Sep 15 2011

Opinion: City’s Deal with Sports Clubs Will Cost Taxpayers

Resident objects to PRFO agreement with City on Blair Park project

Despite the Municipal Tax Review Committee’s warning that Piedmont’s parcel tax will fail at the polls if governance does not become more transparent and inclusive, the city continues to cater to special interests.  In, for example, another attempt to make the gift of Blair Park to private sports clubs appear a gift from them, the City Administrator has signed an agreement with the clubs that makes them responsible for paying the cost of technical studies that must be completed before the Council can approve the project.  The agreement also requires the private groups to pay for the defense of the city should taxpayers contest the legality of Council approval.

The City Administrator used the local press to announce the agreement after he signed it on behalf of the city.  The document was never discussed at public hearing.  Without explanation of this opaque processing, Mr. Grote presented the agreement as evidence that Piedmont taxpayers will not incur costs from the project.  Had he spoken with candor, he would have added that taxpayers have already paid at least $300,000 to consultants for studies of the project and an as yet unaccounted sum for staff time committed to the project.  He also would have noted that the new agreement does not require the private clubs to pay for further staff time needed to process the project.

Piedmont taxpayers should also know that the new agreement does not address the ongoing subsidies they will pay for the Complex.  As the School District learned from the Raushenbush Report, sports facilities, especially those with artificial surfaces such as that planned for Blair Park, are very expensive to maintain.  Capital replacement costs alone for the Blair Park facility would easily exceed $800,000 every 10 years (Raushenbush Report).  Homeowners will likely pay these costs because the City has never required sports clubs to contribute to the capital needed to replace the sports facilities built and maintained at public expense.

The only alternative to using General Fund resources for the capital replacement of Blair Park is to rent the facility to out-of-town users.  The sports groups actually suggested this alternative to the Municipal Tax Review Committee, and the Council has already adopted a similar approach to finance its ill-advised takeover of the swim facility. This strategy would, of course, cause traffic congestion,  noise, and pollution to exceed levels assumed in the EIR, thereby inciting further legal action against the city.

Rather than reassuring voters concerned by the ongoing undergrounding fiasco and the misguided takeover of the swim facility, the City’s agreement with the sports clubs provides another reason to fear that the Council responds only to special interests regardless of cost to homeowners.  In fact, at least one City Council candidate, Tim Rood, has emerged to campaign against the Council’ expensive deference to special interest groups. Let’s hope that his candidacy brings the candor and openness needed in Piedmont’s political discourse if we are to realize the reforms we so badly need.

Ralph Catalano

(This statement expresses the personal opinions of the author. All statements made are the opinion of the writer and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association.)

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