This post is another that is relevant to my hometown and the challenges we face here.  Background reading (here and here) may be required to understand parts of it but I hope that the message’s relevance to other communities will not be lost.

Markets fail when transactions do not result in efficient outcomes from a societal point of view.  One cause of market failure concerns the problem of one partner in a transaction having more or better information than the other.  The lack of (quality) information by one party leads to power imbalances that can harm one party and inappropriately confer benefits on another that a free market transaction would not allow.

Two recent examples of information asymmetries related to land use decisions in and around Davis explain why we as citizens tend to approach such decisions in what appears to be narrow, self-interested and ultimately very conservative ways.  In both cases it is clear that one party in the transaction possesses more and better information that risks placing the City at a disadvantage in the transaction it is negotiating.

1. The Cannery project, whatever its value in terms of housing provided, suffers from a significant problem of lack of connectivity to the rest of the city.  This is especially true for alternate forms of transportation such as biking and walking.  This problem is significant because the City has set clear goals concerning the reduction of carbon emissions—most of which are generated by transportation choices.  Developing Cannery in a way that people living there have choices concerning transportation is therefore in the City’s interests and the City should negotiate any agreements with owners/developers/builders with this goal (among others) in mind.

But citizens are at an information disadvantage because the owners can merely say (and have said), “What you are requesting (in two grade separated crossings, for example), is too expensive.”  But of course the question in return must be: “Too expensive relative to what?”  Since the owners/developers/builders are not required by law to disclose how much they stand to earn from the City’s decision to change the zoning classification that will allow them to develop it according to their wishes, it is not possible for citizens to judge the veracity of the owner’s statement

Of course the City can hire (and apparently has hired) an independent firm to estimate this. Of course the owner can merely dispute these estimates.  The result is that the citizens of Davis are not privy to the actual information and therefore cannot determine whether they can and should press for the preferred infrastructure changes.  Further, when the owner asserts that it has the best interests of the City of Davis in mind and also wants “connectivity”, this assertion is not useful information (from a transaction point of view) because it may or may not be true.

In addition, the owner has much more information about the City because the City is required to conduct its business in a transparent way whereas the owner is not required to disclose private deals that concern the property.  The owner also has information about individual decision makers and their needs and what it may take to sway them to accept its proposals.  This is not an accusation of wrongdoing but merely highlights that information asymmetries exist at multiple levels and leaves citizens in a position of not really knowing whether they are getting all they might get out of the project.

2. The so-called “land swap” concerning the Shriner and Mace 391 properties also suffers from information asymmetries—also at several levels.  Peripheral development will always be a cause of much public debate in this City given the value of the surrounding land for agricultural purposes, concerns about sprawl and the need to consider the best ways to grow revenue and jobs for Davis. However, the debate is almost always constrained by the lack of full information available to citizens that will inform them as they negotiate with landowners/purchasers/developers.

In this case there are several pieces of information held by those proposing the project but not shared with the public.  This information would greatly enhance the citizens’ ability to consider the pros and cons of the project and negotiate from an informed position. These include (but are not limited to):

  • What information indicates that 493 acres is necessary for a park?  What market research indicates that this size is critical?
  • What kinds of firms have indicated an upfront interest in moving into such a park should it be developed?  (I realize that it is not possible to name the firms—there are privacy issues that must be considered, but what kinds and size of firms from what sectors have expressed interest would seem to be the kind of information that should be forthcoming).
  • What are the 2:1 mitigation options that have been considered, and are they demonstrably in the interests of the City? Or does mitigation occur on land far away in a way that does not preserve farmland of equal value to that which is lost?

Again, it is not helpful for those proposing the project to merely state that “This project is a win/win for the City” or “As long-term residents of Davis we have the best interests of the City in mind”.  This information does not inform the discussion but merely opens any critique of the project into accusations against those making the critique of engaging personal attacks against people who clearly have the best interests of the City in mind.

Further, as in the case of the Cannery, those proposing the project have much more information about City decisions and have the ability to use that information as leverage points to sway votes in their direction.

