Quantcast
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Cracked Streets, Crooked Pols

— Financially, the City of San Diego is going down a rat hole. Make that a pothole. That's because years of infrastructure neglect -- both the shirking of maintenance duties and the shelving of critical construction projects -- have created a monster that could be larger than the pension mess. It certainly causes more citizen distress.

There are two kinds of neglect. Deferred maintenance is the backlog of necessary repairs -- replacement of roofs and cooling systems, filling of potholes, repairing of police and fire vehicles, painting, reflooring, and the like. A second deficiency is postponement of capital improvement programs -- big sewer and water projects, new buildings and parks that are usually financed through bonds or tax and fee increases. Since the City is currently shut out of the bond market, most such projects are on hold, as the city decays alarmingly.

The City's pension and health-care deficit is now $3.1 billion. That figure is likely to rise. But deferred maintenance is probably $2 billion and delayed capital improvement programs another $2 billion, according to David A. Bainbridge, associate professor of sustainable management in Alliant International University's business school. Councilmember Donna Frye believes Bainbridge's figures could be close to correct, as do others. But the entire proposed 2007 city budget is for $3 billion, and only $1.3 billion of that is for general fund operations.

"Deferred maintenance leads to more and more expensive repairs the longer it is put off -- pay me now or pay me later," says Bainbridge. The City must replace miles of storm-water pipe. "Roads and parking lot maintenance are even worse." According to the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee, 60 percent of the city's 2735 miles of streets are in need of repair. A recent story in USA Today concluded that San Diego has the sixth-worst roads of U.S. cities, adding $618 a year to every vehicle's cost.

Ancient cast-iron water pipes are in desperate need of replacement, says Bainbridge. "The sewer treatment facility is still using primitive technology. Recreation facilities are often barely kept functional. Maintenance of city trees and landscaping is woefully underfunded. Many city buildings are patched together instead of properly repaired," he says.

The San Diego Association of Governments notes that regional planners want to channel growth into the metro areas such as the city of San Diego, but an inordinate amount of infrastructural spending is being done in the unincorporated areas.

Despite the desperate infrastructure needs in the city, the mayor's budget to tackle deferred maintenance is a mere $20 million for 2007, and that figure is dependent on issuance of pension obligation bonds, which are a long shot. Thus, the actual expenditure will be more like $8 million -- about enough to fix the hole in Harry Belafonte's bucket. The City is now compiling an inventory of the deferred maintenance backlog.

The root cause of the dilapidation is politics. As the council spent money willy-nilly on glitzy corporate welfare projects such as the ballpark, the budget was perpetually out of balance for a decade. So San Diego plundered its pension fund, diverted money from sewer and water operations, and delayed maintenance and construction projects. "Politicians love ribbon-cutting ceremonies -- opening new fire stations, libraries, ballparks -- but they don't like to provide money for maintenance," says Carl DeMaio, president of the Performance Institute think tank. He, too, believes that the City's deferred maintenance and delayed capital improvement programs "are in the multi-billions of dollars."

Alan Gin, associate professor of economics at the University of San Diego, teaches a course in urban economics. "One of the things that helps economic growth is infrastructure; it's good for business," says Gin. With adequate infrastructure, "it's easier to produce goods and services, easier to transport things." That's one reason he believes that streets and roads are San Diego's "most pressing needs" now.

But Steve Erie, professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, says, "You have to fix the water and sewer systems first. When those go, everything goes. Next are roads." Such things as parks and libraries will have to wait, he says.

"The most critical needs are downtown," says Jim Mills, former president pro tem of the California Senate. Sewer and water mains are far too old. "Unacceptable levels of pollution are being delivered to the bays and ocean. Yet part of the City's plan for expenditures is for that goddamned new library."

Mills notes, "Along with Philadelphia, we are the most expensive city in the U.S. for transit. It costs $2.25 for a bus ride here. A lot of poor people can't afford it, and those are the people you want to take transit, so they can apply for jobs and go to and from jobs. Los Angeles has a full one-cent sales tax to support transit, and we have one-third of one-half a cent." He is concerned that the track is breaking up on the trolley to the border because heavy freight is going over it. Yet the San Diego Association of Governments still advocates more highway construction. "The planning is terrible, the priorities all wrong. Jerry Sanders was elected by developers who didn't want an environmentalist to interfere with urban sprawl."

