Sunday Commentary: Should Rainbow City Have Been the Priority?


Sometimes in this business you have to be the bad guy in order to point out problematic governance. Everyone loves Rainbow City and the loss of it to this community obviously was a sore spot for many. However, in light of budgetary priorities, we have to question whether rebuilding a brand new Rainbow City at a cost of over $850,000 should have been the council’s priority.

Back in March, Mayor Dan Wolk, in his push for a $50 per year increase to the parks tax, pushed for Rainbow City Rehabilitation at $300,000. Councilmember Lucas Frerichs said he was willing to support a $50 parcel tax on parks while perhaps extending the existing tax.

Councilmember Rochelle Swanson said that she could not support just the parks tax as outlined. She suggested the possibility of a $100 parks and infrastructure tax which also would replace Measure D, absorbing what’s in the current parks tax. She said this would recognize that “we should have asked for more before (than the current $49).”

She added, “Some of the things that were listed (in the parks list of needs), I don’t feel they’re the top top priority.”

The council ultimately would not approve that expansion of the parks tax.  They originally moved toward a more expansive tax to deal with infrastructure before postponing it until the fall – at least.

And yet, there was the Rainbow City proposal – pulled off consent on Tuesday to give a presentation, but no hard questions.


Where did the money come from?

Staff report notes, “The project has evolved from an original planned renovation to now include removal of the existing structure, environmental remediation and a complete rebuild of the entire play structure.”

According to them, “The estimated cost to complete the project is $861,550 with $60,000 reimbursable by insurance for a net cost of $801,550. Funds have already been spent on the community outreach pre-planning for the project with Siegfried. In addition to the existing funding sources of grant dollars and CDBG [Community Development Block Grant] dollars, the budget adjustment moves park impact fees from the Cannery and fees left over from previous certificates of participation (COP) through ABAG [Association of Bay Area Governments] 34. These funds were originally used for earlier park purchases/enhancements and the fund now has a balance of $384,122. The COPs were repaid in full in 2013, so staff is recommending the balance be returned to the Quimby Act fund and utilized to pay for a portion of the costs associated with the Rainbow City rebuild. The balance of necessary funds is recommended to come from the Cannery Park Fees. The Budget Adjustment reflects these proposed transfers.”

Here is the most interesting thing: “This project meets the City Council’s Goal 6 of funding, maintaining and improving the infrastructure of the city, however, the project was not specifically listed as an objective.

No one wants to get caught in a battle against Rainbow City, but the reality here is that the council came up with a list of priorities in their planning session – a list that gets added to in a capricious way whenever it is convenient.

It is easy to blame this on Mayor Wolk. After all, he is the worst offender here of adding to council priorities after the fact. He has used his position as mayor to run for State Assembly, and being seen as family friendly is a major park of his plank.

The project was also supported heavily by both Councilmember Lucas Frerichs and Councilmember Brett Lee.

A lot of people are torn up by the loss of a Davis-iconic play structure. As the city noted back in the fall of 2014, “Community volunteers built the Rainbow City play structure in 1991 as part of a community build project. Working together, the community provided design input and reached out to local children for their wishes and ideas.”

However, as the structure approached 25 years old, “the City began to engage the public to discuss renovation or replacement of the structure.  Residents expressed concern that the current structure timbers were treated with chromate copper arsenate (CCA) and may have leached metals into the soils in the playground area, thereby resulting in a risk to children who may use the future facility.”

The city received a consultant’s report “that indicates a minor historic release that includes higher levels of arsenic than would be normal for the area.  Releases of this nature do not pose an immediate risk or require an immediate response.”  However, “While the levels do not appear to have reached those that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) would classify as hazardous, they do indicate a release to the environment and, over time, could pose a risk to human health based on long term exposure to the site.”

“As a child, I was part of the original build for this amazing play area. While it is disappointing to close the current area before a new structure is in place, it is the right thing to do to,” said Mayor Dan Wolk.  “I look forward to sharing the new play area with my children once it is complete.”

Again, who can argue with this?  My point here is to question the overall priorities of the city council. Six weeks ago the council couldn’t agree on a funding structure, but they had no problem coddling together funding for a new play structure.

The reality that the city faces is that we have a $655 million shortfall in needed money for infrastructure.

Matt Williams, once again, broke down how the $655 million was calculated. $200 million of that is for roads over 20 years. $352 million is buildings and parks. $114 million is for retiree pensions and health benefits.

He said that we are doing better on retiree health benefits and pensions, “but that’s only $114 million of the $655 million.” We have a parks tax, but the parks tax is “leaving us with $315 million worth of capital infrastructure maintenance that we’re going to have to do to the parks surfaces and buildings.”

