I'm feeling very proud of my community tonight. Our little park district held a mailed-ballot election asking property owners to vote on an assessment to maintain/improve local parks. Polling prior to the election showed less than 50% support for the measure. The actual result? 75% of the ballots said yes. When adjusted to reflect the weighted ballots (bigger parcels, like strip malls and car sales lots, got more votes) the yes vote was 68%.
Why does it matter that a small independent park district in unincorporated Sacramento County got this kind of result in midsummer 2011? Let's start with the "no taxes ever, starve the beast, government sucks" mentality that pervades the airwaves, pollutes the print media and poisons policy-making everywhere these days. The vote kind of goes against that grain, doesn't it?
Next, consider this: due to California's quirky laws, only property owners could vote and the businesses and apartment owners got more votes than the houses. Even though the district is heavily populated by renters and there are foreclosed/vacant properties all over the place, the local property owners displayed a sense of civic responsibility towards the entire community. That also flies in the face of conventional wisdom.
Third, the City of Sacramento, the County of Sacramento, and the State of California are all in desperate financial shape and have been taking it out on their parks. The City's park system is going to hell in a hand basket. The County's parks already went there. The State is in the process of closing a whole lot of State Parks. The local media has been chock full of stories about parks going down the tubes. Meanwhile, the County has been floating a proposal to raise special taxes for parks. The idea is getting beaten up in the media. If you read the local paper, you would think no one cares about parks and that's OK because they're just expensive frills in this period of economic woe. When I walked precincts as a volunteer leading up to the vote deadline, a comment I frequently heard was, "Why are they letting the parks go down?" I had to explain that our park district wasn't "they," but instead was asking voters to keep the parks in good shape. The vote results showed that people in our little park district DO care about parks and are willing to tax themselves to keep the parks maintained and improved.
BTW, this is not some kind of well-off, la-ti-da, gated McMansions community. It's an aging, close-in, working-class suburb of about 30,000 people. The area has seen better days. The strip malls have X-rated massage parlors, bong shops and check-cashing stores. The used car lots have signs saying "No credit? No problem." Housing values have been racing downwards.
Let's review: 75% of voters said they wanted their property assessed to pay for parks. I'm glad I live in a community that steps up like that. Even the struggling car lots and vacant strip mall owners saw value in our parks. Thanks to our voters, our parks will survive. And if we can do it here, maybe it can happen elsewhere.