Being a San Francisco Giants fan has been frustrating for the past five years since their third World Series championship in 2014. During the down years, Giants fans lower their expectations by rooting to beat their ancient rival, the hated Dodgers. Beating the Bums (yes; that is the Dodgers’ nickname going back to 1938 when they were playing in Brooklyn and the Giants in New York) feels like the next best thing to winning the pennant and World Series.
Expecting big things to happen can be counterproductive to one’s health. Sometimes, it is those little victories that keeps humans grounded and that can be built upon for bigger achievements later on. I recently had one of those small victory moments.
Several weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a taxpayer group from the town in which we live. The e-mail gave details of our city council’s proposal to replace the current community center with a structure twice as large which would include a theater, beer garden, and unspecified upgraded park facilities. The price tag? A cool $72 million!
For a town our size, this proposal was, at best, a fantasy, and, at worst, mass government waste. I calmly e-mailed all the city council members my objections to the plan, laying out the issues and suggesting possible alternatives. For example, we already have a well-functioning privately funded community center that anyone in town can join for discounted fees and an underutilized theater the city can partner with for events.
The biggest boondoggle in this proposal was the section in which the cost was “restated” in 2024 dollars. What that usually means is that under the time value of money theory, tomorrow’s dollar is worth less than today’s dollar due to inflation. The proposed 2024 dollars were 20% more than today’s dollars. In other words, the city is saying that a five-year project will cost up to 20% more because of inflation.
There is one major flaw in this analysis. Inflation has been at 1.5% for the past ten years and is projected to be about the same in the foreseeable future. It is nowhere near the 20% the city is projecting. This is what we accountants refer to as a “slush fund.” This is how $72 million becomes $86 million without the public being aware.
Within thirty minutes of sending the e-mail, I received a response from a city councilmember who said my analysis was flawed, my numbers were wrong, and I should attend the special council meeting to further discuss the “true facts” (aren’t all facts true by definition?)
Thinking this was a done deal, I did not attend the meeting (the Giants were playing that night.) A couple of weeks later, I got home from work, and my wife had the local newspaper laid out on the dining room table with a headline saying the community center project was being scaled down and re-evaluated. Near the end of the article was a sentence stating the city councilmember that accused me of a flawed analysis and wrong numbers had resigned from the building subcommittee.
I doubt my e-mail was the turning point and that many other residents stated their objections much more eloquently than I. Maybe the city council will think twice the next time they propose a massive project without prior resident input. More than likely, they will eventually build something too big and expensive anyway to feed their egos. However, I’m able to walk away with a small victory today. Who knows? Maybe this will lead to bigger victories. Go Giants, and Beat L.A.!
David M. Green