One of the interesting things about the MRAP controversy is that it reengaged the public as we were about to head into Labor Day weekend, which typically marks the transition from summer to fall. It helps that DJUSD began this week as well.
Yesterday I had a conversation with one of the councilmembers, where I said I could respect the position that Brett Lee and Rochelle Swanson took on MRAP, wanting to have more discussion and weighing of options – however, allowing the issue to fester would have kept the public engaged on the divisive MRAP issue rather than more pressing issues for the city. This clean vote allows MRAP to be taken off the table and us to focus on the most important issues: innovation parks, new city manager, and parcel tax.
The councilmember expressed a high degree of concern and skepticism that we can get a parcel tax passed. I don’t blame the concern – the polling did not look good – but, in this case, we have no other choice. The council has to launch a full blown campaign and educational effort and they have to do it starting now.
If the council runs a campaign like they did Measure O (bear with me on the imprecise language – the council cannot run a campaign), the measure will go down to defeat.
On Saturday of last week, the Mace Innovation Park group ran their first public outreach meeting at the Bicycle Museum. On Thursday, we got to see the Davis Innovation Park group run their first public outreach meeting at community chambers.
While we are getting close to official applications – Mace has promised theirs in early September while Davis is looking at mid-September – both proposals were in very early stages.
These are outreaches for something that may not be on the ballot for another year. The parcel tax could be on the ballot as soon as March, and yet, the city has done nothing to reach out to the public so far.
This is going to be a hard sell. The city won’t have the advantage of “do it for the children” that the school district had. So they will have to use facts, logic and reason to make their case.
There is a downside risk here in laying out their case. In some ways the public will perceive the city as the little boy that cried wolf. There were multiple times that the city warned of dire consequences if the water project was not implemented. This started during the referendum drive in the fall of 2011, when Councilmember Stephen Souza warned that the train was leaving and Davis would be left behind.
But that’s not what happened. Then we had the year of WAC, the March 2013 election of Measure I, the lawsuit, the June 2014 election of Measure P and finally the water settlement. Whether the dire situation would have happened this fall if the water rates were not in place we’ll never know, but that rhetoric will create skepticism for some in the public.
So we need to be honest but speak in terms that both are not hyperbolic and do not give the appearance of hyperbole.
What the city faces currently is more than a $100 million backlog in roads, sidewalks and bike paths deferred maintenance. If we do not create probably $5 to $6 million per year in a funding stream and an upfront amount of perhaps $25 million, that number will increase to more than a half a billion.
We can explain the mechanism for how that occurs. First, there is the traditional rate of increase for asphalt which increases in cost by 8% or nearly three times that of other inflation rates. Then there is the increase in per yardage cost of repair from the relatively low $9 per yard at the low levels of repair up to $82 per yard for reconstruction.
We can show people on a map the levels of repair needed by street and show the public what those levels are likely to be if we cannot fund the repairs in the next few years.
I would argue that the current council’s option – the so-called B-modified – is insufficient, as it would only increase road quality from 57 PCI up to 63 PCI. 63 PCI still sounds like a “D.”
That just deals with roads and bike paths and sidewalks. Then we have parks. We have deferred maintenance on parks, we need to know what that is and we need to understand what failure to fund parks will mean.
Then we have pools. We know that Civic Pool is leaking. We know that Community Pool is closed. We need to lay out the options there.
Then we have city buildings. We know that the city needs to pump tens of millions in there. One clear example is the central fire station that needs to be refurbished or moved.
Then I think we need to lay out a credible scenario that if we do not get funding, it may mean that roads will continue to deteriorate, bike paths will have huge grooves and become hazardous, and sidewalks will be dangerous for pedestrians. We may have to close our pools, close some parks, shut down greenbelts, and close city buildings.
This quickly moves into what I see as the main argument for the innovation parks. We need the ongoing tax revenue of the innovation parks as a long-term strategy to be able to maintain, if not expand, city services and amenities. That is what we present to the voters as the long-term fix for this.
But we are looking really at 5-10 years for the initial revenue to come in and probably 20 years for full build out of the parks. We can get by with the one-time construction fees that figure to generate 10s of millions in revenue for the city – one-time revenue, but substantial enough to actually make a difference.
In the short term, we need to increase taxes to prevent these costs, that are already bad, from getting worse. If we have to, we need to go door to door to make our case, but we need to start the same way that the developers are – small neighborhood meetings where we lay out to the residents what the situation is, why it is as bad as it is, and why we need the tax.
We need to be honest and forthright, but most of all we need to be proactive. We need to start this process immediately. The developers get it – of course they are wagering hundreds of millions in this process, so they can’t afford not to get it. But then again, so are we.
—David M. Greenwald reporting