Discussing the failed $43 million Measure R bond, Tehachapi Valley Recreation and Park District board members and the public reflected on the November ballot-box defeat and potential lessons learned at the district's Jan. 22 board meeting.
A theme among many of the comments was that the measure, which lost 2,815 votes in favor to 5,838 votes against, was perhaps rushed, or at least had the appearance of being rushed, before the voters.
Laura Lynne Wyatt, district board chair, said the district could have spent more time communicating with the public, not rushed and recognized a lack of public knowledge of where district boundaries are located.
“I learned that I took something for granted, knowing what I knew about the fact that the property that I own and the home I raised my kids in fell within this districts boundaries. I know that there are several children from all of the outlying areas that participate in these programs and their families are aware that this is where they go for that recreation,” said Wyatt.
District Manager Michelle Vance said, “I‘ve lived in government for a while. And I see things sit and never get done and the money wasted and I didn’t want to see a master plan wasted that tax payers paid for and I picked up that document and ran. I love this town and I’ve served it for a long time. I apologize for rushing."
Speakers from among the more than 20 audience members also had reflections and suggestions.
Marilyn White, a resident of Golden Hills, said, “I think you need to be very transparent and very open about looking at every penny you spend for long periods of time. That applies to staffing, programs and those kind of things. You are in a difficult spot where people want things, and park and recreation provides them.”
She added that the survey given to the community had many red flags, expectations for increased home values should not have been counted on, and there needs to be a standing committee for finances.
Golden Hills resident Mark Mangelsdorf said that the planning, public meetings and proposal for a great amount of funding felt rushed. A fall back plan was needed and not provided, he said.
“If you can start a little bit smaller and you do things and see some progress you could get more support,” said Mangelsdorf. “I do think that having a bond is going to be required if we are ever going to redo the pool. I'm a fan of having a pool that works and is open year round. I want to see every kid in this town be able to be part of the sports scene and the swimming regardless of their families financial background. I think it takes a lot of laying the ground and preparing it so people understand the full story.”
Nichole Hamblin, who recently moved back to Tehachapi to raise her children, said that she wants to see the community come together and improve parks and recreation, despite Measure R failing.
She said, “I want to be able to tell them (her children) these people invested in you well and that they are paying it forward. We will see that and we will reap what we sow. I hope as a community we get to move forward.”
Reflecting on Measure R and the Tehachapi community's reaction, board member Ian Steele thanked the community for its involvement despite the defeat. Additionally, he expressed the sentiment that the board will move forward to find new solutions.
The district spent more than nine months raising funds for a business plan, planning community survey meetings, creating a final design for a recreation and community center and laying out other revitalization plans should the bond pass.
Funding for a $15,000 community recreation center feasibility study was was approved with a unanimous vote from Tehachapi city council on March 19, 2018, and the Tehachapi Valley Healthcare District donated $25,000 to help with a business plan.
Four public workshops held at the Aspen Builders Inc. Activity Center gave the public the opportunity to provide input on proposed improvements and what they were willing to pay. More than 100 people at a time attended the meetings.
Measure R was placed on the ballot on Aug. 6.
The bond language was based on a $39 per year property tax fee for each assessed property valuation of $100,000. This is the highest fee survey respondents expressed a willingness to pay on $12-$39 per $100,000. The measure of support for the highest fee, before the community was provided detailed information, was at 58 percent to 61 percent in favor of the $39 per $100,000 assessment
If Measure R had passed, the revitalization of West Park and building a community center was slated to cost $31 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.