July 11, 2006 > The Money-Go-Round
The modern carousel - merry-go-round - is designed as an amusement that travels many miles, but in a circular path. Although much energy is expelled on the ride, it always ends up where it started; beginning and end are synonymous. Apart from the enjoyable ride, distance covered is a relative feature. This circular amusement ride is thought to have originated with Turkish and Arabian war training that challenged soldiers riding horses or on chariots to spear a small ring hanging from a tree limb. Called "carosella" by the Spanish and "garosello" by the Italians, this training method evolved into carved horses and chariots suspended from radiating arms of a central post, still as a military training vehicle, and finally to an amusement ride.
In some ways, city operations can be likened to the carousel. Although much motion is observed, often in several directions, the question remains if any real distance is traveled. At the next meeting of the Fremont city council, a request is on the redevelopment agency agenda to "re-appropriate" $16 million from the Mission/I-880 grade separation project (phase 2) to an "Opportunity/Contingency Fund." This is terrific news; suddenly from a project that was financially strapped, a surplus of $16 million has appeared!
This miracle is especially significant when considering previous financially charged discussions of Highway 84 options, state takeaway woes and the dire economic straits of the city. Compound this with the current cost escalation problems facing all construction projects including the Centerville Unified Site, Niles Town Square environmental mediation and family water park at Central Park. This release of $16 million is breathtaking. More likely than not, these monies will be sorely needed to cover rapidly increasing construction costs of existing redevelopment projects and any others contemplated.
A $16 million surplus is an interesting development and while it can certainly be put to good use for city projects, a bothersome question remains. Will we find this is simply a carousel ride of moving money around, yet ending up in the same place? Do these funds actually represent found money or are they a loan from future costs that will demand replacement of an even larger amount? Is this sudden largesse due to state transportation funds approved in the new budget? We have been told over and over again that any state funding must be viewed as suspect and may turn illusionary. If this is a state bailout and we are quickly transferring money based on such funds, what does that say about the claim that the state is not to be trusted? After all, this is one of the key arguments for a city utility tax.
When cries of poverty are cancelled by found money, the issue becomes cloudy. Just as the carousel was birthed in an intensely practical preoccupation, so too can this ride cause riders to carefully scrutinize its purpose. As this carousel turns, will we find that the focus has been practical and worthy or are we simply spinning in circles?