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Roberta L. Millstein
Davis, CA
I am a Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Davis; my research is in the philosophy of science, the history & philosophy of biology, and environmental ethics. I serve on the Open Space & Habitat Commission for the City of Davis. The opinions expressed herein are my own and do not represent my employer’s views in any way. Nothing posted here should be considered official or sanctioned by my employer or any other organization I’m affiliated with.
Recent Activity
Robert, Just to give an example, I see the following article from the Vanguard as one big apology for the Council: https://www.davisvanguard.org/2019/03/my-view-some-are-saying-the-council-is-out-of-step-lets-have-a-look/ But I will say again, whether David is or is not sufficiently critical of the Council is not the main issue. The main issue is the appearance of a news outlet being too cozy with the government. It's a conflict of interest. (I can't help but note a side issue here: that we could not be having the reverse conversation on the Vanguard, since the Vanguard refuses to mention the Davisite by name and deletes all comments and links that do. The article I linked to above is a direct reply to a Davisite article of mine, but there is no mention of the Davisite. I am not sure why you are defending a purported news outlet that behaves like that, not to mention the absence of transparency in its funding sources).
Toggle Commented yesterday on City Council Ethics Questioned at The Davisite
Tia, I've heard you say many times that you don't like to assume people's ill intentions, so I hope that you do the same for us here and assume that we are acting honestly and not "exploiting" a criticism. I know that I am raising genuine concerns that I have and I know that Rik and Colin I are, too. I think this is a genuine concern based on everything I know about the Brown Act from my time on the OSHC. I would be interested in knowing whether the Council consulted legal counsel on this. I suspect that they did not. I think that in the past, the Vanguard was pretty critical of the CC, yes. It is my impression that in recent months it has been much less so. But that is somewhat beside the point. Again, both sides should be avoiding even the appearance of impropriety. Suppose Bernie Sanders did a fundraiser for Democracy Now, a nonprofit news organization. And then we saw a positive article about Bernie Sanders in Democracy Now. You'd wonder, wouldn't you? Well, we shouldn't have to wonder. The press should be separate from government.
Toggle Commented yesterday on City Council Ethics Questioned at The Davisite
Hi Tia, Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the full disclosure. I think in general, yes, public officials need to be careful about the ways in which they support nonprofits, as recommended by this "Everyday Ethics for Local Officials" document: https://www.ca-ilg.org/sites/main/files/file-attachments/resources__Everyday_Ethics_AugOctDec08_0.pdf - I cited this in my original article on this topic: In fundraising or similar situations, public officials must take extraordinary care to separate their roles as fundraisers or representatives of a nonprofit and as public officials. They must strive to ensure that people from whom they've solicited a contribution for a charitable cause understand that such a contribution will not favorably influence their decision on a separate matter. Using one's official position to, in essence, force donations to nonprofits violates state and federal laws that prohibit extortion and protect the public's right to officials' honest services. That being said, I do think that news organizations raise particular concerns because of the importance of having a press that is independent from the government. I think if you take a moment to think beyond Davis, you can think of problematic examples of government entanglement with the press. We do not want that here, even though we know all the players and are friends/neighbors with them. So, although government officials should be cautious with all non-profits, they should be exceedingly cautious -- that is, completely hands off -- with news non-profits. One last thing -- the Brown Act concerns that we raise would likewise be a problem, regardless of non-profit status. As Rik pointed out in his comments, the City Council doesn't even answer questions that commenters ask during public comment, because they not publicly agendized. So, how is it proper to answer questions in an event where the public is not properly noticed of the event, much less the topics? I don't think it is. Keep in mind that the CC isn't merely proposing to attend the event, which I agree would be unproblematic. Rather, they are being advertised as featured speakers for the fundraiser who will speak and answer questions. That is what creates all of the problems. I welcome your thoughts in reply. -Roberta
Toggle Commented yesterday on City Council Ethics Questioned at The Davisite
Thank you for this, Colin. I also hate ordinances that appear to do something but really don’t, especially greenwashed ones. I’ve seen reusable metal straws. Those could be provided in sit down restaurants. I’ve also seen paper straws, but like you, I don’t recall seeing them in Davis. I just got back from a conference in Vancouver. The hotel bar and restaurant gave out paper straws, period. It would still be good if everyone asked you if you needed a straw, just like they now ask if you need a bag, but there is no reason that the straw needs to be plastic.
