned an ordinance that passed through Davis approximately two months ago. Passed “without much fanfare,” it gave citizens rights to vote on which surveillance equipment police get to receive and keep from the Department of Defense, and how they get to use it.
A geology graduate student asked Johansson how he would respond to the issue of a bike thief being present within one’s own department. The candidate emphasized that he doesn’t think “that we should be victims,” and that “real harm is being done.” He highlighted citizen oversight in policing and prosecution as key to a democratic society, citing the Picnic Day Five incident as evidence of the need for citizens to hold public officials accountable for their actions.
Johansson was unable to immediately recall the quantity of funds Yolo County spends on criminal prosecution when asked by a student, but replied that he could locate the quantity for him.
The GSA passed the resolution to endorse Johansson with little opposition.
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