What Became of the Davis Teen Center

teen_centerI should state here at the outset that what I write has nothing to do with support or opposition to a Davis Bicycle Hall of Fame which I fully support and very much believe to be one of the best things to happen to Davis.  The question is always one of where and how.  And I find it very interesting that on May 5, 2009, Councilmember Lamar Heystek was the only Councilmember to question why close down the teen center in order to make room for the Bicycle Hall of Fame.

What becomes more fascinating is that in the past few weeks I have had two separate emails from separate people asking me to investigate what happened.  During the same time, the Davis Enterprise has had three separate letters to the editor that have questioned the decision.  For me that is somewhat odd given that we are really nearly three months after the council decision was made and at the time the only person who seemed to care was Councilmember Heystek.

I suppose if someone has to touch the proverbial third rail of politics in Davis, it should be me.  Many people have argued that the teen facility is underutilized and it may well be.  However, others have suggested that this is a matter of process.  The emails I received questioned the process and public noticing of the issue.  As it was pointed out to me, there were no notices posted at the teen center itself.  Of course it is not required that the city notice the public in that fashion, but if you want to actually hear what the public who utilize the facility have to say, you might want to let them know that it is coming up for a vote.  Most teens who utilize the center and their parents probably do not read the council agendas on a regular basis just in case.

On May 5, 2009 the city staff recommended reuse alternatives “exist for the Third and B facility that may better take advantage of the facility’s downtown location and future economic development efforts in the area.”  They argued opportunities exist to enhance teen services and programming through an alternative model and “funding levels that could be accommodated at one or more alternate facilities within the community.”

The staff report recommended and council approved the idea that:

“the Third and B Building is ideally located and can be easily adapted for use the US Bicycling Hall of Fame headquarters and museum, rendering it the preferred option at this point, due to its potential to be a significant national, and even international destination that is uniquely fitting to the Davis’ reputation as the nation’s leading bicycle city and a commitment that furthers the city’s downtown and economic development goals.”

Councilmember Heystek had requested a video produced by the teens be played prior to hearing that item.  That did not happen.  We were hoping to be able to upload for the public to watch on the Vanguard, but that did not happen either and if it does it will be on a future Vanguard.

Councilmember Heystek in his comments argued that one of our goals is to provide programming for teens and target youths.  He went on to point out the focus on at-risk youths.

“Clearly the goal that is being promoted in the staff report that council is unanimously in support of is economic development.  But I don’t want the council to forget that there are other goals in our set of priorities that include serving youth.  This is the only set of our goals where we really talk about youth services.”

He continued:

“Teens don’t pay.  If we juxtapose the teens with economic development, the teens are always going to lose because they’re not paying clients.  If we’re really serious about providing the teen programming in whatever fashion, we’ve got to allocate the financial resources to do that.”

In part, the staff reported on a youth interest survey where a vast majority of teens (76%) claimed that they did not visit the teeen center in the last six months.  And only around 5% claim to have utilized the facility four or more times in a six month time period.

The respondent suggested that the primary reason was:

“I don’t know about the programs-don’t want to participate.”  Transportation and distance are greater barriers to participation for middle schoolers, who cited these reasons more frequently than high schoolers. Open ended responses generally indicated a lack of interest in participating, some more colorfully than others.

The city followed up asking whether there was anything the City could offer to do to the facility that would encourage attendance:

Over 76 percent of respondents responded either “no,” or “don’t know” to this question. The most common suggestion for encouraging youth to attend was to increase music/concert performances and dances.

Councilmember Heystek argued that one of the reasons that the teen programs have not been as successful as they could is that we continue to nickle and dime teen programming, failing to invest in their success as we do with other more successful programs.

It should be pointed out that while the percentage was low, the facility was utilized more than four times by over 100 teens during a six month time period and at least once by nearly 500 teens.  From that standpoint it is possible that the percentage of teens utilizing the facility is low, but there is a significant number who in fact do utilize the facility somewhat.  That might suggest a more aggressive program might encourage more teens to utilize the facility, colorful responses not withstanding.

