Preface to “Local Governance when all Politics is National and Global”

 

 

 

 

I may regret this but… I have been trying (on and off, mostly off) to write a short book about my experiences on the City Council in Davis, CA.  It is meant to be a reflection on a number of the things I experienced while in office that I never expected.  It is also about the ways that “the local” is connected to the “global.”  What follows is a re-write of the preface I wrote several months ago.  Still not happy with it but it will stand for now.  Chapters in this book will include (at this point):

  1. Introduction: Confessions of a Globe-Trotting Cosmopolite
  2. Sustainability: Environmental, Fiscal, and Social
  3. Privilege Means Never Having to Accept “No”
  4. Housing I: Our University Town Would be Great if it weren’t for the Students
  5. Housing II: “Your Job is to Make Our City as Inhospitable as Possible for Homeless People”
  6. Welcome to Davis Mr. Gandhi
  7. When Hate is Local
  8. Justice that Restores: We all Want it Until we Don’t
  9. Sanctuary During the Return of the Nativist
  10. Our Police, Ourselves: Oversight of the Police we Have Demanded and Militarized
  11. A Localist Vision: Identifying Giftedness and Giving Thanks

Preface

Her voice shook with anger (fear?) as she addressed us:

“You… you will be responsible. You have GOT to do something. Now. You have got to do something before someone else gets killed.”

She was one of a dozen who spoke during public comment about a police use-of-force incident in our town. They had been coming to Council chambers for weeks—and would return for many weeks more. Their anger palpable, their accusations of wrongdoing surprisingly personal, their demands clear: we needed to fire the police chief, the City Manager, and anyone else who stood in the way of justice for the young people involved in the incident.

But no one had died. The incident in question (which led to the creation of a new police oversight system and a public accounting of the inappropriate actions by the police) had left officers with a few cuts and bruises and the young people with whom they had the altercation, with no known injuries. The young people were charged with felony assaults and resisting arrest–charges that were later dropped. But no one had died, at least not in our city.

I cast a sidelong glance at my colleagues after her statement, and it was clear that we were all wondering what she meant by “before someone else gets killed.” People had died at the hands of the police, of course—in Ferguson, New York, North Carolina, and elsewhere. But not here.

That is when the message came home to me. What happens “out there” is felt profoundly “here.” People’s sense of connection to broader national and global issues conditioned their reactions to what was happening in their city. It was a profound realization and explained a great deal of what I had experienced as the Mayor of this small city of 70,000.

By the time I decided to run for local office (City Council, Davis, California), I had a pretty good sense of the significant challenges ahead if I were to be elected. Our city’s fiscal situation, like most cities in California, faced significant challenges related to years of inattention to necessary infrastructure, lack of affordable housing, budgetary instability caused by underfunded pensions, and a variety of so-called “social” challenges—led by homelessness (a syndrome with widely misunderstood causes).

I knew that I would be dealing with these and all their attendant issues—painful budget cuts and priority setting, contentious land-use decisions, employee negotiations, tax proposals, social services planning, etc. I spoke about my understanding of and proposed approach to dealing with each of them in my campaign literature, small group meetings, and public debates and forums. I prepared carefully to address them in all their complexity. I expected them to take up most of my time.

I was not wrong to have so prepared, and collectively, they took up most of my time. Local government is very pedestrian, and its focus will always be on creating a sustainable, safe, and livable community by looking after the essential mundane.  

This book is not (primarily) about any of these things. They indeed form the backdrop of what I share here, but this book is about things I never expected, never consciously prepared for, and never anticipated spending time on. In the end, these other things consumed hours, days, and whole weeks of my life, and at times felt all-consuming.  

That I did not anticipate them does not imply that they are not vital. In their way, each of them is as critical to creating a thriving community as budgets, water and sanitation, and firefighting. As I hope to demonstrate, responding to them and walking with the community through them constituted some of the most important work I did over my four-year term.

The aphorism “all politics is local” is undoubtedly true. I would say that all politics is hyper-local. People rarely write about “community” concerns or “city” concerns. Instead, they want help with their park, their neighborhood, their street, their tree.

But in another sense, all politics is linked to broader social, political, and economic forces. All politics is regional, all politics is national, and all politics is, in certain ways, global. I mean this in a precise way—how we react locally to the world beyond our city’s borders. One feature of our networked world is that what happens “out there” elicits reactions here. Only that could explain the comments of the woman who addressed us, and it pushed me to believe that, potentially, every national and global issue of concern would find its way into our Council meetings on Tuesday nights. Many did.

Global terror showed up in the form of local imam’s sermon. Police brutality and militarization in a “mine-resistant armored protected” vehicle and the use of force incident. The consolidation of economic power and income inequality in calls to disinvest from Wells Fargo. Global retrenchment and xenophobia in hate crimes and calls to stand against white supremacy and create sanctuary. And the list goes on. From global climate change to Indian politics (yes, even that), from criminal justice reform to white flight in the form of “NIMBYism,” issues playing out around the world played out in my hometown.

What follows is simply about how I, as one city council member and, for a time, Mayor, perceived these global/local issues and how I tried to respond. The response is what still matters to me most.  

I entered office (and left it!) as a localist. What I mean is that I believed then and believe now that we can face many of the most challenging issues of our time effectively ONLY at the local level. Despite the constraints imposed by state or federal statute or limited resources, I still believe that local communities are where resilience starts and where we find human solutions to our challenges. Because of this, I thought it was my job to help create a more resilient community—one able to face the inevitable shock related to climate change, recessions, disasters, and changing legal requirements. And so, I viewed my response to these global/local issues as critical to strengthening my community. 

 

I felt (and feel) that they were not merely issues to be “managed” but rather opportunities to help build the social infrastructure to make us better able to withstand the challenges each community must face. This book reflects how I tried to respond to a variety of these global/local issues. I will leave it to others to decide whether these efforts accomplish the hoped-for goal of greater resilience.

I want to thank the four other members of the City Council who served with me during those four years: four members but five committed and thoughtful community members who gave up large chunks of their lives for the often thankless job of trying to lead our city—our home. 

I want to thank the dedicated but too-often-maligned City staff who does the day to day work of running this town. 

I would like to thank the dozens and dozens of community members who faithfully served on a variety of city commissions, task forces, and working groups. These groups provide input, act as sounding boards, and do a high-level technical review of thousands of pages of reports and other documents. Their dedication adds a layer of transparency to our public processes that should be the envy of every city. 

