Monday Morning Thoughts: A Stacked Deck on the Sports Park?

My daughter scores a goal this weekend playing on a makeshift soccer field at Davis Community Park
My daughter scores a goal this weekend playing on a makeshift soccer field at Davis Community Park

In July, the Davis City Council did the right thing by separating the issue of the potential tax measure from the question about the need and location of a potential sports park. The council at that time decided to direct a Sports Complex Task Force to consider some critical issues.

From our perspective, it made sense to separate the issues. The issue of infrastructure needs for the city, particularly roads and bike paths, but also existing parks and city buildings, is clearly where the city needs to put its energy. Any effort to add “nice to haves” to the necessities has the potential to discredit the city’s efforts to fund necessities.

However, if we are going to have a Sports Complex Task Force, it needs to be a fair process that asks a series of critical questions. It is here that we find the proposal from city staff to be, at best, lacking and, at worst, stacking the deck in favor of one defined action.

We start this critique with a look at the proposed task force. Right now staff recommends an 11-member task force, with 10 voting members and an ex-officio from the school district.

These include: three members from the sports user groups, two parents or citizens at large, one member from each of three commissions (parks, open space, and finance), and two members from visitor attraction.

Given that make up, we have the potential for a committee comprised of eight members who are in favor of the sports complex and only two likely to oppose it. That, of course, depends on who the two parents/citizens are. The member from the parks commission (disclosure, my wife is a member of that commission) could go either way.

The bottom line is, we have a structural make up that is likely to create a body overwhelmingly in favor of a sports complex.

Then we get to the stated purpose – which does not include the existential question of whether we need a sports complex at all.

The purpose of the Sports Complex Task Force is to advise the city council on the following:

  • Define needs for sports complex (with no assumption that one single facility or a dispersed facility is necessarily the right approach).
  • Explore desirable locational characteristics of a facility or facilities.
  • Explore and identify potential candidate sites or general geographic areas of interest.
  • Explore and make recommendations on amounts and funding options/mechanisms for capital and maintenance.
  • Make recommendations to the City Council on next steps of implementation of recommendations (e.g. solicit proposals, additional analysis needed, etc.).

The first point might get at the underlying question, if they added “with no assumption that we need a sports complex, or that one single facility or a dispersed facility is necessarily the right approach.”

One councilmember told me yesterday in no uncertain terms that we need a sports complex, period. I am not necessarily opposed to the idea that we may need additional sports facilities in this community.

However, there are a lot of questions about amounts and funding options. My first question is should this be publicly funded at all? I understand that we have community-wide benefits, but this is an era where, at best, the city is on the edge of staying in the black fiscally.

We have huge unfunded liabilities. We have hundreds of millions in deferred maintenance. We have crumbling roads. We have parks badly in need of repair. We have greenbelts that need maintenance. We have a network of bike paths crumbling. We have city buildings in need of maintenance.

And our general fund is teetering on the brink, even after we passed a half cent sales tax.

There is likely to be exactly one person on the task force that can speak to those fiscal challenges.

If we build it, will the sports complex groups be able to fund ongoing operations? They say they can, but I have spoken to people in the community skeptical of those claims, because what happens is that the people involved in those sports groups come and go as their kids enter and exit the programs.

So what happens if we build it with the understanding that it be privately maintained and, in ten or twenty years, the maintenance falls by the wayside?

If you don’t have people on the task force taking a skeptical and oppositional view, these types of tough questions can be glossed over.

Then there is the issue of open space. Again, we have one person on the task force speaking to that issue – which is an absolutely critical issue to huge swaths of the community. The question about a single facility versus a dispersed model will be critical, but a single voice to side with the open space concerns seems inadequate.

In short, I urge the council to make this a fair process. Structure a more balanced approach here with more people who can speak to fiscal, management and open space concerns. Make the first question be whether we need this and, second, how it would be funded, both in the construction as well as the maintenance.

If we do that, at least this process won’t appear to be rigged from the start.

—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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45 Comments

  1. Barack Palin

    I thought the task force was going to be more about do we need a new sports park, can we afford it and will the taxpayers fund it.  I agree with David, it’s looking like a stacked deck.

  2. Topcat

    We have huge unfunded liabilities. We have hundreds of millions in deferred maintenance. We have crumbling roads. We have parks badly in need of repair. We have green belts that need maintenance. We have a network of bike paths crumbling. We have city buildings in need of maintenance.

    Yes!  Our priority should be to repair and fix the existing infrastructure before we start looking at building a new “nice to have” facility.

