The City Council unanimously approved late Tuesday night, Sept. 18, a detailed plan for determining which projects should appear on the November 2014 ballot and for reaching out to the community for help in getting the measure passed. The plan includes polling the community, prioritizing the potential projects that would appear on the ballot, forming a campaign committee to promote the measure and drafting the necessary language by the middle of 2014.
At Tuesday's discussion, council members and staff frequently alluded to 2008, when 69 percent of the city's voters approved Measure N, a $76 million library bond. The bond, which funded the recent renovation of Downtown Library, the ongoing reconstruction of the Mitchell Park Library and Community Center and the future upgrade and expansion of the Main Library, cruised to victory after an aggressive outreach campaign from a citizens committee.
The drive for a 2014 bond is a major component in the city's multi-year effort to repair its aged infrastructure, an effort that prompted Mayor Yiaway Yeh to declare 2012 "The Year of Infrastructure Renewal and Investment." The effort gained momentum in December with the release of a report from the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Task Force, a 17-member committee that tallied the city's infrastructure needs and recommended possible ways to pay for items on the list.
The task force concluded that the city has a maintenance backlog of about $95 million. It also identified a list of needed projects with a collective price tag of $200 million, including a public-safety building that would cost more than $60 million.
But while the public-safety building is a top priority (the existing police headquarters at City Hall is cramped and seismically unsound), council members stressed that they had not yet determined which projects would ultimately appear on the 2014 ballot. Instead, they emphasized that this decision will be reached after extensive community outreach and polling.
They also agreed that citizens must play a major role in the coming campaign if it is to succeed. While staff recommended that the city solicit advice from the infrastructure committee, Councilman Larry Klein said the campaign would require an even stronger presence from community volunteers, including active campaigning from a citizen committee. He pointed to the library bond, which he said "was blessed with people who really did a terrific job in running the campaign."
"Advice is great, but the slogging work of a campaign committee is absolutely essential," Klein said.
He also recommended that staff develop a timeline for getting accurate price estimates for the roughly 20 items on the city's menu of desired infrastructure projects — a list that in addition to the public-safety buildings includes two rebuilt fire stations, a bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101 at Adobe Creek and repairs to the city's streets, parks and buildings.
Councilman Pat Burt stressed that the staff-generated list of items does not in any way indicate which projects will ultimately end up on the ballot. That decision will be made after the council considers both the importance of each project and alternative sources of funding for these projects.
"The communication part of this will be critical to its success," Burt said. "Early misinterpretations of our intent could lead to undermining the initiative."
Members also advocated giving the voters various options for potential bond measures before deciding which has the best chance of passing. The plan the council approved Tuesday night involves hiring a public-opinion research company in November and hiring a communication strategist in January of next year.
Councilwoman Karen Holman said the public will play a crucial role in shaping the 2014 ballot measure.
"If the council picks its top 10 projects, that doesn't necessarily mean that's what will end up on ballot," Holman said. "The public plays a major role in this — the deciding role, quite frankly."