If you haven’t yet, you should read this piece from Liam Dillon about the state of San Diego’s roads.

Dillon lays out pretty starkly the deterioration of our streets in numbers. Despite a recent spate of attention on new investment in the problem, things are worse than they were when Mayor Jerry Sanders took office. Whether he’s to blame or not is a different question.

I’m not sure he really wants to make the argument that he’s done the best he can, though. Because if he has, and this rate of decline is what we just have to expect, then this city is going down the tubes quicker than any of us feared.

What particularly stood out for me was the emphasis on borrowing money. The mayor and other city leaders have been touting recent progress and an infusion of funding into the effort to repair our streets.

Review this passage from the story:

Much of the current funding for major road repair comes from a bond issued to help fix the city’s aging infrastructure.

The source of that money was the center of a City Hall feud between the mayor and former City Attorney Mike Aguirre, with Aguirre refusing to sign off on the borrowing plans because of questions he had over their legality.

Sanders and streets officials said they weren’t able to make good on the previous pledges because of Aguirre’s resistance.

Note that the mayor’s only excuse for why roads have deteriorated and his only solution is to point to our ability (and our earlier non-ability) to borrow money.

City Council members have also been joyous about the new infusion of cash into the city’s road repair effort. Councilman Todd Gloria jokes that it’s sexy to see infrastructure in his neglected neighborhoods get needed attention. Even Carl DeMaio, who questioned the loans the city took out to pave those roads, touted how much love some of the streets in his district were getting.

For years, I have criticized the city’s mostly fruitless obsession with someday borrowing money to invest in its imbalanced pension fund. But this, in many ways is actually worse.

It is one thing to borrow money to build new things. The new things, supposedly, are investments that pay off over time. It’s why entrepreneurs borrow money at the beginning of their ventures — something new is created that has dividends sometimes unimaginable at the time.

But the first thing my father told me when I got my credit card was to never put routine costs — like groceries — or maintenance, like car repairs on your credit card. Why? Because what happens when you need to fix your car again or, say, buy more food?

This is the same thing for the city. How in the world is it that we’ve gotten to a situation where we have to borrow money from Wall Street not to build new things, not to start new initiatives or invest in something special, but to make minor repairs on our streets? What happens when we need to repair them again?

What’s worse, we’re borrowing money to fix them and, yet, we’re losing ground. As Dillon’s story makes clear, streets are worse off now than they were when Mayor Jerry Sanders took office.

And not only are we in this situation, but our politicians have convinced themselves that successfully borrowing money to maintain roads is a sign of true triumph.

They’ll say, well, the city is broke and roads are getting fixed, right? Borrowed money or no, that’s a good thing.

Sure, let’s say you’re starving and you need food. Then it does make more sense to use a credit card, or get an emergency loan, I suppose. And if the mayor and city leaders want to argue that the city’s starving and it has no choice, that’s fine. But that’s not how they generally characterize the investment they’re making now.

The city is crumbling. And nothing more vividly illustrates that than our deteriorating streets.

And it is a disservice for the mayor and others to imply the only reason that our streets are crumbling is because we could not borrow money before and the only thing we can hope for now is that we’ll be able to borrow more.

Finally, if anyone says it’s a recession, that things are bad and that it’s out of our hands, stop them.

It’s the old “we’re helpless” argument. Remind them that the city was crumbling and making cuts when times were good.

We all have to come to terms with the fact that the city is fundamentally not set up to bring in as much money as it is set up to spend.

What we’re watching is the effects of that playing out — literally on the street. The more we borrow, the more we delay facing it.


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