Late last November, before many on who read this blog frequently, were even reading the Vanguard, the City Council had an item on the agenda that would consider hiring consultants at a cost of between $50,000 and $75,000 to update the Parks and Recreation Facilities Master Plan (adopted in 1998) and “create a survey to learn how residents can be better served by their parks.”
That’s right up to $75,000 to learn about how residents can be better served by their parks. Frankly at the time this seemed an extreme waste of money. Both Mayor Sue Greenwald and Councilmember Lamar Heystek argued at the time that if we are going to spend money provided by Measure G it ought to be on projects that have not yet been completed that go to actual improvements of the park.
But the council majority did not agree with that viewpoint. How important was it to the council majority for this survey to be conducted? Well Ruth Asmundson was not at the original meeting because she was on her Philippines junket. So the vote ended up at 2-2, or should have ended up 2-2. However, Don Saylor recognized the likely outcome and utilized parliamentary procedure.
But Saylor had one more trick up his sleeve and with a shocking move he joined Heystek and Greenwald in support of that motion. Why would he do that? Parliamentary procedure states that in order to reconsider an item, a person who voted with the prevailing side is the only one who can bring it up for discussion again. Saylor could not bring the item back had he voted against taking no action… Thus, when Asmundson returns, Saylor can bring the item back for discussion and they can vote to hire the consultant.
At the next meeting, Don Saylor as expected brought the item back for consideration, this time with his 3-2 majority in tow.
At that meeting on December 12, 2006, Don Saylor dodged accusations that he had strategically voted against the project in order for the item to be reconsidered.
Councilmember Saylor angrily responded to allegations of parliamentary maneuvers:
“Let me respond. I’ll be very specific. Earlier this evening we talked about an item that had to do with Employee Assistant Program, one of the councilmembers asked that that item as a courtesy be held over and we agreed with that. I voted to hold that over as a courtesy to a colleague. Two meetings ago we had an item that we were stalemated on, two of us believed that we should proceed, two believed that we should not. I asked that we hold that item over until December 12 so that we would have a full council so that we could consider it. That motion was defeated. Then the motion that we were voting on was, should we take action on that item, and the motion was we should not take action on that item that night. And I think that was the motion… And having voted on that motion in the affirmative I now have the right to request reconsideration by the full council. That’s what I’m doing.”
Stephen Souza defended the authorization of the request for proposal (RFP) suggesting that he was just doing it to consider such a survey, not to actually authorize it.
“This an RFP, it is a request for proposals, it’s not an adoption of a proposal, it’s not the acceptance of a proposal, it was just a request for proposals. So if we consider this, all we’re considering is putting out a request for proposals. I see no harm in putting out a request for proposals. We then would then if we had a proposal come back to us, we would then have to accept the proposal or reject the proposal.”
On April 27, 2007, as we suspected at the time, with little fanfare, the city of Davis had an item on the consent calendar to approve at a $75,000 expenditure for the update of the Parks and Facilities Master Plan.
So what did the people of the city of Davis get for their $75,000?
Remember at the time of the January debate, Mayor Greenwald and Councilmember Heystek were arguing that this is something that staff could perform, and the staff and the Council Majority were arguing that they could not. Well here is the first of the surveys and what their “key findings” are and you decide.
First, they did not design a random sampled phone survey.
“On May 17, 2007 the city-wide Celebrate Davis event was held in Community Park. While sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, the City of Davis is a platinum sponsor and signature participant in this popular special event. To kick-off the master planning process, an intercept survey was administered by Parks and Community Services staff during the event. The intercept surveys were designed to engage both children and adults about their parks usage, preferences and desires for the future. Over 900 complete surveys were collected and analyzed, key findings are listed below.”
Here are the key findings:
- Nearly sixty percent of Davis adults visit Davis Parks daily or multiple times a week
- Walking/ running and playing with kids are primary reasons for adult park visits
- Rainbow City Park is the most popular park for Davis youth
- Davis youth primarily get themselves to parks by bike or by foot
- Davis residents have plenty of ideas for new park amenities
- Davis residents want more passive recreation opportunities, evening and after-school programming
First, it seems that extrapolating from a survey taken at a park is not a good way to determine the percentage of adults that visit Davis Parks. You are basically asking people at a park how often they use a park and assuming that holds for the general population.
Second, is there anything that they discovered from the other key findings that they couldn’t have done by a cheap mail out survey prepared by staff? I like survey data as much as the next person, but we spent $75,000 to determine what people do at a park and what additional features they want. That seems overly extravagant.
Third, I really did not need a survey to tell me why adults primarily visit the park, I would guess that the other usage would be for picnics and barbecues.
Fourth, I think you could solicit ideas for new park amenities any numbers of ways that would be less costly.
Finally, I am very glad to know that youth get themselves to parks by bike or by foot, since they cannot drive. The only other option would be for their parents to drive them to the park. Did we really learn much from that finding?
Despite the arguments of the council majority, there is nothing here in the survey that could not have been done in-house. And I have to seriously question the validity of some of the findings of the survey, particularly the usage finding, given how the survey was conducted.
The bottom line here for me, is that the council majority went to extraordinary efforts to get this survey passed, it took them three meetings to do so. And what have we learned from it and what have we gained from it?
The city is having a phone survey as well this month. I have not seen the questions yet, but I have heard from a few people who have received the phone survey and they are not impressed with the level of questions.
The city has had long discussions in recent weeks about budget priorities. This money was earmarked for parks, so it could only go to parks, but my point is, given limited money, why not spend it to finish the long list of unfinished projects from the previous parks master plan? Why waste it on consultants? Why waste it on a survey that really does not tell us much that we could have figured out for ourselves? We could have come to the same conclusions for a considerably cheaper cost to the city, so why wasn’t this done? If our budget is as strained as we believe it to be, this was a colossal misappropriation of funding. We said this to council at the time, but the council majority still went to extraordinary lengths to get this passed.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting