YOLO SUN OPINION :
For a variety of reasons (as will be expressed), it has become necessary to temporarily transform this publication into an election accessory with the hope of expanding and balancing key political discourse, leading up to the Woodland City Council election on June 3, 2014.
Mingling politics and journalism, as a candidate in this election, appears to be essential for purposes of serving the public interest, which is my goal. As will become apparent, this goal easily takes precedence over playing pretty, perverse, self-serving / clique-serving political games which more and more consume a greater and greater portion of local election process.
Future columns will focus on topics relevant to these circumstances, with this initial entry concerned with basic background and the Daily Democrat.
Contrasting City Election Processes
An extraordinary absence of public process accompanies contemporary city council elections, as compared with how they were conducted a few decades ago.
Then, the city would hold an open orientation session for council candidates, introducing key city staff members and providing an overview of city operations, so that all candidates might have balanced and convenient access to basic / updated understanding of local municipal function.
This seemed to be the least our city could do for the relatively few persons who each two years applied as council candidates.
Today, only a few city departments practice candidate outreach. There exists no organized effort to accomplish it, leaving city council candidates to whatever independent, likely unbalanced and inequitable measures are available.
Our fundamental commons of local political process has been significantly eroded.
Another example of such an adverse trend is the requirement that candidates must pay the ~$1500 cost of publishing their ballot statement. This basic, equitable political platform was revoked about the time the new century dawned, making it more difficult for ordinary, lower economic-class citizens to participate as candidates and easier for Woodland’s upper-crust, political class, as it were, to better control the local candidate field.
What about local election forums and debates (although debates, per se, are clearly out of bounds, somehow perversely considered uncivil)?
There used to be several city council candidate forums (though, no actual debates worthy of that name), often three events, hosted by the Senior Center, the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtowners, Latino interests, the Daily Democrat, etc.. Recently, the League of Women Voters provides the only remaining election forum venue.
The Daily Democrat used to host a lengthy interview with its publisher, etc., for each city council candidate, as grist for endorsements and relatively extensive and detailed candidate profiles (although separate staff interviews were also conducted). The paper would (to a limited extent) also cover the various candidate forums. The paper’s election coverage is now only a pale reflection of its past process.
The Daily Democrat’s ethical performance, though never very good, recently approaches a nadir.
Serial Election Misbehavior
In 2012, the Daily Democrat refused (or failed, however stated) to report news about the politically relevant fact that City of Woodland did not have a budget for two fiscal years (2010-11, 2011-12). The Daily Democrat also refused to sell Yolo County Supervisor, Duane Chamberlain, political ads making reference to this fact.
The reason the Daily Democrat behaved thus, is because it backed candidates who would be politically harmed, if it reliably reported the huge and hidden news about the absence of a public, city budget, within the time-period city council members were still unethically keeping from public view that half ($2 million) of annual Measure E money was being used in violation of its advisory guidelines, to fund (defaulting) bond service on the new community center project – using money promised for capital improvements to fund out-of-control debt, arisen from this extravagantly designed and imprudently implemented boondoggle, from which it will take the city decades to financially recover.
But hey, why should a newspaper report such things?
In 2010, the Daily Democrat attempted to unethically extort advertising money from community supporters of Measure V, telling them that it would not publish so many of their letters to the editor, saying that they rather needed to buy expensive ads in the paper for purposes of disseminating their political message.
Shaking-down community interests in such a manner is unconscionable, and led to the paper’s editor being described as “a despot” (please see June, 2012, Yolo Sun article).
Newspapers are by principle supposed to abide with what’s often referred to as — “a firewall” — between its potentially conflicting editorial and advertising components. Violating this traditional journalistic standard seems to be a regular specialty of the Daily Democrat.
Twisted News Coverage
News coverage often suffers the same general fate as these letters to the editor, in my experience with this paper, whose posture is often that of a lap-dog for entrenched city-council / chamber-of-commerce type interests.
Let’s take the recent case of its reporting news that Paul Petrovich’s Gateway 2 project — approved by the city council and rubber-stamped by the local superior court — was on appeal (unanimously) found to clearly be in multiple violation of state environmental law.
The Daily Democrat article’s lead referred to the Gateway 2 project being: “Kicked in the teeth. Again.” The “again” seems to refer to the lawsuit (by California Clean Energy Committee) being filed in the first place.
“Kicked in the teeth,” implies an unjustified assault had been committed upon this project, rather than the Daily Democrat simply stating the plain truth, that the city (council) and Petrovich colluded to violate key state law with Gateway 2, a significant aspect of which involved urban decay.
Other examples of such slanted reporting are fairly prevalent.
Lately, the Daily Democrat (yet, so many say: Daily Disappointment) elevates its penchant for slanting of its reporting, to the extent of spending its column inches attempting to pillory yours truly, rather than focusing on what the public actually needs to know.
Instead of duly reporting that two members of Woodland Planning Commission (Fred Lopez and John Murphy) voted with strong voices in opposition to Paul Petrovich’s application for expansion of allowed commercial uses at his Gateway Center, and explaining the solid reasons for their opposing votes, the Daily Democrat spills ink about me that demands retraction, seriously mischaracterizing affairs, jumping to anxious conclusions to see only what it wants to see.
The Daily Democrat is content to ignore slanderous misrepresentations by Petrovich to the Planning Commission, related to his and the city’s recent state appellate court loss, voiding Gateway 2 — while sensationally highlighting my being unfairly refused a rebuttal by the Planning Commission chairperson, who is clearly in Petrovich’s camp, and in frustration calling “bullshit” against such slander.
Petrovich’s attitude and statements starkly displays a likely intention to renew his Gateway 2 proposal — a vital reason for the city to require an environmental impact report regarding expansion of allowed uses at Gateway Center. That’s a hugely crucial news story, passed-up by the Daily Democrat.
Journalism in the public interest is obviously a challenge for this paper.
Another such example, is the context of Petrovich’s remarks before the Planning Commission regarding his failure to continue with plans of a downtown theater complex, after the city collapsed consideration of an alternative project.
Petrovich claims that the cost of a city requirement for an environmental report on that project ($100,000), “would kill me.”
In actuality, the relevant city staff report was falsified to state that no further city processes were required in order for Petrovich’s theater complex to move forward, this falsification being at the center of the city’s collapsing consideration of an alternative project.
More Curious Problems
The Daily Democrat got off on the wrong foot, regarding my city council candidacy, on March 19, with its editorial review naming all political candidates relevant to Woodland, except me.
Then, its brief article about city council candidates included everyone’s picture, except mine (which the paper certainly has on file). It’s also worth noting that the feature story in that day’s paper (about soil studies) was longer than the article about the city council race. The paper expects city council candidates to pay it, in order to play their message.
Below is my demand letter to the Daily Democrat, issued on the day its article hit the street :
Elizabeth Kalfsbeek (and Jim Smith),
Re: Daily Democrat article of April 19
I don’t believe my remark about not being allowed to rebut — as Petrovich was allowed to do — constitutes being “unruly.” “Unruly” means much more than that, and I believe you were slanted with this report.
Plus, Petrovich actually “baited” me at the press table (and why was he even there?). He started that exchange — not me.
I just leaned over a moment later and told him that his repeated (slanderous) characterizations of the Gateway 2 lawsuit and the appellate court were “repellant.” That’s all I said to him and that’s when he jumped up and fled.
His slanderous statements in this regard were a primary reason I requested a rebuttal. That was the actual reference of my calling him “bullshit.”
You have misreported these matters. You should have checked with me to learn the truth, rather than jump to conclusions.
I firmly object to your slanted coverage of these items and demand a published retraction.