By David M. Greenwald
Yolo Committee for Diverse and Inclusive Elections (YCDIE) on Saturday afternoon held a candidates forum for the City Council candidates and the Supervisor candidates for the Fourth District.
For this portion of the forum, each group got separate questions.
Question 3: City of Davis Social Services Commission, the Police Accountability Commission, and the Human Relations Commission are discussing reprioritization of police funding. If you were a council member what ways would you like to see functions currently performed by the police to be shifted to other departments?
Colin Walsh suggested the need to have all of the stakeholders involved in the process. “I think that these commissions is a good place to start,” he said. “I think we need Community involvement in the process. I also think we need the police department itself involved in the process.”
He said as he was been walking in the district he has heard a range of concerns ranging from mental health to bicycle theft.
Walsh said this is about more than just shifting responsibilities, and “we may actually need to find more funding as well to deal with some of the issues as we re-envision how deal with some things that are currently in the police department.”
He said he is open to the idea but believes it is tough because of tight funding currently.
“I see there are ways that we can change and do better,” Walsh added.
Dillan Horton said this is an issue he has been dealing with as chair of the Police Accountability Commission. He is also currently chairing the subcommittee being referenced in the question.
“I think it has to start with fundamentally separating things that we normally think as social services, community services, away from our law enforcement and away from our administration of the police department entirely,” Horton said.
He referenced people that are having mental health crises or have a substance abuse issue. He also suggested traffic enforcement, as well, which he acknowledged as a more difficult one to tackle.
He wants to find a way to get those services out to people in way that’s different from the current delivery of those services.
“I think that can be delivered through a separate existing department,” he said.
Will Arnold said they have done a number of incredibly progressive initiatives on policing since he has been on council. In particular, “Creating and filling the Police Accountability Commission and enhancing the role of our independent police auditor.”
He also noted the creation of the alternative dispute resolution process as an option for complaints about the police. Arnold further noted their progressive electronic surveillance ordinance which utilizes the ACLU model language.
Will Arnold noted the last three positions added to the police department have included a homelessness coordinator and someone to assist the homelessness coordinator. And this year the only position they added to the entire city staff was a mental health officer, in conjunction with the county.
“We’ve been moving in this direction, but there’s certainly more work to be done,” he said, stating, “I’ve made a proposal for reimagining and redesigning and repurposing our public safety delivery system in Davis including renaming the department the Department of Community Safety.”
“Our officers tell me that they are our front-line workers on mental health, homelessness , drug abuse ,” he said. “Those ought to be handled by professionals trained in those fields.”
Question 4: In your view what are the structural issues that lead to a disproportionate number of people of color living unhoused and what can we do locally to address it?
Lucas Frerichs responded that one thing the city needs to be able do is have the ability to create housing which is affordable for people.
“That is one way that a city council member can really work to increase the ability for people to live in the community, and also live well in the community,” he said.
“Systemic racism exists in Davis, but in part because it exists in the US. It obviously involves our institutions collectively upholding racist policies,” he said. “It’s a ripple effect from hundreds of years of racist and discriminatory practices that still play out across the country today,” Frerichs said.
Looking at various statistics, he said, “The rates of African Americans being incarcerated are at more than five times the rate of white people in the US. Even though African American and Hispanics only make up 32 percent of the US population, they made up 56 percent of all incarcerated people in 2015, according to the NCAAP.“
He also noted that only 8 percent of African Americans receive mental health services, compared to 18 percent of whites and he argued that, while it’s really important to work on housing issues, it’s also very important to work on economic development and economic opportunity issues. He believes that working on housing issues as a council is a priority.
Larry Guenther responded that people of color, given the history of racism in this country, got a really late start and as a result are way behind in terms of the acquisition of wealth.
“So a person of color has one-tenth the wealth of whites,” he said. Wealth being savings, equity in property, he explained. “That is a very difficult thing to overcome.”
He noted that wealth goes generation to generation. “I got help for college from my family,” he said. “If my family didn’t have that help, would I have made it through college?”
“Housing is a big issue,” he said. “But access to the social safety nets is also really critical.”
Guenther said, “The criminalization of being black and being a person of color, the warping of crime statistics to make it look like it’s about being black—when white people got help because everyone said it was a social issue, but when those same issues came up for people of color, it’s because they’re naturally criminal.”
He said that “getting real affordable housing, as opposed to some of the other affordable housing that’s been approved lately that’s more expensive than market rate housing on campus—I think is critical.”