Says Frye, the environmentalist who lost to Sanders, "The first thing we should look at is what we are required to do by law." The City must comply with the State's drinking water laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act, for example. There has to be adequate sewage monitoring to remain in compliance with the law. The potential liabilities are huge.

In assessing the needs, the City must try being honest for once. Bainbridge says that not long ago the City was estimating that galvanized storm-water pipe in one project would cost 85 percent less than it had cost in two other projects at roughly the same time.

"We buy inferior materials. This is a town that does everything on the cheap," says Erie. "The City always overstates the benefits and understates the costs."

And that brings us to how San Diego will pay for upgraded infrastructure. More taxes and fees? Spending cuts in other areas of the budget? "I don't see how it's possible to deal with the pension and medical deficit and infrastructure backlog at the current revenue levels," says Gin. "There has to be a tax increase combined with cutbacks in expenditures."

Bainbridge says it will take a tax or fees increase. Says Mills: "There are two options: one is to raise taxes and the other is to go bankrupt, and if we go bankrupt we will still have to raise taxes." Frye says that a tax increase is one option on the table.

Says Erie, "It's flabbergasting that people in this town think that we can get out of this without raising taxes. In Los Angeles when San Diego is mentioned, there is always a chuckle in the room. Tax is a four-letter word in San Diego. We don't know how to do infrastructure and never have."

DeMaio demurs. "The cost of government is far in excess of what it should be," he says. "Until you can reform it, why put more money in? If you say you are going to raise taxes, you are saying we don't need to reform the system. It would be throwing good money after bad.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Audit hits lack of athletic admissions integrity at UC San Diego

"The board member used me to get his family friend's kid in UCSD"
Next Article

The Seafood la 57 mariscos truck is nothing new

A brand refresh has taken over in South Park's Target parking lot

— Financially, the City of San Diego is going down a rat hole. Make that a pothole. That's because years of infrastructure neglect -- both the shirking of maintenance duties and the shelving of critical construction projects -- have created a monster that could be larger than the pension mess. It certainly causes more citizen distress.

There are two kinds of neglect. Deferred maintenance is the backlog of necessary repairs -- replacement of roofs and cooling systems, filling of potholes, repairing of police and fire vehicles, painting, reflooring, and the like. A second deficiency is postponement of capital improvement programs -- big sewer and water projects, new buildings and parks that are usually financed through bonds or tax and fee increases. Since the City is currently shut out of the bond market, most such projects are on hold, as the city decays alarmingly.

The City's pension and health-care deficit is now $3.1 billion. That figure is likely to rise. But deferred maintenance is probably $2 billion and delayed capital improvement programs another $2 billion, according to David A. Bainbridge, associate professor of sustainable management in Alliant International University's business school. Councilmember Donna Frye believes Bainbridge's figures could be close to correct, as do others. But the entire proposed 2007 city budget is for $3 billion, and only $1.3 billion of that is for general fund operations.

"Deferred maintenance leads to more and more expensive repairs the longer it is put off -- pay me now or pay me later," says Bainbridge. The City must replace miles of storm-water pipe. "Roads and parking lot maintenance are even worse." According to the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee, 60 percent of the city's 2735 miles of streets are in need of repair. A recent story in USA Today concluded that San Diego has the sixth-worst roads of U.S. cities, adding $618 a year to every vehicle's cost.

Ancient cast-iron water pipes are in desperate need of replacement, says Bainbridge. "The sewer treatment facility is still using primitive technology. Recreation facilities are often barely kept functional. Maintenance of city trees and landscaping is woefully underfunded. Many city buildings are patched together instead of properly repaired," he says.

The San Diego Association of Governments notes that regional planners want to channel growth into the metro areas such as the city of San Diego, but an inordinate amount of infrastructural spending is being done in the unincorporated areas.

