By Mark Stechbart and Jim Wagner
In the next 12 months, Pacifica has its one last good chance to improve the local economy. Pacifica can stop eight years of structural deficit spending that has generated massive staff layoffs. Pacifica can wean itself off repeated requests for new taxes.
In short, Pacifica City Council can provide clear leadership that moves us forward. Not an easy task when you read newspaper accounts of national, state and even international economic problems. Even faced with whacking another $1 million plus out of the current deficit budget, we as a community can help ourselves.
Pacifica is engaged in a community general plan (GP) revision that occurs every 20 years. The general plan is the blueprint for what the community looks like, expected population growth (if any), economic opportunities and revenue to pay for services.
The GP sets standards so property owners and builders know what can be built on the given property or what a dilapidated building can be upgraded to contain. That in turn sets sales tax, property tax revenues and employment expectations.
Anyone want a modernized library? Cleaner beaches? Safer roads? How about a real town center so you don't need to leave town for a lot of purchases or better restaurants?
The GP sets a revenue path to support all these community needs. The GP sets anticipated revenue off the development or non-development of what little land is left in town to work with. The GP describes our town over the next 20 years and how we pay for it all. Or we live with the current conditions.
As an example, let's look at the decommissioned old sewer plant on Palmetto. It's eight acres (eight football fields) of ocean view land that has sat vacant for twelve years and generated zero tax revenue. This parcel is supposed to anchor the revitalized Palmetto area as our new Main Street. If this parcel had a hotel plus shops on it, maybe a mixed use approach, it could generate $1 million in property taxes.
However, the GP document under debate talks about half the property left as open space or parking because a tsunami might hit the property in the next 50 years. Some people discuss leaving the entire property as open space, adding to the 3,600 acres (5.6 square miles) of Pacifica's existing open space.
So, on this one property, we have a community decision to make:
a) Some appropriate development--hotel or other--that generates some revenue. Maybe as much as $1 million.
b) Half open space. Revenue reduced by 50% to one half million dollars or less.
c) All open space, zero property tax and zero sales tax revenue.
Balance these revenue projections with a current $1 million city deficit, the need for a modernized library, or keeping the police department from being contracted out to the Sheriff.
A community lifestyle choice is ours to make as described through the general plan that in turn defines land use that generates revenue. What might your choice be?
Here's another choice. Behind the Pedro Point Shopping Center is a small five-acre open parcel on Pedro Point Roadd, roughly across from Barolo. One use is low density housing consistent with the rest of Pedro Point. This plan generates maybe $400,000 in property tax. Some residents on the Point want the property entirely open space, even though they are within 150 yards of either a beach or the headlands open space preserve.
A park on this property adds to the 50 percent of the entire city land acreage already as open space and zero revenue. Some level of development generates up to $400,000.
So what do we decide and what type of town do we end up with after we decide? Do we bootstrap ourselves as a community or keep laying off staff, cutting services, jacking up fees, or attempting more taxes?
We suggest setting some basis for comparisons in the GP and various benefits. On all GP decisions regarding appropriate development on parcels and in modernizing existing buildings, what is a reasonable revenue expectation? Does the collective revenue upside afford us the services we want? Is Pacifica sustainable with expected revenues?
If the level of development is reduced, a reasonable community decision, what is the loss of revenue? What community service is affected, if any? Again, a reasonable community debate over a consequence. If part or the entire parcel goes towards open space, what is the revenue and service loss and the open space enjoyment upside? Another reasonable community debate.
In large part, this column suggests tough love is in store for Pacifica. We have dithered for years about a local economy. Colma has roared right past us. Pacifica's ocean view parcel (the old sewer plant) sat vacant for 12 years with zero revenue. A hot dog cart would have done better.
This current GP under debate sets the tone for years. We can bootstrap our local economy through this GP debate and reach sustainability . Or we can do something less and live with all the fiscal shortfalls we have, plus guaranteed requests for new city taxes in years ahead. We can get even more open space and parks but no revenue.
Pacifica is over $1 million under water. We literally do not have the money to repair potholes.
We have serious community decisions to make. Getting honest about revenue upside or downside in the GP debate is the first step City Council must take. A GP with revenue upside that balances the city budget with no new taxes is something we need to debate.