Toggle Commented yesterday on Plastic Straws Suck at The Davisite
I recall that not too long ago the Davis Vanguard could be pretty scathing in its criticisms of the Council; see, e.g., https://www.davisvanguard.org/2015/12/commentary-council-passes-mous-without-a-word/ and https://www.davisvanguard.org/2015/12/monday-morning-thoughts-ii-on-dissent/ He called their decision "completely irresponsible" and castigated them for approving MOUs on consent without any discussion, calling out current councilmembers Lucas Frerichs and Brett Lee among others. Seems to me that we've not seen that sort of criticism of the Council from the Vanguard in a long time. Seems the relationship has gotten a lot cozier. Even as many citizens are unhappy with recent decisions, the Vanguard offers defenses and explanations. In light of the Council being the featured speakers of a fundraiser for the Vanguard, this does not look good.
Toggle Commented 2 days ago on City Council Ethics Questioned at The Davisite
Posting on behalf of Michael Harrington from an email sent to the City Council and others: Dear Colleagues: I'll join Mr. Cornford. In my 4 years on the CC, never, not in a million years, would any of us have done what the current CC is planning to do in mass with the DV. Where is this arrogance coming from? Take questions? On what, solving the rat problem in Woodland? They cannot hear and discuss anything about solving the rat problem in Davis! Someone should take a video camera on a stand and film the entire event. Otherwise, boycott it. Michael Harrington, Esq. Member, Davis CC, 2000-04
Toggle Commented 2 days ago on City Council Ethics Questioned at The Davisite
Thank you very much, Nancy and Dan. It's gratifying to have others join us in taking a stand on this crucial issue, an issue that affects the very functioning of Davis's democracy.
Toggle Commented 2 days ago on City Council Ethics Questioned at The Davisite
Nora, I agree that people can change, but nothing that Biden has done since then gives me confidence that he has changed. He said, "I wish I could have done something" during Anita Hill's hearing. Wtf? He was in charge of the hearing. He is not taking responsibility for his past actions. Similarly, he's joked about the hugging, etc. ("I just want you to know, I had permission to hug Lonnie"). I agree with you that he needs to drop out of the race. Good idea to start up Pancakes and Politics now! There are so many candidates that it's hard to get a handle on what all of them stand for. I'm totally game to host this on the Davisite and would be willing to take a candidate, too!
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In a recent Davis Enterprise letter to the editor, Laurie Friedman writes that we need “a moderate candidate” for U.S. President, suggesting that “Biden would unify the country as he has broad appeal to blue-collar workers in the Midwest as well as Democrats generally.” Must we make the same devastating... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at The Davisite
This is great, Nancy, thank you. When I teach environmental ethics, I typically assign an article by Ramachandra Guha called "Radical American Environmentalism and Wilderness Preservation: A Third World Critique." I don't agree with everything in the essay, but one of the things I really like about the essay is that he draws attention to the connection between increasing militarism and environmental degradation, pointing out that the connection is too often overlooked. But he doesn't elaborate on the connection much, so I spend some time trying to get students to think about the connection. At first, most don't see it. Then, the first thing that comes to mind is the direct impact of waging war, especially nuclear bombs. Then they start to think about all the resources and land devoted toward militarization (producing weapons, airplanes, ships, bombs, etc., plus military bases and weapons testing), and realize that the impact is massive. It's right under our noses, yet too often goes under the radar (pun intended). This is the perfect thing to highlight for Earth Day.
Nora, I am all for working together on issues that we agree on, and I agree that there are a number of them. However, that is impossible while the Vanguard refuses to name the Davisite by name, even going so far as to delete references to the Davisite from commenters who dare to use the name (let alone a link!). Frankly, I find his behavior childish at best, but it has persisted for the entire existence of the Davisite and I see no openness to changing on David's part.
