Accountability Regarding Measure O … Point – Counterpoint

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Open_Space

City has wisely spent Measure O monies

By Marc Hoshovsky

Last Sunday’s column about Davis’ open-space tax (“Let’s Take a Look at Davis’ Open-Space Tax”) was useful to remind residents about open-space issues in Davis and our unique, voter-approved funding to conserve local open space.

Your readers may appreciate the following information about the city’s open-space activities, progress and plans, which clarifies some of the points discussed in the column.

The city has an ongoing monthly public forum on open-space issues in the form of its long-standing Open Space and Habitat Commission. This commission meets monthly to discuss issues and recommend council actions related to open-space topics. These meetings are publicly noticed opportunities for citizens to attend and to provide input on a wide variety of open-space topics.

As part of its charge, the commission has engaged citizens in identifying funding priorities for council decisions. Following the November 2000 passage of the open-space protection special tax fund (Measure O), the commission and city staff conducted a yearlong public engagement and planning process to help guide use of this funding.

The resulting 2002 Davis Open Space Acquisition and Management Plan, along with several other council-adopted documents (2001 General Plan update, 2004 acquisition priorities map and 2007 affirmation of the Davis Greenway Plan) guide city expenditures of Measure O funds.

The commission is organizing a citywide public forum on open-space topics, including a discussion on priorities, this fall (if funding can be secured). The purpose of this forum, and associated outreach activities, is two-fold. It will provide interested residents with information about the city’s open-space program (including history and progress). It is also being designed to solicit recommendations for improving the program and future plans for conservation actions.

The city has made excellent use of Measure O funding. It provides a stable funding source and an attractive base for leveraging funds from other sources. The city has spent $4.4 million of Measure O funds — matched with $2.3 million of other city funds and leveraged with an incredible $14.2 million from non-city sources — to protect 2,833 acres of open space.

More information about the city’s efforts and activities is available in a commission-authored report that was presented to the City Council in December 2013. This report will be available on the city’s website when the significant overhaul of that website is completed. (In the meantime, it is available at https://www.dropbox.com/s/ yrgr2m8z13qpvff/ Measure%20O%20Report-2013_Dec %20Final.docx?dl=0)

Granted, no open-space properties with public access have been purchased with Measure O funding. Measure O can be used only if the landowner is willing to sell land (including public access rights) to the city at fair market value. Unfortunately, that opportunity hasn’t come up much since 2000. Land values, particularly close to the city’s edge, are subject to speculation by developers that often exceed fair market value.

Most sellers interested in open-space conservation near Davis sell easements, while retaining fee-title ownership of their land. Although such purchases don’t provide public access, easements are a valuable, widely used tool that protects land from development. They are also cost-effective because they do not require additional long-term management costs that come with full ownership.

Measure O funding is currently being used to cover these management costs (and maintain public access) on open-space lands purchased before 2000.

A clarification is needed regarding the upcoming council decision on the agreement with the Yolo Habitat Conservancy, formerly the Yolo County HCP/NCCP Joint Powers Agency, of which the city is a key partner and member. The agreement does not provide city funds to the conservancy, as in a grant or loan. It authorizes the city to reserve up to $200,000 per year of Measure O funds for land acquisitions, within the Davis planning area, to be spent by the city on lands consistent with both the city’s priorities and the conservancy’s priorities.

The conservancy’s priorities for the Davis planning area incorporate the city’s priority areas. The city may, at any time, decline to invest in acquisition projects proposed by the conservancy.

This reserved amount is roughly one-third of the total annual revenue generated by Measure O. The remaining two-thirds is available for other acquisitions and for the operations and maintenance of city open space.

In short, the city retains control over the money, as it always has, and the conservancy gains credit for those purchases with state and federal wildlife agencies, who have approval authority for the countywide Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural Community Conservation Plan.

The commission and city staff carefully evaluated this proposal. It does not constrain the city’s use of Measure O funds, it is consistent with the city’s open-space goals, it supports the city’s long running efforts to help implement a countywide conservation program for habitat, and it could provide additional match funding opportunities for the city (e.g., state and federal grants for wildlife conservation).