“I think the elephant in the room is whether or not the city of Davis is going to take an existing drop-in facility and replace it with an existing drop-in facility.  We’re just kind of dancing around it…  I think that the drop-in component is crucial to a teen program.”

Councilmember Heystek asked that the council make a commitment to a permanent facility for a teen center.

“I haven’t focused on the bicycle Hall of Fame in my remarks because to me this isn’t about that, everyone is unanimous about bringing a bicycle Hall of Fame to Davis.  That is not the issue.  The issue is let’s say the bicycle Hall of Fame goes there, what is our plan for a permanent facility elsewhere.”

While a number of bicycle enthusiasts expressed excitement about the bicycle Hall of Fame and there is no doubt that everyone in Davis should do so.  It appears that somehow parents and teens who utilize the center were not informed about this decision and some have now come forward several months later to ask questions and express regrets.

From my standpoint having received emails from at least two individuals and having read three letters to the editor on the subject indicates a significant level of concern given the spontaneous nature of this.

Writes Randy Mager in the Davis Enterprise on July 28:

I was extremely surprised to hear that we are losing the teen center  in order to gain a bike museum. When did that get decided? And just who thought that was a good idea? Any mention of losing one to gain the other must have been at a whisper, for anybody I talk with had no idea that this was the choice we had to make to get the museum.  Why give up a space that is well utilized by teens for gatherings, activities, camps, dances and just good hanging out? Don’t get me wrong, I love biking, Davis’ commitment to biking, and having a museum to demonstrate that. Nonetheless, there must be another place that we can find.  The teen center at the park and Farmers’ Market — near downtown and the university campus — is too precious a place for Davis teens to have to give up. There must be someplace else this museum can go to.  How about expanding the museum at the north end of the park? That is one very underutilized space. Anyplace else besides the teen center .  This decision needs to be revisited and discussed more before the teen center is closed.

The same day Leslie Holzman wrote:

“So let me get this straight — Davis is a city that prides itself on its schools and sports programs for youths; considers itself a great place for families; and, of course, is No. 1 in the nation if not the world and universe when it comes to bicycles. So bicycles, because they bring us fame, have now become more important than children and families.  I can’t believe the city has decided to throw teens out on the street and turn their center into a bike museum. The center at Third & B is a great location and set up for teens, and while it may not be used by all teens in Davis, it serves those who need it and it serves them well. It would make a lot more sense to find another spot for the museum or wait until the teens have a new home. I’m sure the residents of Davis, as well as all the visitors who were lining up for the opening of the museum, can wait.”

Finally Lola Kraft on July 31 wrote:

Bike Hall of Fame or our teens? I am saddened. It seems adults keep making decisions that negatively affect children first, from the state level in terms of budget cuts to education, to our local City Council’s decision to close the teen center to make way for a U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame.   This shouldn’t and needn’t have happened. To supplant a program that helps our kids and thus our community without a comparable replacement intact is wrong. It also seems many adults with whom I’ve been talking don’t know of this impending displacement. Why didn’t the City Council hold the April 21 decision until our Recreation and Park Commission could present options on May 5? What message does all this give our teens, and their families?   Davis deserves a Bicycling Hall of Fame, but good grief, our young teens deserve the center that was built for them in the heart of their own town. Taking away from our children affects us all.

At the very least members of the public should push and apply pressure to the Davis City Council to ensure that at the very least the city follows through on a commitment to provide a space for teen programming and activities.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. differentview

    I don’t have a strong opinion about this, but I have two teenagers and they never go to the teen center except in rare cases where a school club or something organizes an event there. When I’ve asked about it, I’ve been told it’s “lame.”

  2. Joseph

    “I suppose if someone has to touch the proverbial third rail of politics in Davis, it should be me.”

    Careful; you already look a bit charred from the Provenza mailer.

