Monday Morning Thoughts: Declining Quality of Life in Davis?

This spring I unwittingly took a tour of other communities as my daughter seemed to alternate between gymnastics competitions and soccer tournaments.  What I learned isn’t that reassuring – Davis is a community that prides itself on a high quality of life, and yet when it comes to athletics facilities, it lags behind many other communities in this region.

For instance, while Davis Diamonds a few years ago was able to find a reasonable practice facility, it is not suited at all for hosting competitions.  We have soccer tournaments occasionally, but watching the girls play on rough grass and uneven ground pales in comparison to the communities with state-of-the-art fields, well-groomed grass and even artificial surface that plays far faster.

A few weeks ago during the council campaign, I was speaking to candidate Mark West and he made a point which I think was spot on, but unfortunately did not get a lot of attention at the time – athletics competitions are a way for a community to attract people.  For each soccer tournament, we ended up purchasing at least one night at a hotel, eating out at multiple restaurants – multiply that out for the athletes, their parents and family and then dozens if not hundreds of teams and you start to see real possibilities for bringing in sales tax revenues at restaurants and TOT (transient occupancy tax) taxes at hotels.

The city brought in an additional nearly half million last year in TOT, and that’s just from a slight bump in the TOT and no new hotels.  Once those hotels get built, finding a way to fill them will be a revenue-generating exercise.

And yet, as a community we refuse to start thinking along those lines.  Mark West argued that we need to start looking at athletics facilities not as costs but investments.

However, when these proposals get made, people start turning up their noses.  I got an email two days ago complaining that DJUSD was looking to spend over $7.5 million on a new pool for just 75 students.  It turns out that number to start with is over 200 students when you count the swim team (120 students alone), plus water polo and diving.

I listened last month to the horror stories from coaches and parents and student athletes about trying to get practice facilities, lacking proper space to even warm up adequately and the hours for which students have to practice because of lack of facilities.

The students felt like second rate competitors because they could not compete on campus and, despite a highly successful aquatics program, the athletes had no real way to compete and host tournaments at home.

You start with 200 student athletes, but really freeing up other pools and having additional community pool space is a benefit across the district and the community.

Having a nice facility could be a revenue generator, not only for the district but for the community as a whole.  A large competition could attract swimmers and their families from across the region who sleep in our hotels – presuming we have some – and eat in our restaurants.

It seems like a win-win, and all at the cost of a small portion of the facilities master plan which figures to generate $450 million overall including $150 million from a facilities bond this fall – if passed by the voters.

But, between emails received this week, a letter received and published last week, and some letters to the editor, the idea of funding pools is getting pushback.

As one writer put it: “Is it responsible to build a swimming pool in your backyard if you can’t afford to fix your home’s leaky roof? Most homeowners would probably say, no.  Yet, with $443 million dollars in facility improvement needs, Davis School Board Trustees made the decision to spend $8 million on a swimming pool, leaving other critical repair projects undone.  Students at the Valley Oak campus were sent home during the school day last week because of a break in an old water line.”

But, while the letter writer makes a good point, the broader point isn’t about pools versus other needs.  To me the bigger problem is that overall we have aging school infrastructure across the district.  The facilities master plan would update 50-year-old single-story buildings built in the 1960s or earlier.

We want a great school district, but right now we don’t have the resources to have modern buildings.  A lot has changed in the last 50 to 60 years and we should have school facilities that reflect it.

I see this issue as a microcosm for our community.  We love our Davis.  We want to preserve our Davis.  And yet we have a community that is quite literally falling apart and we are not willing to fund it.

The latest example is the roads.  As I have been warning for years, the roads in Davis are in bad shape – drive down the street and look down, you will see cracks and seams and pothole formation.  The more that we fail to put money into roads now, the more they will cost down the line.  It is pennywise and pound foolish to argue that we need to get our fiscal house in order before we can approve taxes to fund basic infrastructure.