— Marc Hoshovsky of Davis is a member of the city of Davis Open Space and Habitat Commission, but is writing as an individual and not as a representative of the commission.

 

Premature Death for Measure O: an Open Space Protection tax?

By Jean Jackman, Elizabeth Lasensky, Pam Nieberg, Lynne Nittler, Alan Pryor

Fellow Davis residents,

In November 2000, more than 70 percent of Davis residents voted for Measure O, the open-space protection tax, to tax themselves for 30 years to permanently protect and enhance open space around their community.

The Measure O promise was that these tax funds “would be combined with development fees and grant funding from state and federal agencies, as they become available, to implement the open space protection goals of the City’s General plan.”

On Tuesday night the City Council will make a decision that will alter the future of Measure O. The Council will be deciding whether the promise of Measure O will continue for 15 more years, or whether it will be diverted to a worthy but different purpose.

We are at the midway point of the 30-year tax. Over the first 15 years of the tax, the citizens have not received an accounting for how the open-space tax money has been spent or is going to be spent.

In response to a citizen request, staff provided the Open Space and Habitat Commission with a peek at previous budgets. According to numbers from the last council meeting, staff and consultant costs for the fiscal year 2014-15 budget were $436,000, which was over budget

The total tax revenues are $652,700 per year. Subtract $200,000 for the Yolo County Habitat Joint Powers Authority, and staff and consultant costs this year, and it would leave only $16,700 for actual open-space purchases.

This year, they budgeted $380,000 for staff and consultant expenses. Will they go over budget again? That would be a maximum of $72,700 for new open-space acquisitions.

Astonishingly, no open space has actually been purchased to date under Measure O.

Instead, easements on private land have been the only protections funded to date. That is important for two reasons. First, easements have no annual operations or maintenance costs for the City. All those costs are borne by the landowner. Second, because the ownership of the land remains in private hands, none of those easements provide for citizen access.

How is it that we are spending between $380,000 and $436,000 a year on staff for land with no actual operations/maintenance costs and no citizen access?

Regarding the proposed $200,000 per year JPA funding, the question is whether to spend one third of our open space tax money ($200,000 per year out of $652,700 per year) each year for the remainder of Measure O and many years beyond on the Yolo Habitat Conservancy, which is a collaboration of Yolo County and the cities of Davis, West Sacramento, Winters and Woodland. The mission of this collaboration is the conservation of 12 endangered and threatened species and 15 natural communities in Yolo County.

This JPA is a very worthy endeavor … but with a focus and goal that differs from the focus and goal of the voter-approved Measure O.   When it makes its decision on Tuesday, the City Council needs to be sure that in pursuing the valuable goal of conservation of endangered species, that it isn’t at the same time producing the premature death of the protection of open space the citizen’s voted for with Measure O.

To spend over 90% of our tax money on a combination of the JPA and salaries and consultants is not satisfactory to many Davis residents. We need transparency for Measure O funds to see if the voters’ mandate is being realized.

With the recent reports of improved City revenues (increases in both sales taxes and property taxes), it is more appropriate to fund conservation of endangered species from dedicated General Fund revenues rather than from open-space fund revenues.     We urge the City Council to honor the Measure O promise to provide open space as intended.

Given all the above, we ask that:

  1. The city look at funding conservation of endangered species from sources that are separate from the open space tax revenues; and
  1. The city conduct an accountability audit of the open space funding to date before proceeding with further spending.

For further information, read the At the Pond Column from June 28, 2015, “Let’s take a look at Davis’ open-space tax. ” http://www.davisenterprise.com/?p=573454

Also available online, at http://www.davisenterprise.com/?p=575445, is a copy of the Measure O campaign brochure sent to all residents by the City of Davis.

Will we get what we bargained for? Will any land be purchased that is accessible to citizens or even visible from Davis?

As our city grows, our nearby open space with vistas and habitat and walking paths will become even dearer to us. Speak up for habitat for citizens on Tuesday at the Council meeting.   The item is scheduled for discussion at 8:15 p.m.

— The authors are all Davis residents.

