By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – Indivisible Yolo and Yolo People Power and DSA hosted a forum on Monday for the Davis City Council. Moderating the forum for District 1 was CJ Watson.
Dan Carson is the incumbent and he is being challenged by Kelsey Fortune and Bapu Vaitla.
Question: So in 2020, the city commissioner and hundreds of community members advocated for structural changes in public safety. Is there anything remaining from the nine safety recommendations that you want to advance and what have you done to do so?
Bapu Vaitla: There’s definitely still work to be done. I was involved intimately in the that process, so I’ve been tracking how we’re doing. We’re doing great on some and some remain to be done. We know that there’s racial disparities and arrests and recommended charges and traffic stops. We haven’t analyzed what the causes are. Is there actually bias in policing or is it more social determinants of crime? What are the factors that contribute? We also can expand our specialty court and restorative justice systems. We know that they’ve been successful in the amount that we’ve implemented them already. And what’s really close to my heart is creating a community navigator program where we can bring the talents of our community to bear in developing relationships of trust with the unhoused, with folks with mental health difficulties, folks with substance use difficulties to, to give them connection to the social services to which they’re entitled. Also say that the Department of Social Services is great that we’ve created it, but also we need to make some changes, to make sure the implementation is successful.
Dan Carson: When George Floyd was murdered, and this issue came before our council, we all were shocked. We all wanted to do the right thing to make everyone in this community feel safe, and to feel welcome. So we welcomed the three-part subcommittee report that came to us that gave us a very long menu of options to address these issues. We worked with our city staff and the community and our council subcommittees to turn that into a cookbook. What are the specific changes in dollars and people and policies to implement those things? I stand by the full list of the, the recommendations that our council approved on April 6th, 2021. We do have to follow through on the racial disparity data. We had a lot of work to do to make sure we fully implement a crisis now system that will divert calls from our police department through 988 emergency call system instead of 911. We’re trying to bring a large group of folks together across our county to do that. We need to make sure we stay on that for, it’ll take three or four years to do this right. We need to do it right,
Kelsey Fortune: I was also very active in these conversations happening in the community a couple years ago. I hope that we can continue to move forward. I know that “the nine” was a starting point and is not the solution to all of our problems. A crisis-now model for the county sounds great, but I would still like to see the city take more action when it comes to diverting calls away from armed response. Furthermore, that could easily be done through our 9 1 1 dispatch system rather than having a separate call service. As, often, people in crisis don’t know the best response even for themselves. I think it’s important that moving forward we collect data, that we utilize data as an economist, this is where I live and create performance standards across the board for our public safety so that we are getting what is working best for our community.
Question: Even with a perceived rise in crime rates, residents feel unsafe and uneasy. What are your thoughts about what should be done?
Dan Carson: There was a concern that showed up in a survey we did in the spring. And the question before council was is that because of a real change in crime rates or criminal activity, or was it a perception? We had national campaigns talking about crime, and was it that what people were showing up on Nextdoor Davis was a reaction to national politics. Our response was to ask our police chief to research this. Take a look. Is there something we’re missing in the data? Our criminal justice data was showing that other than a real spike in crime at the beginning of covid, that things settled down and stayed pretty flat…. I will say there is a real crime concern and a traffic safety concern that I’ve made a part of my campaign platform. We need to frankly have more cops writing traffic tickets. We need non-op solutions like the new speed bumps we just put on one of our streets on Humboldt in our district. And I’m after $250,000 to redesign a roundabout in our town that will solve accidents that are just waiting to happen among motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
Kelsey Fortune: When it comes to a perceived rise in crime that makes people feel unsafe, I think it’s really important that we’re communicating the data to our community. And the fact that while it may feel different right now, then it has felt before that that’s may not actually be the case. I feel like there hasn’t been as open communication between our council and our community in previous years. And that’s something that can be improved upon by council members making themselves accessible by having office hours where people can come and actually speak with you about the issues that they’re facing. The fact of the matter is we don’t report crime very well. We don’t record it very well because there are a lot of crime happening in Davis that are not the kind of thing that people feel comfortable going to the police with. We’re in a college town, those violent crimes are happening, and we’re not talking about that. Instead, we’re talking about catalytic converters. We need victim services so that people can feel comfortable and confident going to get help and they’re actually being help for them.