Our great community is no longer so great.  Oh sure, we have bike paths, parks and greenbelts.  But, increasingly, we cannot afford to maintain them.  We lack the tax revenue to keep up with other communities.

Something has to change here.  We cannot maintain this community with the resources that we currently have.  Yesterday one of our readers wrote: “The question that each Davis citizen would need to answer in such a community dialogue would be, ‘Will Davis still be Davis if we cut the budget by 15%?’”

But to me the more critical question is whether we can continue to be Davis unless we change our outlook here, stop nickel-and-diming our infrastructure and facilities and start investing in our future.  Already, there are a lot of communities that have far better facilities than we do.

Davis built its greatness on the 1972 General Plan which looked forward to create a network of parks, bike paths, and greenbelts.  But our lack of continued vision and a general failure to invest could lead to our downfall.

As we head into a new council the question before us is whether we will allow this decline in quality of life to continue or whether we will start investing in our future.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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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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50 Comments

        1. Richard McCann

          No, I agree with darrelldd that the proposal was a realistic private-public partnership. I’m not sure why the City isn’t proposing to replace the Community Pool with a 50m facility that can be rented to all of the various groups in town. The high school could have priority in-season, but many (most?) of those athletes also compete for private clubs that can afford the alternative rent. It probably would be cheaper than having the district construct it, and would feel up space on what is becoming a crowded school campus.

  1. John D

    I’d encourage you to take a closer look at those communities whose facilities you admire.

    Willing to bet their recent and ongoing investment accompanies one or more of these primary drivers:

    1) Significant  growth and development in the size of the community (that was Davis until 2004)

    2) Robust private sector commercial business enterprise & employment – i.e. new companies & jobs growth accompanied by increasing retail sales growth.

    3) Future looking, action-oriented oriented general planning and accompanying community support.

    4) High ratio of owner occupied residential units within the community – i.e. high ratio of invested home ownership.

    5) Expectations and delivery (at the school or community level) of above average philanthropic support for new school programs and facilities.

     

    1. Richard McCann

      I agree with 4 of the 5 characteristics. However, “4) High ratio of owner occupied residential units within the community – i.e. high ratio of invested home ownership” is not true. I don’t know of Palo Alto is included in that list, for example, but 45% of its housing units are rental.

  2. Matt Williams

    David Greenwald said . . . “It seems like a win-win, and all at the cost of a small portion of the facilities master plan which figures to generate $450 million overall including $150 million from a facilities bond this fall – if passed by the voters.”

    David, how is DJUSD going to generate $450 million in revenue for the district and the community from its facilities master plan?  The way the master plan was described to me was that it will generate $450 million in costs rather than revenues.

    If Davis is going to generate $450 million in revenues from the education component of our community it will be from capturing, retaining, and leveraging the intellectual capital our educational institutions “generate.” To do that we need a win-win partnership between UCD, the City, and DJUSD. Otherwise the things listed by John D in his comment above will be pipe dreams.

    1. Cindy Pickett

      The district hopes to cover the $450 million in costs through a series of bond measures and with additional tax revenue (e.g., $2 million from Nishi). I did not hear anything at the school board meeting about other sources of potential funding.

      1. Matt Williams

        Understood Cindy.  That was how I heard it.  Which is why David’s choice of words “generate $450 million overall” was strange.  “Borrow $450 million overall” probably wouldn’t have been accurate either “$450 million overall from taxes and bond borrowing” would have been closer to the reality.

        One question: as a candidate for School Board have you heard anything recent about how Woodland’s construction of the new Spring Lake Elementary is going to impact interdistrict student transfers going forward?  I have heard from secondary/tertiary sources that Woodland will be taking steps to retain within their own district the Woodland-resident students who apply for interdistrict transfer from Woodland to Davis.  I have been told that interdistrict transfer students can not actually transfer unless their “home” district agrees to the transfer.  You are much closer to firsthand information about this issue than most of us.  What is the situation going forward?

