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[whitespace] Davis plays public advocate--not mere council watcher

Los Gatos--Whereas some "council gadflies" enjoy taking close notes on the actions of local government, newly arrived Los Gatan Ray Davis prefers a much more active approach--direct involvement.

"I sally forth to spread the spotlight to the dark spots of the public life," Davis says, smiling.

The 72 year-old, self-styled citizen's advocate has been an active, some say overactive, participant in local government for nearly 40 years. A high-rise proposal in his Walnut Creek backyard first brought the World War II paratrooper into the governmental process, and he hasn't left.

"It is incumbent on the citizenry to participate in the public good in some vein," Davis says. "I happen to have chosen this way and that's what I do for the public good."

Davis' "way" has included perfect attendance at council and planning commission meetings in the various towns in which he has lived, most recently the Contra Costa city of Orinda. There, Davis' constant scrutiny of town government earned him a number of admirers, as well as a number of critics.

"When you're as effective as I am in the public arena," Davis says, "you draw the ire of those seeking to influence the process." Davis' zealotry in Orinda led to a physical altercation with a former police chief and an attempt by the town to ban him from public meetings. Davis also participated in a successful class action suit against the city of Orinda over a violation of the Brown Act, which states that audience members have the right to comment on any item of a public meeting's agenda.

Part of Davis' vigilance included appearing at Orinda meetings in a vintage World War II Nazi helmet, and yelling out a "Sieg Heil" when he felt town officials were acting in a "fascist" manner."When you're a true reformer, not a council watcher, you gotta go with what works," Davis explains.

But, Los Gatos council members and town officials need not worry--yet. Davis, who moved to Los Gatos for "better air," said the open and honest local government he's experienced in the first two meetings he attended has shocked him.

"I have a very distinguished nose; I can smell the slightest stink of corruption, and I've got none," Davis says. "I might be out of business."

However, before Davis decided his presence at town meetings is truly not warranted, he intends to attend a few more, as well as bulk up on the town's General Plan. He says he discovered years ago that the only way to be successful in keeping tabs on local government is to "know as much as the staff, preferably more."

Davis spoke at the Feb. 23 Planning Commission meeting in defense of the commissioners, whom some have criticized lately for being too heavy-handed in their interpretations of town regulations and the General Plan.

Davis said the Los Gatos Planning Commission is a welcome change from others he has dealt with. They seem to maintain the "vision" the General Plan sets forth, according to Davis.

"When land use issues come before the Planning Commission, it's how they're handled that dictates whether or not the General Plan actually works," Davis says.

If the town government does meet Davis' satisfaction, the UC- Berkeley graduate and former businessman says that will leave him more time to travel the world and write about his experiences.

"No matter what happens," Davis says, "I'll always be an advocate of the public interest, above all else."
Nathan R. Huff

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Web extra to the March 9-15, 2000 issue of Metro.

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