He said, “These reports came from staff. They came in the last 120 days. We really do have to understand, what we have promised to ourselves.”

This week we have hammered the council for failing to act on a spring revenue measure when they could have had a 50-plus-one majority vote on the ballot.  We have also hammered the city for failing to act with more urgency on economic development measures.

And now we hammered the council once again for prioritizing this project that they did not deem a priority when they hammered out their council goals last summer.

It is interesting that when Lucas Frerichs and Dan Wolk opposed the soda tax for the June ballot, they cited the fact that it was not prioritized by council. That is an accurate argument – however, the soda tax also emerged from a community group looking to tackle a specific problem. The soda tax would have generated revenue rather than cost the city over three-quarters of a million dollars that it would have to coddle together.

We have asked for the council to have a evidence-based approach to governance, but we also need to ask them to have a process-based approach, where there are agreed upon priorities and if those priorities need to change, they have a process to deal with those changes rather than making ad-hoc changes as they become convenient.

—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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  1. Tia Will

    This comment is not about the content of the article, but rather about the manner in which the factual information is presented.

    The costs for the rebuilding of the play structure have been clearly laid out.The amount of proposed taxes by Mayor Wolk and Council member Swanson have been clearly laid out. What is lacking is a means ( at least one accessible to someone with my mathematic skills) of direct comparison. How much money would be generated by a $50 dollar per year increase to the parks tax ?  How much would be generated by a $100 per year parks and infrastructure tax ?

    Without this information it is very hard to decide which tax measure, if either, best meets our needs. Mixing of economic data can be very confusing to me and I doubt that I am alone.

      1. Matt Williams

        Don, the numbers in that table assume that each unit in an apartment (which more often than not is just a single parcel) is taxed at the same rate as a Single Family Residence.

        The Water Advisory Committee was presented with data that showed the City has 14,736 Single Family Residential water accounts, 519 Multi-Family Residential water accounts, and 714 Commercial/Industrial water accounts.  That means a total of 15,914 water accounts, which are a very reasonable proxy for parcels.  Which would mean the table probably should more accurately read as follows:

        Tax per Parcel ____  Estimated Annual Revenue







        As a cross check of reasonability DJUSD’s Measure E covers 16,653 parcels, and at a $204 per parcel rate generates $3,080,604 per year (with 1,552 senior-owned parcels opting out of paying the tax).

        As a point of comparison DJUSD’s Measure C raises $6.4 million in total, with just under 16,000 non-Multi-Family parcels paying $327 per parcel ($4.87 million) and 10,200 Multi-Family Units paying $153 per unit ($1.56 million).

  2. Tia Will

    Now my two thoughts about the merits of Rainbow City in the overall scheme of importance to our community.

    1. This would have seemed to me to be a perfect project for the kind of “Go Fund Me” activity that I had proposed as a means of fund raising for specific city projects, but which Matt seemed to think did not have the potential for raising “significant amounts of money”.  I consider $861,000 a significant amount of money. Given the history of Rainbow City, originally built largely by volunteer efforts, I would say that there is at least the potential for “out of the box” funding for such a project. Another example of self funding for projects of community benefit would be the all volunteer Davis Music Collective. I see no reason that these kinds of organized volunteer efforts could not be done in conjunction with, or sponsored by the city. If there is some legal reason this cannot happen, someone could enlighten me.

    2. In this article, David makes very good points about the dollars involved in the reconstruction of Rainbow City, but in my opinion short changes the less tangible benefits of having an engaging place to be physically active while fully engaging one’s imagination and building stronger family ties and friendships. My two children and I spent countless hours at Rainbow City running, climbing, swinging, playing pirate on the “ship” or exploring the “castle”. My daughter and son were somewhat contentious sibs and the hours that we spent at RC were some of our most cohesive. Likewise, like many millennials they tended to crave more screen time than I thought healthy, but I cannot ever remember being turned down on the offer of a trip to Rainbow City. It is true that one cannot measure nor compare these benefits in dollars, but I think that these are just, if not more important than what we can measure that way.

    1. Matt Williams

      Tia said . . . This would have seemed to me to be a perfect project for the kind of “Go Fund Me” activity that I had proposed as a means of fund raising for specific city projects, but which Matt seemed to think did not have the potential for raising “significant amounts of money”.

      Tia, my “significant amounts of money” comment pertained to parking meter revenue.  I think your “go fund me” suggestion can and will raise significant amounts of money.  In fact I am working with the DavisGIG folks to put together a “go fund me” effort in support of the Fiber To the Premises (FTTP) project.