        1. Cindy Pickett

          Matt – I am not sure what WJUSD’s intentions are (and haven’t heard anything), but as Don’s link mentions, they cannot deny transfers for “arbitrary reasons.” So, they might have a hard time making the case for denying transfers only to Davis.  They could, however, deny all transfers after the first 75. It does not look like they are budgeting for an increase in enrollment though so that’s at least a good sign that they aren’t planning to restrict transfers. Also, once students are accepted into DJUSD for employment reasons they are in for as long as the employment lasts, so WJUSD couldn’t recall these transfer students. I don’t know how many new transfer requests they get each year though.

  3. Howard P

    Both the City and DJUSD made (and continue to make?) the same mistake… not planning for the maintenance and replacement of anything built/acquired, and making financial provisions for that in real time, not as a ‘panic catch-up’… anything done with the school improvements proposed have a “fuse” built in… if monies are not set aside, there will be a future “explosion”…

    1. David Greenwald

      I disagree.  The city and DJUSD had similar problems but different constraints.  The problem that DJUSD had was that there is really only one way to create facilities money – through a bond measure.  But after passing a bond that led to the building of a new school and renovations of several existing schools in the early 2000s, what happened?  In 2007, the board passed their new parcel tax.  Since that time, they have had to a constant battle to keep financially afloat on the instructional side.  That means they have prioritized parcel taxes over facilities bonds.  It’s hard to blame them for that (easier to blame them for other things).  So when were they going to pass a new facilities bond?

      The city doesn’t have the same constraints over the separation of general fund and infrastructure.  The city during their recession made the decision to prioritize maintaining employee compensation and not firing employees over all else.  It is both an understandable decision but a bad one.  Ultimately, they had to reign in compensation, but they never did layoffs in a systematic way, and they balanced the budget through deferring maintenance.  Unlike the district, they could use general fund money for infrastructure, whereas the district is precluded by law.

      1. Mark West

        The other sources of revenues for school facilities would be the sale of excess property that was gifted to the School District by the City for future school facilities as well as the potential redevelopment of other District properties with the District retaining ownership. This is an area where the District and the City could collaborate to the benefit of both, for instance redeveloping the District headquarters property and the City’s properties across the street in some combination.

        The new pool for the High School is another area where the two entities might collaborate. Historically, Community Pool was used by the High School for its aquatics program, and that is the preferred site for a new 50M pool complex in town. A public/private partnership could be fashioned between the City, the District and an aquatics non-profit to build and manage the new pool complex. The basic structure might have the City put up the land (the current Community Pool complex, the District provide the primary financing, and the non-profit the operations and maintenance. Once that new pool is in operation the City could then close the obsolete Civic Center Pool, reducing expenses and providing more land for redevelopment.

      2. John D

        David,

        Maybe you would know – does the district budget include or encourage allowances for “facilities maintenance” that might include things like exterior repainting, re-landscaping & tree pruning, pool re-plastering, re-roofing?   In other words, the kinds of property maintenance items routinely undertaken by homeowners, businesses and apartment owners?

        Particularly things like exterior repainting and re-roofing – are these items formally scheduled and budgeted accordingly?   Or, is it the assumption that such items are more appropriately funded by issuance of new bonds?

        1. Ken A

          I have posted before that one of my best friends is a CPA married to a elementary school teacher in the context of teacher pay since my CPA friend (who keeps track of everything) has worked more than double the hours that his wife works year after year.

          If you want to get my friend really mad start by talking about the “administrators” who make over $200K that can’t stop complaining how “underpaid” they are then bring up the accounting that would put the management of a public company in jail for “hiding” most expenses to so they can increase administrator pay (knowing they can keep coming back to the voters who don’t seem to have any problem borrowing (literally) BILLIONS of dollars)…

          http://www.sfusd.edu/en/about-sfusd/voter-initiatives/bond-program/overview.html

        2. Mark West

          “They seem very dedicated to obscurity.”

