On December 15, the council voted 3-2 to approve a motion to ask staff to return with information on a TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax), a parcel tax focusing on infrastructure needs that are critical to be addressed immediately, and more information on the sugar sweetened beverage tax.
The substitute motion was to focus on TOT and parcel tax. That motion, supported by Dan Wolk and Rochelle Swanson, subsequently failed.
Mayor Dan Wolk during his comments noted that “we have an exacting amount of defined needs that we need in the area of parks and rec.” In expressing his concerns “over going the route of a soda tax to fund those items, it seems like it might behoove the council to look at something like an increase in our parks tax by a certain small amount or moderate amount to be able to begin to pay for some of these items as opposed to going the route of a soda tax.”
“That would be something that I’d be interested in sort of seeing,” he said. He suggested a $50 increase in the parks tax to $99 “which would be a special tax and require two-thirds vote but it provide needed funds for our infrastructure.”
He added, “I don’t think we can shy away at this point from… I’m not willing to wait another year before putting something on the ballot.”
Ultimately the council would pass the motion pushing for, among other things, a parcel tax that focused on infrastructure needs rather than a parks tax.
But that hasn’t stopped the move now for a parks tax as a substitute for a soda tax.
A letter to the Enterprise pushes for a parks tax, and was authored by Billy Doughty, head swim coach, Davis Aquadarts, with support from Charlie Russell; Kellie O’Neill, president, Davis Tennis Club; and Elaine Roberts Musser.
They write, “On a potential revenue measure in June, we agree with Mayor Dan Wolk. We need a revenue measure that will be assured to go toward parks facilities, has proper oversight, has a proven track record of broad support without funded opposition, and can pass at the ballot box.”
They continue, “Although we appreciate the soda tax proponents’ efforts, we believe the better route this June is a modest ($50 to $75) increase in the existing annual parks tax, for six years, to fund outstanding parks facility needs, including the renovation of the tennis courts at Walnut Park, rebuilding Rainbow City, replacing aging equipment and playgrounds at all our parks, and reinvesting in Community Pool. This was essentially proposed by Mayor Wolk as an alternative to the soda tax.
“The tax would require a two-thirds vote, could be spent only on parks facilities, and would have oversight proposals like those suggested by the Finance and Budget Commission. Oversight also would be provided by the Recreation and Parks Commission,” they write. “There is no question we have a need to reinvest in our parks. The mayor has it right about what is the best tool. We support his efforts 100 percent and we hope the City Council will, too.”
Mayor Dan Wolk posted the link on his Facebook page with the note, “A great letter from key community members about our parks facilities proposal.”
This is an interesting development in that Elaine Roberts Musser spoke on December 15 and never mentioned a parks tax in her comments. Instead, she pushed forward the Finance and Budget Commission plan of accountability. Previously she had pushed for the Utility User Tax, emphasizing that we need to address critical needs first, specifically roads not parks.
In fact, in a second letter, she lamented the decision of the council by a 3-2 vote setting aside “a utility user tax with almost no explanation.”
She writes, “Instead, virtually all the discussion centered on a potential soda tax. I received an email from a citizen that encapsulated what many of us were wondering as we left the Community Chambers that night. The gist of the email was that this gentleman could not understand what happened. He noted the council directed staff eight to nine months ago to look at a utility users tax. Yet a soda tax seemed to spring out of nowhere.
“The city could not say how much money such a tax would bring in and what it would be used for. Nevertheless, the utility users tax was set aside without discussion, while staff was directed to explore the idea of a new soda tax.
“All of us in that room could palpably feel the city manager’s frustration at the direction the discussion took. Staff was being asked at the 11th hour to take on the extra task of exploring a brand-new tax, a type of tax that only one other city, Berkeley, has ever implemented,” she wrote.
“As Mayor Davis Wolk wisely opined, a soda tax is not likely to be approved by voters. If placed on the same ballot with other tax measures, a soda tax would endanger the approval of other less controversial tax measures, e.g., a parks tax increase, a parcel tax and a transient occupancy tax. Councilwoman Rochelle Swanson joined in that concern.”
She adds, “I have to question the wisdom of proposing a soda tax that would be extremely divisive to the community. Divisiveness was clearly evident that night in the Community Chambers. On the issue of the soda tax, small business owners in town were pitted against health activists. This is most unfortunate, when it is of the utmost importance for the city to showcase a business-friendly atmosphere. The success of the proposed well-planned innovation parks depends on it. Davis business owners shouldn’t have to wonder what beverage or food they sell eventually will be slapped with another ‘sin tax.’”
The soda tax is clearly not a proposal that would fund infrastructure needs. However, there is still the roughly $10 million in infrastructure costs that the city needs to cover, and parks is only a portion of that.
—David M. Greenwald reporting