On Wednesday, opponents of a proposed new hotel on Cowell Boulevard pushed back that the benefits of the hotel are not site specific and would apply to any location in the city. While true on its face, the problem that we face in this community is that if the hotel proposal is voted down – a distinct possibility, given the heated pushback – it will be just another defeat of revenue generating proposals in the last year and a half.
The list is long and getting longer:
- Davis Innovation Center – withdrawn by the developers in the spring of 2015
- Parcel Tax and other revenue generating measures – not placed on the ballot by council
- Mace Ranch Innovation Center – twice withdrawn by the developers this spring
- Nishi Gateway – defeated at the polls
- Embassy Suites Hotel Conference Center – passed by council but held up in litigation
Those five items alone might have generated at build out between $15 and $20 million per year for the community. That amount may not have completely fixed our burgeoning fiscal crisis, but it would have gone a long long way in doing so.
Mayor Robb Davis today lays out a very different picture of our revenue situation than his predecessor. He writes, “Our inability, given current revenue, to pay for the maintenance and replacement of critical city infrastructure is a weakness.”
By most appearances, he says it appears that revenue has kept pace with expenditures. But that is misleading because the current budget accounting system excludes unfunded expenditures.
The mayor writes, “Recent studies indicate that we should be putting approximately $8 million per year into street and path resurfacing and maintenance. In the immediate post-recession period we spent essentially nothing, and we are still $3-4 million short every year. Failing to spend today increases costs of maintenance for a given street.”
He added, “Other recent analyses of city-owned buildings and parks estimate five-year funding needs of $33.5 million dollars. Staff has identified one-time funds but not ongoing funding streams for these needs. And according to a May 2016 report: Some specific areas not assessed: pools, buildings not directly administered by Parks staff, code compliance (ADA, County, State), structural integrity, and various environmental testing. In other words, there are additional buildings and parks maintenance/replacement expenditures that have not yet been accounted for.”
One has to wonder if better leadership would have led to a better set of outcomes on the innovation centers, taxes, and hotels. If instead of the previous mayor boasting that we have a balanced budget, a healthy reserve, and a more resilient budget picture – if he had said that we have made some good strides, but without added revenue, we will be unable to pay for critical infrastructure and city services – could he have rallied the community?
These are tough issues. On the one hand, I understand the neighbors’ concerns about the impact of a hotel on their neighborhood. At the same time, there is a bigger picture at play here. If we do not start moving on these revenue generating processes, what will happen to the community?
The neighbors of Davis Innovation Center, who do not live in the city, had reasonable concerns that the proposal would impact their neighborhood. The community as a whole would be impacted by the increased tax burden. MRIC was proposing housing as a way to deal with financing and that produced strong push back from many in the community. Nishi Gateway had concerns about traffic impacts among other issues, as did Embassy Suites.
The truth is that no matter where we put any of these projects there are going to be impacts. The Mace Ranch neighborhood was concerned about the impact of Target in their backyards, even as the city argued they needed additional revenue.
The problem is that many of these concerns are real. There are real impacts on neighbors and neighborhoods. We cannot look into a crystal ball to see which of these concerns pan out and which ones turn out to be all right. I suppose we can ask the neighbors at Mace Ranch if Target is really as bad as they feared.
But there is missing piece here and that is we know what will happen if we fail to generate the revenue we need to fund our infrastructure or if we have to divert resources from one place to another.
We know that roads, bike paths and sidewalks are underfunded by $4 to $6 million a year. If we do not fund that gap, the conditions of roads will deteriorate, the costs for future repair will continue to rise, and it will be more difficult for people to drive or bike across this community.
We have probably $300 million and more in unfunded needs for parks. We know that a huge part of this community is our open space and parks. That means, for many, the closure of parks will negatively impact families and communities looking to have BBQs or other private events.
Some of that parks funding shortage is wrapped into greenbelts, which are a huge part of what makes Davis such a great community. What happens if the city cannot afford to maintain its greenbelts, if the trees are not cared for – as we have seen with the hotel discussion, the greenbelt is a critical lifeline for a neighborhood, but lack of funding will put those in jeopardy.
We have seen the aquatic community come out in support of new pools and express concern about the long term maintenance of current pools, but without funding there, our pools will close and we will lose recreational and sports facilities.
But there are other factors as well. In his talk a week ago, Chief Darren Pytel noted that the police department continues to struggle to recruit quality police officers to this community. That and other equipment needs are having an impact on the police’s ability to keep our community safe.
Those who believe that cuts should be part of the equation – what do you cut? It seems that the police actually need more in the way of resources to hire additional officers and keep the community safe.
While we might be able to reduce salaries for firefighters, the number of firefighters is going to have to stay relatively constant – that will limit the ability for the city to further reduce salaries there.
We have difficult choices to make – but if our answer to new projects continues to be no, we face the possibility that those services and amenities that make this community great will deteriorate and our community will begin to slide backwards.
—David M. Greenwald reporting