San Diego interim mayor Todd Gloria has said it before, and he said it again emphatically during his State of the City address Wednesday night: The city needs a big, voter-approved bond to repair its infrastructure.

“Working together, I am confident we can develop a proposal that voters will support in 2016,” Gloria said.

Right now, roads are getting worse every year. So why does Gloria want to wait until 2016? That date, specifically the November 2016 election, is the best chance city leaders have of persuading voters to pass a likely billion-dollar-plus bond measure that will include a tax increase.

2016 Gives City Leaders Time to Ask Residents What They Want

Two years ago, the City Council heard a presentation from the city manager of San Antonio. The Texas city had passed a series of big infrastructure bonds and the city manager told the Council the key was asking community groups what residents wanted and then delivering. People are more likely to vote for a bond if they know they’re going to get a park in their neighborhood than if they just see a few million dollars in the bond dedicated to parks without specifics.

If San Diego leaders tried to squeeze in this kind of outreach before the 2014 elections, it probably wouldn’t work. Less than three years ago, the city couldn’t even figure out how to spend quickly the street repair money it did have despite the huge need. This year, the Council’s new infrastructure committee hopes to create the city’s first multi-year repair budget. But it won’t be done in time to provide a foundation for a 2014 bond campaign.

2016 Gives City Leaders the Kind of Voters Who Might Pass a Bond

In November 2010, San Diego Unified schools asked voters for a big tax increase. The tax got walloped. In November 2012, San Diego Unified schools asked voters for another big tax increase, this one in the form of a bond. The bond won big.

What changed in two years? The people who voted. November 2012 had Barack Obama on the ballot, bringing a huge number of liberals to the polls. November 2010 didn’t, and the liberals stayed home. In fact, if you examine the last seven citywide elections, GOP and conservative causes won five of them. San Diego Democrats and liberals got what they wanted in the two presidential elections.

If this trend holds, turnout in the 2014 midterms should favor conservatives who would be less likely to support a tax hike. Liberals would gain the advantage again in 2016, a presidential election year, which gives a big city infrastructure bond a better shot.

The Bottom Line

Gloria tried to have a conversation about a big bond a year ago when he became Council president. It didn’t work. But with the target now a couple years down the road, this time it might.

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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