Measure O campaign brochure sent to all residents in 2000 by the City of Davis
2000 open space flyer
2000 open space flyer

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About The Author

Matt Williams has been a resident of Davis/El Macero since 1998. Matt is a member of the City's Utilities Commission, as well as a former Chair of the Finance and Budget Commission (FBC), former member of the Downtown Plan Advisory Committee (DPAC), former member of the Broadband Advisory Task Force (BATF), as well as Treasurer of Davis Community Network (DCN). He is a past Treasurer of the Senior Citizens of Davis, and past member of the Finance Committee of the Davis Art Center, the Editorial Board of the Davis Vanguard, Yolo County's South Davis General Plan Citizens Advisory Committee, the Davis School District's 7-11 Committee for Nugget Fields, the Yolo County Health Council and the City of Davis Water Advisory Committee and Natural Resources Commission. His undergraduate degree is from Cornell University and his MBA is from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He spent over 30 years planning, developing, delivering and leading bottom-line focused strategies in the management of healthcare practice, healthcare finance, and healthcare technology, as well municipal finance.

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8 thoughts on “Accountability Regarding Measure O … Point – Counterpoint”

  1. Anon

    There seems to be a disconnect between the Open Space & Habitat Commission and the Premature Death authors.  Did the Premature Death authors regularly attend commission meetings and voice their concerns in that public forum afforded to them?  If not, why not?

    1. Matt Williams Post author

      Anon, first, yes the Premature death authors have expressed their concerns at Open Space and Habitat Commission (OSHC) meetings.  I know that because I have been in attendance at some of those meetings for other reasons, and as such witnessed the requests.

      Second, in the time during which the Mace 391 kerfuffle took place, an accounting was asked for and has been asked for since.  To her credit Tracie Reynolds, very new on the job as the Open Space and Property Management Coordinator, undertook such an accounting, and presented it to the OHSC at their last meeting as a visual, but not with attendant hard copy.  Tracie has indicated that before releasing the numbers to the public, she wants to review them for accuracy with the Finance staff.

      Third, the OSHC has put together an absolutely superb dialogue document chronicling the history of Measure O from its roots, through its passage, through current.  The document focuses on value received from the efforts of the OSHC and Mitch Sears and the many NGO, State and Federal partners who have helped deliver that value.  The report can be seen at http://city-council.cityofdavis.org/Media/Default/Documents/PDF/CityCouncil/Open-Space-and-Habitat-Commission/Agendas/20130603/05b-Draft-Measure-O-Report-2013-05-24.pdf

      Fourth, what is missing from the OSHC’s dialogue document is the type of year by year accounting that Tracie Reynolds is working on.

      Fifth, you appear to be framing this issue as an either/or proposition rather than as a both/and proposition.  I personally don’t see it that way.  Help me understand how the JPA is better served by having its funds call mingled with the Open Space Fund rather than having a Yolo Habitat Conservancy fund of its own in the City’s general ledger?  The Finance and Budget Commission has been working very hard to get the City to stop the cross use of funds for differing purposes.  This appears to be a situation where the $200,000 at aside each year for the HCP/NCCP should be accounted for in its own General Ledger account.  That would be the transparent thing to follow.  If the Yolo Habitat Conservancy is a worthy and valuable endeavor (and I personally believe it is), is there a reason not to fund it and account for it with a both/and approach?  That way no one would feel that Measure O funds are being raided, and the levels of distrust that are so pervasive in Davis would not be further fed by feelings on some citizens parts that this is another example of Davis governmental bait and switch.

      Sixth, let’s look at the Budget numbers.  To start with, the 2014-2015 Revenues from Measure O were just over $650,000 (see page 3-6 of the Adopted FY 2015-2016 Budget).  The Expenditures from the Measure O Fund in FY 2014-2015 on Staff salaries and contract services was $466,000.  Add $200,000 to $466,000 and you have $666,000 expenditures vs $650,000 revenues.  Nothing is left for acquisitions.

      I would be surprised if Marc Hoshovsky would disagree with any of those six points.  I doubt the Premature Death authors would either.

  2. Frankly

    The city has made excellent use of Measure O funding. It provides a stable funding source and an attractive base for leveraging funds from other sources. The city has spent $4.4 million of Measure O funds — matched with $2.3 million of other city funds and leveraged with an incredible $14.2 million from non-city sources — to protect 2,833 acres of open space.