  3. Sonya

    I was was puzzled to hear that the teen center was being replaced by a bike museum. That’s Davis showing the concern for the youth of Davis. I agree with the person in this article, why give up a space that is well utilized by teens for gatherings, activities, camps, dances and just good hanging out? Now the question is where will the youth go and did anyone figure this out while pushing the youth to the curb. Maybe alot of youth did not use the teen center often. There was a age or grade requirement (7th-12th) i think so the youth who was in the sixth had to wait another year and from what I heard it would have been used more. Another problem was transportation which the city should have consider to help with so more youth could get to the teen center instead of closing the only place where teens could go hang out with other teens. I personal believe that was the wrong message to send to the youth of Davis and by not allowing them to be a voice was another way of saying “the city just don’t care about our youth” MY sonwas going to the teen and was very pleased with the staff and program and I wish our family and other families could have been apart of the decision making that will end the teen center.

  4. Rich Rifkin

    [quote]I agree with the person in this article, why give up a space that is [u]well utilized[/u] by teens for gatherings, activities, camps, dances and just good hanging out?[/quote] Because it is not well utilized. Teens never used it, save when they were told to go there. I’ve attended a number of meetings at the Teen Center and never saw any teens in the building.

    I’m happy to seeing the Bicycling Hall of Fame come to Davis. That is a big asset for our community. However, that building is such god-awful architecture, that I fret the building will repel many visitors. It’s a shame that the whole thing could not be torn down and started anew. It combines a dysfunctional (and hideously ugly) structure on the inside with a terribly unattractive exterior. At the very least, get rid of the cheap pink stucco.

  5. Mike Harrington

    The Teen Center has always been about programming. That is staff’s job. If attendance is low, then … wouldn’t management expect to look into why?

    I live and work 24/7 within a block of the center, and I always see lots of teens over there in and around the center.

    Of course, teens with rich parents go to expensive summer camps, trips, etc., so the ones who use it primarily are the poor to middle class.

  6. Bottom Line

    I think the big question is one of process. Was there sufficient notice – sufficient legal notice? Technically, I suspect there was. From a practical point of view, I suspect there was not sufficient notice. Which is typical of Davis politics – gaming the system. Cut down on public comment whenever possible. Ironically, the original teen center was built w/o much input from youth, and is probably a good part of the reason why it was underutilized.

    That said, it would seem to make the most sense to have teen activities at the high school on evenings and weekends. The high school is more accessible than the teen center ever was, is the hub in this town for students, and is a large facility that has a brand new community/highschool MPR. Let’s use what we have, and make sure our teens have a positive place to go on weekends and at night.

  7. Barbara

    The City posts signs on trees that are about to be removed and sends letters to neighbors when something like noise or new development in their neighborhood might affect them. It is really surprising that parents of teens who use the center did not get notification before May 5th.

    My kids never used the Teen Center because their days were already stuffed with sports, scouts, and church. But not all kids fit this mold, thank goodness, and some of those kids were actually using the center. It makes sense that they would ask for more music and dances; I hope future teen planners can provide that for them. Sports and scouts don’t generally provide that important aspect of a teen’s life.

    I don’t see under-utilization as a problem. If a large number of teens used the center, it would no longer appeal to an under-served segment of the teen population. Let’s hope the teen center can find a better new location!

  8. Rich Rifkin

    [quote]The high school is more accessible than the teen center ever was, is the hub in this town for students, and is a large facility that has a brand new community/highschool MPR. Let’s use what we have, and make sure our teens have a positive place to go on weekends and at night.[/quote]This is a very good point. Well said. The whole idea of a teen center was not to host organized activities. It was to have a place for teens to go to hang out, so they would not get in trouble. However, teens rarely (if ever) went there to hang out. It always failed in its principal mission, because teens have never needed adults to tell them where they should hang out when they have nothing to do. I’m sure most just hang out with their friends.

    Save when an activity was scheduled there, Third & B was completely empty most of the time. We have 3 junior high schools and the DHS campus to host organized activities. We don’t need a separate facility for them. Having a Teen Center is conceptually a bad idea.

    Note: When I was a teen in Davis, the “Teen Center” was on F Street at the Old Library (where the movie cineplex now is). No one went to it. I never once stepped inside. Until the building was moved to 5th & C and re-christened The Hattie Webber Museum, I didn’t know what it looked like on the inside.