Bapu Vaitla: City council has this dual role where it needs to comport itself in a way where people feel like they’re being heard, that if there’s fears that they feel like they’re being listened to and council is responding, but also to provide a holistic picture of what’s happening with both crime and crime reduction in our community. And when we look at the data, we do see that property theft is sometimes rising a little bit, sometimes stable. We also see that other kinds of crime, including violent crimes within city limits, are declining. So that kind of communication is really important. It’s nuanced is to make information accessible and available. Part of the problem also is that we know that neighborhood, social media and the information polarization of our society, where you have preexisting ideas that then get reinforced that’s part of the problem. But nonetheless, we still have to make a commitment to making information about trends in crime accessible, available, transparent and nuanced.
Question: There was a survey that we’ll talk about later, but it demonstrated significant differences in perception of police when comparing by respondents of race. Each of you have talked about equity in some way, but I would like for you to be able to step up, and talk about your equity platforms.
Kelsey Fortune: The question is really what equity issues are faced are we facing in our city. And that’s much broader than just policing. Though policing is a piece of that. There are many other inequities faced by the people in our community. Those less represented are often at the, at the front of this we see inequities in our environmental access. It’s been shown that, you know, the distribution of trees in our community is inequitable based on, if you look at it based on income, it’s been you know, there’s often heat islands from parking lots near lower income areas as well. Access to our community gardens is often not something that’s available to everyone as there’s long lists. There’s so many things in our community that are inequitable. And we really should be looking at every single piece as something that is, has the potential to be treating people differently based on their gender, based on their age, based on their ability. And we need to make sure that that’s a, a focus in all policy.
Bapu Vaitla: I’ll be really blunt in answering this question. The hard truth is that Davis is not a welcoming place for people of color. We can think of ourselves as tolerant. We can think of ourselves as committed to social equity. But the number of friends of color who’ve been low income, middle income, high income, who’ve chosen to move away from our community because it doesn’t feel comfortable for them, it doesn’t feel safe. I feel that, I feel that every day. And I can only imagine what African Americans and black people in this also feel you know, just this past weekend at the Homecoming parade for our high school, a white man leaned out of his truck and yelled white power to a group of black high school students. They’ll keep that, those students, those kids will keep that inside of them for the rest of their lives. Like I have kept incidents inside me for the rest of my life. This is also our community for all the things that we should be proud of. There are some things that we need to take a hard look at and say, this isn’t right who we are, what we’re doing is not good enough. We need to critique that. Ultimately the evaluation of whether we’re anti-racist isn’t about just data. It isn’t about our own self-evaluation of that we’re equitable. It’s about whether black and brown people want to and can live in our city. I would add in closing that representation on city council, diverse rep representation is important to make that happen.
Dan Carson: As Bapu mentioned about the treatment of people who are here… We’re not immune from, from racial problems, driving while black is a real thing that affects real people, but it’s also about how it affects the people who are not here, who are excluded from our community. Our housing approach is very much, has to do with equity. I have fought for housing. I have fought hard for housing. It makes me unpopular in some quarters around here, but it’s very important. When we had that vote on the university mall, I was the swing vote to allow student housing across the street for the university. And some of those emails that were coming to me and my council colleagues were disparaging of students. They don’t contribute anything to our communities, some folks said. it was appalling. And you can’t ignore the fact that at this point at UC Davis, a disproportionate number of the students, if you will, and it’s a good thing, are Hispanic and Asian. They’re enriching our community. And maybe folks don’t understand when they’re anti student, they’re putting their thumb on the racial makeup of our community. We need to bear that in mind when we think about fighting for housing in this community.