I will avoid using any of these people’s names (or any names for that matter) throughout this book. Their identities may not be hard to figure out in some cases, but this story is not about holding them to account or holding up their failings for public review. They will go unnamed. Finally, I want to thank my wife, who agreed to let me run and serve but told me I “better never bring any of that stuff home.” I honored her command (for the most part).

Four Lists of Four: Travel Edition

 

 

 

 

Back when I did my 20 minutes of writing for 20 days, I offered one edition of “Five Lists of Five.” I realized then that I liked making lists, that I “think” in lists, and that lists provide a neat way to summarize life events.

So here are four lists of four things, travel edition. The only thing that unites them is that they all concern stuff I like or that happened to me outside my home country.

Four Side Trips I Took for Fun While Working Abroad

I rarely had time to take trips to visit exciting things while I was working around the world. Thus, I missed the Taj Mahal, Timbuktu, and Angkor Wat when setting aside a single day at the end of a trip would have allowed me to see them. The truth was, after weeks away, I was usually in a hurry to get home. But, here are four times and places where I took advantage of being close to something cool.

  1. Visiting a lemur preserve while in Madagascar.  This short trip to an island off the east coast of that country would never have happened had not my colleague Ann insisted. I am glad she did. Lemurs are native to Madagascar, and seeing such a variety in one place in their natural habitat was a real treat.
  2. “Trekking” the 30 miles cross country from the edge of the Anapurna range back to Kathmandu.  Another thing I would not have done had it been for my friend Lisa who suggested we take the bus up to the edge of the range, spend the night and walk back. It was a spectacular evening followed by a long hike downhill on a kind of mountain spine through small villages back to the city edge.
  3. Visiting Robben Island, off the coast of Capetown, visiting Mandela’s cell and Robert Sobukwe’s solitary confinement house and hearing of the torture prisoners underwent, from a former prisoner.  I was teaching in Stellenbosch, and this trip came just before I left the country. I had never heard of Sobukwe before visiting the island, but the story of how he nearly lost his mind due to strict enforcement of solitary–no one ever spoke to him for years.
  4. Visiting the slave “castle” of El Mina in Ghana.  I visited Ghana over a dozen times in the 80s, 90s, and Naughts but visited this historical site on my final trip. To see where slavery originated and learn how prisoners were held, rekindled an interest in better understanding the history and impacts of slavery in the US.

Four Terrifying or Troubling Experiences from the Road

When you travel as much as I did at once, you are bound to experience and see lots of challenging and scary things. This list could easily be ten or more.

  1. One hundred kilometers east of Mazar Esh Sharif.I was in Afghanistan to train community health workers in participatory methods, and we were driving up a dry riverbed to a remote village when two young men with machine guns stopped us. Though our vehicle had a “no guns” sticker in the window, they pointed them at us and demanded a ride. They were young–maybe 17 or so. One sat next to me and promptly fell asleep, and his gun, between his legs, slid out of his sleeping hands and stopped pointing directly at my face.
  2. The road between Islamabad and Peshawar.  Sick with flu, I was the last person to enter a micro-bus for the 2-hour (as I recall) trip to Peshawar. The seat left to me was in the very rear on the right (they drive on the left in Pakistan). The road then was two lanes wide, and our driver passed recklessly pulling back in at the last minute as all manner of vehicles approached from the other direction horns blaring. Each time I stared dead-on into the eyes of a driver of the other vehicle whose brazen laughter EACH time is seared into my brain.
  3. A mosque in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camp.  When I was a young person, the massacre in these camps changed my view of the Middle East forever. And then, there I was, standing in a mosque with a man who described the entire thing for an hour without stopping. At the end, he pointed to the floor of the mosque and said, “we dug into the floor and buried the bodies here. They are still here, below us. We pray upstairs now. I was in the pit, and they handed the bodies to me. One of the dead bodies was a huge man, and when we got him into the pit, his arm twitched somehow involuntarily. Everyone fled, and I was left in the pit by myself for almost a day. Going through something like that will change you forever.” Indeed.
  4. A remote village in south-central Mauritania (east of Kankossa). We sat around a large mat, drinking tea and telling stories in the Mauritanian way. It was full dark, no stars, and I casually put my hand behind me to change positions. Scorpion. One of the most painful experiences of my life. My hand swelled slightly, but the numbness began to spread up my arm, even as the pain translated into my elbow and shoulder. Hours later, the numbness was to my neck, and I thought about death. Too far from anything to do anything. A nurse on the trip with us checked me hourly, and I prayed. By morning the pain was still intense, but the numbness had receded.

Four Meals I Had the Pleasure of Eating

It may be trite to say that the best part of leaving home is learning of new food, but discovering all the fantastic ways that people take simple ingredients to create stunning dishes is truly a benefit of the many lonely days on the road. I ate none of these in fancy restaurants and most of them without utensils.

  1. Thieboudienne (Senegal and Mauritania–coastal). This was not just one meal but meals–meals that I ate as often as I could during long workdays in Nouakchott. Local women sold this fish dish by the side of the road, and I preferred the rice scraped from the bottom of the pot and plenty of habanero-like peppers that made me sweat. “Bien roffee” as we used to say: the spices stuffed into the fish were the best part.
  2. Breakfast thali in Hyderabad and environs.  This is another meal that was an ongoing treat every morning while I was training on Hyderabad’s outskirts. With rice as the base of various staple preparations, the chutneys, dahls, and spices made for discovery each day. The first time I ate this kind of food, I thought I had never known what food was before that moment.
  3. Gumbo fish sauce in Accra, Ghana.  Although I could have put “Red Red” for my Ghana favorite, the spicey fish sauce made with okra and eaten with “pate” made of fermented corn was the messiest, tastiest, hottest dish I had the pleasure of eating.
  4. Steak-frite, table wine, and tomato and cucumber salad at Chartier, Paris. Basic French food served in a turn of the 19th Century bistro, where you sit tightly packed with strangers, waiters are stereotypically grouchy old French guys, and orders scribbled on paper tablecloths may not sound like a great experience. But you would be wrong. The food’s simplicity cannot be confused with its taste, and one consumes the ambiance as much as the endless baskets of fresh bread.

My Four Favorite Metro Stations in Paris. 

