My concern at the time when this process was initiated last fall was that I did not believe at that time, nor do I believe now, that the top need in the city is to develop a new sports complex. I was also concerned that the make-up of this task force was predetermined to support a sports complex and, indeed, council made it quite clear that the job of the task force was to focus on the question of “how” rather than “if.”
We were told at the time of this formation that the reason we were creating a separate task force was to effectively separate the question of sports parks from that of roads and other needs. What has transpired since then is that the council decided it didn’t need to go forward with a parcel or other tax this spring and now the decision has been made de facto not to go forward with a revenue measure for November.
So, at the onset here, I have a grave concern that the city has now prioritized a much lower level need over existing facilities. I state this up front and note that the work of this committee is separate and distinct from these stated concerns.
The task force concluded that Davis needs both new and improved facilities. “As a community, we have simply outgrown the number and type of sports fields that were largely built decades ago,” they write.
They offer two distinct types of facility improvements: “Developing a new sports complex in a location that would not impact existing city neighborhoods with lights and traffic and parking, but that could be easily connected to existing city infrastructure.”
Second, they write, “Re-configuring and/or improving maintenance of a select number of existing fields to facilitate flexibility in their use with the goal of supporting a wide range of underserved and growing sports.”
Concerning how large the sports complex should be: “Our analysis suggests that a minimum of about 50 acres would be needed to accommodate users, but that a site of 125 acres or more would be desirable to allow for long-term future expansion.”
The task force also argues for the need for lights: “The Task Force concluded that lighting is a critical attribute of any new sports complex for several reasons. First, it allows leagues to schedule games after dark, when families and community members can more easily attend. Second, it allows many more games to be scheduled throughout the year, especially in winter and spring, when darkness occurs very early. Third, the availability of lighted fields expands the opportunities for practices at times when games have not been scheduled.”
Furthermore, they argue that another “critical attribute of a sports complex site is that it be easily accessible and not result in undue traffic and parking impacts on existing Davis neighborhoods.”
They argue for the need for “sufficient parking to accommodate tournaments, with controlled entry points to parking lots.”
Finally, they argue: “A sports complex should also be developed in keeping with our community’s strong environmental values. If a sports complex took the place of irrigated agricultural operations, it would, on the natural, be likely to decrease water demand at that site. Nonetheless, given the high cost and scarcity of water, it makes sense to design a sports complex that uses water efficiently.”
In short, I think they do a good job here of understanding the needs of the community as a whole, and in attempting to synthesize their needs.
That leads to the tricky questions: where should it be located? In looking at the three sites already analyzed, Old Davis Landfill, Mace Covell Gateway, and Howatt Ranch, the task force concluded that “our review did make us aware that all of the previously studied sites, to varying degrees, would spark some level of public controversy or discussion. The Old City Landfill, in particular, has already generated strong statements of opposition from some community members.”
They then come up with three potential locations – first, the location south of the golf course along Highway 113. The parcel is owned by the city already. Second, the 25-acre parcel outside of the Mace Curve owned by the city, and third, an area south of Legacy Fields.
In assessing the three parcels identified by the task force, I would rule out Parcel B immediately. First, it is too small. They identified the need for 50 acres with an additional 75 to accommodate future expansion. Second, until we figure out what will happen with MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center), using the city’s 25-acre site makes little sense.
Parcel A makes a good deal of sense. I reject the notion that some suggested that objections from the Binning residents should eliminate it from consideration. Their early objections to the Davis Innovation Center may well have cost the city millions of dollars and, frankly, they are not entitled to live with a moat surrounding them.
However, that aside, it seems that Parcel C makes the most sense. It is next to existing sports fields. The road has capacity for traffic with easy access to the city and I-80.
As the task force notes, they conclude “the South of Legacy Fields site is particularly promising and warrants careful study.” As someone who lives in South Davis, I see that the fields are sufficiently blocked from existing neighborhoods, such that “[l]ighted fields, traffic, and parking at nearby Legacy fields have not resulted in any negative impacts on the neighborhood to the west, and a sports complex on this adjoining parcel could similarly avoid such problems.”
