Opinion

Go ahead, fund an aquatic center in Sacramento. But don’t touch Measure U money

It’s a beautiful thing that Sacramento has money to spend on worthy projects that promise to lift the city beyond its previously stunted view of itself.

Sacramento is moving forward, changing, growing. Its elected leaders are ambitious and smart. So when a beautiful aquatic center in North Natomas came before the City Council for approval Tuesday, it was a reflection of a healthy and thriving community.

The only woman on a nine-person council, Natomas Councilwoman Angelique Ashby tied together several funding streams and pushed this project to the point of approval because no one works harder than she does.

Ashby is smart, tough, fearless – and she makes things happen.

This all great except for one thing: How do you pay for the North Natomas Community Center and Aquatic Complex, with its 50-meter pool, three recreation pools, three support buildings and a community center building?

Opinion

The overall project is $45 million. The city’s leaders decided to cover a $14.4 million gap with a loan from the city’s water fund. Money in the water fund comes from fees on water customers, development fees and other water-related fees the city charges, The Sacramento Bee’s Theresa Clift reported.

That loan, with over $450,000 going toward interest, would be repaid using a year-end general fund budget surplus.

The city’s report also mentioned what happens if the surplus falls short: The city could take bonding revenue backed by the Measure U sales tax increase to shore up the funding.

How the city came up with the $14.4 million was complicated. But what the city shouldn’t do is not complicated.

It’s completely clear: Not one red cent of Measure U money can go to this project. Measure U, of course, is the one-cent sales tax increase that Sacramento voters approved in November. Measure U is supposed to be for vital city services and to lift struggling communities such as Oak Park, south Sacramento, Del Paso Heights.

At a heated community meeting in Meadowview on Monday night, community members pushed back on Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg as he tried to sell them on locating a homeless shelter in their community.

According to Clift, Roz Myers – a formerly homeless woman who is now a Meadowview resident – told Steinberg: “We don’t need a shelter. We need good jobs.”

When Steinberg pushed for Measure U to extend a half-cent sales tax, but to make it a full cent, he sold it by saying the extra millions could be pumped into communities such as Meadowview. The idea was to provide funding for what Myers is talking about.

Communities such as Meadowview have been left behind for generations in Sacramento. It’s not a history to be proud of. It’s a history that must change.

But what always happens in Sacramento is that access and political skill funnels benefits to the communities with power. Using Measure U money to backstop an aquatic center would fall into that odious category.

Measure U money for an aquatic center would be political expediency and skill over lofty promises.

The city is looking at several funding options. They are spelled out by the city in an analysis by city staff.

There is a chance, depending on a number of variables, that Measure U money could be used for the aquatic center. But there is also talk that the aquatic center money will be all from the general fund.

Cool, do that. Approve the project. It’s great.

But don’t use money that is badly needed elsewhere. Becoming the city we want means doing it the right way.

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Marcos Breton writes commentary and opinion columns about the Sacramento region, California and the United States. He’s been a California newspaperman for more than 30 years. He’s a graduate of San Jose State University, a voter for the Baseball Hall of Fame and the proud son of Mexican immigrants.
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