Oh, woe is the City of Sacramento, which has money to subsidize the Kings and developers of the railyards, to lure Kaiser Hospital away from our community, to ship its homeless problem to our neighborhoods, blahblahblah, but cannot find enough money to maintain its own parks and public swimming pools. But wait! They can!
Assemblymember Kevin McCarty got them $500,000 in state money to cover deferred maintenance at the Southside Park pool. According to the Sacramento Bee, the Assemblyman "...said he was able to find $500,000 in California's budget to fund renovations and reopen the pool next year. He said the funding was initially designated for an educational after-school program in North Sacramento. He said that project fell through, the funding was no longer needed and that money would've gone back to the state." (Rosaliho Ahumada, "Funding Secured for Southside Park Pool Renovation", Sacramento Bee, June 11, 2023, SACBEE.COM). The City of Sacramento can count its lucky stars for that, given that the state expects a $31 billion budget shortfall and its budget people are searching for ways to claw back previous awards. Still, it's not like there isn't a need to fix Southside Pool. It has been closed for many moons, leaving its users - most of whom are economically challenged and live in a part of town that isn't exactly the most sought-after neighborhood - high and dry. It is a good thing they can look forward to having their public pool reopened.
Hey, hold on. Aren't there public pools in the Arden Park, Arden Manor and Fulton-El Camino Recreation and Park Districts, too? Aren't those public pools also in Assemblymember McCarty's Assembly District 06? Yes, they are. And aren't they all short on funds for operation and maintenance? Um, well...yeah, it's not like those park districts have money to burn. Plus, two of them serve residents of the West Arden Arcade Environmental Justice Area, so designated because of the less-than-favorable circumstances that have consistently disadvantaged them and their neighborhoods. Their public pools are open because of the diligence of the park districts at serving the community. Inevitably, though, the relatively small amount of property taxes and assessments that flow to the park districts has a hard time keeping pace with the price of pool O&M and the eventual need for replacement. To fix their pools, those park districts rely on competitive grants in state park bonds that pop up every once in a blue moon. Yet, because squeaky wheels get greased, most of the park bond money always winds up in LA County or the City of Los Angeles. So, while they wait their turn, the park districts put band-aids over O&M cancers that may inflict their pools due to insufficient funds. A big chunk of their property tax revenues are siphoned off by the state to prop up school districts. They are not allowed to get sales tax revenues. And they can't realistically raise money with their own bonds because the state requires a 2/3 voting majority (whereas the schools get to win with 55% of the vote and the state itself can do it with 50%+1). The Carmichael Recreation and Park District filled its leaking, substandard pool with dirt years ago and it took voters a very long time to learn their community had to raise property taxes to deal with deferred maintenance and modernization needs. In a very rare instance of success, their Measure G was lucky to pass with 67.6% of the vote last November.
So, especially when the state is broke, the park districts are stuck with doing the best they can to keep pools open and praying for windfalls. They don't have Mayors and City Councils to focus on local needs. The City of Sacramento, being a city, has a Mayor and a City Council and can access sales taxes. They even have a handy Measure U Sales Tax increase fund to tap into. Even better, they have the State Capitol just a few blocks from City Hall and a former Speaker Pro Tem of the State Senate as their Mayor. A kindly state budget can yield greater flexibility for local funds. That Mayor has announced he isn't running for another term, which has opened a flood gate for candidates who would like to take his place. And one of those candidates is influential in the State Assembly (see second paragraph, above).
Please understand, we're not expressing jealousy here. Like we said earlier, re-opening Southside Park's pool is a good thing. It meets important needs. Instead, we tell this story as just another example of the lack of a level playing field for urbanized unincorporated areas like ours. Cities have flexibility to do stuff that matters to people in their municipality. The Legislature is supportive of cities. Members think cities take care of urban parks and don't really understand or care that park districts do the job in urbanized unincorporated territory. Meanwhile, counties are not able to adequately balance their significant areawide duties with their municipal service obligations. Local park districts are at the wrong end of the food chain. What do you think about that? Should anything be changed?