Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | August 9, 2005

Eggheads v. Jocks; I’m rooting for the Eggheads

Hockey uses faceoffs. Basketball uses jump balls. Football uses a coin flip.

That’s how these sports determine possession of a puck or ball. What’s a Redevelopment Agency to do?

Morgan Hill’s City Council members, acting in their roles as RDA directors, must make this type of decision as two groups, whom I’ll dub the Eggheads and the Jocks, scrimmage for possession of nearly $1 million in RDA funds.

Recently, $980,000 in RDA funds previously earmarked for a regional soccer complex at Sobrato High School became available when the group trying to create the facility gave up on the Sobrato site.

Already, Parks and Recreation commissioners, representing the Jocks, have urged City Council to spend the money on the on-the-drawing board outdoor sports complex.

Last week, library officials, representing the Eggheads, presented their design plans to City Council and also asked that the newly available money be allocated to that project.

I’m rooting for the Eggheads.

A quick look at the RDA’s public facilities expenditures shows an overwhelming bias for the Jocks. I’ll leave out two projects, the community center ($7.9 million in RDA funds) and the community playhouse ($3 million in RDA funds) as they don’t fit neatly on either team’s roster.

That leaves $58.2 million of public project RDA money, and only $11.1 million of it is earmarked for the Eggheads – that represents the RDA’s contribution to the one and only Egghead project, a new library.

However, the Morgan Hill RDA has spent or is committed to spend $47.1 million on three Jocks facilities: the aquatics center ($12.95 million), the outdoor sports complex ($7.65 million), and the indoor sports complex ($26.5 million).

Spending the suddenly available $1 million on a better library doesn’t even come close to correcting the inequity in the city’s treatment of Eggheads and Jocks. Even if that $1 million is spent on the Eggheads, the city is spending more than $4 in RDA money on Jocks for every $1 it’s spending on the Eggheads.

Remember: The city pays for operation of the Jocks’ facilities, but the Joint Powers Authority pays for library operations. What a great investment: Morgan Hill builds the facility, the JPA pays the light, heating and cooling bills, buys books and periodicals, covers librarians’ salaries.

On the other hand, the city pays to operate all those Jocks projects. Just one of them, the Aquatics Center, is already swimming in more than $350,000 of red ink.

I’m not the only person noting the funding inequities in RDA projects.

Carol O’Hare, president of the Friends of the Morgan Hill Library, said recently, “So many millions of dollars have been spent on recreation facilities. I think Morgan Hill needs to make the library and education a higher priority for our community, not just the minimum that can be done.”

When I was The Times’ City Hall reporter, I covered meetings and workshops as the city’s community center was planned. I remember council member after council member emphasizing the importance of building a facility of which the community could be proud for decades, reiterating that they would not cut corners just to save money. Today, Morgan Hill has a beautiful, well-designed community center that is the envy of the South Valley and beyond, that will serve residents for generations.

This “found” $1 million means that the library can be outfitted with better-quality shelves and furniture that will withstand heavy use for decades. It means that the landscaping around the facility can incorporate more plants and more mature plants, keeping the site from looking bare and improving the drought resistance of the specimens that are used. And, if city policy is changed, it means public art, a perfect complement to a facility dedicated to learning and literacy, can be included inside and outside the new facility.

Some City Council members have indicated a willingness to spend some of the newly available $1 million on the library. Others are taking a wait-and-see approach. Inexplicably, one, if I understood him correctly at last week’s meeting, seems to think that the newly found money doesn’t actually exist.

City Council doesn’t need a faceoff, a jump ball or a coin flip. It just needs common sense and a sense of fair play. One look at the Egghead versus Jocks disparity makes it clear: City Council should commit all $980,000 that was early earmarked for the now-kaput soccer complex to the new Morgan Hill Library.

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