Is any of this evil?  No.  It is just good old deal making.  It is people acting in their self-interest to achieve an end that will benefit them financially.  There is nothing evil in that and I do not begrudge them of it.  However, we as citizens must recognize that we are at an information disadvantage here.  We need to acknowledge that significant information asymmetries exist and they risk placing us in a position of achieving a less than optimal transaction from the perspective of what our City needs.

This explains why I, and many others, approach such transactions in a very cautious way.  This is why we ask for things like Measure R and “slow go” approaches.  We know that the asymmetries exist and we want the time to gather as much information as we can. We want to compel those proposing such “deals” to expose as much information as possible.  We want to create less information imbalance so that our interests are not subordinated to the interests of others.

I have no illusions that we will ever achieve something approaching “Pareto optimal” outcomes in such transactions but it is absolutely in our interests to reduce the asymmetries as much as possible to achieve outcomes that contribute to the broadest social good as possible.

Wanderers in a Storm

Posted: 27 August 2013 in Uncategorized

Confused by the unpredictable

Winds and rain from all points,

To the door we come.

In hope of

Change.

 

Invited inside without condition we are

Welcomed—naturally, simply, as

Family members known.

A greeting made of words of harmony

Much needed after the raging

 

But then a reminder of

Our full participation both

In making and maintaining; seeding and

Nurturing the elements

Of the confusion.

 

And we name it as so

Also in hope.  And hope

Waits but a very short while to find

Release,

And the promise (accepted) that all must be well.

 

Then a story—a story of stories—

That places us and the storm

(Of our making) into the

Context of everything. And we find

Our place. A real place.

 

A calling out, a plea!

(Even as we see supper laid).

Followed by a reminder that we are of a lineage

(Remember?—a real place)

Ending with another plea (in expectation)

 

And then on to the meal:

Brought to the table through

Toil. Filling (!), even as the blood, sweat, tears and

The body

That made it for us linger in its tasting.

 

And then (too soon, too soon) time to

Leave this place of solace, of stories, of food.

No fear in leaving

No fear, no fear…

Sent (thrust?) into the storm expressly.

 

Out the door into

The tempest of our choosing.  But now to calm it and

To live un-harried within it.

No more buffeted, and no more

To wander.

 

(This is the arc of worship that makes us a people who stride forward to meet what must come.)

The following concerns some issues in my local community.  FYI: The Vanguard is a local newsblog

In an April 2011 in-depth report The Economist catalogued the failure of California’s 100-year experience with direct democracy. And while it reserved special ire for ballot initiatives, it also questioned the way that referendums and even recalls (the two other forms of direct democracy in our state) have been implemented, concluding that the de facto “citizen legislature” has “caused chaos”.

Contrasting California’s approach to direct democracy with that of Switzerland, The Economist noted that while the Swiss model was designed to move opponents towards compromise, the California system was designed to create confrontation. The result, the report argues, is a fragmented and even contradictory legislative process, an ineffective and bound legislature, opaque budgeting and appropriations processes and a disjointed constitution.  What goes unexamined in the analysis is the effect of direct democracy on local political processes.

As the calls multiply for various issues to be placed on the ballot here in Davis (The Vanguard noted four possible initiatives on August 20th), I think it is important for us to take a critical look at the purpose of these calls, and examine alternatives that remove the confrontation inherent in them while providing us with what we as a community need to move forward on contentious issues.

I am not opposed to direct democracy—especially if it is deployed to hold elected officials accountable.  But in order to use it effectively for that purpose we must focus first on increasing accountability in a way that makes referendums rare—a kind of last resort for when the priorities of the community are disregarded.

I have two major concerns about the use of direct democracy—especially for initiatives or to contest ordinances that are, obviously contentious but consistent with community priorities:  First, direct democracy requires an informed electorate—one that can not only understand the pros and cons of a particular initiative but place its value within the context of the broader needs of the community.  Second, and related to this point, because a city is a complex (if adaptive) system, any significant decision will have knock-on effects and be in tension with other priorities. As a result, and by their very nature, initiatives tend to be very narrowly focused and framed without reference to competing needs.

The history of initiatives at the state level demonstrates that both of these problems have plagued our “experiment” in direct democracy and because of their confrontational nature they do not lead to the kind of community dialogue that could lead to constructive compromise.  Too often they are developed and promoted by narrow special interests that seek advantages for a limited group of citizens.

