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GUEST OPINION: A true grass-roots effort to help Petaluma recreation

By DEBRA SAMMON and CAROL EBER

If you have not already heard of Petaluma Friends of Recreation, it’s time to pay attention to what hometown grass-roots democracy can accomplish.

In November 2009, individuals from various recreation interests in the city came to the table to talk collaboratively for the first time about a shared frustration that maintenance and improvements of existing parks, pools and playgrounds were being deferred, that new facilities were languishing on city drawing boards, and that this condition had gone on for too long. Conclusion: a need for a community solution to a community problem.

Collaboration would be vital for any success; none of us could go it alone. City government was failing to allocate the resources to address any of these problems. Change would have to come from the community.

Debra Sammon

During monthly meetings over the next two years the group added representatives from the running community and advocates for youth performing arts and the river. The group named itself Petaluma Friends of Recreation and began to investigate specific recreation needs. Petaluma Friends of Recreation reviewed community suggestions on recreation needs developed through public meetings by the Parks and Recreation Commission and narrowed the list from 24 projects to eight. Working with a municipal finance expert, the group chose a parcel tax over a sales tax or bond as the means to fund these improvements, so that funds would be protected for the stated purpose and funds for maintenance could be included.

A formal poll of voters on the proposed projects and tax rate received a favorable 61 percent response rate.

Friends of Recreation finally settled on a tax rate of $52 a year for residential parcels. Rates for all other parcels were set as low as possible in order to generate the $12 million needed for the eight projects. PFOR also wanted seniors and nonprofits to be exempt from this tax.

Carol Eber

In mid-April Friends of Recreation set out to gather the 3,200 signatures of Petaluma voters needed to place this parcel tax on the November ballot. Neighbors from every corner of town offered to help; more than 150 volunteers, working for 60 days, gathered more than 5,200 signatures.

Friends of Recreation volunteers talked with thousands of people throughout the city, believing it important to talk about the measure and to convey that this was a truly grass-roots effort.

The Sonoma County registrar of voters confirmed in June that the group had collected more than enough signatures to qualify, and on July 16 the Petaluma City Council formally placed the measure before the voters.

This successful communitywide commitment to save Petaluma parks is unique in California because it is totally led by volunteers. The grassroots nature is also reflected in the way these funds will be managed. Once the voters approve this initiative, the funds generated will be placed in a special account at the city, separate from other funds. A Citizens’ Advisory Committee, made up of five volunteers who have no other involvement with the city, will be chosen by the Parks and Recreation Commission. This committee will report to the public on the use of the funds in order to ensure that they are spent on the eight designated projects and not grabbed for some other purpose.

The ultimate expression of the community’s desire for safe parks and fields, accessible playground equipment and trails, clean modern swimming facilities and river access will be marked by the two-thirds approval of Petaluma voters in November. Petalumans know that good recreation facilities mean a safer and healthier community and bring revenue to local businesses and, consequently, revenue to the city. As Petaluma’s mayor stated at a May council meeting about the initiative, “It’s the best chance that this town has any time soon to get the facilities they say they care about.”

Unlike other tax measures on the November ballot, this is a local grass-roots effort to raise local taxes to support local facilities that will benefit our local families and the local economy.

Debra Sammon is a 14-year Petaluma resident, parent and former school board member for the Old Adobe Union School District. Eber, also a Petaluma resident, is co-chairwoman of Petaluma Friends of Education.





6 Responses to “GUEST OPINION: A true grass-roots effort to help Petaluma recreation”

  1. BigDogatPlay says:

    Parcel tax = no*2 registered voters in my household.

    A couple of more non-governmental entities pursuing a narrow agenda and a chance to slurp at the public trough. So called public interest advocacy groups are most often not about public interest, but rather about the interests of those at the center of the advocacy groups.

    No parcel tax for anything in Petlauma until the city releases a line by line budget that shows all revenue, all liabilities and exactly where every single last penny is spent and opens that budget to independent review by a commission of property tax paying city residents.

  2. Kim says:

    Another $20K plus out of the city coffers to put this on the ballot. Perhaps IF these “Grass Roots” groups had to pay for the ballot measures up front,therenwould be less of them and the city could save some money.
    I will NOT vote for a balot measure that relieves the City of ITs responsibilities.

  3. Coral says:

    REALLY? Now the public, (that’s the good part) must take tax money and protect it from our local government who cannot be trusted to allocate such funds?

    why do we have such irresponsible governing boards, supes etc.?

  4. Snarky says:

    Steve:

    Welcome to the world of criminal government.

    A world where public employees are allowed to retire 17 years earlier than private sector workers (i.e. 50 vs 67).

    A world where government employees get their very own retirement pension, guaranteed for life, while private sector workers are given a shaky social security.

    A world where government employees are often times not even required to pay into their own retirement program for over ten years. i.e. UC University system

    A world where government is caught with SECRET cash accounts and the Governor (Brown) jokes that the public should “be glad that the money was not spent.”

    A world where criminal government refuses to stop spending in a decade of financial upheaval and then snivels that it needs “more tax revenue” which of course is bureaucrat speak for “we plan to steal more of YOUR money, sir.”

    A world where government “boards” are staffed by appointees who lack actual employment expertise but who are appointed, just the same, because they have been government groupies long enough that they can be trusted to protect the government operations at the expense of the actual public they are pretending to “work” for.

    I could go on. But… welcome to the Orwellian world of criminal government that seeks to control your every move and force you to pay for them to do that.

  5. No thanks to more taxes says:

    Voting no on this end.

  6. Steveguy says:

    I really don’t know what to think of this.

    What if all these ‘volunteer’ hours were spent working on the Parks, instead of lobbying for more cash ?

    Or perhaps taking that power to force the City to properly fund parks instead of perks for themselves.