Monday, June 8, 2009

Measure WW: How should San Leandro spend its funds?

Last November, East Bay voters passed Measure WW to improve parks and recreation areas in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. The City of San Leandro will receive about $3.7 million under the measure.

In response, Mayor Santos established an ad hoc committee of Council members Michael Gregory, Diana Souza and Joyce Starosciak to recommend to the city council how the funds should be spent. The ad hoc committee met behind closed doors and without the participation of non-City elected officials or community leaders. As reported in the Daily Review:

Over the next 10 to 20 years, San Leandro expects to receive $3.7 million for park improvements from Measure WW funds approved by East Bay Regional Park District voters last November. How the city plans to spend that money — with all but $250,000 going to two projects west of Interstate 880 — has crosstown neighbors at odds. Three City Council members discussed the spending plan during three unpublicized meetings between January and April. On May 18, council members Michael Gregory, Diana Souza and Joyce Starosciak recommended that $2.4 million be used to help build a competitive pool at San Leandro's Family Aquatic Center on Zelma Street in Washington Manor. Another $988,000 should go for picnic area renovations at Marina Park at the San Leandro Marina, they said. The remaining $250,000 can be used for improving park pathways throughout San Leandro.

The city council took no action on the recommendation from the ad hoc. It is not clear when any action will occur.

I attended and spoke at the May 18th city council meeting and made a few points:

1) This should be the last time San Leandro establishes an ad hoc committee on non-confidential matters that conducts its business in closed session. While the city's action did not violate California law, it also did not meet the standard of openness and transparency we rightfully expect. Plus, an open process creates confidence in government decision making and leads to better results.

2) Aside from the $250,000 which already appears well on its way to being spent, the recommendations of the ad hoc Measure WW committee should be put on hold. The process needs to be restarted. Specifically, the city parks and recreation commission should undertake an analysis of how WW funds should be spent.

This is the best way of proceeding. The commission consists of members across San Leandro and conducts its meeting in public. After the commission makes its recommendations, then the city council could hold a work session on the matter and solicit further public input, before making a final decision. There is no need to rush any decision. The city isn't planning on applying for the bulk of the WW funds until 2010.

3) All San Leandrans are paying for Measure WW and, therefore, the city needs to spread the funded projects across the city. That is not to say that 100% of Measure WW needs to be spread evenly. However, the recommended distribution is weighted too heavily to one area of town and does not recognize that many parks across San Leandro are in need of renovation.

4) If the city wishes to operate a competitive swimming pool, and that is a worthy goal, it should partner with the San Leandro Unified School District and run the pool at San Leandro High School as a joint use project. The pool at the high school is in need of renovation. Money from Measure WW could be used.

The cost to the city could be about $1 million (at least one third the cost of building a new facility). To make it an outstanding facility, the school district would also have to contribute funds. A parking lot has been built next to the pool at San Leandro High School, allowing for easy use of the facility by the community.

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It was not explicitly stated at the city council meeting, but it appears that the city could not build a new competitive swimming pool for the $2.4 million recommended by the ad hoc committee. That is an issue that needs to be discussed and explained before the city council makes any decision.

And, of course, given its ongoing budget deficit, the city doesn't have the ongoing revenue to operate a new pool. Someone said, it will take three years to build the new pool in the Manor and by then the economy will have turned around. I hope the economy is strong even sooner, but this argument assumes city expenditures will remain flat in the coming years. That is a highly unlikely assumption. Plus if it takes three years to build the pool, how much is it really going to cost?

What are your views on how the city should spend its Measure WW funds?

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