Whether it's a lack of ball fields, the visibly run-down playgrounds, the cracked tennis courts or a leaky roof at the community center, there appears to be no shortage of unmet park and recreational needs in Petaluma.
To get the job done, a grassroots group known as Petaluma Friends of Recreation has created a list of specific recreation projects that they would like to see funded by the passage of Measure X, a proposed parcel tax on the November ballot that would raise about $12 million.
"We are providing and caring for things we haven't had money to take care of," said PFOR Co-Chair Deb Sammon, who has long been involved with Petaluma American Little League and joined PFOR about a year ago. "This is an actionable way to enact change in our town."
The measure would create a $52 a parcel tax for single family residences, ranging to a high of $500 for owners of large apartment complexes with more than 11 units. The tax would last 15 years, through 2028.
Proceeds would finance upgrading, renovating, repairing and building eight specifically designated projects around town. It's received almost universal support from City Councilmembers but has garnered opposition from the local taxpayers association.
While the measure may sound unfamiliar to many, it's been in the works for about three years, said Co-Chair Carol Eber. At that time, she explained, various recreation and athletics groups commonly appeared before the Recreation, Music and Parks Commission to request funding for various projects. There was a great amount of need and only a small pot of money, and everyone was fighting over it, she said.
Then Parks Commissioner Mark Ferguson pulled Eber aside and suggested that the various groups come together to find a common solution to the ongoing lack of funding. Eber agreed and the two pulled together representatives from a range of groups and started discussing a variety of ways to address Petaluma's recreation needs.
After commissioning studies and surveys, the group worked with Assistant City Manager Scott Brodhun to identify a series of projects that would benefit residents of all ages on both the east and west side of town, Eber said.
Projects to be funded by the measure range from the creation of the long-awaited East Washington Park — including athletic fields, children's play areas, and pedestrian and bicycle pathways — to the installation of synthetic turf fields at Price Park and the renovation of the Community Center and the Polly Hannah Klaas Performing Arts Center.
Advocates say the improvements would enable Petaluma athletic leagues to host tournaments, bringing in tourism dollars to Petaluma. They also argue that the projects would provide health-conscious Petalumans better options for staying fit and young athletes better opportunities to train.
Todd Samet, of Petaluma Youth Lacrosse, said that a lack of adequate fields is a big problem for lacrosse teams that train in the late winter and early spring. Often, the grass fields are closed down during that rainy period, forcing lacrosse as well as soccer teams to practice elsewhere. "Elsewhere" is often basketball courts, tennis courts, or even parking lots.
Dan Drummond, a Petaluma resident and executive director of the Sonoma County Taxpayers Association, opposes the measure, expressing concerns about financial accountability. He points out in his formal ballot opposition that the tax will not raise the full amount needed to complete all listed projects. He explained that the total cost that the city has projected is needed to complete all the listed projects is about $18.7 million. The tax will bring in a little under $12 million and the city has an additional $4.7 million earmarked for use on the projects. This leaves about a $2 million gap.