Conversation With Council Member Scott Matas
Desert Hot Springs, CA – Statistically this city does not have sufficient parks to meet the needs of the residents. The Quimby Act in California mandates the amount of parks required in cities by using a formula calculating the number of people living in the city. The city of Desert Hot Springs falls sufficiently below the state standard and has remained there many many years.
It is not known if the city ever in it’s history met the state requirement for parks of which there are but four in the entire city for all of nearly 30,000 people.
For many years the city has missed out on opportunities to secure grants to build new parks; lacking effective management to “get ‘er done.”
A city council had other things in mind with redevelopment funds bankrolling the rebuilding of downtown storefronts that have remained empty for three years. By wasting money that could have diverted youth away from crime with recreation the city has instead spent more tax money on police to manage public safety.
Youth Rec Turf War
It’s uncontested that millions have been shuffled from the general fund into city managed money losing schemes like the music festival and employee rewards. Recently a mini-turf war was created in arguing use of the park land needed for youth soccer.
Lacking fields of green grass for soccer and football has generated heated competition for what little space is available and the council has come head to head with the issue spending hundreds of hours in discussion and staff time struggling to fit and accommodate the crowded use of what few park fields exist in the city.
The Solution is More Recreational Parks
The solution to the problem is to convert vacant lots of open land to soccer fields. Yet the city has wasted more than five years spinning gears in not even approving a Parks Master Plan as a component of the General Plan.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been paid to planning firms to make studies while shovels sit unused and grass seed goes rotten. While the city has added several thousand new homes in the last decade the city has not dedicated one inch of new ground for a recreational field.
Instead the city has managed a misguided plan purchasing properties all over the town supposedly to consolidate for downtown economic development. Some fortunate property owners got rich while the city’s plan went nowhere. Now that property must be sold with that money going up north to Sacramento. Once more the city is left bereft of park lands.
Parkland, widely distributed to neighborhoods, is urgently needed. Presently the city has $100,000 in the bank to construct new parks. Best that money be spent rather than gathering dust in a bank account. However, that is just seed money, so where would the rest of the money come from?
A strident strident and uniform voice has spoken at the podium of public comment at many city council meetings challenging this city council to build more recreational parks. This lead to an interesting encounter during a break in a city council meeting where I spoke with council member Scott Matas about this very subject. The following is an accurate representation of that conversation.
Conversation with Elected Representative Scott Matas
“I want new parks as much as you do,” said Scott Matas, “But the problem is how do we pay for that?”
“Let’s start with cutting the fat of pay from management salaries,” I said, “I believe there is someone in America, perhaps dozens of people looking for jobs that would do these jobs very well, perhaps better than the people now doing these jobs, for half the money.”
“And what good would it do to reduce the pay of management?” said Scott Matas, “How much money do you think could you save with that.”
I pulled a number out of thin air.
“What if we saved $500.000?” I said, “So far the city has made all the cuts on the bottem end and we have no more solders to cut from the ranks. On the top end we pay the generals too much. If we cut the fat out of management that money could go for hiring more solders to do the work that needs to get done or we could spend the savings on more recreational parks.”
“So we save $500,000,” said Scott Matas, “How much good would that do? You can’t build a park for that kind of money.”
“It’s a good start,” I said, “We have to start somewhere.”
“You are ridicules and you don’t know what you are talking about,” said Scott Matas.
The councilman then turned and walked away. His words rang in my head like the painful sound of being stuck in the belltower while the bell was being rung.
“So we save $500,000. How much good would that do?”
Top photo courtesy Max Lieberman of DHS Today. Middle photo from author