Vanguard Commentary: The Case For March

road-failureThe Vanguard originally believed a November parcel tax was the way to go, but the polling data released in part last week altered that view. The numbers were bad, showing a $150 parcel tax would only receive 48% of the vote and a $100 one would receive about what Measure O received. Neither pass at the two-thirds rate.

That leaves us with a natural need to modify our stance. This goes against what we wrote in early June, as Dan Carson pointed out in last week’s column.

He noted that on June 8, the Vanguard “argued that the city should go fast, and go big, with a new parcel tax this November to finance a backlog of deferred maintenance and infrastructure projects.”

“The next step in the road to sustainability is passing a parcel tax that can fund $5 (million) to $8 million in roads, a still untold amount on parks, as well as other priority capital needs,” the Vanguard argued. We were told that the discussion “has to happen fast because the time is ticking” to put a measure on the November 2014 ballot. “The city clearly needs it,” the Vanguard contended. “If the city is going to run this the right way, it needs to form a campaign committee, hire a consultant, do real public outreach and education from July until September, and do a vigorous campaign this fall.”

At the time, the Vanguard ruled out waiting for a later election. “Some have suggested they need to wait until more (city budget) cuts are made, but that means putting off the tax until June 2016, when we will be looking at tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, in additional roadway repair costs.” This was said to be the case because “road repair costs will continue to soar between the 8 percent inflation on asphalt and the more exponential increase in costs as roadway conditions continue to decline.”

We argued against going to June 2016 out of the need to wait for additional cuts to employee compensation and we still believe that.

However, as Bob Clarke noted, delay is not necessarily the worst case scenario as the city already has about $4.7 million in the current budget for roads, partly because the city delayed spending monies the past few years and partly because the city council did a good job of finding additional savings that could go to road ways.

We disagree somewhat with some of Mr. Carson’s comments, however. He writes, “The panicky warnings that we had to act immediately because of 8 percent annual increases in asphalt costs were unwarranted, I argued, given that asphalt costs are lower now than 18 months ago.”

Mr. Carson continues to ignore that the chief concern is not necessarily the inflation rate on asphalt, but rather the increased cost of repair as roadways continue to decline. Bob Clarke noted a few meetings ago that the city’s pavement really sits on the edge between okay and badly need of repair.

Moreover, Mr. Carson’s analysis on asphalt fails to note that the last 18 months are leveling out after years of steep incline in cost and that most projections see oil prices beginning to ascend again.

Regardless, our chief concern at this point is that the community is poorly educated on roads. And that we put that squarely on the shoulders of council.

It was a year ago that we learned of the re-emerging $5 million structural deficit. However, instead of working over the next six months to both educate themselves and the public, the council did not discuss this idea again until December when we were immediately put into a last-second crunch.

Still, given that Measure O was always likely to pass, the council failed to use that time and the Measure O campaign to really lay out their case to the public. They didn’t need to run a real campaign to pass Measure O, which was a very small tax with only token opposition.

For all the talk about CBFR, the real problem with both water and revenue is that the city did not take either Measure O or Measure P seriously enough to run a strong, robust, grassroots campaign. Look at the difference between the money and effort in the 2013 Measure I campaign, compared with Measure O and Measure P.

The city is paying for that right now on both issues – literally.

They needed to run a real campaign to educate the public about the next steps. We warned the council back in February about this, but they paid no heed. If the public really understood the amount of money that we are talking about and the stakes, they would be much more supportive.

Given the heavy lift, a November campaign is probably out of the question. Unlike a June campaign, the council has a few weeks to get their act together to put the measure on the campaign. Then they and much of the public disappears for the next two months until late August and most likely after Labor Day the campaign starts, when they’ll have eight or nine weeks to run a campaign.

If this weren’t a heavy lift they could do it. Now they should wait for the election in March, but they should start running the campaign now.

If the city is serious, create a parcel tax committee of the city council. Form a campaign exploratory committee. Reach out to the builders and contractors and see if you can put together an educational campaign for the fall, draft the parcel tax by November and then you have a two-month campaign in the winter leading to a March vote.