While Davisites pride themselves in being informed and aware of local issues, it is difficult to argue that even a majority of citizens are engaged enough to cast an informed vote on a given issue (as evidence I appeal the percentage of people who, though registered, do not participate in local elections). Further, we are naïve if we think that special interests will not come, over time, to inhabit our local direct democracy processes.

Ballot initiatives are taken hostage to demagoguery, misinformation and rank fear mongering as proponents/opponents seek to compel their co-citizens to vote.  These realities characterize nearly every ballot initiative I have been part of since moving to California nearly 15 years ago.

Obviously, I am not suggesting that Davis “go it alone” and somehow attempt to limit citizens’ ability to use the direct democracy tools granted us in our state constitution.  Rather, I am asking us to consider what we might do to increase our confidence in our representational form of government so that our local elected officials can get on with making the hard decisions of governing our city. Again, I feel this is important because the issues facing our city are complex—and we need an informed group of elected citizens to account for this complexity in the decisions they make. We need leaders who understand that it is their role to consider the “big picture” in their decisions and help citizens to understand this, even if said citizens passionately disagree with leaders about decisions leaders make.

What then do we need to assure the foregoing and move towards both greater accountability and trust?  I would suggest four steps: 1) develop, update and routinely appeal to clear “end” statements in our decision making; 2) eliminate money from local elections; 3) facilitate more opportunities for face-to-face interaction between elected officials and citizens; 4) challenge candidates to articulate the values and principles that will underpin their deliberations and decision making processes.

Before describing each of these in a bit more detail I want to note a reality we must all acknowledge. The truth is that we, like all Americans of this era, live in what Rick Perlstein calls Nixonland.  That is, we live in a time when our political discourse is characterized by intentionally constructing a deep sense of mistrust in our elected officials. “Nixonland” is a place in which the motives of politicians are known a priori and those motives are uniformly evil.  I am not suggesting that our elected officials are “pure” or above reproach, but what I am saying is that our default is to not give our leaders the space to lead because we are constantly questioning both their intentions and their fitness to lead.  It is hard to build trust in “Nixonland” but if we at least acknowledge that it is in the very air we breathe we may be able to curtail its worst excesses.

To build deeper trust through accountability we first need to be clear on the ends we are trying to achieve as a community.  I fully understand that conflict is more frequently found in the “how” than in the “what” but without clear ends towards which are agreed to collectively move, all decisions become subject to fundamental conflict over the objectives we are trying to achieve.  Several commenters on The Vanguard have noted that our General Plan is in need of updating and it is critical to do so because it functions as the key “ends” document of our city (there are others but we should be careful not to multiply them and assure they are grounded in the General Plan—a topic requiring further discussion).

However, we do not need to just create such documents (ideally through a citizen-centered process), but we must also actively use them.  Staff should be required to demonstrate how its recommendations are or are not consistent with our ends documents and that not in some perfunctory way, but with clarity and a critical assessment. City Council should expect the City Manager to utilize the ends documents as key guideposts and any goals it sets should be made in clear reference to it.  We must actively use these documents to frame the debates of this city and update them in a routine way. Commissions (a critical way citizens speak into our decision making processes) should be challenged to frame their actions in relation to these documents.

Part (or even a great deal) of the mistrust concerning our elected officials concerns money: who gives it, in what ways or amounts (notwithstanding locally-accepted limits) and to what ends.  I fully understand that we cannot legislate taking money out of local politics (it is apparently now enshrined as part of our free speech rights).  However, we can expect and even demand that our candidates run campaigns without it.  Raising money has become a kind of proxy for “support” or the “seriousness” of a given campaign but it comes with costs: both opportunity costs (how else could those resources be deployed?), and the cost to our degraded discourse because of the doubt its mobilization casts on the entire process.

