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After Measure X falls short, future of parks projects uncertain

These cracked tennis courts in McNear Park were one of many areas that Measure X sought to secure funding for.

Scott Manchester/For the Argus-Courier
Published: Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 9:03 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 9:03 a.m.

Measure X, the citizen-led initiative to raise money for park and recreation improvements through a $52 per year parcel tax, appears to have narrowly failed Tuesday.

With all precincts reporting and an undetermined number of absentee ballots uncounted, the measure has so far received just 61.1 percent of the vote; 66.7 percent is needed for it to pass.

“For a grassroots effort, it was a pretty significant showing,” said Carol Eber, co-chair of Petaluma Friends of Recreation, the group that sprang up specifically to put Measure X on the ballot. She added that 66.7 percent of the vote was a very high bar to meet, and the fact that the measure got as many votes as it did was “a real acknowledgment of the commitment and initiative of the group that came together.”

The tax would have raised about $12 million over 15 years to address a range of unmet park and recreational needs in Petaluma, from a lack of ball fields, to visibly run-down playgrounds, to cracked tennis courts to a leaky roof at the community center.

Specifically, proceeds would have financed upgrading, renovating, repairing and building eight specifically designated projects around town.

Eber expressed hope that the group's efforts have now demonstrated to the City Council that parks and recreation improvements are a priority to the community, but acknowledged that changes will come slower than they would have with the funds from the parcel tax, as there is little money in the cash-strapped city's coffers for anything but the most basic services.

“I'm hopeful that though this measure probably isn't going to pass, the vision has been communicated to the City Council and the city manager,” she said. “As budgets recover in the future, more attention will hopefully be paid to what recreation facilities look like in this community.”

The top vote-getting council candidates on Wednesday morning, as well as Mayor David Glass, expressed sadness that the measure hadn't passed and said that it would be difficult to find funding for park projects, given budgetary challenges facing the city.

“It's going to be very hard to deliver those projects without voter support,” said Mike Healy, who received the most votes in the council race. The earliest that another tax could be put on the ballot is 2014, he said.

Kathy Miller, who appears to have been elected to the council as well, expressed a similar sentiment.

“I think at this point we're going to see some revenue come in from the new shopping centers and that's a good thing, but unfortunately, for the parks, we're going to see that revenue allocated first to streets and public safety,” she said, adding, “I don't know how we're going to get our parks to where they need to be. We had a lot of people who were pretty passionate about (Measure) X and so maybe we've mobilized the city a bit and we can do some private fundraising.”

“I really feel for the campaign volunteers because they put their heart and soul into it,” Glass said. “We can't even meet the obligations of our ongoing maintenance and street needs, so I don't know how you get past that. It's going to be very challenging and it's disappointing that they came so close.”

The measure was in the works for about three years since a group of recreation and athletics groups came together to address a common lack of funding. The measure received almost universal support from City Councilmembers but garnered opposition from the local taxpayers association.

Bringing together diverse groups, which formerly fought over the same pot of money, for a common cause was a victory in itself, Eber said.

“It's a positive thing that a lot of people came together to work on this,” she said, “that there is now a vision for Petaluma that hadn't really come into the public sphere so prominently about what recreation facilities should look like in Petaluma.”

(Contact Jamie Hansen at jamie.hansen@arguscourier.com.)

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