Question 5: As a council member what role do you see yourself playing in reducing racism and economic disparity in our community?
Kelsey Fortune said, “My role as a councilmember is to speak for the people of Davis. The first thing that requires is listening to the community.”
She said what she is doing right now “is making myself really available to the community.
“I think one of the things we have really lost is that line of communication between people who are representing and the people—and the people who are in power,” she said. That’s really important, Fortune said, because the people running for most of the districts “are not particularly diverse.
“I want to be that voice for those who feel they are not being heard,” she said.
Rochelle Swanson said the role of the council members is to be a convener and do the outreach. She said it’s important to look at what the numbers are in terms of demographics in order to do proper outreach.
She said it’s also important to create jobs that are not connected to the university so that people can not only live here but also have a job.
“One of the ways we can address racism is for all of us to acknowledge that we have implicit bias no matter our background or what we look like and utilizing the fact that we have this great platform that were using today,” she said. “I also think it’s important to have voices and to point out where disparities exist for people who don’t want to participate.”
She said it’s not easy for people to feel welcome and as though they have a voice. “How do we as councilmembers and the city do a better job doing outreach?” she said.
Josh Chapman said one of the biggest issues we face is access to public education, to healthcare and to affordable housing, as well as access to representation in the government.
“Any reform, any progress we make has to reflect the priorities of our community and the values of our community as we move forward,” he said.
“I think the public has to be engaged not only in policy-making but in oversight,” he said, noting that an active community holds its leaders accountable. “One of the most important things that any council member does is appoint people to commissions and I think appointing people of diverse backgrounds to any oversight committee is of the utmost importance.
“I will make sure the people from traditionally under-represented communities voices will be at that table, they will be heard,” he said.
Connor Gorman said there are direct and indirect ways that the council can reduce racial and economic disparities in our community.
He spoke more generally about the need to have a more diverse perspective when thinking about these policies and proposals. He said we need a city staff that is more in tune of the needs of the different groups in the community.
Gorman talked about hiring and the fact that there are stringent requirements and qualifications for people to be hired by the city. “We need to think about other types of experiences and expertise that people might bring to city staff when proposing policies and what not.”
Question 6: What changes would you propose to better support the public defender’s office to address structural racism within the criminal justice system?
Linda Deos responded that the Dean Johansson campaign running in 2018 for district attorney brought to light many issues that were apparent in Yolo County. She noted the disparity in the expenditures by the district attorney’s office versus the public defender’s office, and said that she doesn’t want to look at a dollar for dollar comparison because the DA’s office does things other than what the public defenders do.
“But what I would like to see is redirecting some of that money away from our Law & Justice budget which is currently 47 percent of our general fund—47 percent goes to law enforcement and our district attorney, that has to change,” she said. “To me that means re-allocating monies away from there into the Public Defender’s office, yes, but it could also be social programs.”
She said that right now the district attorney’s office oversees a number of programs that are not necessarily related to their core function, prosecuting criminals and helping with victims. “Let’s take other things out of that,” she said, noting that restorative justice doesn’t need to be under the DA’s umbrella.
Deos also advocated for the need to end cash bail, which she argued disproportionately impacts the poor and people of color.
Jim Provenza said that he asked for a parity-study between the district attorney’s office and the public defender’s office. He said it is comparing apples to oranges to compare the total budget, “but what we’ve asked for is that there be parity between the two offices, between the part that the public defender does and the part that the DA does, and make sure that they’re equal.”
He said this equality is fair since one side represents the prosecution and one side represents the defendant. “They should have equal resources,” he said. “We’re going to see that that happens.”
Provenza believes that the bigger issue is what they are doing to reform the criminal justice system and he believes that Yolo County is doing some unique things. He cited bringing in the Day Reporting Center. “That’s an alternative to jail,” he said. It enables people to go through drug treatment and other program, “whatever it is they need in the day time.”
He said it allows them to go home at night and get programming during the day and it’s been very successful in his view.
Provenza said, “we’ve reduced recidivism through the Neighborhood Court.” He discussed that, for minor offenses, the victim and perpetrator get together and work out a solution—“that never goes to court, no one ever gets a criminal record.”
They also said that they allocated funding for mental health officials in each one of Yolo County’s police departments. “We are going to look at the issue of racial disparity at our next meeting,” Provenza said. “We’re looking to shift away from prosecution in jail and toward treatment—most people can be treated.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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