Huh? Favorite metro stations? Yes! Living in Paris after growing up in a tiny town without a single form of public transportation was a discovery.

I just loved riding the metro (talk to my wife about this; she does not get it either).

  1. Gare de l’est.  More than a metro stop (served by several lines), the various stations were grubby, smelly, and crowded. But they all led to the promise of long train trips to Europe’s heart, including the Orient Express, which left the gare every day. Leaving the metro station at the Gare de l’est meant an adventure was in the offing.
  2. Trocadero. Always a clean and bright spot that delivered you almost instantaneously to the “Place” of the same name and the Tour Eiffel. What is not to love?
  3. Saint Michel. Not unlike Trocadero, St Michel brought you to the depth of old Paris, just across the river from Notre Dame and the labyrinth of the Quartier Latin. So many choices from there!
  4. Jardin Luxembourg. Only one line, the regional rail line, serves this quiet but large reserve in the middle of the city. Bring Le Monde, find a chair, put your feet up and read. Bring your wine, baguette, and cheese and make an afternoon of it.

This happened… No, I really mean it.

 

 

 

We were idiots.

Little fish in a minuscule pond, in some backwater Bible belt (the end part of the belt that dangles after you buckle it), but the smallness of the pond made us feel large. But we weren’t.

I’ll name names. Dean, Smokey (as he was known then), and me: we saw ourselves as “ladies’ men,” and we had that 70s hair to prove it. But we weren’t. We were just three scared guys facing adulthood and meeting it with a swagger that hid all the gnawing uncertainties we only brought out at night to examine.

I was never sure, and I never asked, but it was pretty clear that Dean and maybe Smokey were using. Dean had a “friend” named… I can’t remember, but let’s call him Art. But that friend appeared to own a jet (or at least a plane), committed vague acts of violence, and, I always assumed, was a dealer.

I never used drugs, and that is the truth. I could not stand to think about the consequences that would inevitably follow if I ever tried. So I did not ask about Art–ever. I did not want to know, and I did not want to go in that plane, though Dean seemed to offer a trip to Florida if I wanted to go.

We sat around dissing each other most of the time–friendly banter, listened to Blue Oyster Cult and Dan Fogelberg, and talked about the young women we had or wished we had in our lives.

Dean had dated, on and off, a beautiful local co-ed who I adored from a distance but dared not approach. I was happy to leave him to it but knew it was always a precarious situation. The relationship was a mystery, but Dean held her like a trophy, and we felt he was pretty lucky but brazen to aim so high. As we used to say, “out of his league.”

And he did aim too high because all at once she told him it was over (short-lived as it was) and I was not surprised. But he was angry and nursed that anger for some time, making strange threats about her “regretting” it but never getting specific about why. He had a long planning horizon and knew he would be rich one day, so I always thought he meant she would miss out on all the celebrity that was flowing his way.

Time went on until that Saturday afternoon in Smokey’s room. Dean was there with the two of us, and a newish friend named Clark stopped by to hang out, eat peanuts and pepperoni, and listen to Jon Klemer (as I recall).

Clark was new and a bit more religious than us, so we held back on the vulgarity and had that typical conversation for that time, which included cars, and sports, and music, and whatever was happening on campus, which was never much.

We got around to girls eventually. We all updated one another on our latest ideas about whom to date, who was available, and who to stay away from to avoid entanglements with larger, older, or stronger boyfriends.

It was then that Clark told us about his new girlfriend and I knew trouble was coming. Yes, it was Dean’s “she’ll regret it” main squeeze (as we used to call girlfriends), and Clark had no clue. There were choices to be made–all by Dean–and I predicted an adverse outcome to his new relationship with Clark.

Dean turned red (color matters here), which meant anger, and he just kept getting brighter. Smokey and I eyed each other. Clark just got quiet. He didn’t know, but he did. Nothing was said for a pretty long time, and I wanted out of there.

Then Dean jumped up. This was it. Clark was not a small guy, and I think he could have taken Dean had he tried anything. But he didn’t. He just said, “I gotta get out of here. I am going to Art’s.”

And he stormed out, and we heard his glass-packed Camaro for a long time as it careened away from the dorm.

We sat in an even longer silence and then started parsing his parting words: going to Art’s. What did that mean? Was he going to Art’s to get stoned? Was he going to Art’s to bring Art back to bust Clark’s head? Anything was possible. We were anxious. Going to Art’s was never going to be a good thing for Dean, and possibly for Clark, and maybe for all of us.

Klemer played on. We sat.

Then the door opened quietly, and Dean re-entered. No Art (not that I would have known what he looked like). He was alone. And he was shaking, and he was white–as white as the white painter pants he was wearing that day.

He sat down, still shaking, and put his head in his hands. He sat for a long while. We said nothing.

“What just happened,” he asked.

“Heading down Eden Road, a hitchhiker” (common back then).

Silence for a moment.

“I mean, I stopped. I always stop. I mean, he needed a ride, right? you always stop.”

More silence–the silence probed Dean.

“And he opened the door and looked in, and I said ‘where you headed man,’ and he said ‘where you heading man'”? And I said ‘I’m headed to Art’s'”

Like the guy knew who Art was???

“And then he said, ‘well then, you better go back to Smokey’s room,’ and he closed the door and walked off into the cornfield by the road.”

And Dean got up, went over and hugged Clark, and sat down. And we all listened to Klemer and stayed quiet for a long time.

That happened one Saturday afternoon.

Crowdsourcing: Looking for Case Studies!

 

 

 

One of my responsibilities at the University of California, Davis, is to develop ways to engage students in “global learning.” Global Learning is a concept that may seem intuitive, and what might come to mind is “study abroad.” While study abroad may be a means of helping students to engage in global learning, it is far from the only approach.

Global Learning, as we define it at UC Davis, is a process of “helping students develop their capacity to be informed, open-minded, and responsible people, who are responsive to diverse perspectives. Global learning prepares us to address the world’s most pressing issues collaboratively, equitably, and sustainably. Global learning helps students understand that pressing issues must be faced in an interdisciplinary way given the complexity of environments and competing needs and interests.”

Teasing that out a bit it includes

  • helping students appreciate diverse perspectives;
  • preparing students to participate in addressing global challenges; and
  • helping them problem-solve in interdisciplinary ways with an appreciation of the complexity of environments in which they develop solutions. 

