But as we’ve commented in the past, we believe that the many benefits of a new city hall, community center, enlarged library and bigger City Park outweigh the few potential deficits. City Hall has been bulging at the seams ever since Brentwood became one of the fastest growing cities in the state more than a decade ago and evolved into the civic and economic heart of East County.
Scores of construction workers will be required to build the new civic center, pumping much-needed money into the chronically ailing downtown area over the next two years. When completed, the civic center will attract people and activities to the area that will further boost the city’s economy.
The timing of this project could not be better. The city is saving more than $16 million off of original construction estimates due to low bids from work-hungry construction firms. The project’s financing will be done with historically low bond interest rates, saving another $14.6 million in payments over the 30-year life of the bonds. The money, by the way, is coming from existing revenues; no new taxes are needed.
But regardless of whether you favor, oppose or are just indifferent to the civic center project, you should not support the misguided effort to recall the officials who voted for it: Mayor Bob Taylor and councilmen Chris Becnel and Bob Brockman. There are many reasons why the recall effort should be recalled.
First and foremost, a recall election could cost Brentwood taxpayers between $100,000 and $150,000 – money would come out of the city budget supported by taxpayers. It makes no sense for those concerned about spending government money on the civic center to now spend more government money on a recall that would not stop the civic center.
In addition, the recall, which would be a referendum on the civic center, has in effect already been held. It was the November, 2008 general election in which the civic center proposal was one of the main issues in the campaign. Brentwood residents, when they had the opportunity to decide the fate of the civic center project just under a year ago, overwhelmingly voted to make sure it would happen.
In the mayoral contest, Bob Taylor, who supported the civic center, received 71 percent of the votes – nearly 8,000 more than challenger Teresa Wooten, who expressed several concerns about the project. In the council race, Brockman, who supported the civic center, received 10,000 votes. It’s true that Erick Stonebarger, who opposed the project, came in first with nearly 11,500 votes. But if you combine Brockman’s votes with the 4,500 votes of third-place finisher Roger Short, who also strongly supported the civic center, the pro-center side received 3,000 more votes – a 12-percent margin – than the anti-center side.
The term of office of Chris Becnel, the other councilman who voted to make the civic center a reality, expires in a year. Does it make sense to spend taxpayer dollars on a recall election next June when Becnel’s term expires just five months later in November? If voters want to punish him for his civic center vote, that’s the time to do it, assuming he chooses to run.
Recalling a government official is a serious undertaking and should not be based on one vote in a policy disagreement in which there have been numerous opportunities for public input and, as we’ve pointed out, a public election before the final vote was taken. Recalls should be reserved for malfeasance in office, ethical violations, criminal wrongdoing, abuses of power, trampling on the rights of citizens, graft, corruption and the like.
No matter how you feel about the civic center, the performance of this council (building on the work of previous councils and city staff) has put the city in good stead: The budget is balanced and boasts a 30-percent reserve; the crime rate is down and the police department is fully staffed; the Metropolitan Transportation Commission this year declared the city’s roads the best in the Bay Area; the city has again been named a bicycle-friendly community as well as one of the top 100 places to raise children in the country; and the city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report has won awards for its thoroughness for several years running.
As Winston Churchill pointed out, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.” Only time will tell whether the civic center will be the promised blessing, the feared boondoggle or something in between. In the meantime, residents angry over the civic center decision should channel their energy into speaking out at council meetings on upcoming issues and promoting their own candidates in the November, 2010 council election.