  9. I was there

    At the CC meeting, there was a presentation (either by a teen or by the teen center staff) which spoke to the positive effects of the teen center. Then, strangely, the teen center leader recommend closing the teen center in a deal that would allow for additional funding for teen programming. I had expected she would fight for keeping the teen center or be guaranteed another suitable location and it his struck me as odd that she didn’t ask for either. But… she was persuasive in arguing that the teen programming was the heart of the center (not the center itself). She was persuasive in that the additional funding would allow for more programming at multiple sites (thus closer to teen residences). She was persuasive that this could be a time of change that would allow evaluation and end with a stronger, more vibrant teen center, centers, or programming. I presume the teen center staff is dedicated to the best interest of the teens and are in a position to best know what direction the center should go. And, to be fair, not enough time has gone by to see if the teen center leader’s vision will come to fruition.

    Lamar didn’t buy it. He spoke passionately about the need for a solid and stable foundation that teens could rely on.

    Bottom line… this didn’t happen in a vacuum… there was knowledge and guidance from the teen center leader.

  10. earoberts

    “Bottom line… this didn’t happen in a vacuum… there was knowledge and guidance from the teen center leader.”

    Thanks for the additional insight. Just makes my point for me – that the High School would be a great place to transplant the teen center, which was underutilized. However, it would not have hurt to have put notice of the upcoming CC discussion at the teen center. I suspect that did not happen bc the director of the teen center chose to cut down on public comment by not posting notices. She had her own personal agenda. NOT COOL…

  11. earoberts

    “I don’t see under-utilization as a problem.”

    It is a problem to the extent it gave CC members/teen center director cover to make the decision they did.

  12. Rob Roy

    Many kids used to the teen center but admittedly it was past its prime. The teen center evolved into a mellow place where kids could do their homework and play video games but so many kids in Davis have fancy video game systems are home so they did not need the center. there was several events facilitated by the Teen Center, like Dances for junior highers, that were utilized, but it did not happen on a frequent basis. Back in the 1990’s the teen Center would host music in the basement. Green Day played in that basement before the became the enormous rock stars they are now. But many people worried that the music shows in the basement were too diverse a mix between minors and college students so the music was discontinued – after that, kids starting staying home because video games don’t bring ’em out of the living rooms like rock and rock does. (Speaking of Rock N Roll, I wonder what will happen to the musical equipment that Watermelon donated to the center. ) I think the teen center would be successful if the Council allowed it to model itself after the 924 Gilman Street project that is very successfully run by teen volunteers in Berkeley.

  13. hannah

    I am a mother of a 6th grader who was looking so forward to the teen center and since she is home-schooled she really needed the social interaction that it offers and is now crushed because she will not have access to this program. The city really kept this quiet and I personally think the bike museum is great but not at the expense of our youth. Maybe the city should have located somewhere else for the bike museum and kept this option for the children who have nowhere else to hang out with their peers.

  14. Sharla Cheney

    There are a lot of unanswered questions about the change in teen programming:

    1) If placed at one or more of the schools in Davis, will the City program be open to all youth? or just the youth who attend that particular school?
    Example, will someone who lives near Harper, but attends Emerson (Da Vinci or Spanish-immersion) be able to go to Harper with their neighborhood friends to take part in the teen programming there or will they have to attend the programming at Emerson? What happens with kids who are home-schooled or attend private school? Will the city-run programs at a school site be open to all youth in Davis or limited to just the students from that school?

    2) What happens to youth who are expelled or suspended from school? Will they be banned from the City’s youth programs as well due to them being located on school sites? Could city-sponsored programs end up being viewed as extra-curricular activities where kids are prevented from participation (trips, dances, etc.) due to poor academic performance, tardies, truancy?

    3) Will the teen center programming be merged with existing after-school tutoring/homework programs at the schools? Or will it be a separate, purely recreational city-sponsored program?

    3) Will there be drop in locations for kids to hang out, play loud music, etc.? Will these be open on the weekends and evenings?

    4) If a kid misbehaves while attending a city-sponsored event, will this also affect their status at school. Could this open them up to school discipline (detention / suspension / expulsion)?

