Last night, the Davis Sunset Rotary (of which I’m a member), sponsored Movies in the Park, and several hundred people armed with their children, bug spray and popcorn went to Central Park at dusk to watch “Monsters University.” This is a spectacular tradition that the Rotary club rescued from the city of Davis a few years ago when the city’s budget crisis forced the city to cut spending.
A short distance away from where the movie was shown are the new park restrooms and the new playground that is extremely popular with the children and a great amenity to the community. At the end of the block on Fifth Street is the newly-redesigned Fifth Street that promises to improve accessibility.
On this night, we saw the best of Davis – great public amenities, public-private partnerships, and the spectacular nature of what this community can bring.
And yet, perhaps unbeknownst to most residents of Davis until the last week, Civic Pool is leaking water. The city lacks the funds to maintain its roadways. While the city was able to get grant money for Central Park, the infrastructure of Davis’ many neighborhood parks is badly in need of shoring up.
The Vanguard was the first entity to really sound the alarm about roads. As we like to tell the tale, our first two articles that warned of massive unfunded liabilities through deferred maintenance received a combined zero comments.
The city for the last 15 years has heavily relied on state and federal monies to fund roadway repairs. However, that money has always been sporadic at best, and once roads money through the Federal Reinvestment Act ran out following the 2008 recession, the city failed to backfill roads needs with general fund money.
The result was an increasing backlog of roads needs that threats to climb to over half a billion dollars if the city does not heavily invest in new repairs. That money will largely have to come from a parcel tax.
Initially, the Vanguard was reluctant to move past roads for a parcel tax. Parks and swimming pools were nice, we reasoned, but not essential infrastructure.
The thinking has to shift a little. We can see that shift in the needs that now arise for repairing Civic Pool. It is likely still cheaper to repair the pool than build a new one, and perhaps a 50-meter pool in the time of budget crisis is grandiose.
At the same time, let us consider a bigger picture here. We have aging infrastructure in pools. We have aging parks infrastructure. We know that we have city buildings in need of repair and update.
What would this community be like with new public swimming pools? What would this community be like with parks that have to be closed for disrepair? What would this community be like if we had to close down some of our greenbelts or be forced to sell them as surplus property to be developed?
Yeah, roads may be critical infrastructure, but would this community be what it is without the amenities that we have?
I admit, when the council scaled back the roads proposal to the B-modified proposal, I was disappointed. Why? We were creating a strategy that was willing to accept road conditions at a 63 – and while 63 sounds an awful lot like a D, at least that would mean we weren’t having failing roads.
But should we accept mediocrity in this community? And if Davis has to accept mediocrity, what does that mean for everyone else?
The polling numbers do not look promising for a $150 parcel tax, but we are talking about $12.50 per month. Is that a high price to pay to have roads that are in good shape without potholes and creases? Is that a high price to pay to have parks that we can go to on beautiful August evenings to enjoy our community? Is that a high price to pay for swimming pools that do not leak? For greenbelts that are green? For children running carefree in the park?
At the end of the day we have to ask ourselves what kind of community we want to live in – and I for one do not think we need to settle for mediocrity because we fell asleep for a decade and allowed our city council to spend money that we did not have.
I believe that in Davis we can sell the public on $150 a year and that we can do so easily if we are honest and forthright both about past mistakes and the commitments we need to make in the future.
I believe if the city makes the case about our needs, that just as the community stepped up time and time again to save our schools, it can step up to save our roads, bike paths, sidewalks, parks, greenbelts and swimming pools.
Maybe I’m wrong, but to me $12.50 a month doesn’t sound like that much compared to the great things we have in this community, things that are worth saving.
The last part, of course, is that tied to asking the public for money is showing them the way to sustainability. That means continued fiscal prudence on the one end, and helping to expand our economic base in a sustainable and Davis-specific way.
If we do that, I believe we can convince the voters to give us the money that we need.
—David M. Greenwald reporting