Getting money out of our local electoral process is linked to the need to find more creative ways for our candidates and leaders to meaningfully engage with the citizens they represent.  Money does permit candidates to “connect”—albeit indirectly—with residents so eliminating it means we need to find ways to create connections—hopefully more meaningful connections. This leads me to believe that some form of regional election process is necessary for our city.  Connecting with 70,000 residents requires a mass marketing approach.  Connecting to a fifth of that number, while challenging, may allow for more personal, face-to-face interactions especially if that fifth is geographically defined.  I have lived here long enough to know that this idea has been (softly) batted around on and off for years.  I am suggesting it as a means to create more personal connections, more accountable encounters, and a greater sense of connection that leads to deeper trust between citizens and elected leaders.

Finally, we need to engage (in these more personal spaces) our candidates and elected officials in a different way.  We must spend more time helping them tease out for us the values, principles and motivations that underlie their decision making processes.  The more we understand the motivations the more we can challenge leaders about how their decisions are or are not consistent with them.  The more we understand them the less prone we will be to accept the gratuitous mudslinging that characterizes Nixonland.

We face complex choices and decisions that must account for the complexity while staying true to the “ends” we seek.  Direct democracy is poorly suited to deal with the complexity and, though promises are made to the contrary, does not lead to a better informed debate and dialogue on the issues.  We need to allow our leaders to lead by knowing them and their motivations better, by keeping them focused on critical ends with a deeper assurance that they are not unduly influenced by unseen forces.

Representative democracy is not a talisman but it is the best-suited approach to moving our community ahead as we face the continuing complex challenges of our age.  Strengthening it should be our priority.

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?

(St James writing about 2000 years ago to an apparently fractious community. A community that sounds a lot like Here)

We all live Here now.

All of us.

“Here” is conflict, and I don’t mean the “constructive” kind—the iron against iron type that hones us and makes us more able to cut through the challenges of our world. No, I mean the child-throwing-a-temper-tantrum-because-I-can’t-get-what-I-want-NOW kind. St James goes on to answer his rhetorical question: the source is your own childish selfishness—you all want your own way.”

I said to my wife: “Everything I am associated with is coated with a thick layer of anger, hostility, finger pointing, personal attacks and… (I stopped because she was giving me one of those looks that I thought (wrongly) was like: “Here we go again with your whining.”)

“What am I doing wrong? Is it me? Am I causing this?”

And she looked at me and asked simply “you too?” and told me something she had learned from a reality-TV cooking show (who knew?!!)

It seems there is a “series” that there is a particular cooking show that has Australian, New Zealand and US “iterations”. Same show set in three different locales. A kind of weekly “cook off” is how I understand it. In the New Zealand and Australian versions the judges play a mentoring role and the contestants engage in cooperative problem solving. I guess there is still a “winner” but the drama comes from experiencing creative powers unleashed. In the US version the judges denigrate, hector and shame the contestants and the latter spew venom and wish death upon the competition (one contestant actually said she “hated” another one and wished her dead). Here, apparently, the drama comes from seeing who most effectively dehumanizes the other.

Here.

Here…

We trade in fear and our currency is hyperbole, ad hominem attacks, exaggeration and deception, boasts of expertise—the coinage of demons according to Stringfellow*.

I sat with someone just yesterday who knows of my passions. He sought to purchase my fear with an exaggeration. When I demurred he upped the offer with hyperbole and then tried to seal the deal with a dehumanizing attack.

Later, I met a friend with whom I work on local issues. He invested in my angst with deception and demoralization.

I left both encounters feeling weak from the realization that the shelves of our markets are bare save for the gaily packaged and always available fear. “But what will we eat?”, I thought to myself. How long can a one-commodity economy last?

Here…

We have no colors, only black and white. Ours is a binary existence in a Manichean corner of the metaverse. There can only always be just two paths and they are, and must be, diametrically opposed. And one must be evil (in an ultimate way) and one must be good (in an ultimate way). I wonder sometimes if the binary code that underlies everything we tap out on our phones and computers and pads has somehow infected our blood and made us all zeros and ones: incapable of yielding nuance any more.

In the local blogosphere, in the meetings I attend, in the organizations I help lead our choices are always reduced to two and “mine” is right and “yours” is wrong. But not only that… Because yours is wrong, you are wrong, and because you are wrong, you are the source of all that is holding us back from being right, and that makes you evil and you must be removed so that right can prevail and… you see where this goes. We have our rhetorical gas chambers on the edge of town and to them we ritually send one another.  Warming our righteous hands by the fires we feed.

