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Reaming the Cube

Nuz received a letter last week from M. Schanck, a self-described "stressed-out taxpayer," questioning the City of Santa Cruz's proposed skate park expenditure. The City Council recently approved a $75,000 allocation for a brand-new grommet playland and organizers are attempting to double that figure through private donations.

"I agree that our teens need safe and sound recreational facilities, but I beseech someone, anyone, to help me understand the justification of this 18,000 square foot, $150,000 skateboard playground!" Schanck writes. "Please, I need answers to the following questions quickly--before I pass out in shock."

Mdme. Schanck asks:

Skateboarders comprise what percent of our population? What percent of our teenage population?

Well, the first part is pretty tough. Many people trade in their skateboards for cars when they are old enough and have the money. Of course, cars are subsidized by non-driving taxpayers to a far greater degree than skateboarders will ever be subsidized by non-skateboarders. City general fund allocations for street maintenance, traffic engineering and police traffic enforcements were nearly $3.3 million in 1995-96. Capital improvements on local roads and traffic structures drew $7.2 million from local residential and business assessment districts, as well as from federal and state taxes. Under Measure E, $250,000 in local sales taxes went towards road improvements and $899,000 went to subsidize auto parking. Sure dwarfs the proposed skate park expenditure, eh?

To answer the second question, Nuz took to the streets, asking local kids whether or not they skateboard. We queried at random a total of 50 boys and girls aged 12 through 18. Seventy percent said they skate.

How many tax dollars are skateboarders going to contribute toward their "fantasy" playground, its upkeep, insurance, police protection, etc.?

The skaters have you on that one, Mdme. Schanck. Skateboarding is a major local business enterprise that translates into hundreds of local jobs and tens of thousands in city sales-tax revenues, which are the lifeblood of our city government. Nuz called around to tally the impact of skate equipment and skate-related clothing on the local economy. The combined yearly sales of just three retailers we interviewed (out of a dozen or so in town) were about $2.1 million. Of that, the city receives 1.25 percent, or $26,250. Local skate equipment manufacturers also contribute to the economy. One reports yearly sales of around $500,000. Another manufacturer declines to cite sales but notes that his annual payroll is $1.8 million, much of which is spent locally. "It's a legitimate sport. I'd say 85 percent of the kids between 12 and 18 are skateboarding or in-line skating," says Jason Strubing, whose family owns Skate Works. "You could probably pay for the park just from the tickets given to kids caught skateboarding in the downtown area."

How can Mardi Wormhoudt escape cries of "conflict of interest" and "nepotism" when her husband will be the main financial beneficiary from this boondoggle?

Such cries are inevitable, but they probably aren't justified. First of all, despite her past in city politics, Mardi now works for the county, and this is a city project. Secondly, proposed skate park designer Ken Wormhoudt has designed skateboard parks in Milpitas, Pleasanton, Yucca Valley, Davis, Santa Rosa, Palo Alto and Derby park, a small one here in town. He has been enlisted to design 12 additional skate parks in Washington, Oregon, Nevada and California. In other words, Wormhoudt is well qualified. His fee is generally 15 percent of the contractor's cost, he says. How can the City of Santa Cruz and the other benefactors contribute, in good conscience, thousands of dollars to a skateboard park when our schools, libraries, health services, etc. must cut back, lay off, or cease to exist due to lack of funds?

Schools are funded by the state, not city governments, and local taxpayers recently rejected a tax to support the libraries (although a revised tax proposal will be back on the ballot in November). Now let's put this philosophical question in perspective. I rent a little house a block from the beach that was last assessed in 1972 for around $12,000. I'm no real estate whiz, but I guarantee that property is worth, at minimum, 10 times its assessed value. Yet the landlord's property taxes--which are used to fund cities, counties and special districts--are based on this ludicrous property assessment. So who's really reaming the proverbial cube here? It sure isn't the skateboarders. Try talking to the property owners who enacted Prop. 13 during the '70s.

Vacation in Hell

Summer's here, so here are your choices. Toss the screaming anklebiters into the minivan and head on out to Great America, where you'll leave with sunburn, heartburn and a flat wallet. Or, do something meaningful for once and sign up with Global Exchange, a company that offers "reality tours" that shows how the other half--actually much more than half--lives, particularly in Third World countries. Their mission, explains founder and director Medea Benjamin, is "to get people out of their own worlds and learn of other worlds."

The good--and bad--news is, nowadays you don't have to go to Haiti or Liberia to find poverty, hardship and dismal living conditions. Join the Strawberry Fields Tour to Salinas, Santa Cruz and Watsonville to "look at how large-scale agribusiness and low-paid immigrant labor have shaped the region," according to Global Exchange's press release.

The tour will leave from San Francisco on July 27 and head to the Pajaro Valley, where participants will meet with conventional and organic strawberry growers, UFW activists and farmworkers. Issues such as the use of methyl bromide and the return of sharecropping will be discussed with the weekend event being highlighted by dinner at a labor camp.

Says Benjamin, "I was shocked to find some of the same conditions [in this region] that we find in the poorest of nations." For the record, there's more to this sojourn than sympathetic middle-class lament. "At the minimum level, we want to expand people's minds, but we hope to get them involved," she explains. For details, call (415) 255-7296.

Buying the Farm

Get on over to the Watsonville City Council meeting next Tuesday at 7:30pm when they vote on annexing 216 acres of prime farmland, whereupon it will then be prime industrial property. Voice your choice--farmland or strip malls.

Nuz welcomes tips. Leave messages by calling 457-9000.

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From the July 3-10, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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Copyright © 1996 Metro Publishing and Virtual Valley, Inc.

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