Guest Commentary: Council: Science No Basis of Policy

Strategically withheld information  encouraged inaction.

By Alan Hirsch

My beloved Davis has failed to accept the science out of UC Davis on climate change.  I worry for our future if even Davis  can’t face the urgency of our situation.

I urge everyone to watch the March 5th video of Davis City council and listen to their rationalization not to align city policy with UC Davis scientists on the freeway I-80 policy. The city council discussed sending a letter to state officials noting the city’s agreement with Caltrans’ own policy that freeway widening is contrary to the State’s climate action plan and won’t solve congestion. The city council rejected sending the letter, even though no one challenged its substance.

I know some reader here still might think freeway widening works to fix congestion- for them  I wonder who you are replying  if Caltrans policy itself accepts UC Davis research?

Begin watching council rational the “settled science” away beginning at 1:07:41 as Councilmember Donna Neville withdraws her letter and offers two reasons: 1) there was no community consensus, and 2) the letter would not make any difference.

Is consensus the way to measure scientific validity in Davis? Should we accept at face value Councilmember Gloria Partida’s argument that her survey of people she talked to on her walks takes precedence over findings from the UCD Institute of Transportation Studies?   Or Neville’s statement that until we have consensus, we “should not speak to the highest level of government.”  I note the council took a position on the Israel Gaza war before a polarized audience.

Neville’s other reason is even more troubling. She said the letter “did not serve any defined purpose” to affect a government process.  Mayor Josh Chapman emphatically agreed (1:21:20) that nothing Davis could do would make a difference and delivered what seemed like a 9-minute scold to the 34 members of community who spoke and were, in his words, “riled up” for thinking the council could make a difference.

However, additional facts have become known:  a secrete grant application for $105 million to fund the freeway was submitted to the California Transportation Commission (CTC)  just one day before this council meeting.  If Davis Council had had submitted a letter to the CTC noting their lack of support of the project due to its effectiveness and climate harm,  this would have made a difference in their funding decision for this grant.

I don’t know if Donna Neville knew of the grant application that must have been in preparation for months. But it seems unlikely that Josh Chapman as YoloTD chair did not know. It is also worth noting that the YoloTD Executive Director Autumn Bernstein testified before the council on March 5. She knew of this grant application for months and never shared it with the public until 6 days after this council meeting.

Many have noted strategic withholding of information is a powerful tool for government to control the debate.

To me this failure to avoid structural change in transportation is like the challenge M L King confronted in the South with Jim Crow laws in the 1960s. His famous “Letter from A Birmingham Jail” was not to segregationists, but to 8 religion leaders who shared his belief in the justice of Integration– but just not yet — as there was no consensus in the community.  It seems that while we believe in climate change and climate justice in Davis, but as for making changes: “Just not yet.”

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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