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