U.C. Davis accused of ignoring public transparency laws regarding push to downsize KDVS radio, destroy Freeborn Hall

U.C. Davis campus. Photograph by Scott Thomas Anderson

By Scott Thomas Anderson

Thanks to the California Public Records Act, a community revolt to save a popular college radio station and its longtime home is being super-fueled by knowledge that the plan to abandon them was conjured by former U.C. Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi. That’s significant, because Katehi’s tenor at the university was so outcry-inducing that it continues to live on in Google’s digital halls of infamy.

But while U.C. Davis complied with the law in that particular instance, it’s reportedly been less forthright and cooperative on an array of similar public information requests filed regarding the future of KDVS FM and the potential destruction of Freeborn Hall. And those inquires haven’t been filed by just anyone: Each was carefully crafted by Mike Doughton, a 28-year attorney for the State of California whose legal specialty is dealing with the California Public Records Act.

Doughton says that between November of 2020 and April of 2021, he relied on his professional experience to file six separate CPRAs with Chancellor Gary May’s administration. All of them, he says, were either improperly ignored, inappropriately delayed or illegally limited in the scope of what was returned.

“My entire career has been doing document discovery, and I consider it a core expertise,” Doughton told SN&R. “My analysis is that they’re dolling it out in these little truncated ways, holding back what they don’t want to give out. This is horribly belated – it’s not in compliance.”

The legal team for U.C. Davis denies that assertion.

Doughton, who was an attorney for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for 17 years and the California Energy Commission for 11 years, is now retired and performs in the band Orange Morning. Like many Sacramento-area musicians, Doughton was stunned to learn that U.C. Davis plans to force KDVS out of its 50-year home at Freeborn Hall and into a tiny space that all former managers associated with the station claim would downsize it into oblivion. The university’s position is that it needs to gut the station in order to raze Freeborn Hall, a structure considered by many a gem of mid-Century architecture.

U.C. Davis officials have thus far not revealed exactly what they would replace Freeborn Hall with.

Listeners, fans, show hosts and performing artists from Davis to Sacramento have rallied to try to stop the move. One of them, Dr. Gerrell Drawhorn, a professor at Sacramento State University, filed a CPRA with the university on administrators’ communications regarding the Freeborn decision. That led to the release of a number of emails between Katehi and her subordinates in the summer of 2015. The correspondence strongly indicates that one of Katehi’s right-hand officials decided to use seismic safety concerns about Freeborn as an excuse – or cover – to demolish the cornerstone of U.C. Davis life and then replace it with an unspecified “centerpiece” idea that he was still dreaming up. The emails also show Katehi was immediately supportive.

Given how much was gleaned from Drawhorn’s one CPRA – and given that May’s administration is staying Katehi’s course without saying why – Doughton decided to use his extensive legal background to file a battery of new CPRAs.

“It all has to do with my concern about KVDS and its future, as well as Freeborn Hall: The fate of the two seem to be intertwined,” Doughton said. “Nobody has any answers yet to why they still want to knock Freeborn down.”

Doughton recently provided SN&R with a number of emails between himself and U.C. Davis legal analyst Astrid Davis, in which Doughton argues specifically why the university’s responses to his CPRAs aren’t in compliance with the California Public Records Act or the California Constitution.

While the U.C. Davis Office of Campus Council did not grant SN&R an interview for this story, it did issue a statement from legal operations manager Jana L. Gabby, which reads, “U.C. Davis is diligent in responding to CPRA requests in the appropriate amount of time and manner as outlined by the law … Our Information Practices Team has been responding promptly to Mr. Doughton’s CPRA requests. His assertion that we are ignoring, delaying or limiting the records disclosed is simply inaccurate.”

Doughton disputes that and says the reasons he’s pressing the CPRAs so hard is that it doesn’t make sense May’s administration would continue to push an embattled Katehi-led plan that has little-to-no community support, student support or KVDS staff and alumni support.

Parisa Esfahani, on the other hand, feels something like this was inevitable. Esfahani hosted a Public Affairs show on KDVS between 2014 and 2016. From that vantage point, she closely covered the “fire Linda Katehi movement” among students and staff. She doesn’t think the U.C.’s ouster of Katehi was ever about addressing the underlining issues that led to the college having such allegedly compromised leadership.

“I’m not surprised, because we knew when we got her fired, we didn’t really succeed in changing the infrastructure,” Esfahani reflected. “We all knew what was coming next, a second Katehi administration with another face.”

As for KDVS itself, Esfahani has glowing memories. She says it would be a huge blow for the region if the college goes through with its plans.

“The station has meant so much to a really great, warm, vibrant community for so long,” she noted. “It’s student-led, student-run, and there’s nothing gross or neo-liberal about it, like the rest of the U.C. … It’s a beautiful grassroots thing, something that has so much soul, so much spirit.” 

