A majority of voters within the Tehachapi Valley Recreation & Park District voted against the $43 million bond measure, causing it to fail. The focus of Measure R was to build a new recreation and community center — with activities and a pool, senior center, community room and other amenities — and revitalize existing facilities.
In results released by the Kern County Elections Office at 6:41 p.m. Sunday, there were 2,592 votes in favor of the bond, and 5,519 votes against the bond. That is 31.96 percent in favor and 68.04 percent against. The measure required two-thirds of voters to say “yes” to pass.
What is the plan now to move forward? What are some possible reasons the measure failed?
“Our problems aren’t going away,” said Michelle Vance, district manager for the park district. “We as a community need to choose whether to invest in our parks. I’ve been working on a backup plan. We can attract new families and if we don’t reinvest we die. Our kids matter and we matter.”
Public meetings, surveys, a business plan and other activities started in March of this year, with a finalization of the business plan on Aug. 24 before the measure made the ballot.
Laura Lynne Wyatt, chairperson of the park district’s board said, “I think we needed to do a better job educating the residents that you can’t have recreational facilities they requested, without financially assisting the district.”
She added, “The trend nationwide is to build recreation centers and have everything under one roof, because a new pool that the community wanted is not sustainable financially all by itself. That’s why we had to go to the public on a financial buy in.”
The property tax revenue gained from the district helps support the district, but does not fund any type of revitalization projects, Wyatt said.
Every step of the way, the board of directors discussed variables of cost, projected inflation, choice of property location and finding areas where activities could be moved to meet size regulations, Wyatt said.
Advisors from Barker Rinker Seacat Architects, who are the leaders in building new recreation facilities, were also involved in the plan. The current pool loses more than $43,000 a year due to it not being able to financially sustain itself, added Wyatt.
What will the district do now? Wyatt added, “The next step for the district is for staff and members of the board of directors to meet and review all of our current programs and budget to strategize what the next steps will be, so we can meet the needs of the community and the district.”
Tehachapi News made repeated attempts to reach some of the main opponents of Measure R for comment.
While they did not respond by deadline for this story, some wrote pieces that appear on the Forum page. Public opinion over time on why the project may have failed dealt with the business plan being unclear, cost recovery not being feasible, another tax was not wanted in the community and other reasons.
And people were vocal about their opposition and concerns on social media.
Stan Tehee said on the Tehachapi News Facebook page, “I for one voted against it because I’m tired of being taxed to death.”
“We need serious repairs and upgrades in our parks, but having (to) revolve around a community center that was not going to pay for itself ... ever, is not going to work here,” Annette Kirby said on the Tehachapi News Facebook page.
Other members of the public had different opinions.
“Praying they can come up with an alternative plan, to improve our parks, update our baseball fields and build a cement skateboard park for our youth,” Mary Anne Martin Hornbeck said on the Tehachapi News Facebook page.
Over time the cost of the 54,797-square-foot center and revitalization of West Park increased to an estimated $29 million out of the proposed $43 million, according to an Aug. 24 park district feasibility plan.
Other improvements proposed at district meetings called for spending at these locations: Brite Lake at $1.5 million; Meadowbrook Park at $1.6 million; West Park at $2.2 million; Central Park at $700,000; and Morris Park at $10 million.