As you can see, global learning involves building intercultural learning skills and reflection processes and preparing them to solve global challenges.  

Our global learning goals for students are: 

  1. Global Awareness – Students examine actions and relationships that influence global systems from multiple perspectives, analyzing how complex systems impact self and others.
  2. Global Diversity – Students explore complex dimensions of diversity, equity, and inclusion around the world, including language, culture, and identity. 
  3. Global Action – Students create strategies to apply knowledge, skills, and abilities to collaboratively and equitably foster global well-being and resilience. 

A useful way to introduce students to global challenges and global actions is through the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 17 goals are a concise summary of responses that communities and nations can take to create a more sustainable world. The SDGs are attractive to students because they can connect their interests, majors, and research and internship interests to them and feel connected to efforts that are “bigger” than themselves.

As educators, one challenge is to help connect students to the reality that the SDGs are not merely problems “out there” somewhere in the world but are relevant to their local communities–here in Davis and at home, wherever home might be.

Another challenge is to help students not approach the SDGs as technical problems to be solved via narrow disciplinary approaches. Further, we want them to consider the full historical and social environment in which they develop and offer solutions. 

This means that they must contend with historical forces of exclusion, local power dynamics, questions of equity, and the role of policies shaping people’s ability to benefit from the solutions they offer. 

All of this is a pretty big task, but it is possible by sharing real-world examples to students–case studies.

So, here is my “ask” of you. I want to collect case studies of real-world problem solving around the SDGs (broadly) in a local context you know or about which you have heard. Here are the criteria:

Case studies should

  1. be about addressing one or more global challenges as articulated by the SDGs;
  2. offer a solution or solutions–ideally arrived at through interdisciplinary problem-solving; and
  3. demonstrate a complex social or historical context that affects the solution’s effects on people, how it is targeted, or how people respond to it.

Here is an example from a recent graduate student (simplified):

An engineer seeks solutions to the problem of small community wells drying up in the Central Valley of California. An answer she considers involves diverting seasonal rainwater to locations that will promote recharge. In the process of her research, she discovers that the communities most affected are non-native language speakers–farmworkers primarily. Further analysis shows that wealthy landowners control the fields over which the water must flow to recharge the ground. Finally, she learns that these same communities have been, by policy, excluded from obtaining sustainable water supplies by connecting to nearby municipal water systems.

Notice that this case study does not require proof that the solution will work, but it addresses the sixth UN SDG: Clean Water and Sanitation. Notice also that there is both a social and historical context that affects the solution. The setting determines whether it is feasible, and history demonstrates why other solutions have not worked. Finally, it brings in social science as well as engineering tools to offer a targeted solution.

So, my request to you is to get creative and provide me with some ideas. I can work with them and develop them further as case studies for use in classes and trainings I will conduct this fall and beyond.

I look forward to hearing your ideas!

 

Preparing

For weeks I have been trying to define how I feel about my daily work, my regular engagements with family, and my routine volunteerism that spans several different domains. They have all seemed to take on a “sameness”: a sense of everything flowing the same way, at the same pace, towards the same place. 

Of course, they are NOT all flowing to the same place, real or metaphorical, but I have not been able to define the overarching sense of what is happening now all the time.

Until today.

Today it finally came to me that everything I do is “preparing.” It feels like there is no ultimate doing, just getting ready to do something else. Now I know that life is like that. I tell people I train to design better workshops that the time spent preparing the event is what counts. With proper preparation and sound design, the workshop will take care of itself. I believe and have proven it throughout my career.

We don’t just get up on any given day and take a trip. We prepare. We don’t simply get married, or get a college degree, or buy a house. We prepare, sometimes for years, to get to the place where the ultimate “doing” occurs.

So preparing is part of everything. But now, I feel like that is all that is left.  

Maybe every summer feels like this, but I just never noticed. After all, I work in higher education, and summers are supposed to be about preparing. We prepare for new student arrivals, for classes we will teach in the fall, for new activities.  

But this year, life has an aura of being about a preparation that may never lead to anything. I am not morbid (I don’t think). My mind is not drifting to my demise. The feeling is not about me getting older and starting to look for my mortality.

But it is about a road that has no clear endpoint. It is about developing a course I may never give, about contacting students I may never meet, or presentations with no audience. 

It is not just the changes we have experienced. Change is a constant. It is not only the uncertainty of these times.

It is the continually changing uncertainty.  

Even uncertainty has a certain rhythm if you think about it. We know we will live with it for some undefined time but the nature of the uncertainty–will I get the job, will this project be of sufficient quality, will my choices trap me–is predictable. Yes, I said that uncertainty is predictable.

But not this year. The uncertainty has taken on a random quality that suggests that almost anything might happen. Uncertainty has come loose of its moorings in the routine and is adrift in currents that could send it crashing away. And then what?

Uncertainty gone–replaced only by a randomness that makes you fear to peak out the door?

I think it is a particular feature of privilege that says we do not have to stand for the randomness and that we are entitled to our predictable (and therefore controllable) uncertainty.  

I think most people on the planet live with the randomness, not the uncertainty they can control. Further, it is my experience that they spend most of their time preparing

  • preparing the fields,
  • preparing for the harvest,
  • preparing to fend off disease,
  • preparing to face the inevitable losses that will come,
  • preparing for a tomorrow that is too far over the horizon ever to imagine. 

I will get up tomorrow and prepare and, perhaps, be thankful that I will have food in my stomach, health in my body, and a place to sleep when my preparations are all done.

Five Amazing Bike Rides in Northern CA

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One of the great delights of my life–that thing, I say, that no one can ever take away–is to have lived, and ridden my bike, in Northern California. When I was young, I loved to bike and dreamed of crossing great distances on my ten-speed. But my meditations never brought me to this place. I could not have imagined it. But now I have had a chance to see it, to ride it, to experience a fantastic beauty that I wish more people could experience.

So, without further comment, here are five of my favorite rides in Northern California. Three of them are done best on road bikes, one is best by mountain bike, and the third is your choice (I have done both but prefer a mountain bike).

Click on the ride name to get “Ride with GPS” route instructions

Delta Loop 

Right off the bat, I must apologize for the starting places of these rides.  Some start from my house or my friend Andy’s house in the Outer Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco.  You should be able to figure out your own start.  This one starts at my house.

