Is this trip necessary?

The question arises after Wednesday’s meeting of the Save Swenson group of northsiders all afire to halt the city from building homes on money-losing Swenson Park Golf Course.

Group leaders went public with their idea: Form a park district. Collect special taxes from area residents. Either buy Swenson outright or subsidize Swenson. Forge an agreement with the city to keep it as green space.

The plan appears legal. Proposition 218 allows the creation of city/county park districts. The Swenson Oaks Recreation and Park District would be an autonomous government entity, like a fire district, with a board of directors elected by district residents.

While legal, it’s not a simple process.

Backers must collect the signatures of 25 percent of voters within the proposed district; or sweet-talk the Council into passing a “resolution of application;” or get county supes to pass one.

Backers must have a “plan for services,” a detailed plan for what they intend to do. Also an engineer’s report on how much the special tax will cost each property.

“Fifty to 60 bucks is our target,” for taxes per household, said Blair Hake, president of Friends of Swenson.

Backers must hammer out an agreement with the city of Stockton.

They could buy Swenson, if the city is willing to sell. At what cost? During Stockton’s bankruptcy trial, a federal judge put the value of Swenson, Van Buskirk Golf Course, Oak Park and its community center at $4.052 million.

Exactly how much Swenson alone would cost is unclear. Presumably much less than the total.

Or backers could form some sort of joint powers partnership with the city and subsidize Swenson. In exchange the city would contractually agree to preserve Swenson as green space.

The whole shebang must be approved by an obscure agency called the Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO.

The law allows for a protest proceeding, if 50 percent of property owners call for one. A successful protest vote kills the district.

Barring that eventuality, a two-thirds majority of property owners is required to pass a special tax.

The boundaries would be to the north, Hammer Lane or a bit north of Hammer; to the east, Pacific Avenue; to the west, the Delta; to the south, Swain Road.

Between tax revenue, golf course revenue and perhaps a renegotiated course management contract, Hake hopes to raise $1 million to $1.2 million a year.

With that money the course and park could be preserved. Improvements could be made to the aged course to lure more golfers and increase revenue.

“It’s doable,” Hake said.

In theory, yes. But backers may have trouble hitting their $50-$60 tax target. Simple math says $1.2 million divided by 10,000 households is $120 per household.

Parkwoods residents would not even support their neighborhood pool, and let it close years ago.

By way of solutions, district boundaries could be expanded to bring in more households. Commercial properties could be charged more. Or perhaps, as some suspect, the city is overstating Swenson’s costs.

All figures are preliminary, Hake added. Ballpark.

Those are the contours of the proposal to save Swenson. Examining them brings one back to the opening question: Is this trip necessary?

After all, there is a mechanism in place to save Swenson. It’s called democracy.

No sooner had the city researched housing as one option for Swenson than a gale-force public outcry blasted housing off the table. Elected representatives seem cowed. Wouldn’t it be cheaper, and simpler, just to keep cowing them?

— Contact columnist Michael Fitzgerald at (209) 546-8270 or michaelf@recordnet.com. Follow him at recordnet.com/fitzgeraldblog and on Twitter @Stocktonopolis.