Thursday, February 25, 2021

Local agencies clamor for Proposition 68 grant funding 

The Colusa County Board of Supervisors, local park districts, and the cities of Colusa and Williams have found that when it comes to taxpayer money, there is never enough to meet all the needs of the community. 

The Board of Supervisors approved a resolution last week to accept their $400,000 state allocation from Proposition 68, the Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access for All Act of 2018.

The City of Colusa also finalized their acceptance of the city’s $177,952 allocation on Feb. 2, and heard a presentation by the city’s engineer on the new splash pad (water feature) slated for AB Davison Park.

The City of Williams and Maxwell Park and Recreation have also declared intent to accept their $177.952 allocations, although Maxwell MPR officials may consider assigning a portion of their allocation to Colusa County due to the District’s 20 percent match requirement on any project they put forth. 

Only Colusa, Williams, and very limited areas of Colusa County have been designated by the state as severely disadvantaged and will have no cash match requirement, officials said. The Arbuckle Park and Recreation District, should they accept their allocation, would, like Maxwell, have a 20 percent match on the total cost of their project.  

“Within Colusa County, it is pretty shocking to know that there are not a lot of areas that meet this criteria for us in our unincorporated areas,” said Colusa County Chief Administrative Officer Wendy Tyler. 

Proposition 68 funding comes from the single largest conservation bond in state history, after voters agreed to tax themselves $4.1 billion in 2018 to address water conservation and environmental protection projects, drought and climate change, water infrastructure needs, flood protection, and access to recreation. 

The Act also included $185 million in noncompetitive funds for communities (based on population) to invest in parks, community centers, and infrastructure that improves the well-being and health of residents.

“A portion of this act provides for a non-competitive Per Capita Program wherein 60 percent of the total funding is allocated to cities and certain eligible districts, and 40 percent is allocated to counties, regional space, and open space districts,” Tyler said. 

According to the Proposition 68 guidelines, grant recipients are encouraged to utilize awards to either rehabilitate existing infrastructure or to address deficiencies in neighborhoods lacking access to recreational activities. 

Jurisdictions have until Dec. 31 of this year to submit projects for state approval, and have until Dec. 31, 2023 for the projects to be completed. 

The Williams City Council indicated that they plan to summit a rehabilitation project of the Old Gym, located next to the Sacramento Valley Museum. Included in the project is roof replacement, ADA compliant restrooms, interior and exterior rehabilitation, and new flooring on the basketball court. What portion of the project that cannot be completed by the grant, the Williams City Council hopes to finish if the city receives a competitive grant from Proposition 68 for facility improvements. The city has those funds earmarked for Museum and Old Gym improvements, along with other improvements to Venice Park, officials said. 

Maxwell Park and Recreation District identified the construction of an ADA restroom, heating and air conditioning, new flooring, and a kitchen for the Maxwell Community Center, which state officials confirmed would be allowed, but the 20 percent cash match requirement now makes those projects unattainable, district officials said.  

The MPR Board of Directors on Monday said they may consider allocating most of their funding to Colusa County, as Proposition 68 does encourage collaboration or sharing of projects. The District board said they still hope to utilize a smaller portion of the allocation for structural and interior rehabilitation, so that MPR can utilize private donations and fundraising efforts by the MPR Auxiliary, along with volunteer work hours to help offset the 20 percent match. 

City of Colusa officials have also asked the Colusa County Board of Supervisors to invest their allocation in a shared project in Colusa, but County officials tentatively said they have had an urgent unfunded restroom rehabilitation project at East Park Reservoir – the county’s largest recreation area, which has been on the books since 2016. East Park Reservoir, is one of the few areas in Colusa County considered severely disadvantaged, so that the grant would cover 100 percent of the project, Tyler said. 

Still, the Board of Supervisors last week directed Tyler to look at requests throughout the county and compile a brief list of potential projects to bring back to the board for their consideration and final decision. 

“I think we need to do a broad brush,” said Supervisor Denise Carter. “I know I have a couple of projects in my district that I am interested in, because of the city (Colusa) approaching me. I think there might be projects that each one of us want to consider, so I think I would like to open it up and see what those projects are. We definitely want the money.” 

While the per capita funding is available to local jurisdictions, Colusa County and the others are also eligible to apply for up to $8.5 million in competitive grants from Proposition 68 for park projects, officials said. City of Colusa officials indicated that they would apply for the competitive grants to fund improvements to Levee Park and build a marina on the Sacramento River. 

