The Parks Tax Renewal, CO-Ops, and Trust in Government

parks-taxby Brett Lee
Candidate for Davis City Council

It was interesting that the City Council decided to place the Parks Tax renewal on the ballot at $49 a year in spite of the fact that the Parks and Recreation Commission had requested $75 a year.  City staff suggested that $49 would be easier to sell to the public than $75.  Choosing $49 because it is politically expedient seems misguided. Shouldn’t we be willing to fight for what is needed?

But here’s the problem:  we have the City asking for more funds to protect our amenities, but at some level each of us wonders how well they are currently spending our money.  There is a cynicism about how our city is operating that is not without merit.  $49 versus $75?  Let’s choose $49 because it is easier to sell.  How are we the public supposed to know how much is really needed?  Why would we want to support $49 or even $75 if we are not sure where those amounts came from and what they will and will not cover?

Water rates going up?  Not when you compare the cost of a gallon of tap water to a cost of a gallon of bottled water. 14% rate increase?  Well, actually 29% if you want to get mathematical.  When the City has said things like this, I am not surprised that there is a general level of skepticism in the community.

I hope that the City Council revisits the parks funding issue and specifically tells us how the City plans to maintain our parks and recreation services.  Is there a shortfall if we only ask for $49?  If so, does that mean the City plans to reallocate other funds to help care for the parks, or is their plan to simply underfund the parks?  As a community we care about our parks; please tell us how much is needed to maintain them properly.  By passing a $49 renewal, should we expect more cuts to recreation programs and pool hours?  Or will $49 protect our parks and recreation services?

On a broader, long-term level we need to restore trust in our City government.  We need to know that our taxes are well spent and that people are accountable for their actions. We do not need a “gotcha” regime that looks to punish people for misjudgments; we are all human and sometimes we make mistakes, but at the same time we do not need a “let the good times roll” mentality where we just cruise along with little accountability.

This brings me to the subject of the Twin Pines Cooperative Association and Davis Area Community Housing Association (DACHA).  There have been a couple of articles/letters in the paper recently about how the City may or may not have acted illegally or unwisely in this issue.  To be honest, I cannot really tell what happened.

As a taxpayer and community member, I would expect the City to conduct an objective investigation of its handling of this matter and to be honest and forthright about what it finds.  I know that the pending legal action may not allow the City to publicly disclose its findings right now, but I would expect a full disclosure when the legal matters have been resolved. In this disclosure, if the City has acted improperly, I would like to know the steps that were taken to prevent this from happening again and what steps were taken to provide some level of accountability.  On the other hand, if the City has acted properly, then the community would also benefit from knowing it.

If we hope to improve our city and build needed confidence within our community we must be willing to honestly assess ourselves.

Transparency is a good thing.  Knowing that the City evaluates itself honestly and is open about the things it has done well and also not so well, will provide us with the opportunity to improve.

If we have faith and confidence that our city is well run and spending our money wisely, then when the City says it needs additional funds, we as a community will have a greater inclination to jump in and fully support it.

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  1. hpierce

    On the points you have spoken (written) to, what do YOU propose to do about them, if elected? Please be as specific as to your solutions as you are to the problems you cite. Fish or cut bait.

  2. Brett

    Hi hpierce,
    Specifically I would start by outlining what the current parks and rec budget is, identifying the costs by category.

    Currently, the parks and rec expenses are covered by the general fund and by the parks tax. So it is not readily apparent what exactly will happen with or without a renewal since it is a mix of funds that are being used.

    Much as the Measure C folks have done, I would like to know if we pass the parks tax renewal, what are we getting? Are we getting a commitment to maintain our parks and rec opportunities at the current level, or not? If not, why not? And what would the target areas for cuts be? Would we backfill any of the shortfall from the general fund?

    If we are asked to pay some amount of money to “save our parks” and the plan has an inherent shortfall, I certainly want to know what it is I am voting for. For example, “please pass this parks tax renewal, if you do so we will only be forced to cut 5% of the operating budget.” If we pass the parks tax renewal and the next month the programs and services we enjoy are then cut back even further, I am sure many will not be pleased. Many will have thought they were voting to maintain services.

    So, that is what I would do, level with the people up front as to what the renewal will mean.

    As far as the City’s openness, I think I was pretty clear on that. Specific personnel matters are often confidential, but general information on how we work on performance improvement with our employee team is not.

    Hi Avatar,
    Let me get back to you once I check with my puppet-master(s) on how I should answer.

    Seriously though, if you have ever met me, you would know that I am my own person. My views of Davis were formed over many years of living here. I am not all things to all people, and I differ with many on my campaign team over a variety of issues. For example, 3/4 of my advisors were Wildhorse Ranch supporters; I did not support Wildhorse Ranch.

    I think people have chosen to support me because on balance they appreciate my fact based, reasonable approach and they think I will be good for Davis.