    It is only “excellent” if you disregard the Measure O language to include accessible open-space and you value building a moat of permanent farmland easements around the city.

    It authorizes the city to reserve up to $200,000 per year of Measure O funds for land acquisitions, within the Davis planning area, to be spent by the city on lands consistent with both the city’s priorities and the conservancy’s priorities.

    Get ready for a lawsuit city, because the conservancy’s priorities do not match up with the terms of the measure that the citizens voted to approve.

    The bottom line, the City’s staff that have the responsibility for Measure O spending are all in bed with these extreme environmental groups.   Yes there is some synergy in cooperation, but only if that cooperation meets the letter of law spelled out in the measure that the voters approved.  And to date it is clear that the City employees responsible for Measure O spending have failed in this regard.  They are pursuing city land acquisition projects and partnerships that meet the extreme environmentalist and farmland preservation agenda and fully ignoring other projects and partnerships that would provide greater access and value to the citizens paying for it.

    When you look at other communities with similar programs, those residents have access to new hiking trails and recreation areas.   Where is this for Davis residents?   The truth is that the money we are spending has in effect been hijacked by people exploiting it for their own agendas that don’t match up with the language we voters approved.

  3. Alan Pryor

    Firstly, I greatly support the objectives of the HCP JPA and believe it is environmentally progressive and forward thinking and an excellent way to conserve habitat and farmland in the future. I even heard several presentations discussing the proposed use of Measure O funds for partially funding the JPA and it seemed reasonable on the surface at the time because I just assumed we were just paying our fair share in Davis like every other City, the County, and UC involved in the JPA. I was also under the impression that our Measure O funds were otherwise being handled responsibly by the City.

    Just in the last week, however, there have been a number of disclosures that have made me believe that all of this is not true.

    1) Are Claims of Excessive Overhead Costs Valid? – There have been reports of excessive withdrawals from the Measure O enterprise fund for Staff and consultant payments that are far in excess of the administrative costs reported in the initial City report to voters. While this may or may not be true, a number of people have requested an accounting of all Measure O funds collected and spent to date but have not yet been provided with this information. Clearly there has to be a full public accounting for people to believe that our tax dollars are spent wisely and this accounting should reasonably take place before the City commits to further withdrawals from the Measure O enterprise fund.

    2) Is Davis Paying an Unfairly Large Amount To the HCP-JPA Compared to the Other JPA Members – On p. 8-03 of Staff ‘s report to Council, it states, “The City of Davis, along with the cities of Winters, Woodland, and West Sacramento, are members of the YHC, along with Yolo County and U.C. Davis”.

    And on p. 8-06 of Staff Report, it further says, “The timing for a decision on the YHC funding request is critical to the planning effort…Without local commitments early in the process, the YHC — and the state and federal authorities approving the HCP/NCCP — would lack assurances that the local funding sources are secured to implement the plan upon its completion.

    I have also been verbally told in the presentations I attended that it is also critical that Davis make a financial commitment by the City early on to demonstrate our support for the project so the other cities and the County will come along. But when the supposed local sources of funding are identified on the same page in the Staff Report (see below), Davis is the only City listed as being a contributing member. Neither Winters, nor Woodland, nor West Sacramento nor Yolo Co nor UC Davis is listed as contributing a single dime during the entire 50-year process.

    “Yolo HCP/NCCP Funding Amount (in 2014 Dollars) – % of Total Funding

    Development Fees                  $238,572,000 (74.9%)
    Local Sources
    Davis – (Measure O Funds)    $5,669,000 (1.8%)
    CCRMP/CCIP                        $14,637,000 (4.6%)
    SCWA/LPCCC                       $5,250,000 (1.6%)
    Local Foundations/Other       $10,000,000 (3.1%)
    State and Federal Sources      $35,556,000 (11.2%)
    Endowment/Investment Inc.  $8,306,000 (2.6%)
    Other Interest Income            $550,000 ( 0.2%)
    Total Funding                        $318,540,000 ( 100.0%)

    Notes:
    CCRMP = Cache Creek Resource Management Plan
    CCIP = Cache Creek Improvement Program
    SCWA = Solano County Water Agency
    LPCCC = Lower Putah Creek Coordinating Committee

    As shown in the above table, the City of Davis’ set-aside amount would equal about 1.8% of the YHC’s total funding1. All local sources would equal about 11.2% of the YHC’s total funding.”