          As was the City before a Jeff Miller Chaired FBC forced the issue into the open. Without the efforts of the FBC and subsequently, Project Toto, we would not know the extent of the City’s unfunded obligations. If you want that type of clarity from the School District you will probably need to elect a Board majority willing to force the information into the open as there is no incentive for the Superintendent to do so on his own and no citizen’s commission to turn to for help. Perhaps it is time for fiscal responsibility to become a focus of the campaign.

        3. Jim Hoch

          “Perhaps it is time for fiscal responsibility to become a focus of the campaign”

          Agreed, if I could master basic arithmetic I would consider it. Any ideas who might be willing?

        4. Matt Williams

          Cindy, thank you for responding.   I’m curious how that 3% might compare with comparable districts of similar age and size?

          From casual inspection, it can appear that many of DJUSD buildings are in need some basic deferred maintenance.   An unusual example, but sadly, as we know from example of the Multipurpose Room at Davis High – the ultimate cost of deferred roof maintenance can lead to the need for a complete building replacement.

          How do we guard against that?

          Have we fallen behind in our spending on maintenance?  The question seems directly analogous and a parallel discussion to the issue of deferred roads maintenance faced by the City.  Are other districts some how able to spend more than 3% on maintenance?  If so, where does than money come from?   Is 3% the right amount?   Is the district provided any guidelines by the State?

          Few would disagree that it is essential to be talking about, advocating for, and investing in strengthening and improving our our district facilities.   By the same token, it seems the community would likewise benefit from a more comprehensive and in-depth look at ongoing operating expenses to insure that our baseline spending is adequate to the task of keeping our existing facilities competitive with the surrounding region.

        5. Cindy Pickett

          Matt – The 3% is the state mandated minimum level for routine maintenance. Your question prompted me though to look at Rocklin’s budget. They devote additional dollars to deferred maintenance using mostly ADA dollars and Prop 39 (Clean Energy) funds. I also noticed in their budget though that they receive $3-$5 million in developer fees each year which is used on school facilities. That’s a nice chunk of change.

        6. Matt Williams

          Cindy, thank you for your continuing engagement in this dialogue.  That is a characteristic that I would be very happy to see in a DJUSD Trustee.

          Your answer illuminates one of the key challenges/conundrums that faces our community.  Rocklin is an example of a community that has taken stock of its core competencies and strengths, and used those core competencies and strengths to build a sustainable/resilient community economy … which, as you have pointed out has meant reliable recurring revenues to its school district.

          In Davis where our core competencies and strengths … the intellectual capital created by our educational institutions … are allowed to leave town as soon as they are created, we are left with a local economy that is anything but sustainable or resilient.  In that reality, where should our schools be looking for additional operating and capital infrastructure maintenance revenues?

        7. John D

          Matt,

          Interesting characterizations and choice of words:

          In Davis where our core competencies and strengths … the intellectual capital created by our educational institutions … are allowed to leave town as soon as they are created, we are left with a local economy that is anything but sustainable or resilient.  In that reality, where should our schools be looking for additional operating and capital infrastructure maintenance revenues?

          Given the lack of conversation about this very point, it makes one wonder if either the school district or the university truly appreciates the nexus between local, vibrant technology employment clusters and the support they provide – not only in the area of career pathways and the additional retail sales and property taxes they generate for the community – but also for the internship, research opportunities, grants & partnerships they provide both to the university and local high schools.

          It seems remarkable that these issues are rarely, if ever,  discussed as desirable outcomes or “amenities” currently missing from the Davis ecosphere.

