The Morning Report
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San Diego’s three major mayoral candidates have made repairing the city’s broken roads and building new neighborhood infrastructure cornerstones of their platforms. We’ve defined their plans, explained their key ideas and fleshed out what’s missing. This post is the first in the series.
Democratic City Councilman David Alvarez dedicates a healthy portion of his omnibus plan, Blueprint for San Diego’s Future, to infrastructure needs.
The Biggest Thing He Wants to Do: Get new money.
Right now, the city plans to borrow between $80 million and $120 million each year, and to dedicate an increasing amount of cash to fix broken streets and other infrastructure. But it’s not enough to keep things from getting worse.
For a few years, city leaders have talked about a giant infrastructure bond to deal with the growing backlog of repairs, and to build new things. But to make a real dent in the problem, a bond would require a tax increase, and that idea hasn’t gotten much traction publicly.
Alvarez has no problem discussing the need for a bond, and is clearer than his two opponents with his support for it. He wants the city to deliver on high-visibility projects with the money it has now and provide a robust outreach to understand community needs. For outreach, the city could build off neighborhood prioritization plans that have been developed in recent years, he said. If those things happen, he thinks voters would get behind a bond.
“I support the idea of a bond in 2016,” Alvarez said.
The city’s also facing astronomical new costs to comply with new regional water pollution regulations for storm drains. As part of a plan to deal with that, Alvarez wants to hold a public vote on boosting the city’s stormwater fee, which is low compared with other big California cities.
Where Rhetoric Outpaces Reality: More cash toward infrastructure.
Alvarez’s blueprint calls for the city to dedicate a portion of future revenue surpluses to infrastructure. But he won’t put a figure on how much. In fact, he’s critical of plans that do so because he believes they can’t deal with changing circumstances.
“That type of solution is what’s led to the unmanageable state budget when you’ve got all these different initiatives that have really lock-boxed you into not having any flexibility,” he said.
Still, the City Council has already approved a financing plan that hikes the cash going toward infrastructure each year by more than 40 percent by 2017. Alvarez’s revenue surplus pledge doesn’t amount to anything beyond what the city has said it will do.
His Most Inventive Idea: Partner with private companies on infrastructure projects.
Alvarez wants to spur growth in lower-income areas by making a deal with developers. Private companies and charities would build new projects along commercial corridors, and the city would take care of the surrounding infrastructure, such as sidewalks and streetscape.
Seed money for this plan could come from tens of millions of dollars in federal community development dollars expected to come to the city through the end of the state redevelopment program, he said.
Fix My Storm Drain Strategy: Negotiate then pay.
Alvarez first wants to negotiate with the regional water quality board to change some of the stormwater regulations and aim to lower their price tag. The city projects it will cost $2.7 billion over the next 17 years to comply with the new rules.
Once the city cuts costs, Alvarez wants to hike the stormwater fee as part of a larger plan that would include bond money and more cash from the day-to-day budget. Alvarez would need to get a majority of property owners to support a stormwater fee increase.
“If they don’t want to do that, we’ll have to use general fund to pay for most of that, and that means a lot of other services won’t get funded,” he said.
Fix My Sidewalk Strategy: Wait and see.
Alvarez was a reluctant supporter of the city’s decision to spend $1 million this year on evaluating its 5,000 miles of sidewalks. The money was part of a larger plan to address the city’s illogical sidewalk policies. Now, it’s homeowners responsibility to fix broken sidewalks, but the city’s legal liability if someone trips and falls over the same sidewalk.
Alvarez said he hasn’t decided how the city should deal with its sidewalks. Shifting all of the responsibility to homeowners or the city both have drawbacks, he said. For now, he’s leaning toward trying to improve the city’s cost-share program to incentivize sidewalk repairs.
The Bottom Line: The main thrust of Alvarez’s plan is straightforward. He’s counting on new cash to pay for the city’s staggering infrastructure needs. Other city politicians have shied from making the case for new revenue. His challenge will be to persuade voters it’s worth it.
Clarification: This post has been updated to better reflect Alvarez’s position on new stormwater regulations. He believes he can negotiate to change the regulations and lower their cost without increasing pollution.