My experience on the Open Space and Habitat Commission is similar, Greg. Just recently, were it not for a technicality, we would have been asked to weigh in on a ag mitigation property for WDAAC, even though the ordinance prescribing appropriate ag mitigation land is very complex and even though the information we received was scanty at best. Hopefully we will have more time and information to properly make the determination. As for the cumulative impacts of various, that's a subject worthy of an article (or more) in its own right; happy to publish something on that for the Davisite.
Paul Boylan, what do you mean about a competitive relationship between the Vanguard and the Davisite? I don't see it that way. Can you elaborate? And really, the disagreement between you and me comes down to the likelihood of the councilmembers making a mistake and having more than two of them discussing the same issue. That's a judgment call, not a legal one -- and certainly not "hype" or "bias."
Paul Boylan, thanks for your reply. Seems like we disagree about the likelihood that a majority of the Council could (probably inadvertently) end up commenting on the same subject, but agree that there are other legitimate concerns about the event. Can you say more about those other concerns? You've obviously thought about these issues a lot so I'd like to hear your opinion.
"They can go to parties at the same time, eat dinner together and go on retreats together - all without violating the Brown Act." Yep. The article acknowledges that. That was not our concern. Rather, our concern is that this specific event, with speeches from each councilmember and Q and A from the audience, would make it easy for anyone, even someone who knows the Brown Act, to cross the line. A wise elected official would avoid situations where that line could be easily crossed or appear to be easily crossed. I very much resent your accusation of sensationalist journalism. I have a genuine concern that I felt it was important to bring to the community's attention.
Good questions, Ron.
Personally, I don't consider this to be a journalism site, but rather a community blog. More relevantly, we have not accepted any outside money from anyone (no advertising, no donations).
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I like Mayor Brett Lee. I donated to his campaign. I endorsed him and put his lawn sign on my lawn. I voted for him. I haven’t always agreed with his votes on Council, but that’s normal. But now Mayor Lee plans on hosting a fundraiser for the Davis Vanguard... Continue reading
Posted Apr 11, 2019 at The Davisite
Ron, my Enterprise op-ed (linked above) mentions the Mace 390, now called Leland Ranch. It was originally purchased in late 2010 with the intent of being sold with an agricultural easement placed on it. It was right before I joined the OSHC, so I don't know all the details, but I think the City got a good price for it. What we call Mace 25 was originally part of that Mace 390 parcel, not a part of the parcel closer to the City that has been proposed to be used for MRIC. As my op-ed describes, the OSHC recommended that an easement not be put on the Mace 25 so that it could be used for a community farm, so that is how it got separated out -- retained by the City rather than sold with an easement. Little did we know that it would get sucked up into the MRIC proposal, or (I believe) we would have recommended that it be sold with an easement as the rest of Mace 390 did. Is that explanation clear?
Agreed, Ron, I think the current Council is highly unlikely to go for that as long as there is a willing and interested developer for the property, which there seems to be. It's been a year and a 3/4 since the old FEIR was certified. I wonder how the traffic has changed since then?
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Buow picture taken by R. Millstein, 8/2017 Davisites may recall the large proposed business park, the Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC), which would be sited on the farmland outside of the Mace curve to the east of Davis, subject to a Measure R vote. The project proposal was withdrawn in... Continue reading
Posted Apr 6, 2019 at The Davisite
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(From Press Release) The Valley Clean Energy board of directors will meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 11, in the Community Chambers at Davis City Hall, 23 Russell Blvd. in Davis. The meeting is open to the public. The board — which includes members of the Davis and Woodland city... Continue reading
Posted Apr 6, 2019 at The Davisite
SG, no comments have been "censored." We post everything that is sent to us, excluding personal attacks -- which in truth we have rarely seen (I've not seen a personal attack in over a year, I think). We welcome respectful disagreement. If there are posts that you disagree with, please make your disagreements known. What I can guarantee is that you won't be personally attacked for doing so.
Ha! Better off sticking with our lovely Davis water, perhaps having run it through a filter first. :-)