Except for the ride to West Sacramento, this is one of the most interesting and beautiful rides in the County.  While the River Road just south of West Sacramento can be busy at times, if you do this ride on a Sunday you are likely to have only four or five cars pass you by the time you reach Clarksburg, and then you will have 20 miles of almost no traffic at all.

I would check with the wind speed and direction before heading out because a southern wind over about 15 miles per hour can make this a tough ride until you head north and the wind will only build the further south you go.

This ride has a ferry crossing!

Delta
South of Clarksburg

 

The 20+ miles from Clarksburg to the ferry on SR84 are among the most beautiful anywhere, passing vineyards, and row crop fields for miles.  Summer can be a great time to do this but fall is amazing.

If someone picks you up in Rio Vista you have had a great ride.  But if you head back north you will go through what I think of as the heart of the agricultural delta, and, if the wind is behind you, you will fly home.

Warning: Crossing the Hastings Island Bridge is trespassing.  I did it, got away with it… but I can’t guarantee you won’t have problems.  My experience is that most people give cyclists a pass.  No promises.

Huffmaster 

The name of this one comes from a club ride (the club is from San Rafael I think), that I got to go to with my friend Dave Reynolds.  This particular configuration is not the actual Huffmaster route but pretty close.  This is the ride you can do with a road bike (700×30 tires please) but might be more fun on a mountain bike.

If you have not been over to this part of the coastal hills not too far from Clear Lake, CA, and not too far from Williams, CA, I highly recommend it.  The valley is secluded, there is no traffic on the roads and you get to ride through the open range for parts of it.

Unlike the perfectly flat Delta Ride, this one has a fair amount of climbing–about 3000 feet–but it also has a long descent.

Leaving Leesville you are on gravel for about 10 miles and then nicely paved roads as you climb to your first summit.  Then is a mostly downhill section that goes on for about 9 more.

Huffmaster
Near Leesville

 

There are eagles and wildlife in this section.  You bottom out in Sites, the location of a future reservoir that will close this area off from biking if it is ever built.  You then began a long “fire-road-like” climb through pastures, rangeland, and typical coastal hills forest.  The fire road is not too bad.

Do this ride in fall.  In summer it can get pretty hot and most of it is out in the open.  In spring the climb out of Sites is muddy and may be impassable.  Autumn is perfect because there are lots of colors and the air is clear.

This is one of the most beautiful, never heard of rides in Northern California, but you do have to drive to get to the start.

Four Bay Bridges 

Ride with GPS has added this ride to their “Great Community Route Celebration” list!  If you want to see the Bay–actually the “Bays” Grizzly to San Pablo to San Francisco–this is your route.  It crosses these bays four times on interstates and Highway 101, with great views at every crossing. In between, you get to view the coastal hills and Mount Tam (see below).  The crossing of the San Rafael bridge (bridge 3) affords amazing views of San Francisco.

 

San Rafael
From the San Rafael Bridge

You have to get to Martinez, CA to start this one but a train is an option.  All the crossings are via dedicated and separated bike lanes, which makes for low-stress riding and plenty of opportunities to look around.

 

My favorite crossing is the Carquinez Bridge (bridge 2) because it provides great views of Mount Tamalpais and a large swath of the Bay.  Amtrak trains pass under the bridge.

Four Bay Bridges
From the Carquinez Bridge

Besides the bridges themselves, the ride from Pinole to Richmond is one of the most beautiful.  It passes mostly right along the bay at water level on dedicated bike paths and then out to Pinole Regional Park.

 

It is a bit tricky to find your way after you leave the San Rafael bridge but once you do you have to navigate some urban spaces before getting on bike paths that take you all the way to Sausilito.  This ride is challenging at 4000 feet of climbing but the hills are spaced out.

I recommend a weekday for this ride in any season.  Get out early and enjoy the varied microclimates as you go.

Tiburon Loop 

This one starts and ends at my friend Andy’s house so… figure it out.  You can leave from anywhere in San Francisco.  Now I realize that this ride shares some things in common with the Four Bay Bridges ride but, well, I kept it because 1) I love the Bay area; and 2) it has the most fun stretch of riding in Northern California.

Let me explain.  I am from back east and rolling hills are the norm.  Believe it or not they are hard to find in Northern California.  It is either flat or quite hilly, but there are few stretches where it consistently goes up and down for miles.  This ride has rolling hills!

When you leave Tiburon to head north along the Bay you have about 9 miles of sharp turns that rise and fall at a rhythm that make you feel like you are flying.  I love this section through wooded hillsides.  The views are not great but so what?  You are flying!

Mt Tam
Tiburon Peninsula (west side)

 

The ride out along the west side of the Tiburon peninsula is pretty nice with, again, great views of San Francisco, and you can interrupt the trip and take your bike on a ferry out to Angel Island for a ride if you want (recommended!).

Finally, if you want a bit more of a challenge, when you get back to Mill Valley on the return, head up Evergreen to Panorama Drive and then down into Muir Woods and then back up Route 1 and back to Mill Valley.  That is a hard stretch but it adds the Pacific ocean and great biking.  I know lots of people do not like Route 1 but the climb up from Muir Beach is challenging, beautiful and the cars that do pass you are going very slowly.  Trust me, and take the plunge.

Mountain Bike to Tam Fire Road and Back 

This is a VERY tiring ride. This is 5000 feet of climbing in four steep sections (the third is the steepest), with the final LONG climb on a single track with lots of ruts.  It takes you to the shoulder of Mt Tam and is the most amazing ride of the group.  It is a kind of “once-a-year ride that you do on Wednesday morning if you can.  If you do it on a weekend you will meet avid (young) mountain bikers screaming down at you from Tam and it will not be fun.

I have this one starting and ending at the waterfront near the Transbay Terminal. This ride is all about the Marin Headlands.  It has amazing views EVERYWHERE–EVERYWHERE.  The ride up from the Golden Gate seems challenging but it turns out to be the easiest climb.  Once you get to the Coastal Trail you are off-road for  most of the rest of the way.  You split time between fire roads and some non-technical singletrack.

Marin
Marin Headlands

Riding across this part of Marin can make you feel like you are on a lonely Irish coast. 

The ride takes you over several hills until you reach Tennessee Beach and then you get the steep climb up to Coyote Ridge.  I have done most of this ride without a mountain bike but you will not make this climb without it.  You cannot stand on your pedals here because you will lose traction and over you will go.

