Done well, they foster the development of community identity and facilitate interaction. But building them can be expensive, and if poorly designed, located or financed, they can become an albatross. This is why investments in civic infrastructure deserve strict scrutiny, but their return on community make them worthy investments and worth the measured risk.
In twelve years as an elected official – eight on the Sacramento City Unified School District Board of Trustees and four on the City Council – I have led or participated in decisions to build a significant number of public facilities. As President of the School Board, I led the effort to sell the ‘Taj Mahal’ on Capitol Mall and move the district headquarters to the Serna Center on 47th and Stockton. We built or rebuilt a number of high schools, including Arthur A. Benjamin Health Professions, George Washington Carver School of Arts and Science, Rosemont and Sacramento New Technology. We also began the work that led to the School of Engineering and Sciences and the Robbie Waters Library.
While my time on the Council has mostly been spent dealing with the financial ramifications of the recession, we have capitalized on several opportunities to enhance community spaces, and have several other high yield investment opportunities ahead. At the neighborhood level, we invested $3 million in state funds to rebuild McClatchy Park, oversaw the Broadway Triangle Project through the dismantling of redevelopment, will be opening a new soccer field on March 23rd behind the Oak Park Community Campus, and will rebuild three more children’s playgrounds this fall.
At the City level, the new Entertainment and Sports Complex has already started to revitalize downtown, and when completed the ESC will create several public spaces around the building itself. Equally as exciting, the Council is working on a plan to construct a new theatre, or to rebuild the Community Theatre, in addition to the creation of the Studios Project - a permanent home for many of our arts organizations.
These projects - past, present and future – are important to our community for a number of reasons. First, at a functional level, they improve the provision of government services. A school district headquarters on Capitol Mall never made sense; the Serna Center in the geographic midpoint of the school district with ample parking makes district activities far more accessible to parents and community members. A portfolio of high schools matches students with programs that better meet their individual academic needs.
Second, public buildings, strategically located, can be an economic catalyst. The hundreds of employees working at the Serna Center utilize the small businesses and restaurants along Stockton Blvd. The economic impacts of the new ESC are already being felt in the downtown, as is the impact of the Broadway Triangle in Oak Park.
Lastly, public buildings are a reflection of the communities in which they reside. As Sacramentans, we should take pride in our public facilities. They denote who we are, and what we care about. The Crocker Art Museum is a jewel of the valley, and coupled with a new Community Center Theatre, a new B Street Theatre, made possible with the City as a partner, and the Studios Project, no one can doubt our promise to support the arts. The ESC shows our commitment to the revitalization of the City core. Our modern schools demonstrate our obligation to our young people.
As we continue to emerge from the recession, I look forward to working with our neighbors in continuing to upgrade our city’s facilities – from parks to the arts – for the benefit of all – for a return on community.
In addition to his council duties, Jay works as an independent consultant and policy advisor on education reform and youth policy and strategies.