Like the other jurisdictions, the Colusa City Council voted unanimously to first accept the per capita allocation, but Colusa officials have a far different interpretation of the Proposition 68 per capita program than their counterparts in other agencies. 

Colusa City Manager Jesse Cain and Economic Development Director Kristy Levings, during last week’s City Council meeting and on social media, said Proposition 68 funds could only be spent on a new park feature. Cain also said the project must have a tourism element (bring people in from other communities) and must be a project that is accessible to the public entirely free of charge. 

Cain told the City Council that state officials told him that rehabilitation projects of existing infrastructure, including restrooms at Veterans Memorial Park, rehabilitation of the tennis court or city pool, and other changes to existing infrastructure would not be allowed. 

“We looked at this as a great opportunity to use this money (for those purposes), but the state administrator said, ‘nope, you can’t do that,’” Cain said. 

“Part of the restriction of this grant is that it has to be a new attraction,” Levings also told the City Council. “It cannot be used for any maintenance or on any existing attraction.”

While Proposition 68 recommended that projects be thoughtfully guided by the communities affected and not just a “top-down” decision, Levings also suggested that only senior management staff has the authority to select the project, based on the community input they (not the City Council) received. 

Levings and Cain explained their selection of a Splash Pad for the noncompetitive Per Capita funds was based 100 percent on input from community members who participated in online surveys and the small informal (mostly Zoom) community meetings held over the course of the summer and fall, hosted by just one or two council members, which they said the state instructed them to do. 

A recorded video presentation on the Splash Pad with Cain and Levings, which was prepared hours before the Feb. 2 meeting, was posted on social media immediately after the meeting. The presentation included City Engineer David Swartz talking about the project. The social media post also asks people to complete an online survey about what water park features they would like to see (hoops, spouts, shooter, tippers). The survey is also available at City Hall. 

Swartz’s video presentation was similar to what he presented to the City Council during the meeting. The aquatic play area, which are popular features in community parks across the U.S., will be built on 800-1,200 sq. ft. concrete slab west of the Colusa Pool in AB Davison Park, which is located on Parkhill Street. The hand-activated water play area will be fenced and will turn off automatically when not in use. The park will also be shut down by the city each night at 8 PM, officials said. 

Colusa City Councilman Greg Ponciano said he did not object to the city building a Splash Pad, but did object to city staff circumventing the City Council entirely in the project selection. 

While a Splash Pad has been on the City’s master park plan for more than a decade, along with a skate park, dog park, and bocce court, Ponciano said the informal community meetings effectively silenced the voices of people who typically call their elected officials or speak to them in person, those who do not have internet access, those who do not engage on social media, those who work long hours, those who stayed in because of COVID-19, and a very large segment of the population who are disadvantaged because of language barriers. 

He also said the public is not required to take into consideration everything the City Council will have to consider, including ongoing maintenance of the park and other factors.

“I’m just a little disappointed that we don’t have a little bit more to look at,” Ponciano said. 

City officials also did not discuss drought, climate change, or groundwater impacts, which were the primary considerations for voters to approve the massive tax burden of Proposition 68. Most water features since 2017 have been built to recirculate water after state-mandated water restrictions forced cities to shut off water parks during California’s drought (2011-2019). 

The proposed Colusa Splash Pad, according to the city engineer, taps into the city’s water supply, spurts out 142-146 gallons of potable drinking water per minute from the various features, and then drains back into the city’s sewer system for wastewater treatment. 

A recirculated park is not being considered because of the cost, Swartz said. 

Levings did say that while the Splash Pad project rose to the “top of the list” from the input city staff received, the other projects requested by the community are still important. 

The Splash Pad, which will cost around $150,000, was also the best fit to the amount of the award, she said. 

“There is the possibility of another Prop 68 rollout this year,” Levings said. “If that happens, we could get another allocation, and we can take another swing at (the other projects) that way.” 

Projects that include general maintenance, such as streets and sidewalks, are not covered by Proposition 68, city officials said, but they would address them in the mid-year budget review. 

The City Council is expected to have the Splash Pad project before them to approve at their March 16 meeting.

Susan Meeker
Susan Meeker
Susan Meeker is the Editor and Reporter for the Pioneer Review. She started her position with the Pioneer Review in January 2017 as the Advertising Manager. Susan specializes in local crime, government reporting. She also loves covering the various topics and events in our county. You can send her a message at susan@colusacountynews.net

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