About a grassroots democracy
Published: Monday, November 26, 2012 at 11:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 11:49 a.m.
Petaluma Friends of Recreation elected to place a parcel tax on the Nov. 6 ballot to finance the restoration, repair and replacement of many of this town's key recreation assets. We decided not to propose a sales tax, even though it would have required only a simple majority of votes for passage.
Funds from a sales tax would be managed by the city. Petaluma residents said, clearly, that they wanted these funds used solely for the eight critical projects designated in the Measure X proposition and not for city expenses. Therefore, we were obliged to set the higher vote hurdle of a parcel tax, in exchange for strict oversight controls in the use of the tax revenue.
Measure X needed 66.7 percent of the vote for passage and it will likely come in at 63 to 64 percent when all of the absentee ballots are counted. ‘X' fell short, not because of organized opposition that mostly focused on the city's inability to reform employee pensions, but for other reasons.
As an all-volunteer, grassroots group without a PAC or big money backers, PFOR was thoroughly dependent on local donors and businesses to fund a campaign that would reach enough voters to secure a two-thirds approval. Because property tax measures require at least a two-thirds vote, substantially more money is needed for voter education with these measures than a general sales tax, which can pass with a simple majority.
Although there were several notable and generous exceptions, without the financial support of a significant part of the business community, we were only able to raise about 60 percent of the minimum funds needed for an effective campaign.
With less-than-adequate funds to fully educate and inform voters about Measure X, we relied heavily on a low cost, door-to-door strategy. Coming into this election, we were assured that Petaluma's athletic teams and their participating families would join us in knocking on doors for Measure X. In fact, soccer, lacrosse, Little League and swimming did step up with some funds and other forms of support, as did Friends of the Petaluma River. Other leagues, teams, and parents remained on the sidelines. Without donations and “boots on the ground” from many of those who would benefit from Measure X funds, we were only able to visit about 65 percent of the voters in town.
Some of us in PFOR began this effort to save our parks nearly three years ago. Between April and June, the committee members took time away from our families and responsibilities to obtain 5,200 signed petitions qualifying Measure X for the ballot. When it came time to walk precincts, however, some of our members were running out of energy and motivation. In the final, critical weeks before the election, we simply lacked enough volunteers to ring doorbells, call donors, and place signs.
This election demonstrated that well over 13,000 Petaluma voters were willing to spend a dollar-a-week to save our parks. We are extremely grateful to the scores of Petalumans who stepped forward where government had faltered, volunteering their time, energy and money to try and create a healthier, more prosperous community.
Unfortunately there weren't enough of us to reach all of the voters we needed to save these precious facilities, and that's why Measure X failed. We hope that businesses will value the economic benefits of quality recreation facilities and that all those families who use these facilities will now take action to halt their decline.
(Andy Eber, along with his wife Carol, is a founding member of Petaluma Friends of Recreation, the grassroots organization that attempted to pass the Measure X parcel tax.)
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