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5 Comments on "U.C. Davis accused of ignoring public transparency laws regarding push to downsize KDVS radio, destroy Freeborn Hall"

  1. So one of Dr. Katehi’s people wanted to replace Freeborn Hall with a safer, better building. I am not outraged. So the University drags its feet complying with public records requests. I am not surprised. Trust me, as a career broadcaster, the magic of radio, as delivered by KDVS and the student body of UCD, can and must continue with less space and in another location. Let’s save our energy for the inevitable move.

  2. Don~ The destruction of Freeborn will be using student registration fees (Student Facilities Safety Fee). The Regents have directed that those funds can only be be used for RETROFIT not DEMOLITION or Site Preparation. And the University refuses to say what “better building” will replace Freeborn and even if they will provided space for Student Organisations. Eight years ago the incoming UC President, Janet Napolitano, stated publicly that KDVS would be placed back in Freeborn with even better upgraded facilities.

    And why you uncritically believe that KDVS “can and must” perform its mission as an educational non-commercial station with a vastly smaller facility (they were offered one of 1/3rd the size). It not only is Sacramento’s source for dozens of genres of music and information that the commercial stations in the region fail to provide, but is one of the only means that local bands can broadcast their music live. It also provides a training facility for up to 200 students and community members in engineering, production, live event production, and managing a business. Giving that staff a tiny room or two would definitely impact its future.

  3. Jeffrey Fekete | August 6, 2021 at 4:25 pm | Reply

    As a longtime community member and periodic KDVS show host from 1988 to the present, I feel each of the first two participants in this thread have highly informed and thoughtful viewpoints. The University of California, Davis ultimately controls physical space and how it chooses to manage the vibrant and incredibly unique learning laboratory afforded to it by the Federal Communications Commission since 1964. KCD/KDVS was originally launched by media savvy students working out of an all-male dormitory laundry room before being “rehoused” at Freeborn Hall. Advancing free thinking boundaries in a protected space sounds contradictory. Yet, physical space and how its use redefines cultural connection is quite a leverage point in 2021 and certainly moving forward in the inverted era of remote and in person learning. KDVS has operated both proudly and inconspicuously for much of its history in the protective shadow of another comparably licensed broadcaster. For a variety of very practical reasons the management of KDVS.org has long been siloed by the university. The determined commitment to 24/7 operation of the broadcast tower and subsequent live stream signal largely keeps the “on air” light glowing and critical FCC requirements met. As far as on-air content, an improvised mix of live, archival, and distance delivered original material is only the most recent and remarkable chapter in the institution’s history. The degree to which the 90.3 FM frequency and its organically extending social media and digital footprints are guided moving forward will be far more instructive to UC students, alumni, and the observant general public than any seismic event literal or figurative. The independence of student public affairs functions at KDVS will offer real time insights between the freeform expressiveness of students and community that are given the privilege of co-piloting KDVS for a day, a year, or any number of hours required to keep it aloft and visible. Ultimately, the station’s vast physical library of recorded music amassed during the innocent pre-Napster era of music moved physically not virtually will be a curiosity, an unpolished museum piece, or both. So, there is my own unvarnished spin on KDVS. Remix it into the chorus of voices on this subject with heart, soul, or simply two turntables and a microphone.

  4. Don – I don’t think the space downgrade is the complete issue here. The issue is the University’s misrepresentation. UCD stated the demolition of Freeborn was to have no prospective replacement, while the impetus for demolition, covertly, was for the re-use of student space for administrative space. Furthermore, the University is well-endowed in funding of billions of dollars for renovation/new projects, with student tuition money earmarked for Freeborn upgrade, but they are opting to not spend, or spend that money elsewhere, such as on demolition. Moreover, there is a dearth of space of campus for student activities/auditorium space. The UC Davis Aggie Newspaper was forced to move to a residential house off-campus due to no relocation space on campus. The process has been impetuous and furtive compared to any other campus project. I would understand if the University was having financial difficulties, or was candid with sound reasoning regarding the deletion of student space, but this is not the case. There is no explanation other than they do not feel student activities are a priority, unlike other universities, and that student money earmarked for Freeborn upgrade will be used for other things.

  5. clayton kadleck | August 14, 2021 at 6:34 pm | Reply

    I have been volunteering at kdvs for 3 years as a dj and I’ve seen the space that has been allocated for the move. To say that it’s 1/3 the size of the current space is, well, beyond generous. I would’ve said 1/10… it’s basically smaller than the current office and lounge put together. I don’t know how you put a broadcast studio and offices into a space that size… let alone a record collection of any size.

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