    5) I understand that the City is organizing a Youth Advisory Board to help with recreational programming. It has been mentioned here on the blog before and I’m starting to wonder myself – why not a Davis Youth Commission to address broader issues in Davis than just recreational programming?

    6) Can we find a new space?

    7) And, very important, will there be a dance for the sixth grade graduates next June?

  15. anonymous

    Both statements are true: teens need the teen center, and it s not used much by teens. That’s because the teens who are using it are the 12-14 year olds, who don’t drive and can’t hang out at other places. The older teens do indeed think the teen center was lame because they’ve aged out of its primary target age. The teens who need places in this town are the 6th – 8th graders. They can’t get jobs, they can’t drive, and jr high si where kids tend to get off track. Waiting until kids are 16 to provide rograms for them does not reflect the data. Ask Trease Petersen at Davis PD what age group needs attention – it’s the jr high kids. The teen center should exist and it should be open to 6th graders.

    That said, it’s entirely appropriate to discuss what programs we need, what age gourp needs them, and where they should be provided. A bicycle museum? Waste of $. Keep count of how many visit. Won’t be many. Bike enthusiasts prefer events, not museums.

  16. Rich Rifkin

    Rob Roy: [quote]Green Day played in that basement before the became the enormous rock stars they are now.[/quote] This is a 1989 video of Green Day ([url]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_pLUvZeH2E[/url]) playing in Davis. Brilliant band, but still raw back then.

  17. rick entrikin

    Not sure where to locate it (maybe one of the many vacant “business” spaces in town?) but this formula would be a magnet for teens:

    (1) Bowling lanes, (2) Pool (billiard) tables, (3) A juke box with both classic & modern rock music, and (4) a snack bar. THAT is where the teens would hang out (and trust me, bowling and pool are excellent ways to learn focus and geoemetry while having fun.)

    A private business could develop such a center, and the city could subsidize it with funds previously spent for the Teen Center. Kids definitely need a place to hang out, and what could be better than a place where they could have fun, socialize & develop relationships with peers – and where their parents would always know where to find them?

  18. another teen parent

    My teen is in college now, but he and his friends never went to the Teen Center, either. Like the teen quoted in the first response, they thought it was lame, too. And they were good kids – all got excellent grades, had nice friends, and all ended up in top-tier colleges. So it’s not that they were sneaking off getting in trouble. There were just never any activities at the Teen Center that interested them. Bowling and pool, and a jukebox with classic and modern rock? I really think you need to poll teens to find out what they want. My teen would have found all that even more lame than what was offered.

  19. Rich Rifkin

    [quote]1) Bowling lanes, (2) Pool (billiard) tables, (3) A juke box with both classic & modern rock music, and (4) a snack bar. THAT is where the teens would hang out (and trust me, bowling and pool are excellent ways to learn focus and geoemetry while having fun.) [/quote]We have that place: it’s underground at the MU ([url]http://campusunions.ucdavis.edu/games_area/bowling.php[/url]). I don’t know if tweens still use it — I think bowling is less popular today than it was when I was 12-15 — but that is where a lot of tweens hung out in my youth.

  20. Frankly

    ” private business could develop such a center, and the city could subsidize it with funds previously spent for the Teen Center. Kids definitely need a place to hang out, and what could be better than a place where they could have fun, socialize & develop relationships with peers – and where their parents would always know where to find them?”

    This is a great idea. A big part of the reason that Davis teens have any interest in a teen center is the lack of commerical venues in Davis where they can socialize and have fun. Should we consider this a cost of protecting the downtown merchants? Malls, bowling alleys, arcades, miniture golf… all proven teen attractions. Can the city allocate these teen center funds as incentive to attract teen-friendly commerical business… say for example a property tax break for certain businesses?

  21. creepy teen center closed

    The teen center was considered a somewhat sleazy place by Davis kids I know. It tended to attract kids
    who engaged in smoking, tatoos, and worse. I’ve seen kids hanging out
    on the balcony and shouting obscenities at those passing by. Not a place that reflected well
    on Davis and not a place we should keep open.

    There are some city bureaucrats who have a vested interest in the place, but we are
    well rid of it.

    A good precedent.

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