  3. David Suder

    [quote]Is Brett Lee , the new puppet for Lamar Haystack , who was the puppet for this blog ? – Avatar[/quote]There’s a big difference between being in agreement on political ideology and being a “puppet.” A puppet has no thoughts or principles of his own, and merely speaks what his handlers direct him to. If you are accusing Lamar of this, I hope you can provide some evidence of it. That has never been my impression of him.

  4. rusty49

    “For example, 3/4 of my advisors were Wildhorse Ranch supporters; I did not support Wildhorse Ranch.”

    Brett, I have liked a lot of what you have put forth. But to be honest I have a problem with 3/4 of your advisers being Wildhorse Ranch supporters. I don’t want any candidate who might be beholden to developers.

  5. David M. Greenwald

    Rusty: He said they were supporters of WHR, not developers. And he also said he disagreed with them on the issue. I fail to see how this makes him beholden to developers.

  6. 2cowherd

    Rusty: How does being a supporter of Wildhorse Ranch make one “beholden to developers?

    I supported Wildhorse Ranch because the energy efficient features and water-conserving features proposed for the project would have set a standard that future residential projects in Davis would have had to meet or exceed.

    I also would support any developer who is willing to demonstrate that building sustainably can be done. I’m tired of watching developers tell the Davis City Council they can’t put solar on their projects “because it is too expensive”.

  7. rusty49

    “I fail to see how this makes him beholden to developers.”

    I didn’t say he was, I said I just don’t want a candidate that ‘might’ be. If he isn’t then great. As of now I fully plan on voting for Mr. Lee as Souza’s replacement. I just want to make sure that Brett has no ties to developers, as with any candidate I might consider, that’s one of my big no-no’s.

  8. Brett

    Hi Rusty,
    I didn’t support Covell Village (Measure X), I didn’t support Wildhorse Ranch (Measure P), and the reason I am up so late is I just got done speaking at the City Council meeting asking them not to move the ConAgra (Hunt-Wesson) proposal forward to the EIR stage (unfortunately they voted to move it forward).

    (fyi-I haven’t accepted developer money and don’t plan to.)

    I must say I do get a little tired of all the “average” projects that seem to get approved in our town. We have the ability to ask and get much better.

  9. pravihrvat

    Brett —

    Your points about accountability and transparency and giving folks what they pay for sound good. But unless you start saying more than nice ideas you won’t be giving the voters anything different than what too typically politicians provide as a “platform”, which is the appearance of fealty to amicable good government while maintaining plausible deniability.

    What I mean is: what would you have set as Park Tax fee? And what would you promise in return if it passed? If you have to wait to be elected to inform yourself enough to give a straight dollar amount for the tax and some simple, direct examples of the deliverables you’d promise, then it is hard to believe your ready to serve on the Council.

    Ditto on the water issue: I haven’t heard anybody on any side of the water issue say they want bad water and grossly unaffordable bills, so happy talk gives no reason to vote for you. What folks want to know is if you want punitive tiered rates or a flat fee with discounts for reduced use over a base-line? Do you advocate for well water, surface water, or conjunctive use? Do you want us to resurrect the old JPA mega-plan, or craft a new plan scaled to the community’s pocketbook and true growth needs? Is there an increment you’re able to suggest for water project debt if a system is built in stages? And what staging over time could you suggest for an incremental approach? Are you for or against a private, for-profit operator? Start giving us your straight answers to questions like that and you become a real choice, rather than another wisp of hope that goes up in smoke.

    I’m not saying you lack the chops to serve, but if you want votes then pulling off the trick of making yourself indistinguishable from anybody else can’t cut it. Again, your piece has some great questions in it — what we want to know are your versions of some real, hard answers.

  10. Brett

    Hi Pravihrvat,

    I appreciate your comments and advice. You are right, being a bland indistinguishable candidate is not going to unseat an incumbent.

    I have taken a few positions that differ from the incumbents- these may help on the water issue:


    As far as the Parks and Rec budget, I would need to see the numbers (capital costs, fixed/variable personnel costs) before saying what the need is. That’s not a dodge to your question, but the reality of budgeting.

    As a business planner for Fedex, I have worked on budgets as large as Davis’ in the past. To be able to say what the need is and also what the “Plan B” is requires a full look at the whole puzzle, not just a piece of it.

    The issue with the parks tax is that the amount of funding the parks receive is a mix of the “parks tax” and general funds. So, it is possible with the renewal of the parks tax that the overall funding for the parks get cut. Likewise, it is mathematically possible (though unlikely) that if the parks tax fails, the parks could receive more funding than before. In both cases, it is a political decision about priorities for the general fund.

    If it were me, I would set the parks renewal tax level to a level that would allow the parks budget to remain “whole”. So that when a voter votes for the tax and it passes, they understand that the parks will be funded at the same level as before. To determine that tax level, we would need to look at expense growth (or reduction) and also what we are willing (politically) to fund from the general fund. The shortfall would represent the needed revenue from the “parks tax renewal”. I do not feel that this was done in this case, and hence my concern.

    I’m going to start going to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday’s starting this Saturday at 10am. Please feel free to come say hi and ask questions. I’ll try not to be too bland!

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