Expect to ride about 3 miles per hour up this climb but you will be rewarded by any hikers who will look at you with awe (or perhaps they will think you are crazy).

IMG_0054Once you get up, you have to head down to Muir Beach and this is no easy task.  But then you get to climb again all the way to the shoulder of Mt Tam.  This is a long hard climb but… did I mention views?  Mountains and seashore and open pasture and you get to see it all from your bike.  And by the time you get West Point Inn on the shoulder, before heading back, you get views of Mt Diablo, San Francisco and the entire bay.

This ride is so challenging, so tiring, but so achingly beautiful that you will never forget it.  And you will be able to say, like me, no one can take that away from me.

Enjoy the ride.

 

 

Community Health Workers: Initial Thoughts

 

This post is the first in a series on community health workers that I hope will lead to a discussion about expanding this model in U.S. communities. I will provide some limited background to the concept here and suggest some ways to use community health workers. In later posts, I will review evidence of their efficacy elsewhere in the world and the flesh out ways we might use them in Davis, California, and Yolo County, California.

Community health workers (CHW) is a general term that encompasses a variety of functions and activities. In some places, they are called health promoters, peer educators, community health representatives, or health educators.

In general, community health workers are volunteers. That is, they may or may not be part of some formal health delivery system, but they are generally not salaried staff. In some cases, they may receive various incentives or reimbursement for expenditures on behalf of the program (transportation costs, for example).

They are typically members of the community in which they serve. Ideally, they are well known and trusted, speak the local language, and understand local cultural practices related to health-promoting behaviors and healthcare-seeking practices. Because of their position in the communities they serve, they function as a critical link between formal healthcare provides or health departments and community members.

The WHO guideline on health policy and system support to optimize community health worker programs to which I will return in a later post, suggests three possible roles for CHWs:

  • Promotive
  • Preventive
  • Curative

A single CHW may play more than one role: they may provide education on smoking cessation program options (promotive); provide information and access to insecticide-treated bednets (preventive); or provide directly observed treatment of HIV antiretrovirals to those with the virus (curative).

Like all volunteer programs, and especially given the importance of CHWs providing appropriate advice or treatment, CHW programs must pay close attention to recruitment, selection, and training–including some form of certification. They must also provide supportive supervision and continued professional development. Finally, they must assure that CHWs are adequately linked to the formal services they support.

Each of these represent challenges and are a function not only of the characteristics of available CHWs (education level, availability), but also of the complexity and variety of tasks assigned to them.

With this brief background, a future post will provide further examples of how CHWs have been used around the world and the evidence of their effectiveness.

Leadership: Lessons from Mauritania (I)

 

 

 

November 1985. I was 25 years old when I first visited the African continent and began a 25-year apprenticeship: unlearning certain things and gaining new insights into many things I could not have learned otherwise.

We landed in Nouakchott, Mauritania (the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, to be exact). Almost immediately, I joined a group comprised of two expatriate nurses, two drivers, one expatriate project director, and two local community health workers. We headed to the desert north (not the profound north but far enough) to assess the nutritional needs of children in rural communities.

Photos thanks to Jon Shadid, friend, and former colleague

That year was towards the end of a multi-decade drought that had affected the Sahel region of northwest Africa. Villages were disappearing in the sand; formerly nomadic groups were settling in the capital or regional cities; everyone was hungry. When I say “hungry,” I don’t just mean food insecure. People were starving in out of the way places, and we went to find out just how bad it was.

We were going to weigh children, the most vulnerable group in the population, to determine the need for a food relief program the U.S. government was considering.

(I think back on that trip with shame. The children we saw and weighed were in such bad shape that in at least one village a child died before we could even register its weight to compare it to their age. The idea that we had to “prove” the need of these villagers struck me then as bizarre and now strikes me as wrong…)

About 100 km in, we came to the end of the paved road, and then it was a desert track through imposing dunes that were overtaking palm groves and any other living thing in their path.

The hamlets huddled up against the disappearing groves where water was near the surface, and soon enough inhabitants would have to leave to find the basics of life somewhere else. The final remnants of their meager goat herds stood passively by the remaining bushes, and everything was gray.

The two dozen or so hamlets we visited during those five days quickly merged into one another–a few walled compounds with drifts through the doors, roofs collapsing due to disrepair, a few tents inside the mud-brick compounds where people lived. And each community had a tree. It was on that tree that we hung our scale to weigh the twenty or so village children six months to 3 years old.

It would have been better to measure wasting–the weight of children compared to their height to assess the acuteness of the malnutrition, but we had no height board nor anyone trained to use one. We took the weights by sliding the children into a harness and hanging them on the scale, which hung from the tree. We used whatever data on age we could figure out. Most moms had vaccination cards for their children, and for those who did not, we asked when their child was born in relation to the others who had cards.

The results were terrible in almost every case. A point in time measure of weight-for-age is not ideal; you want a couple of points in time to judge a child’s growth trajectory to look for faltering. We could not do that, but the point estimates showed that these children were in a clear danger zone. They were wasting away to nothing.

(I recall picking up a child of just over two who was so light I remember thinking that their bones must be disappearing within them.)

Only three villages of all those we visited remain in my memory. Only two matter for this story. We arrived in the first, pulling in in our aging LandRovers (the only motor vehicles for possibly hundreds of miles around), and a man approached us, announcing himself as chief.

He greeted us with a laugh and welcomed us. He immediately asked what we had for him. He explained that things were terrible and that a little help from us could make things better. He could maybe build a school or hire a nurse (there was zero chance for either of things to happen, and he knew it).

We explained our mission, and he directed us to a tree and began screaming at women to bring out their kids. He had a kind of scourge made of sticks, and he threatened them to fall in line or else. They complied passively, eyes cast down. They, too, were gray. The men hung around, watching, and looking tired. We explained what we were there for and began.

The chief kept up his banter and his endless streams of requests, paying no attention to the women, the weighing, or anything else. He cracked jokes with the drivers and talked about the village’s needs that he needed money to fix and, couldn’t we help out.

Most moms had no vaccination cards, and it took us a while to discern the ages of the children. And when we started weighing, we realized that all these kids were in bad shape–every single one. The nurses whispered to me that most of these kids were going to die, and there was nothing they could do. Diarrhea was everywhere. When we finished, the nurses talked to everyone about rehydration and breastfeeding, and the chief berated the mothers for not doing their jobs. We left stunned. I felt ill, and probably the only reason I did not feel a lot worse is that I did not have any children yet (my wife back in the capital was pregnant with our firstborn).