        8. Cindy Pickett

          John D – During public comment about the Facilities Master Plan, representatives of the youth robotics program made a plea for better space for the robotics program. Their argument (which I found to be compelling) was that Davis has an award winning robotics program. It is a recognized strength and that investing in the program will allow not only allow more kids in the district to get hands-on STEM experience but will also prepare them for internships in the area. SunPower was mentioned as one local business that draws on interns from the robotics program. What I liked about this was that they were connecting facilities to a broader vision that encompasses the schools, the university, and the city.

        9. John D

          Cindy,

          That’s an awesome example.  We should be there in spades (to mention an old bridge analogy) – with these types of examples the norm rather than the exception.   Truly a win-win and something to celebrate.

          The impact of such sponsorships and partnerships cannot be over-emphasized in terms of added value to our schools (including the university), the community and the local economy.  Such companies also provide desirable, local employment opportunities for the highly accomplished spouses and partners of university faculty and staff.

          We often hear talk about the benefits of the university to the region, but equally, it would behoove us to recognize and extol the virtues and benefits of strengthening local technology employment to our local community – as well as the region.   It’s truly an under-recognized element and driver of local economic prosperity that has been missing and largely absent from our community discussions.

  4. Jim Hoch

    The easiest ways to increase revenue for DJU are:

    1) Supplemental parcel tax vote keeping the rate the same but eliminate the exemptions.

    2) Negotiate a deal with UCD for them to make pay the average per pupil parcel tax as a supplement in exchange for priority admission as transfers.

      1. Jim Hoch

        A deal with UCD would be novel and I am not sure that it could not be routed to facilities if desired. It may be cleanest to make it a facilities deal rather than operational but will defer to others.

        Just because the parcel tax goes to operations a make-good from UCD may flow in a different direction.

        1. David Greenwald

          It doesn’t look like that could work for facilities. Bonds and Mello-Roos appear it. Perhaps someone with more expertise on school financing can weigh in and correct me however.

        2. Howard P

          David… given magnitude, and duration (am assuming 30 year MR or GO bonds [MR is actually a form of ‘bonds’]), on a practical and political level it is the best way to go… will “miss” some who ‘benefit’, but pay not…

          Depending on the interest rates on the bonds, hope the District provides for an up-front/early payoff of the assessment… Davis MR’s did… we paid ours off last year… penciled out, semi big-time…

          DJUSD doesn’t provide for that on their current CFD’s… if they don’t, this time, we’re probably leaning towards a “NO” vote… depending on the interest costs on any CFD/bond, will likely lean further towards a “NO”…

          The “interest” on bonds are fully a “cost” to taxpayers, without providing one nickle to the need…

  5. Jim Hoch

    School districts contract with each other to provide services regularly. For example some districts do not have high schools and contract with a neighboring district. How that works I don’t know though it would seem there would have to be both an operational and facilities component.

    BTW have we considered combining continuation schools with Woodland?

  6. Sharla C.

    As someone who grew up in Davis, where undeveloped sites were where we played, I have a different view of how the quality of life has changed in Davis.  I don’t know that we need fancy facilities at our schools as a measure of a quality life.  I think the quality of life is affected more by the segregation of the population and prevention of access.  So, with that in mind, a new pool at the High School makes sense, rather than a pool managed by a private organization.  Building state of the art athletic facilities supporting a specific sport might make sense from an economic viewpoint, but it may not improve the quality of life for Davis families.  We have a soccer facility with multiple fields that can host tournaments in southeast Davis, but they are privately managed and available for members only.  Even those willing to pay can be denied access.  Despite efforts, my own daughter could not gain access to that organization.  Excluded from the local competitive soccer league, she ended up playing for an under-17 Premier team in Orinda.  This affected our view of Davis and our measure of the quality of life Davis has to offer our family.

