No More Fun
Anti-tax initiative would exterminate Salinas' recreation centers.
Thursday, June 20, 2002
Photo by Randy Tunnell.
Photo: Dojo Mojo-Instructor James Carrillo''s karate class at Firehouse Recreation Center is credited with raising students'' self-confidence. All six of Salinas''s rec centers are in danger of losing their funding.
If voters repeal the city''s utility tax in November, Salinas'' six recreation centers will shut down, according to city officials. And five-year-old Jacob Delgado''s budding karate career will end. Jacob takes lessons twice a week, for only $9 a month, at Firehouse Recreation Center on East Alisal. Nine-year-old Chanale Medina and her 10-year-old brother Frankie will lose their daily after-school hangout, and along with it the free snacks, monopoly games and kickball competitions.
"I would be bored and watch TV," says Chanale, a quiet fourth grader with round cheeks and a shy smile. "Here we play kickball, dodgeball, do arts and crafts, make jewelry with beads, play hide-and-go-seek and wall-ball. I would never stop coming here."
On Nov. 5, voters will decide whether to phase out the city''s six percent tax on gas, electricity, water, cable and telephone services. About $8 million in the city''s 2002-2003 budget-13 percent of the total general fund-comes from the utility tax.
City Manager Dave Mora has recommended that severe budget cuts be implemented if voters repeal the tax. These cuts include reduced fire and police staffing and the closure of two of the city''s three libraries. The city pool will be shut down.
And all six of Salinas'' recreation centers-which serve more than 600,000 Salinas toddlers, school kids, teens, adults and seniors annually, offering free or low-cost classes in karate, boxing and baile folklorico, as well as trips, camps and meals-will close.
Mark Dierolf, the author of the initiative that would repeal the utility tax, calls the city''s planned budget cuts "propaganda."
What about the thousands of kids and teens who won''t have after-school activities should voters end the utility tax? Dierolf skirts the question.
"That''s irrelevant," he says. "The issue here is a tax-a tax that is harmful. Money is taken from people and is not used for the utility services themselves. If your power is shut off, this tax isn''t going to help you."
The tax will help city residents in other ways, says Terri King, the recreation facilities manager.
"What you''re taking away is low-cost programs for tots, youth and adults," she says. "I can''t imagine a city without a pool and parks and recreation programs."
King, who has worked for the city for 25 years, oversees Salinas'' various recreation centers. Sitting in her office at the Firehouse, she flips thorough her department''s spring/summer activity guide. If the tax is repealed, all 40-plus pages of classes, activities and field trips will be canceled, she says.
At 6:30pm, the first batch of karate kids shows up. Jacob Delgado and six-year-old Carlos Hernandez are the first on the scene. Both recently earned their yellow belts, a step up from the beginner''s white belt. The two show off their punches, blocks and kicks while waiting for their instructor to arrive.
"It keeps them out of trouble," says Richard Delgado, Jacob''s dad. "And not just the little small kids." The teen class starts an hour later. Both meet every Monday and Friday.
"It gives Jacob so much more confidence in himself, too," Delgado says. "Believe me, before he started this, he was so shy. Now he''s excited about school. And he practices every day. His younger brother-he''s four-can''t wait till he''s five so he can take karate, too."
Soon the instructor, James Carrillo, and a handful of other students arrive. A line of six miniature martial artists in black karate uniforms run through a series of punching and then kicking drills. Nine-year-old Carlos Jimenez, one of the class elders, demonstrates a side kick. Next Monday, Carlos will be "promoted" to a yellow belt. "So tell your mom to bring her camera," Carrillo says.
The next morning, the first of the seniors shows up at the Firehouse at about 9am. They help themselves to coffee and mull around, playing poker, knitting and catching up.
"When I was younger, which was only a few years ago, I used to help serve the food," says Stela Martinez. "Now we come here and eat and get together with friends."
Stela and husband Victor have been coming to the center every morning for 10 years. They also attend several of the center''s senior trips-weekend stays in Reno, day trips to the Santa Cruz Follies musical, San Francisco''s museums and Beach Blanket Babylon.
Another senior comes over and whisks Stela over to a table piled high with loaves of bread, fresh produce and cartons of milk. As the rest of the seniors form a line next to the table, Stela distributes the food. Today it is plentiful, so each person can take up to four loaves home, as well as one carton of milk and one bag of produce.
"To me, this is my second family," says 63-year-old Elaine Scott. Scott and Delores Richardson, 67, are two of the center''s newbies. They both started coming a year ago. They talk excitedly about a trip to Reno at the end of the month and an ice cream social on July 3 with the children who come to the center: "Lunch and ice cream, so we can interact with them," Scott says.
"I get up in the morning and I get dressed and ready just so I can come down here and sit and talk to people. There''s no other place to go, really, that''s this reasonable and friendly.
"I know cutting the tax would help most people, but it really leaves us out when we need people. We need a place to go to be with people our age, to have fun, to talk. I would really miss coming here."