I was in a meeting just last night in which the dualism on display made the room feel like the two dimensional planet in A Wrinkle in Time. And I felt ironed out as we methodically (and by now, predictably) sacrificed our mutual humanity on the altar of RightWrong (A powerful two-headed deity that continuously devours its own heads only to have them regrow. A deity that has claimed our allegiance in these parts).

And

Here…

We are all gods—all omniscient. We have power to know—to know(!) without any apparent doubt—the thoughts and motives of the hearts of our co-citizens. And in the courtroom of my individual consciousness I am not only prosecutor and judge but I also present all the evidence that I alone have gathered to the jury of myself. And I declare you guilty of acting as you do because of the blackness in your being. And it must be so because I have declared it so—because you are evil (because I am right—see above).

I started counting this week—in the things I read, in the conversations I listen to—I started counting until I lost count, the number of times someone attributed causality to a behavior of another. “She is doing that because she is beholden to X. He wrote that because he wants to line his own pockets. They just want power. He just wants to punish me. They do that because that’s the way liberals/conservatives think about things. She is doing that to prove she can win…”

And I am in awe. I mean, I can barely tease out the complex and competing motives of my own dark heart—even if I think real hard. But somehow Here we have the power to cut through the bone and marrow and get down to the essence of the reason (always just one reason—it can only be one and it must not be shaded gray—it must be black (see above)) that so-and-so did such-and-such.

And so I am stuck out Here.

The fear, the 0/1 “flatness”, and the exhaustion that comes from being that all knowing god is making it hard to get out of Here (I just, really, want to get the fuck out of Here). Less like a claw that entraps or a chain that binds Here is more like the clinging stink of that anaerobic organic matter that gathers at the bottom of the irrigation canals in the fields nearby.

Just to be clear, this is a cry for help.

This is a voice from ∞.

This is a dispatch from The Dark Tower where time is only ever a wheel…

*An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land

The “Run”

Posted: 14 April 2013 in Everything Else...

I am a runner. And as all runners know, there are a (relatively) few runs over the course of time that stand out as, no hyperbole intended, “epic” runs. The runs that fly by, effortlessly, heart beat kept in check, muscles never tired, like sitting in a library reading a good book. I can count on one hand that kind. And this was one.

I arrived in the city for work without really remembering how I got there, and really wanting to just get back home (just like the way it always was in the last years of my travels). I could not remember the flight there or the ride from the airport to the hotel. I always arrived a few days early so the fact that I had some time to kill was not unusual. Still… this particular trip was… different. I apparently had a whole day to myself and there was time to get settled in. And, not surprisingly, my hosts, aware of my love of running had invited me to run with a few of them on a tour of the city. I was appreciative because some of my best runs ever were during times when I was jet-lagged beyond description (like that run from the canyons to Avila Beach after the 24 flight from India—8 miles that flew by on the sprint from the hills to the sea along the California coast).

Anyway, they encouraged me to tag along and suggested that it would be a great way to get to know the city (Had I been here before? Like I said—the trip was disorienting and I was not totally sure, though everything seemed familiar). There was only one caveat: we were going to a “rough part of town” and they needed to clear it with a seasoned “runner” who knew the terrain. Apparently he was going to “approve” me (or not). Though marginally irked that I might not be able to hack it (I mean, dammit, I had already run in about 30 different countries and was in great shape), I was also cognizant that he may not want to drag someone along who as going to wimp out after a couple of miles in a difficult environment. I counted on my “colleagues” (did I really know these people?) to smooth the way. The fact that they seemed unconcerned about my “fitness” put me at ease.

They picked me up before the sun (I had been up for hours already—again, jet lag) and we headed off to meet the “runner”. We arrived in a part of town (I never really followed the route—why should I, I was with them?), away from where I arrived and they led me into a small room. I knew that the town was poor and “broken down”—I would not have been there if they had NOT needed “development” (right? I mean, that was my job). The “runner” entered soon after (we were about 6 in all) and sidled by. He seemed to pay limited attention to me but, kind of dismissively, acknowledged my presence and indicated I was “good to go.”