About 10 to 12 kilometers away, we entered another village. As before, a man approached our vehicles as we entered announcing himself as the chief. He told us immediately that the children there were in a bad way. Had we come to help them, he wanted to know. Could we please check them out? What were his options for helping them? The questions poured from him, and he was desperate to find relief.

We explained our mission, and he went house to house, encouraging people to come. He offered us tea and bid us rest while the mothers arrived. He queried us about how soon the food might come pointing out over and over that the children needed help now. He organized the crowd by asking whose children were sick and needed help the most to line up first. Everyone knew the answers and quickly sorted themselves into groups.

As we began to weigh the children, he asked if we might stay long enough to give the community members advice on how to best care for their children. He begged us to stay on overnight so we could, perhaps, treat some of the sickest.

Every mother had a vaccination card, kept carefully in plastic bags, and the chief proudly told us how he had arranged for a vaccination team to come to the region from the district health office.

And, while the children were not healthy, they were doing okay. The nurses noted this immediately and wondered what resources this village had that others did not. They asked a lot of questions about goat milk, consumption of vegetables (there were none), but in the end, they could not figure out what unique characteristics helped these children be in such relatively good shape.

The nurses provided information on rehydration to everyone and talked about breastfeeding. The chief asked them to identify the children most in need of help and sat with them and the mothers while they counseled them in a smaller group. He encouraged them to follow the advice.

We talked about that village for the rest of our trip. Years later, I would learn of a concept that could describe such cases. We call them “positive deviants:” those places or families where children seem to thrive while others in the same area do poorly. It is always essential to identify the key characteristics of positive deviance, and in that case, we debated it as we drove on through the dunes.

Sometimes, I wonder how many children in those villages lived.

Lesson: Leadership makes a difference. Leaders who are focused on their community, the people in their organizations, and institutions can help create health and well being. Understanding one’s community, and those most in need within it, can and does make a difference to outcomes.

It was the first time in my life that I thought about the difference that a “good leader” could make. And over the many years I spent in Africa, and when I returned home, I found many examples to bolster my conviction that a leader’s focus on the needs of the least in any community is the key to a healthy community.

I still believe that.

I learned that in Mauritania. I relearn it every day now in my country.

Supporting Volunteers in Community-Based Programming

 

Local jurisdictions and non-profit organizations working in social and community services routinely use and benefit from volunteers’ work. From short-term (or even one-off) service projects sponsored by cities to ongoing service delivery, volunteers extend the organization’s efforts and allow for deeper outreach while keeping costs down.

Traditionally, volunteers may have provided “manual” labor—packaging, delivering, distributing, etc. In recent years, volunteers have been taking on more sophisticated roles—some using technical specialties they bring from careers.  

With an aging but healthy population, the potential pool of volunteers in the U.S. has grown. Also, more universities and colleges explicitly require some form of community service as part of degree completion or value it through transcript notations or other types of credentialing.

While these factors offer great resources to agencies that benefit from volunteers, many may not provide the support needed to maximize volunteers’ contributions, reduce unnecessary turnover, and establish themselves as a “go-to” organization that can recruit and keep the highest quality volunteers.

I offer here three principles and seven practices that can help get the most out of volunteers and create a culture that assures they benefit the organization’s goals. A quick Google search suggests that others have written about these issues, but hopefully, what I offer here is concise and actionable. 

Please feel free to add to or correct the items below.

Three Principles

1. Volunteers are employees – It is easy to separate volunteers from regular staff because they are not part of the “career” pool of workers, are not paid, and, typically, work only part-time. While their roles are different from paid staff, it is critical to view them as staff for human resource management purposes.

This principle means that volunteers need everything staff does—from clear position descriptions, to onboarding, evaluations, recognition, and professional development/training. The complexity of the volunteer work will alter the amount of time an organization needs to commit to any one of these things, but organizations should consider them.

Of most importance is absolute clarity of the role they play in the organization, to whom they report, and to whom they can go if they have questions or needs. Even fairly routine tasks can introduce issues for which volunteers will need support.

2. Volunteers are not employees – Despite the preceding, it also essential to hold the opposite reality that volunteers are not employees in many ways: in things like remuneration, for example, which signal the critical nature of staff to an organization. Employees have required work hours, are expected to communicate absences in a timely way, are sanctioned for inappropriate behavior in defined ways, and typically have recourse to legal and other systems if they feel the organization is treating them improperly.  

I do not want to suggest that organizations should not lay out clear expectations and provide similar protections to volunteers. Even though most employees these days are employed “at-will” like volunteers, the latter are typically not held to the same standards, and sanctions (beyond just asking them not to come back) are lacking.  

This reality has significant consequences: quality control of volunteer work may be more challenging; communication expectations may be more challenging to reinforce, and separation more sudden and unplanned.

3. Volunteers are the face of your organization – Whatever their status, volunteers are the face of your organization, just like paid staff. This is both an opportunity and a risk. It is an opportunity because committed volunteers are community ambassadors who can invite their friends and neighbors to participate in your organization’s efforts. That can lead to increased financial support, provide expanded paid staff and volunteer recruitment pools, and help spread goodwill about the work throughout the community.

The risk is that volunteers will not represent the organization well to clients or inappropriately speak on behalf of the organization to outside groups. For community-facing volunteers, the risks are most significant. Community members who receive services from the organization do not distinguish between the “official” staff of the organization and volunteers—the person in front of them is the organization. Organizational leaders need to pay attention to the representational risks associated with volunteerism.

With these basic principles in mind, I would suggest that there are seven practices necessary to enhance your volunteers’ work.

Practices

1. Clear articulation of why the organization needs volunteers and their roles

Every volunteer should understand how an organization can use their help and what the organization expects of all volunteers. Organizations should announce not just volunteer opportunities on their websites and printed materials; they should also define the distinctive role volunteers play and why they are essential. This information should communicate the organization’s high expectations for volunteers, creating a sense of seriousness about the role.

2. Clear job descriptions—including “representational” role

In addition to a general description of volunteer roles within the organization, every volunteer position type requires at least a brief position description laying out needed competencies, critical tasks, and job requirements (including physical ones). Job descriptions are a great place to lay out the “representational” role of the position and what this means for volunteer behavior.