    This raises an obvious question not answered in either Staff’s Report or Hoshovsky’s Op-Ed: “How is it that early local commitments are so important to the future of the project but we are the only member of the JPA that is expected to contribute anything to this process at all during the entire 50 year process.”. How can that be? There must be something else going on here going on here that I am missing because this simply makes no sense otherwise

    3) Were Prices Paid by Measure O Funds for Easements Excessive Compared to Outright Purchases at Fair Market Values – A 2013 Report by the City’s Open Space and Habitat Commission (The Open Space Protection Special Tax Fund) reports all of the open space easement acquired though use of City Funds (including developer mitigation and other state and federal funds).

    Between 1997 and 1999, easements on 2,467 acres (6 parcels) of farmland near Davis were acquired at a total cost of $4,318,000 (40% of which was City money). Easements on some parcels (such as the Wildhorse golf course and ag buffer) were obtained for free as part of developer mitigation. The average cost of these six easements was $1,750 per acre. This was while the average price of prime tomato-growing farmland in Yolo Co was probably around $2,500-$4,000/acre or less.

    Between 2005 and 2013, easements on 2,833 acres were obtained at a cost of $20,995,000 (32% of which was City money). This is an average cost per acre of easement of $7,411/acre or 4.23 times the prices paid for easements obtained on average about 10 years earlier. These easements were also on lands further away from the City which presumably would command a lower price. I have been told that Yolo Co. farmland during that period was between $4,000 – $7,000 per acre for prime tomato-farming land. It would thus seem on the surface that the City started paying much, much more in easement costs (with no public access) once Measure O as passed than it would cost to purchase the land outright.

    On p. 8-04, the Staff Report’s states, “The City has favored conservation easements because they greatly reduce City maintenance costs and the costs associated with owning property.”. But that is not at all true if the City purchased the land and then leased it back to a farmer. Then we have no ownership costs either. And with an outright purchase, the property truly becomes public property so that we could actually incorporate some provisions for public access. Right now, the public gets zero access to the thousands of acres of private lands on which easements have been purchased.

    Until the City investigates these issues, it seems premature for us to make a 50-year commitment of Measure O funds especially since the tax is only effective for another 15 years.

    1. #me

      Clearly there has to be a full public accounting for people to believe that our tax dollars are spent wisely and this accounting should reasonably take place before the City commits to further withdrawals from the Measure O enterprise fund. Alan Pryor

      Do you mean before they spend the $380,000 that will be raided from the fund in this fiscal year to pay staff and consultants?

  4. Davis Progressive

    “Are Claims of Excessive Overhead Costs Valid?”

    i heard from someone that they are spending like $250,000 on administrative overhead for staff that is not even full time.  so where is the money going?

    measure o was supposed to buy open space, but it’s largely open space far from the borders of davis.  i’ve always wondered why our strategy has been so weak.

  5. #me

    Here’s what is allowed under the Davis Municipal Code:

    (e)    For the incidental expenses incurred in the administration of this tax, including, but not limited to, the cost of elections, and the cost of collection. Revenues may be used to operate, maintain and monitor properties owned in fee or easement jointly by the city and other public agencies and/or land trusts whose mission includes the preservation of open space lands within the Davis planning area. (Ord. 2033 § 1, 2000)

    Apparently, the incidental expenses in fiscal year 2014 totaled a full 67% of the year’s tax receipts under Measure O. No reasonable individual would conclude that $436,000 meets the bar of incidental expenses under the Municipal Code.

    Now that Jean Jackman, et al have daylighted this scandal, it needs to be expeditiously investigated and remediated by the current City Council because there appears to be ongoing misappropriation of taxpayer funds under the Open Space Program.

    http://qcode.us/codes/davis/view.php?topic=15-15_17

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