“Legacy does not object to having a sports complex nearby, and believes co-location of additional nearby sports fields could also be to their benefit,” they write.
Their analysis here is spot on and so I commend them on a job well done.
That leaves us to the issue of funding, where they brought forward a few models. The first idea would be “for the city to own the property and lease it to a single nonprofit foundation, which in turn would lease the space to other individual sports organizations.”
The second would allow for city ownership of the property “with the city playing the middle man and establishing separate leases with each sports association wishing to participate in a sports complex property.”
The third would have city ownership “with a lease to a for-profit sports corporation, which would be responsible for maintenance and operation of the facility.”
They note: “EPS [Consulting] suggested that such a private operation could maximize the generation of revenues and tourism for the city compared to the other alternatives. However, EPS said this approach would likely rely on city funding for construction of a facility. Also, it suggested such a facility would be most profitable for adult leagues, and that alcohol sales would be needed for high profitability. This could conflict with youth sports activities at the same location.”
The task force notes: First, the city of Davis lacks “financial advantages held by some other communities — dedicated revenue streams that are available to pay for construction and operation of new park facilities.” Second, construction by the city would be very expensive.
Third, “The use of private companies to operate a sports complex, such as occurred in Manteca, can minimize city operational costs for sports programs and maximize the revenues generated from the facility.”
But they would reduce local control over the direction of sports programs.
The task force noted the Davis Legacy and Blue and White Foundations provide a model for moving forward.
Writes the task force, “These two notable community-based efforts to improve and expand important local sports facilities begs the question as to whether other Davis sports leagues could join forces in a similar way to build and operate a new sports complex. The Task Force has concluded that they could do so. Under our proposed approach, a community-based non-profit foundation could be organized that would be comprised of representatives of interested sports teams. This new organization could build, own, and operate the new sports complex.”
However, they conclude, “This would not be an easy task,” and the city role would be limited but “still important.”
They also add, “While a community-based effort to remedy our deficiencies in sports fields is a promising new approach, it is important to also recognize that the city has an ongoing responsibility for providing park and recreation services that meet the needs of its citizenry. That responsibility would not and should not end with a community-based initiative to remedy our deficient sports facilities. Such an effort could not succeed without a true partnership with the city, which could include a financial investment.”
It is really here that I start going back to last year’s discussion. Back on July 7, 2015, a year ago, the city council directed that any discussion of a Sports Complex would be better explored as a stand-alone effort, separate from the utility user tax that council was considering as an infrastructure funding mechanism.
Councilmember Rochelle Swanson made the motion that the city have a Davis sports park complex advisory committee or task force like the city has done in the past for other major infrastructure. She asked that it be brought back in the first meeting after the summer break.
“There’s a lot of concern about what the subject matter of the vote is,” Councilmember Swanson explained. “My fear is that we’re going to lose a lot of momentum whether it’s support for a tax, which is what we need.”
But that’s exactly what has happened. We lost all momentum for a tax for our overall financing needs, while we seem set to move forward on a very complex sports park proposal.
At the time, Robb Davis, then mayor pro tem, said, “I think we have to divorce the conversation about a sports park from the UUT or any type of tax measure that we would eventually have.” He added, “In my opinion we need to look at the existing infrastructure backlogs that we have for roads, key city building, the fleet… and other key infrastructure needs.”
Robb Davis added, “We need to clear the decks on this, we need to move the conversation about sports parks which is not even a city council goal at this point, we need to move it aside, do our homework, look at all of the options for improving what people need – but we need to focus our attention on the fundamental backlogs that we have already identified…”
Lucas Frerichs said that he was in agreement that we need to put core infrastructure – roads and parks, which in many cases are in disrepair – as a priority. However, “I also think that there is an ability for us to envision a future in this community that is grand and also is achievable. That includes building a sports park.”
Again, I think the task force report is excellent and exhaustive, and covers a number of contingencies. But I fear that we have completely lost the will to explore another revenue measure, despite the claims by councilmembers like Rochelle Swanson that, if innovation parks fall off the radar, we will have to seriously explore a parcel tax for city funding.
—David M. Greenwald reporting