But I was caught up short. The “runner” seemed to take me in from “the side.” He never really looked at me but kind of caught me from a peripheral glance. I know it sounds strange but… he did not see me straight on. And I realized right away that he was… He was blind. At least “legally”. He wore no glasses but I knew immediately that he could not “see” (at least in the way I was used to seeing).

But, hell, I was approved and I figured that one of the group was going to guide him on the way. I have seen stranger things. I have known “blind” people who bike (and even a few who drive—during the day), so the fact that he was in that state was not alarming. More a curiosity than a concern.

We headed out soon afterward and, and this this did shock me a bit, he led the way. I mean, no one “guided” him, verbally or otherwise. He was on his own but clearly knew the way. Strange but kind of cool. The minute we left the building where we had all met up I realized that the city was both new and strangely similar to me. Read the rest of this entry »

An Easter Reflection

Posted: 30 March 2013 in Faith and Life

Warning: Christian theological stuff ahead. Not for all tastes.

You can’t always get what you want

You can’t always get what you want

You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometimes well you might find

You get what you need

(The Rolling Stones)

Where is God? I’ll tell you. We’ve killed him, you and I! We are all his murderers. But how could we have done this? How could we gulp down the oceans? Who gave us a sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from the sun? Where is it going now? Where are we going now? Away from all suns? Aren’t we falling forever, backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions at once? Do up and down even exist any more? Aren’t we wandering in an infinite void? Don’t we feel the breath of empty space? Hasn’t it become colder? Isn’t night coming on more and more all the time? Shouldn’t we light lanterns in the morning?..

God is dead, God remains dead, and we have killed him. How can we, the worst of all murderers, comfort ourselves? The holiest and mightiest thing that the world has yet possessed has bled to death beneath our knives!

(The Madman in Nietzsche’s The Gay Science)

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, la ma sabach tha ni?” that is, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

(Jesus, from the cross)

Of course, what the Rolling Stones don’t get into in their well-known song is… “What happens when you get what you want?” (They did not answer it in that song but perhaps they started getting into it in this one).

Or maybe better, “What happens when you get what you think you want?”

And what do we want? What do we really want? (Or at least what do we think we really want?)

And what does any of this have to do with Easter?

Well let me riff on the Stones a bit here and suggest the following breakdown of “holy week”—which ends with that fateful day that changed everything.

So let’s call Palm Sunday the day we get what we think we want. Monday through Thursday are about waking up—first in disappointment, but later in a childish tantrum rage—when we realize that, in fact, we did not get what we thought we wanted on Palm Sunday. Thursday is the day, finally, when we get what we want. Followed by Friday when, shall we say, the “implications” of what we want (and what we got) become painfully clear. And Easter? Well, we’ll get to that in a moment.

Read the rest of this entry »

Note: Early in the morning of March 10, 2103 a local resident of my town, Mike Partida was assaulted and beaten badly by a male attacker shouting anti-gay slurs.  Police have arrested a 19-year old local resident with a prior arrest for stabbing several people in a nearby town and charged him with “Assault causing Great Bodily Injury, Committing a Hate Crime, Assault with a Deadly Weapon, Stalking, Committing a felony while on release from custody, and inflicting great bodily injury during the commission of a felony.”  This article is a reflection growing out of this terrible event that has shaken our town where the victim is a much loved young man who works at our local food co-op.

There has been much speculation about the factors that might lead someone to commit the kind of crime that was perpetrated against Mikey Partida. While some of it may be premature it is a normal human response to try to make sense of something that is so senseless.

Certainly, much more will be learned about the event, the things that led up to it, the story of the perpetrator (whoever it turns out to be), and the likely outcome of a conviction, as the legal process moves forward. We also know with certainty that Mr. Partida will need to go through a painful process of physical and psychological healing. Some scars—physical and psychological—may never fully heal. In quotes from Mr. Partida we have already learned of his fears and anxiety about moving around his hometown. Physical healing is only the first of many long steps he will have to take.

