What Makes a City Great
Versus Mediocre?

With two of the four Elk Grove City Council seats and the newly created popularly elected mayor position on this November's ballot, El...

With two of the four Elk Grove City Council seats and the newly created popularly elected mayor position on this November's ballot, Elk Grovians will be hearing a lot of rhetoric from office-seekers on how they want to make Elk Grove a great city.

But what exactly makes a city a great? Like most things, it will depend on your perspective.

First lets take some of the givens and never-will-be's off the table. We think most people would agree great city's are safe, have good public services and good public school's.

As of today, most people would probably agree that Elk Grove is generally a safe place, has good city services, and despite the state budget woes, our public schools are still well regarded.

There are some things Elk Grove will never be. We will never be considered a scenic destination and we have no distinctive geographic features.

For some members of our city council, they seemingly think building a baseball and sports complex will make a Elk Grove a great place. It might make us another alternative among many places for baseball players to visit and spend money at hotels and chain restaurant that generates taxes revenues, but does that make Elk Grove great place to visit and live?

At the core of the argument being presented by the city council members is an economic one. The logic as we interpret it coming from the city council goes something like this - build the baseball fields, bring tournament players, build some more hotels and chain restaurants and watch the tax revenues roll in.

The logic is reasonable, but as we see it, myopic.

Undoubtedly building a ball field, or even a soccer stadium for that matter, will attract sales tax dollars that will fuel hotel and sales tax revenues and lots of low paying service jobs. And this is the where the model condemns Elk Grove to an never ending downward spiral to being home to nothing but low paying jobs.

Unfortunately in Elk Grove we seem to equate economic development with the completion of the Elk Grove Promenade, building a ball field and opening a never ending stream of fast food restaurants. During the recent sign ordinance debate the fact that 100-plus low wage jobs would be created seemed to make the city council salivate like a dog eying raw meat.

Instead of focusing our energies on attracting sales tax revenues generated by the proposed ball parks and fast food joints, the city council and the people of Elk Grove should take a longer view and focus on the type of things that would be attractive to large employers and talented people.

Simply stated, if Elk Grove really wants to be something more than a baseball destination or a fast food stop along Highway 99 and I-5, we need to take steps to develop a creative class within our borders.

The development of the creative class means that we as a city need to incubate cultural amenities that will not necessarily attract weekend softball players, but will make the city more attractive to high-wage employers who want a culturally vibrant community for their employees and an available pool of talented creative workers.

While me may never become a creative behemoth in the caliber of someplace like Austin, we lack a major university to draw on, we nonetheless can take steps towards this longer term vision.

For example, when planning the Southeast Policy Area, why not look at the development of low-cost art or musician colonies? Why not build a great performance center like Three Stages in Folsom in lieu of a baseball field?

So before we dive headfirst into building more fields on top of the world-class Bartholomew Center, lets look at developing a creative class that would draw more than just fast food restaurants to Elk Grove. Maybe then we can become a great city and not just another nondescript mediocre place along Highway 99.

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Sarah Johnson said...

I think you have articulated exactly the right idea. Other cities in our region have reinvented themselves successfully in recent years while Elk Grove seems to sort of flounder. These other cities suffered from the same economic downturn that we did, yet have created opportunities for themselves and made good decisions. Your mention of Three Stages in Folsom is a great example. They are up and running and have enjoyed great success already. Originally, EG residents asked for a performing arts venue, but that seems to have now evolved into sports fields and an aquatic center, things that we already have some of.

Anonymous said...

Ever since EG became a city, our leaders have allowed the developers (i.e campaign contributors) to define our city. They tell our leaders what zoning they want for their property; how big and what kind of signs they want; how much they are willing to pay in development fees; where the ultimate city boundary should be (i.e. SOI--then they build it and move on to more fertile grounds.

All this talk about economic development is hogwash. The average EG citizen has their largest investment in their home. Until, and unless economic development helps improve our bottom line property values (including the 40% underwater), then it's all smoke and mirrors intended to bow to special interests.

How will sports fields increase my home equity? The Spruce Goose needs more rooftops to make it viable, and more rooftops equates to city expansion and further diluting of property values. How does more retail sales tax help my bottom line home value?

Ever wonder how Davis property values survived the recession?

Realtors, contractors, land consultants, commercial property managers, SOI property owners, GAS STATION owners...they will all benefit--hey, that reads like the who's who of the campaign disclosure forms! Coincidence?

$$$=votes, period. Apathy kills your retirement nest egg.

Capt. Benjamin L. Willard said...

A quick check of upcoming performances at Three Stages shows that in the coming months there well be everything from an acoustic show by CW musician Clint Black, An evening with Branford Marsalis, Los Lobos, various symphony concerts, a staging of Romeo and Juliet and a whole lot more. There is something for everyone.

Anonymous said...

Thanks the info Capt. Here in Elk Grove, they're serving up root beer floats at Leatherby's, cheeseburgers on the value menu at McDonalds, and let's see...duck feeding at the pond at Elk Grove Park, BYOB--Bring Your Own Bread! Something for everyone!

Michael Monasky said...

I see people...I see people without a place to gather...I see people without a place to gather in Elk Grove...I see people without a place to gather in Elk Grove for redress of grievances, to stomp and shout, to sing and dance, to celebrate their lives in common.
Mike Monasky

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