Walnut Creek Moves Forward With Sales Tax Increase on November 2022 BallotJul 20, 2022 06:31PM ● By Pam Kessler
Walnut Creek may be an East Bay hot spot for dining, shopping, and entertainment, but some of the city’s most popular park and recreational facilities are aging rapidly.
In 2018, a “Your Parks, Your Future” advisory committee was tasked with developing plans to ensure facilities, parks, and programs served the community ten to fifteen years into the future. Presented to the city council earlier this year, Phase One identified infrastructure in most critical need of replacement along with funding options.
“Most of our infrastructure is in pretty good shape,” said City Manager Dan Buckshi during a May 10 presentation to the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce, “but a few are at the end of their useful life, most notably Clarke Memorial Swim Center and the Community Center at Heather Farm Park, originally built in 1972. We’re looking at between $50-60 million dollars for replacement and we don’t have those funds sitting in the bank.”
To raise the money, the city is placing a ten-year, half-cent general sales tax increase measure on the November 2022 ballot. If approved by a majority of voters, the new rate, from 8.34% to 9.25%, is estimated to generate $11-13 million per year in revenue for a new event and aquatic center at Heather Farm, a new community center in Civic Park, an expanded footprint for arts programs at Shadelands, turf soccer fields, plus multiple transit and safety projects.
Why a sales tax measure?
City leaders expressed discomfort with the idea that city voters would be asked to pay for facilities and services that are used by people across the region.
“Rather than going to the voters with a bond measure or parcel tax, we noted that 50% of the city’s sales tax revenue is generated by people who visit Walnut Creek, not by residents,” said Buckshi. “We thought it would be more equitable to have the people who drive on our streets, utilize our parks and open space, and police services help pay for replacement costs as opposed to property owners or residents footing that bill exclusively.”
What about oversight?
A ballot measure written as a general sales tax increase gives the city and council discretion over use of the funds needs only a 50 percent plus one majority to pass. A specific tax - locked in for spending only on a particular purpose - needs the more challenging two-thirds majority for approval.
“We want flexibility over how the money is spent and the ability to use it for emergencies, but it’s a contract with the voters. We are aware of the need for a high level of accountability and open to establishing an oversight committee for transparency,” explained Buckshi.