      1. Sharla C.

        You had to be on a team.  The teams were formed by try-out.  The league hired an under-16 coach who had been coaching in Vacaville to coach the Davis U16 team.  He was expensive – costing each family several thousands to participate in the season.  He held tryouts, but apparently wasn’t satisfied with the talent pool.  He then cancelled the U-16 team and did a combined U-18/U-16 tryout (reducing the spots for participation from 40 to 20).   He then rejected 8-10 qualified Davis players in order to bring the same number of his Vacaville players to fill the team roster.  He had the support of the Davis parents who were managing the league at the time.   The local girls then had to  leave Davis to join teams in Sacramento, Elk Grove, Woodland, and elsewhere in order to keep playing.

    1. Ken A

      Back when I was a kid we didn’t have “single sport” little kids or ultra competitive exclusive “premier” leagues (where the super competitive single sport kids parents could exclude anyone not good enough or not “dedicated” enough if they even mentioned thinking about missing a competition to go to a family event) the “quality of life” was a lot higher.

      For fathers day we dove out to Winters and hiked to the top op Pleasant’s ridge then we all swam for about a mile in Lake Solano to cool off before cooking lunch on the bar-b-q.  After lunch we did a lap of the lake on the stand up paddle boards and goofed around in the water.  If kids want to swim I don’t see why they need a fancy multi million dollar pool and I think kids would be a lot better off if they spent more time swimming in lakes and rivers.

      P.S. If we do spend millions on a new pool (like we did to fix up the Manor Pool facility is will probably be closed over 90% of the time like Manor Pool)…

    2. Richard McCann

      Sharla C, what was being proposed by the Davis Diamonds would protect access to the pool for school athletes. The pool would be managed to generate revenue from private teams that already exist for activities outside of school athletics.

      1. Sharla C.

        My concern is not access by high school athletic teams, but offering swimming as part of the PE curriculum and accessible to all.  Most teams rely on athletes who have prepared through participation in private sports organizations.  The exception is cross-country and track.  Maybe wrestling.  While preparation to participate on these teams may be too much to expect for a PE class, knowing how to swim and being able to pass a basic swimming test should be a requirement.  Intermediate skills as a swimmer would be desired.    I think of it as a physical literacy.  Any facility built by the school district should have education as its first thought.

        1. Howard P

          “Ability to swim” was a HS requirement in many places in the 1930’s… “survival”, not competition… my Aunt had to pass it to graduate form HS… a person who bathed in 2 inches of water.  She graduated Penn State in Library Science… never swam as an adult… I believe basic ability to swim is extremely important, and should be learned before graduation from HS, and probably much before… I started Red Cross swim lessons @ about 7… I don’t swim often, but could survive long enough for someone to help me… if I “fell overboard”…

          Yes, slight ‘drift’ off- topic…

        2. Sharla C.

          Emerson Jr High had a swimming unit as part of P.E. in the early 1970’s.  We had to pass a test – treading water for a length of time, etc. We learned different strokes and played sharks and minnows, if there was time.  I believe DHS had swimming too.

        3. Howard P

          Sharla…

          I strongly believe that those basics, if not arranged by parents, should be part of the school curriculum.

          Used to be called “drown-proofing”… we did it with all 3 of our babies…

  7. Jeff M

    This explains it…

    Davis

    – Median Family Income = $57,683 (old people and students)

    – Number of Firms = 4,463

    – Annual Sales per Capita = $7,062

    – City Size = 9.89 square miles

    – Population Density = 6,637 per square mile

    Folsom

    – Median Family Income = $102,692

    – Number of Firms = 5,620

    – Annual Sales per Capita = $22,342

    – City Size = 21.95 square miles

    – Population Density = 3,290 per square mile

    Santa Cruz

    – Median Family Income = $62,471

    – Number of Firms = 7,542

    – Annual Sales per Capita = $12,464

    – City Size = 12.74 square miles

    – Population Density = 4,705 per square mile

  8. Alan Miller

    murmur . . . quality of life in Davis decreasing . . . road tax rejected . . . pools can attract people to Davis . . . will we invest in our future? . . . road tax rejected . . . must build pool, save Davis . . . murmur . . .

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