  3. Misanthrop

    “Here is the most interesting thing: ‘This project meets the City Council’s Goal 6 of funding, maintaining and improving the infrastructure of the city, however, the project was not specifically listed as an objective.’ ”

    Another gratuitous attack on Dan Wolk where David makes a mountain out of a technical mole hill. Its not like Rainbow City wasn’t on the radar sitting there in the middle of Community Park fenced off like some Chicago Westside blighted neighborhood. Dilapidated, contaminated and rat infested its replacement was high on the agenda of the previous city manager.

    Yes, even before this council was sworn in and its goals articulated the city knew it needed to address Rainbow City so because it wasn’t specifically named and instead grouped under a more general list of needs David uses this technicality to attack Dan Wolk and go off about the long term finances of the city.

    Well thank you Dan, Brett and Lucas, who David names in the article, and whoever else voted to finally get this done for the kids of this community.


    1. The Pugilist

      First, I fail to see how this is a gratuitous slap at anyone, the passage you site simply references the fact that it was not an identified priority goal and yet it’s funding was prioritized by at least three on council.  The argument is for a process-based system not a personal attack on anyone.

  4. Misanthrop

    “Sometimes in this business you have to be the bad guy in order to point out problematic governance.”

    Sometimes you have to be the bad guy to stretch the facts enough to turn something good into another ad hominem attack on a political candidate you don’t like.

    What I find extraordinary is how much time was spent and how much detail went into writing this absurd attack on Dan Wolk. I guess the Davis Vanguard doesn’t have anything better to do than become a petty political hit machine.

      1. Misanthrop

        That Rainbow City was not a priority because it wasn’t specifically named. To see it fenced off in the middle of the park is to know it should be a priority of every elected official and responsible staff person in the city.

        That fact underpins the rest of the article making the whole piece a pile of manure.

        1. hpierce

          Well, at least the demolition/removals and soil remediation pieces, so the fencing can come down… that’s only ~ $160k… immediate problem solved… the balance could be sorted out thru a prioritization process…

  5. Eileen Samitz

    Why not reach out to local developers and the Chamber of Commerce who have the resources to give back to the community by repairing Rainbow City? Also invite local volunteers to help and any smaller businesses or contractors who can help. Perhaps a non-profit can be formed to allow tax right-offs for any donations including contributions from the public.

    1. Mark West

      I love this…call on local businesses to donate their resources to the community while at the same time fighting every proposed project that would increase the number of local businesses in the community. I guess that is part of the ‘Davis Way’ as well.


  6. Tia Will

    Eileen and SODA

    My appreciation for your positive suggestions on how to provide resources for Rainbow City. I am thinking that efforts such as this might generate a very positive response if they were city driven for very specific goals.

    1. Don Shor

      This is a community that has raised significant sums of money for the schools and other worthy projects. I could see a concerted effort yielding good amounts of money, contributions of labor and materials, etc.
      I think it is inappropriate to have reprioritized existing funds for this, and it gives a very mixed message as to the city’s dire fiscal straits if it was possible to just shuffle funds around and somehow come up with several hundred thousand dollars.
      I appreciate that council members are being responsive to constituents. That doesn’t really trouble me, and I don’t necessarily see it as political opportunism. It’s what our elected officials are supposed to do — up to a point. But it just makes it harder to make the case for fiscal responsibility when funds are so fungible that they could somehow make this happen.
      The city should raze the site, clear out the contaminated materials and soil, and sod it temporarily. Then the community can embark on a fundraiser and see how much of the cost can be covered that way.
      In effect, this has been prioritized over other community needs: the pool, other parks, etc. I understand there is a sentimental attachment to this park, but that isn’t a sound basis for fiscal planning.

      1. Biddlin

        Hear! Hear! A place where volunteers and businesses could do the job and do a little community building, too. I was involved in just such a project in North Sacramento and it is one of my favourite memories of community involvement.

  7. Misanthrop

    The problem here is the assumption that because somehow Rainbow City wasn’t specifically named and lumped into a catch all category it wasn’t a priority. I totally disagree because I know it was already a priority of the previous city manager before he left and before this council was seated. As for the creativity in finding the funding for the project, whoever figured out these machinations should be commended. The fact that it is this hard and takes this city this long to figured out how to get such an obvious eyesore renovated speaks volumes about the fiscal condition of Davis not that we are continuing to paper over the situation we are facing.

  8. Napoleon Pig IV

    If a $50 per parcel tax increase (per year, I assume) would raise the needed ~ $800,000, what will the second year’s and third year’s $800,000 be used for (assuming the $50 per parcel tax increase lasts more than one year)?

      1. hpierce

        Well, if it’s like the original, it is a single source patented “product”, where the vendor is paid for the design (focus groups, etc., that the community demands), gets a big cut on the royalties from their sole source material suppliers, and supplies the “supervision” of the volunteers.

