The Problem with Aquatics Recreation Center (ARC): It is a regional facility to be paid for by Kirkland at the cost of other needed projects [poll]

Of the 350 City Council-approved CIP projects, nearly 200 of them are unfunded

Viewer discretion advised.  This OpEd does not address the fact that Aquatics, Recreation, Community Center (ARC) will likely become a regional facility. Discussions with Redmond and others fell apart years ago so Kirkland City Hall decided to go it alone. ARC will become a de facto $50M regional gift paid for by the Kirkland tax payers.

So Rob, from your comments it sounds as if you are opposed not just to this location but ANY public recreation center. Is that the case?
I understand people have concerns about the proposed Juanita location. But a community center — pool, gym, exercise studios, meeting rooms, classes, etc. — would be a tremendous asset to the community, and something we don’t have...
I would be very interested in a discussion of just the merits of such a facility, separate from the emotions of the potential siting.
— Kirkland Views Reader

A reader of these pages has requested a further discussion regarding my opposition to an Aquatics, Recreation, Community Center (ARC) in Kirkland. Below is my response.

Perhaps a little context would be helpful. The public discussion about ARC is rather misleading. For example, If one were to ask the question, "Would you like to vacation in Hawaii?" in isolation, barring a fear of coconuts, the answer is likely to be "yes." Since there are no negative consequences to answering "yes," it is the logical answer to the question. 

However, if the consequences of that decision were made more clear, and the question were given some context, the answer may to be different.  For example, if one were to ask, "Would you like to vacation in Hawaii if it meant you couldn't afford necessary house or car repairs?" What would the answer be? Context is everything.

The ARC will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million. The question to be asked is not "Is ARC worth $50M?" The correct question to be asked is, "What other projects won't get funded if we spend $50M on ARC?" The answer may be rather surprising. 

Kirkland's 2013 - 2018 Capital Improvement Program already includes nearly 350 City Council-approved projects. 

According to the City's own website, "fewer than half of these projects, however, currently have the funding to make them happen. The rest--nearly 200 of them--are unfunded."

This is of course, an unscientific poll.

Because few readers will actually want to delve deep into a stack of PDFs which would fill a house, I have taken a few screenshots (below) to give a flavor of the magnitude of unfunded, yet City Council-approved Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) we already have on the books. Note that the city adds to, subtracts from and modifies the CIP projects list and that this list was created in 2012. The actual numbers for 2015 will be different but not substantially. One might also ask the question, If Kirkland City Council keeps changing the CIP wish list, why do we make plans for things such as Juanita Beach Park (JBP)? Years of work and community input took place to create the plans for JBP only to have ARC planners swoop in and invalidate them all by planning to repurpose the park. Takeaway lesson: don't waste your time contributing input on such projects as JBP because the city will disregard your work when the next shiny new project comes along.

The pie charts below show the ratio between funded and "requested"  CIP projects. Parks alone has only $12,095,000 funded of the $108,059,300 requested. Hmmmm... I wonder if anyone really thinks all of these previously planned and promised goodies will ever actually get funded? Silly voters!

Bottom line: we need to prioritize our spending on needs rather than wants. But that is not how the game is played. You see, to maximize public spending, the best way to play the game is to promote shiny new projects like ARC (read WANTS) which will thrill the public first. Then, after the fun projects have been funded, we move on to the dull and less supported things (Read NEEDS) which are like Public Service, Street maintenance, repair and upgrades to buildings and such.

This question is found on a flyer sent this week to residents in Kirkland. Options A, B and C all represent "Yes". There is one option to represent "No", one option for "Undecided/not sure" and one option for "Need more information." Hmmmm... I wonder what the results of this survey will reveal? Anyone want to bet the results will point to an overwhelming "YES?"

This question is found on a flyer sent this week to residents in Kirkland. Options A, B and C all represent "Yes". There is one option to represent "No", one option for "Undecided/not sure" and one option for "Need more information." Hmmmm... I wonder what the results of this survey will reveal? Anyone want to bet the results will point to an overwhelming "YES?"

So, why not support a massive expenditure on a nice new $50 million ARC? Because we have lots of other more necessary needs where we should be spending our limited tax dollars.

Let's fund the necessary projects first (they are the ones which you don't often hear about because they are hard to sell to the public) before we spend tax dollars on new unnecessary projects.

I have nothing against people who want a nice place to swim. Who wouldn't want to enjoy a new $50M facility? In fact, I would support a regional facility (with regional funding) but no other city wants to help pay for ARC. Should Kirkland shoulder the expense alone? I think not.

When we look at the opportunity cost of spending so much money on ARC while Kirkland already has over 200 unfunded City Council-approved CIP projects on the books, ARC makes little sense.

We are being asked to make a choice in how we spend our tax dollars. ARC is like a vacation to Hawaii -- fun and carefree. Many of the alternative CIP projects are necessities like house or car repairs which are far less sexy and more difficult to sell to the public. Do we spend our money on vacations or necessities? Hawaii sure looks like fun but the problem is when our car dies and we need to replace it, we won't be able to afford to because we vacationed in Hawaii.

Is this how you run your family budget? Is this how we should run Kirkland's CIP spending?

I welcome your thoughts.