3. Adequate onboarding of new volunteers

Onboarding includes an introduction to the work environment, I.T. issues (as relevant), work hours and expectations, organizational structure and volunteers’ place within it, and principles and practices of conflict resolution (among volunteers or between volunteers and staff).

4. Quality initial training with monitoring to catch ongoing or refresher training needs

The amount of initial training and frequency of refresher or re-training is a function of the complexity of the work, but laying out clear job steps, how-tos, things to avoid, and minimal requirements should be the norm. Given that volunteers rarely come to an organization in a block, this training may have both a virtual (asynchronous) component that goes through the basics; and an in-person part that acts to clarify issues and answer questions arising from the virtual training.

5. Stated communication protocols and pro-active and responsive communication from leadership

Communication protocols include what volunteers should do and commitments the organization makes to volunteers. Of most importance is laying out expectations of what volunteers are to do if they cannot, for whatever reason, fulfill their volunteer commitments. 

Also, staff should commit to regular (weekly or more frequently?) communication to all volunteers and ensure that all volunteer questions receive timely responses. There is no better way to keep volunteers connected to the organization’s ongoing successes and challenges than via regular updates.  

6. Volunteer assessments and planned recognitions

Volunteers should know that they will receive and can request feedback on their work. Assessment and feedback should be routine tasks of the staff who work with volunteers, and there should be regular times to celebrate and provide recognition to volunteers. These can be spontaneous or planned. Given that volunteers do not receive salaries, feedback, and recognition become THE KEY ways to remunerate them for their work. It is critical.

7. Ongoing recruitment plans

Because volunteers are not employees (see above), they can and do leave their posts in unpredictable ways. Many start with high expectations for themselves only to find that life intervenes, and the volunteer role (because it is not a job), has to end. Be ready for this—it can happen quickly and can be extremely frustrating, especially if some time-sensitive work goes undone because of their departure or failure to show up.

Use volunteers to recruit volunteers. Often people will volunteer in response to some great need that they have learned about. Initial responders may be the activists who “want to do something.” They are genuine in their desire to help, but if another “big need” comes along, they may be one of the first to leave to pursue it. However, because they are active and their enthusiasm is often contagious, “first responders” may be a great source of recruitment of others who may stick around longer. 

Volunteerism is a visible sign of the coherence of a community. There are vast untapped pools of highly talented and committed people who would benefit from volunteering, and organizations can extend their impact by finding and employing them.  

One final note, it is not unusual for volunteer “offer” to outstrip the need for volunteers. It is crucial to capture the interest and communicate to those waiting for an opportunity regularly. Those offering to volunteer need to understand where they are in the “queue” of potential volunteers. Maintaining contact with them can enable organizations to build goodwill and make sure that the pool remains strong if needs arise in a short time.

The Language of Anxiety

I did not know until years later, but at one point, my father’s anxiety was so overwhelming that he broke out in hives, left his job, and nearly was committed to a hospital.

That piece of information hit me when I was about 20 after I had started plumbing the depths of my own dark holes (that’s how I always saw them), that landed me in the emergency room with stomach pains so severe I thought I had to have some cancer or worse (and of course that made the hole even more profound).

And then, without getting too specific about it, I finally, well into my 40s, began to develop some coping mechanisms to deal with the whole nasty knot when I started to walk with my daughter through a period that ended up far worse than mine or my dad’s.

(Thankfully, she has moved on to a better place too, as we learned together how to tame the raging confusion—learning to go to our “rational place.”)

Like a lot of things—the constant ringing in my ears, or being able to do certain things with my left hand but incapable of doing them with my right and vice versatility—I assumed everyone had the same experience of the world as me.

I mean, I assumed that until I got to know my wife and realized that she simply did not experience the world like me. She let each day come, and each day go and wasted no time using those crazy tics that I used (secretly) to try to bring some semblance of control to those out-of-control places where I seemed to spend far too much time each day. No, she simply did not know about dark holes. Of course, like most people, she had moments when she was anxious—but those were the usual things that come with some big unknown: childbirth, marriage, or moving across the world.

Knowing others did not necessarily experience the (near and far) future as an inevitable place of reckoning did not make me feel lonely or inadequate or anything like that. But it did make me feel like I was going to have to live with this thing and that I was going to have to try to figure out how to think my way through it.

I say “think my way through it” because from an early age, and perhaps intuitively, I developed ways to just “step outside” sometimes and see my worries (as I thought of them) for what they were: vaporous substances that stood up to no rational scrutiny at all.

The problem with anxiety, though, is that, sometimes, by the time you realize what has seized you and driven you to chew off those fingernails to a dangerous and bloody level, clearing the vapor could take some time and lots of effort–days in some cases. And that was confusing.

The breakthrough I have made in recent years is to learn to identify the “hole” before I start slipping too far into it. That means a shorter “path” to walk back over to get to the origins of the most recent descent.

I know, I am mixing metaphors—anxiety as a path, anxiety as vapor, anxiety as a hole… But I have had to come up with a bunch of different linguistic handles to explain it to myself. So I think of each round of anxiety as having its own “foundation myth”—that event or experience that triggers a simple fear. Each series has its “force multipliers” the extra bad news that gets loaded onto a simple fear to make it seem doubly bad and dangerous. Each round has a “descent”—steep or less so—into some sort of dark space. And each has that thing, that “cataclysm,” waiting at the end that is always ill-defined but sure to be disastrous for me or someone I love.

(Quite frankly, I rarely experience that cataclysm as something that will happen to me; it is something that will happen to someone I love, and I know the pain of the loss will crush me.)

So, yeah, I have had to find my language to talk to myself about the whole process, and getting out has its word too—it is a “path.” It is a path I have walk back on—backtrack—to move past the “force multipliers” and discover that simple fear—that “foundation myth”—that always sits at the beginning, waiting for my return. And when I get there, I always feel the same: “So that’s what this is all about… are you kidding me?”

The “paths” have grown shorter in these past few years. Sometimes I don’t even get to the “descent” anymore, and I see fewer looming “cataclysms.” For that, I am thankful. I can “step outside“ more efficiently, and sometimes I see the “foundation myth” almost immediately, and that helps me get to my “rational place” so I can move out of my “hole” and face the challenges of another day.