  3. Tia Will

    I find myself somewhere near the middle on this. I agree that the panel as currently proposed would seem to be slanted in favor of a sports facility/facilities. And I agree that the first consideration should be need.

    However, I would like to come out as an advocate for real need. I do not believe that adequate sports facilities in our community are a “nice to have” or a luxury. I believe that they are a necessity for the physical health and well being of our youth, and ultimately all in our community. As a financially very comfortable mother of two children who participated in competitive sports into high school as far as the Varsity level, it was not problem for me to either drive myself or see that they had rides to distant events. This is simply not possible for all of our youth either for time, financial or other social factors. It is, in my opinion the most vulnerable for poor health outcomes in our community that stand to benefit the most from local adequate facilities.

    1. Davis Progressive

      the problem is resources and allocation of those resources.  i’d like to see a business plan by the sports groups to address the funding and if they have a decent plan, i might be inclined to throw public money their way.

        1. hpierce

          And, a ‘sinking’ fund to replace other facilities as they approach the end of their useful lives.  Any improvement that has a 30 year life-cycle cost, even with maintenance, will have to be replaced.

    2. hpierce

      Tia, there are many of us “long in the tooth”, who played games, were physically active and are pretty healthy today due to that.  But we had normal parks, vacant lots, and yeah, the streets.  The “sports parks” envisioned seem to be meant for the kids who would have rejected me and many friends as not “good enough” to do sports at a level where we need to host multi-city tournaments.  We (IMO, and yeah, wanted to ‘gig’ you) need places for kids to play, exercise, be safe, but I don’t think we need to be a venue for sports that are primarily oriented to the top 2-5% of actual children (only some of whom will become “athletes”. We do need more recreational soccer fields and make sure we protect existing facilities, though.

        1. Tia Will

          hpierce

          That may be how it seems. But I do not think that it has to be that way. What if there were to be a stipulation that a certain amount of time had to be set aside for “fun” rather than competitive actives and did not involve only the elite athletes in order for the city to contribute.

          I agree that I was also raised as a “free range kid”. But I do not think that we can pretend that this is our current reality. And I do believe that we need facilities for children who are not elite athletes and whose parents do not feel comfortable with them freely roving as we likely did in our youth.

        2. Tia Will

          Anon

          It would be a great point if we still lived in that world. A world where parents told their kids to go outside and come back at dinner time. A world in which all trips great and small were not made by car. A world in which 1/3 of us were not obese. But that is not the world that we live in now.

        3. Tia Will

          Anon

          I didn’t have a fancy sports park growing up, nor did my children.  We all did just fine…”

          While this may have worked out great for you, the fact that we have an obesity rate of 1/3 suggests that it is not currently working “just fine” for many members of our community.

          1. David Greenwald

            Also I’m not sure we’re really talking about something fancy. If you see the soccer fields to the east of town, those aren’t fancy, it’s just an enclosed grass field.

      1. Mark West

        The primary users of the proposed park are Davis Little League, Davis Youth Softball and American Youth Soccer.  All three organizations are open to all players regardless of skill, and all offer scholarships for financial hardship.  There will also be more competitive teams for these three sports using the fields as well and serving a smaller subset of the population.

        While it is true that many of us grew up playing unstructured games in fields (and the street), the world has changed and that generally no longer happens.  As a consequence, organized games with trained adult supervision is now the norm.  It really isn’t a question of whether that change is good or bad, it just is.

        The primary reason for putting the fields in one location rather than being dispersed around town can best demonstrated by looking at the Little League Complex on F Street.  First you have a community meeting place that is safe and family friendly, and then you have a revenue source with the concessions stand that funds a good portion of the maintenance costs for the complex. The Soccer and Fastpitch Softball communities would benefit in the same manner with the proposed sports park.

         

         

      2. Tia Will

        hpierce

        That may be how it seems. But I do not think that it has to be that way. What if there were to be a stipulation that a certain amount of time had to be set aside for “fun” rather than competitive actives and did not involve only the elite athletes in order for the city to contribute.

        I agree that I was also raised as a “free range kid”. But I do not think that we can pretend that this is our current reality. And I do believe that we need facilities for children who are not elite athletes and whose parents do not feel comfortable with them freely roving as we likely did in our youth.

    3. Topcat

      I believe that they are a necessity for the physical health and well being of our youth, and ultimately all in our community.

      I agree that maintaining our physical health is very important.  The big issue that I see here is how are we going to pay for it (both the initial construction and the ongoing maintenance)?

