Grow west!

In November, anti-sprawl activists in Davis quashed developers’ plans for an 1,800-home development at the ballot box. But a separate group of Davisites has not been as successful in its challenge of the University of California’s home-building plans.

West Davis Neighbors, a community group that mounted a legal challenge to the university’s residential-development plans, announced last week that it had decided not to appeal its lawsuit to the state Supreme Court. That means UC Davis is clear to break ground on its development in the spring, as planned.

The university aims to put housing for 5,000 Aggies and faculty on 225 acres of prime farmland west of Highway 113.

SN&R wrote last year about the handful of development plans threatening to balloon Davis’ borders and population (”Is Davis turning red?"; SN&R Feature Story; November 3, 2005).

West Davis Neighbors opposed the plan, saying the agricultural land had been taken, by eminent domain, from a local family to be used only for student farming. But the group’s legal challenge centered on the university’s planning and decision process within state environmental laws.

The state’s 1st District Court of Appeal sided with the university late last year.

West Davis Neighbors member Dan Carson said, in an e-mail sent to the group’s members, supporters and the media last week, that the group would continue to pursue “other courses of action” to encourage the university to alter its building plans.

—Jeffrey M. Barker

Going Greek

In the sixth century B.C., the Greek legislator and reformist Solon laid out his plan for the Athenian senate. In Athens, the city-state’s laws would be made by 400 senators.

“Somebody asked Solon why the senate needed to be so large,” noted Solon fan and idea man Michael Warnken. “His answer was classic: ‘Because nobody could possibly bribe them all.'”

That’s roughly the idea behind Warnken’s own proposal to expand the California Assembly to more-Greek proportions. The Santa Barbara man wants to multiply the size of the California Assembly tenfold, from its current 80 members to 800 or more. He is currently working with the California Legislative Counsel, to craft ballot language that Warnken hopes to qualify for the November ballot. He’s calling it the Citizens Assembly Act (not to be confused with the Citizens’ Assembly being proposed by state legislators Keith Richman and Joe Canciamilla; see “Some assembly required,” SN&R News, February 2).

In 1850, when the state was first founded, there were 80 Assembly members, just as there are today. Over the ensuing 150 years, the state’s population has steadily increased, along with legislators’ salaries and the great heaps of cash required to win political office.

“When you have 80 people representing 30 million people, it’s just not going to work,” Warnken told SN&R.

Consider that for each member of the California Assembly, there are 424,135 Californians. Even Texas, where legislators are spread pretty thinly, has districts of only about 139,000 people. New Hampshire is the best represented, with 400 reps—about one for every 3,100 residents. The Citizens Assembly Act would bring California closer to the national average of one legislator for every 40,000 citizens.

Warnken said the larger body would be more inclusive and less incumbent-heavy, more like a real house of commons. “Today’s Assembly districts are approaching half a million constituents. That leaves people ignorant of even their representative’s name, let alone access to their royal ear.”

But true to Warnken’s Libertarian leanings, he is emphatically not proposing that the state add 720 politicians to its payroll. He figures it would be most fair to reduce the legislative salary by the multiple of new members. Each citizen legislator in an 800-member Assembly would receive one-tenth of the $111,000 that the pols get now. That would be just above the current federal poverty level of $9,000—which ought to put the common back in our house of commons.

Go to www.caassemblyreform.com for more information.

—Cosmo Garvin