        The “noble”/inexpensive/efficient private sector will probably be raking in the definite lion’s share of the cost.  Actual city effort/expense (for City employees) will likely be less than $15 k.  General contractors, ~ $370 k (at most)… the rest is pretty much going to Leathers and Siegfried… see:

        But, Frankly and BP will likely deny where all the money will be spent, and find a way to spin the facts… this is a classic rip-off by a private enterprise that has “brand-name recognition”… BTW, Leathers did the first RB City (see staff report, above… the facts are pretty much there).

        Leathers’ website… (note they are not a California Company)…


        1. Frankly


          Put it out to bid and there will be competition that drives the cost down to the optimum (the equilibrium for market).

          If the city is only working with one vendor, then this is crony capitalism.

        2. Frankly

          Possibly by the time all the public policy requirements are met (woman-owned-minority-owned-unionized business) then there is only one contractor that meets the requirements and they jack up their bid price.

  9. dlemongello

    Whether a priority or not (because priorities are always in the eye of the beholder) why would a play structure cost $861,000?  Think of the home one could build for that much $$ , it would certainly include multiple baths and of course a large kitchen, the things that are the expensive components of a home and remember, this does not even include buying the land.  The price tag is ridiculous. Just for comparison, how much is it per square foot?

      1. hpierce

        Read my other post… chalk it up more to folk wanting “designer things” (and “restoration” by the same firm that did the first… historically appropriate) and coercing staff to support it…

        It’s the private sector that’s making out like a bandit, IMO…

        1. dlemongello

          hpierce, thanks for the pdf.  I read the whole thing.  It shows in excellent detail how utterly outrageous the costs are.  One real kicker:  after charging nice cushy rates for all their services, they add another $23000 they call profit, as if there is no profit otherwise.  Again, just compare it to a house that needs plumbing, electrical, walls and the size and quality of a house that this amount of money would buy when already owning the land and one can see how utterly absurd the price is.  This is why the city needs so much money to function, everything is bid out at like 3X  what it should cost.

        2. hpierce

          dl… look to the true source of why the City is doing the exclusive contract… I do not know who they are, but I suspect it is NOT City staff…  I may be incorrect…

          That said, I pretty much know that your assertion of:

          everything is bid out at like 3X  what it should cost…

          is pretty much “bullshit” (yeah, moderator, fine me), but it is true that it sometimes (rarely) it occurs… public contracts cost more due, in large part, to ‘prevailing wage’ issues… so a private owner building a 2500 SF building would probably pay less than the City paying for the exact same building… complain to the State or Feds on that… it may not be a good idea, but it’s the law… that doesn’t explain a 3-fold discrepancy, though… particularly when most of the labor is volunteer…


        3. dlemongello

          I apologize for exaggerating, but I still think this cost in particular, since this (the play structure) is the current subject, is ridiculous.  I also think if this is the same firm that “built it” last time with tainted materials that have now leached, and that is the main cause of the site needing to be remediated and the structure replaced rather than restored, that is also a rather big issue.

        4. Miwok

          “Community volunteers built the Rainbow City play structure in 1991 as part of a community build project. Working together, the community provided design input and reached out to local children for their wishes and ideas.”

          chalk it up more to folk wanting “designer things” (and “restoration” by the same firm that did the first… historically appropriate) and coercing staff to support it…

          Firm? Public? Who really did it? And if they used materials hazardous to the children, why don’t we sue them and use the settlement to clean it up? Sounds like amateur hour.

    1. South of Davis

      dlemongello wrote:

      > Whether a priority or not (because priorities are always in the eye

      > of the beholder) why would a play structure cost $861,000?  Think

      > of the home one could build for that much $$

      Remember a nice size “lot” in Davis costs over $500K so for $861K you could build TWO (2) typical million dollar Davis homes with four bathrooms each, granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances (or a play structure)…

      1. Tia Will

        why would a play structure cost $861,000?  Think

        > of the home one could build for that much $$”

        However, another way of looking at this is that the home would benefit one family, while the play structure is available for the enjoyment of the entire community.

  10. Misanthrop

    I don’t know what the plan for replacement is but before he left Steve Pinkerton took me up to a park in Woodland that he wanted to replicate at Rainbow City. It was a nice state of the art place with some sort of rubber cushion on the ground and lots of places for kids to climb and play. I asked him how much it would cost to build one and he told me “Around half a million.” You add the $160,000 for remediation and get a rough estimate of $660,000. So since this was just an off the top of his head remark another $200,000 doesn’t seem out of the question. Its a chunk of cash which is why it took some time and effort to find the money but this is what things cost when built by the city and prevailing wages are paid. If you think this is bad take a look at the numbers for the oak tree deck at Central Park. It has a pretty hefty price tag as well.

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