      1. Tia Will

        TopCat

        The big issue that I see here is how are we going to pay for it (both the initial construction and the ongoing maintenance)?”

        Agreed. And this is equally true for our streets. It is ironic for me that there seems to be near universal acceptance that we must maintain the passage way for our cars ( which are a large part of the lack of exercise problem) but we feel that adequate factilities for sports which promote actual human health are a luxury.

         

         

         

  4. Anon

    I agree that there is reason to be concerned that the “deck” MAY BE “stacked” a bit.  Two at large citizens, and representatives from the Open Space and Finance Commissions I don’t consider necessarily in favor of a new sports park.  However, all citizens on the sports park committee have to pay the same taxes as the rest of us, which tends to be a balancing factor.  I know at one time the Vanguard accused the WAC of being unfairly in favor of the surface water project, but eventually conceded the WAC was fair in its decision-making.  I guess I would ask the Vanguard what representatives it would propose for such a committee, or how would it tweak the current committee to make it a fairer representation of the community?

    1. Miwok

      I always think these “committees” should be under scrutiny, and during the process judgements are premature. I agree there should be a neutral party, like me, on the committee, because that person would only want to inventory what is, and what can be better. If they have children, or benefit in any material way from the outcome, they have a conflict of interest.

  5. David Greenwald

    Your memory is a good one. I did have concerns about The composition of the WAC.   However those were alasted.  This is a little different because there are a lot of people with vested interest in getting the parks that would be put on this committee. You could probably have a more fair structure putting two people from the budget and the open space commissions on.

    1. Anon

      Those were “alasted”?  I can’t think what word you could have meant here!  How about Miwok’s suggestion – have the two at large citizens not in any way directly benefit from the sports park? Would that satisfy your concerns? I’m not sure overrepresentation by a particular commission seems fair.

  6. Nancy Price

    There should be someone neutral on this committee who is able to report with confidence and lack of bias on the reports on artificial turf and the evidence of health impacts especially on the players and most of all on goalies. As with the evidence for serious brain injury to football players that was ignored for years and years, there is very good evidence now that those that play on artificial turf filled in with crumb (ground up tires) are exposed to harmful particles and other toxics with serious health consequences, including cancers.  There is also evidence for harms to many systems of the body, particulary reproductive, immune, neurvous, of youngsters and that such harm is manifest later in their lives.  We also know from the Women’s World Cup that temperatures on the artificial turf reached extremely high temperatures into the 120 degrees F or much more. Moreover, those who fell and slide across this turf experience severe  “fake” grass burns.

    There is considerable medical literature and evidence from soccer players of these harms and I urge the city and advocates for a sports park to take seriously this information and design a sports park that sets the highest standards for health. The cost should for maintaining live grass fields should be judged against not only the evidence of replacement of artificial turf over the years, but also the health imposts. In this case, the Precautionary Principle should be invoked and applied.

    1. hpierce

      There are so many unsubstantiated statements you made about artificial turf (modern) and those vs. ‘natural turf’, I don’t know where to start.  So, I won’t.

      1. Don Shor

        Artificial turf has adverse environmental impacts and the temperature information Nancy provided is accurate. It would also be unnecessary here. I can’t imagine they’d propose a sports park primarily composed of artificial turf. If someone does propose that, it should certainly be scrutinized carefully.

        1. hpierce

          Yes, Don. and real turf causes no injuries… no concussions, no wrenched ankles, ACL injuries, due to ‘divots’, chewed up natural turf… no environmental impacts as to water use, particularly in droughts (I’d favor artificial turf as to a place to fall than dry clay with drying/stressed grass, but of course, I’m an idiot).  Yeah… absolutely right… no tradeoffs, no question… artificial is just evil.  I stand corrected… every word Nancy wrote is absolutely true as stated.  Thank you for the correction.

          1. Don Shor

            Did I say any of that? No. Artificial turf has more disadvantages than natural turf.
            You need to mellow out sometimes, dude.

        2. hpierce

          Uh, you missed her health and safety comments… assumed you ascribed to those too, most of which are unsubstantiated.  Cite one case where crumbled asphalt, under artificial turf, caused one illness/death, and yet she says, “there is very good evidence now that those that play on artificial turf filled in with crumb (ground up tires) are exposed to harmful particles and other toxics with serious health consequences, including cancers.”  All unsubstantiated, and likely untrue.  And, “artificial turf and the evidence of health impacts especially on the players and most of all on goalies.”  Ok only some sports have “goalies” (soccer does not, they are goal-keepers, and it tells me something when people play fast and loose with words).  So, you picked up on “environmental” — not a part of her post — your issue.  Oh, remember I conceded the temperature one.  Perhaps you should “mellow” as well.