Despite the desperate infrastructure needs in the city, the mayor's budget to tackle deferred maintenance is a mere $20 million for 2007, and that figure is dependent on issuance of pension obligation bonds, which are a long shot. Thus, the actual expenditure will be more like $8 million -- about enough to fix the hole in Harry Belafonte's bucket. The City is now compiling an inventory of the deferred maintenance backlog.

The root cause of the dilapidation is politics. As the council spent money willy-nilly on glitzy corporate welfare projects such as the ballpark, the budget was perpetually out of balance for a decade. So San Diego plundered its pension fund, diverted money from sewer and water operations, and delayed maintenance and construction projects. "Politicians love ribbon-cutting ceremonies -- opening new fire stations, libraries, ballparks -- but they don't like to provide money for maintenance," says Carl DeMaio, president of the Performance Institute think tank. He, too, believes that the City's deferred maintenance and delayed capital improvement programs "are in the multi-billions of dollars."

Alan Gin, associate professor of economics at the University of San Diego, teaches a course in urban economics. "One of the things that helps economic growth is infrastructure; it's good for business," says Gin. With adequate infrastructure, "it's easier to produce goods and services, easier to transport things." That's one reason he believes that streets and roads are San Diego's "most pressing needs" now.

But Steve Erie, professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, says, "You have to fix the water and sewer systems first. When those go, everything goes. Next are roads." Such things as parks and libraries will have to wait, he says.

"The most critical needs are downtown," says Jim Mills, former president pro tem of the California Senate. Sewer and water mains are far too old. "Unacceptable levels of pollution are being delivered to the bays and ocean. Yet part of the City's plan for expenditures is for that goddamned new library."

Mills notes, "Along with Philadelphia, we are the most expensive city in the U.S. for transit. It costs $2.25 for a bus ride here. A lot of poor people can't afford it, and those are the people you want to take transit, so they can apply for jobs and go to and from jobs. Los Angeles has a full one-cent sales tax to support transit, and we have one-third of one-half a cent." He is concerned that the track is breaking up on the trolley to the border because heavy freight is going over it. Yet the San Diego Association of Governments still advocates more highway construction. "The planning is terrible, the priorities all wrong. Jerry Sanders was elected by developers who didn't want an environmentalist to interfere with urban sprawl."

Says Frye, the environmentalist who lost to Sanders, "The first thing we should look at is what we are required to do by law." The City must comply with the State's drinking water laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act, for example. There has to be adequate sewage monitoring to remain in compliance with the law. The potential liabilities are huge.

In assessing the needs, the City must try being honest for once. Bainbridge says that not long ago the City was estimating that galvanized storm-water pipe in one project would cost 85 percent less than it had cost in two other projects at roughly the same time.

"We buy inferior materials. This is a town that does everything on the cheap," says Erie. "The City always overstates the benefits and understates the costs."

And that brings us to how San Diego will pay for upgraded infrastructure. More taxes and fees? Spending cuts in other areas of the budget? "I don't see how it's possible to deal with the pension and medical deficit and infrastructure backlog at the current revenue levels," says Gin. "There has to be a tax increase combined with cutbacks in expenditures."

Bainbridge says it will take a tax or fees increase. Says Mills: "There are two options: one is to raise taxes and the other is to go bankrupt, and if we go bankrupt we will still have to raise taxes." Frye says that a tax increase is one option on the table.

Says Erie, "It's flabbergasting that people in this town think that we can get out of this without raising taxes. In Los Angeles when San Diego is mentioned, there is always a chuckle in the room. Tax is a four-letter word in San Diego. We don't know how to do infrastructure and never have."

DeMaio demurs. "The cost of government is far in excess of what it should be," he says. "Until you can reform it, why put more money in? If you say you are going to raise taxes, you are saying we don't need to reform the system. It would be throwing good money after bad.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Nature joins antifa, burns large swaths of California in protest

Fiery and Not at All Peaceful
Next Article

Afro hair, piercings, obsession with abdomens, T-shirts talk, the beauty of henna, worry about fat

What San Diegans think of their clothes and their bodies
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Set 'em Up Joe — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close