Lisa Rea, founder of Restorative Justice International, who has worked in restorative justice since 1992 believes that victims of crime do not want some vague sense of “closure” but rather they want to regain a sense of safety, security and healing. She argues in a 2012 article that for many victims the healing process would be facilitated by an opportunity to face the offender, ask him/her questions, describe the harm that was done, and seek a way for the harms done to them to be made right. She notes

…(T)hroughout my work the number of victims who are seeking to participate in some kind of restorative justice dialogue is increasing.

Unfortunately, as Ms. Rea also notes, our criminal justice system does not make it easy for victims who desire this kind of mediated process to obtain it. There are many reasons for this but two seem to predominate: First, our criminal justice system defines crime as committed against the state—not first and foremost against individuals and communities (pause for a moment and ask how the crime against Mr. Partida has negatively affected our community). The offender, if convicted, is punished by the state and on the state’s terms—the debt is owed to the state first and foremost. This is demonstrated colloquially in phrases like “he paid (or must pay) his dues to society.”

Where is the victim in all of this? Generally victims are left out of most of the process, and this is related to the second reason why victims cannot obtain access to a restorative process even if they desire it. Ms. Rea says that many victims have expressed that “they feel used by the system, like they are just pawns in its game to convict and sentence the offender.” District Attorneys, generally speaking, “control” the victim’s narrative. The victim is “theirs” and they may need the victim (and/or the victim’s family) to play a certain role in order to assure that a conviction is achieved. To say that DAs seek to control the victim’s narrative does not imply wrongdoing on their part. As noted, they are part of a system that views crime as something committed against the statutes of the state. They do what they must to find relief for the state.

But this reality should raise the question: does this system provide what victims need? Does the current system provide an opportunity for them to find healing? Does it enable them to have their most burning questions answered? Questions like “What were you thinking?” Why did you hurt me this way?” “Do you know what all of this has meant to me?” “Can you acknowledge the harm you have caused?” What are you going to do to make things right to me?”

I have no way of knowing whether Mr. Partida would like to have an opportunity to ask these questions or not. He may never want the opportunity. Or, he may not want it in the next 6 months. But what if he did? What if, as part of his healing, he desired to meet the perpetrator? Would our system allow him to do so? The answer is probably not.

According to Ms. Rea, restorative justice “puts the crime victim in the center of the system while stressing offender accountability to restore victims and communities as much as possible after crimes are committed.” There are some key points here: victim at center, offender accountability, restoration—or making things right—as much as possible.

What is the downside to creating or evolving a system of justice that encourages offenders to take accountability? What is the downside of giving victims an opportunity—should they so desire—to face their offenders? What is the downside of allowing victim and offender work out an agreement about what would make the harms right (even if the offender faces other punishments from the state)?

Will the perpetrator in this case, when all is said and done, be confronted by the fact that he committed a crime against a human being and not a “category”? Will he be given a chance to learn of how his crime affected an entire family, place of work and community? Will our system ever provide an opportunity to bring these things to his attention? Or will we merely warehouse him in a prison where he will pay a vague debt to a disembodied state? I believe we should wrestle with all the foregoing questions.

Much more needs to be said about restorative processes and their role in preventing the formation of a “school to prison” pipeline. Some of this was discussed in an article in the People’s Vanguard of Davis on February 4, 2013. Hopefully our community will have a chance to discuss these issues in more detail in the months ahead.

I want to close this reflection by apologizing to Mr. Partida and his family if this article feels like it is pressuring them to seek the kind of victim/offender conferencing suggested here. That is not my intent and I would never advise them to seek this path unless they were convinced it would help Mr. Partida. The intent here is to ask whether restorative processes should be in place—even for violent crimes like this one—in case the victims desire to use them.

I wish Mr. Partida and his family all the best and hope they have all felt the love and support of this community. My thoughts also go out to the perpetrator of this crime. Despite our anger at the heinous acts he committed, he remains a human being albeit one with deep brokenness.

(FYI, I am working with a small group of Davis residents to determine whether it might be possible to develop a “Victim Offender Conferencing Program” that would focus, initially, on providing mediated conferencing between victims and offenders of non-violent/non-sex juvenile crime in Yolo County. Such programs are being increasingly implemented around the state and country. If you are interested to learn more about this initiative please contact me at robbbike@me.com)