          I did not and do not “advocate” for artificial turf. I resent the hell out of folk who make up “facts and evidence”

          1. Don Shor

            Uh, you missed her health and safety comments… assumed you ascribed to those too, most of which are unsubstantiated.

            No, I didn’t respond to those because I don’t have expertise in that subject.

      1. hpierce

        Synthetic turf has been used at Playfields soccer field for years…  haven’t heard of morbidity/mortality due to it since then.  They also have a water spray system for really hot days.

  7. Don Shor

    “Whether” is for the city council to answer. That is a political decision, pure and simple. There is no ‘need’ for additional sports facilities. They are something that a certain segment of the population wants very much. I expect that segment will be very vocal.

    “Where, when, and how much it costs” are things a commission can address and make recommendations on. Sports facilities have impacts and costs. The commission can make recommendations to mitigate the impacts and minimize the costs. Ultimately this needs to go to the voters.

    1. hpierce

      Nuance (?), Don… it is likely we will lose the “Nugget Fields” if public access is reduced/eliminated when DJUSD sells their property on Moore.  I’d opine that replacement of that acreage/field development of those fields IS a need, albeit in the future (who knows when…).  Other than that, I don’t disagree.

      There also has been talk about the City opening the Little League Fields for development (perhaps new location/expansion of the Trackside properties project?).

      Guess I’m opining that what we have now, we “need”.  If we lose one or both of these sites, believe we NEED to replace them.  Pretty much “in-kind”.

  8. Michelle Millet

    When the council used this type of process to appoint members to the Community Energy Advisory Committee we ended up with a committee consisting of all white men, the only female member at the time was a non-voting member. I addressed this concern with Lucas Frerichs and Robb Davis (the committee liaisons)  I believe they added two more spots and filled one with a women.

    I hope steps are taken in advance this time to make sure we have a more racially and gender diverse committee.

      1. Michelle Millet

        If the city was concerned with getting the most “qualified” (although I’m not really sure what that means in this instance, can someone get a PhD in Sports Complex’s?), people the wouldn’t be putting any constraints on who gets appointed.

        When the system is set up to have commissions appoint members to a committee then it takes away the ability to control the overall make-up of the committee, which function better when there is diversity in age, gender, and race.

        I hope council takes this into consideration when making the final appointments for this and all of its special committees.

        Although, my skeptical side is not sure it really matters all that much, from what I can tell forming a committee seems to be councils way of saying, we don’t really support this, but we don’t want to piss anyone off by saying that, so instead we will form a committee that meets for a year, then just ignore the recommendation that they make, or say they agree with recommedations, but never actually implement any of them.

         

  9. Eileen Samitz

    This article is excellent and addresses many of the same concerns that I, and others have, regarding this process. We have yet to see how objective the members appointed to this committee and how objective this “process” will be. The original intent was to see if and how the concerns of the local sports groups can be addressed in an objectively. From what I remember of the City Council direction given, the foregone conclusion should not be a that we “need” a sports complex, particularly given the City’s current financial problems where we do not even have the finances to do necessary infrastructure repairs(such as our failing roads). One question to be addressed is, is why aren’t all of the school fields not used for local children’s sports?

    Of major concern is where would an 100+ acre sports complex be located given the enormous environmental impacts that a huge sports complex would bring to the community, how it would be financed and what costs would it bring to the community? The toxic former landfill site should not even be considered as an option due to the exposure issues to children in addition to the significant environmental impacts. The community, particularly the surrounding neighborhoods, would be impacted with enormous traffic, night lighting, and noise (public address and crowd  noise) that would be imposed virtually every weekend and most weekdays. It will be of great interest to see how objective and fair this “process” is and how much input the community will have.  Neighborhood opposition to a sports complex on the former landfill site has been made clear, over and over again.

    Of critical importance is for the City Council to reaffirm that financing of a sports complex is to be separated from the special tax being proposed to the community for infrastructure needs.

    1. Anon

      the foregone conclusion should not be a that we “need” a sports complex, particularly given the City’s current financial problems where we do not even have the finances to do necessary infrastructure repairs(such as our failing roads).”

      Spot on!  But if you listened to last night’s discussion on this topic at the City Council meeting, the word “need” in conjunction with “sports park” kept coming up over and over again by City Council and city staff.

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