I respect Mark Northcross’ point that the council needs to figure out what they can pass and the financial planners will figure out how to bond off that. However, I think with a real campaign we can do the lifting from 58 percent to 67 percent. That should be our goal.

We can always poll again in December after an educational campaign.

—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. Frankly

    $50 per parcel is all that we are going to get. Voters are tapped out.

    Get the $50 and go get a bond and do some of the critical road repair while going to work to build 2-3 business parks in the next five years to bring in enough revenue to cover our expense nut.

    Get greedy and push for more than $50 and risk getting zero.

    1. Davis Progressive

      going to $50 is not going to create a large enough pile of money to address the full extent of the roads. we would be looking at a pci of at best 63. that doesn’t make a good deal of sense to me. we should be able to do the lifting to get to $100 at minimum.

      1. Barack Palin

        Better get what you can because it’s obvious that Davis is finally at the point where its citizens are saying no more. When you’re asking citizens to keep ponying up when they see our firefighters making much more than they do it’s not going to happen.

      2. Frankly

        I was told that a $50 parcel tax would support a $30 million bond.

        A 30 year $30MM bond at 5% is about $1.8 million per year in debt service.

        Build the business parks and pay it off early n 10-15 years from the surplus in tax revenue.

          1. Frankly

            Then better get on those business parks sooner rather than later.

            Question: Who da thunk that cranking out so many six-figure 50-year old pensioners from the city workforce would lead to such trouble?

            Answer: Anyone that understood city finances and could operate a calculator with honesty.

  2. Michael Harrington

    We need a citizens task force or something similar to verify what the City is putting out about the extent of this problem, fixes, and costs.

    Skeptics need to be in that group, not hand picked YES people.

    After what I know about the water plant and rates issue, and the city taking our water and sewer services for free for years after staff knew it was illegal, I am sorry, but I trust at face value very little of what comes out of city hall.

    1. Davis Progressive

      that’s ridiculous. we have had enough reports by the city plus my own eyes can verify that roads are in bad shape. why waste time and money?

      1. Dan Carson

        If all that is going on the ballot is a road and bicycle path way measure, you are right that a through analysis has been done. However, if the proposal on the table is still to do a more comprehensive package to address other deferred maintenance and infrastructure projects, indeed more study is needed. All we have at this point is an ill-defined wish list without any real effort at prioritization of public needs and without a serious effort to leverage city dollars with other potential private and public contributions. And, without such an effort, we are certain to waste money on projects the public won’t support. For the record, the city Finance and Budget Commission, of which I am a member, adopted a resolution at its June 9 meeting creating a subcommittee to work with city staff, the council, and other commissions to pursue just such an analysis. We are ready to roll up our sleeves and go to work on this issue and set the stage for full public engagement on this matter.

        1. Davis Progressive

          good follow up point dan carson. i’m not supporting anything more than roads, bike paths and side walks in a parcel tax. so i hadn’t thought much past it.

  3. Michael Harrington

    I want an independent set of eyes and calculations on what the City wants.

    And there has to be language requiring program and fiscal audits of what they spend the money on.

    And there has to be a strict and transparent requirement prohibiting the City from using the parcel tax money to “backfill” general plan expenditures where the city can use that GP money to pay higher salaries and comp packages.

    At the last meeting, I clearly heard the CC discussing using the roads/pools parcel tax money to backfill, allowing $1.0 million in current GP money to be used elsewhere. Not going to happen, or the tax goes down.

    Or we oppose the tax. It’s simple.

  4. Michael Harrington

    DP: No, I am not. The DJUSD learned its lesson back in 2008 when community members defeated a huge tax, and the DJUSD went back to the community, created a transparent evaluation process, specific list of things to use the money for, and the District has batted 100% since then.

    The City needs to follow a similar outreach process. I’m not asking for anything more.

    The prohibition on using the tax money to backfill the General Fund might be new, not sure.

  5. Mr. Toad

    Mike you are either mistaken, confused or wrong about something that happened in 2008. I checked the archive at the Yolo Elections web site and didn’t find anything like you describe having had happened.

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