For years, San Diego’s inability to fix its streets, buildings, storm drains and everything else broken down in the city has been about more than money. The city also has little idea of which specific streets, buildings and storm drains it needed to repair first. Last June, the city supposedly fixed that problem. City Council members decided to spend more than $2 million to figure out the condition of buildings, parks equipment and sidewalks.
Now, a year and a half after the money was approved, the condition assessments still aren’t done, a problem that’s causing even more havoc with the city’s repair plans. This foot-dragging has given city leaders another excuse to delay deciding how to pay for the fixes.
“It pushes off the discussion,” said Andrea Tevlin, the city’s independent budget analyst.
With increasing alarm, Tevlin has called city leaders to figure out how to ask voters for more money. The city’s infrastructure needs could total $10 billion, she said, and there’s no plan for how to raise that kind of cash. Without more money, the city’s infrastructure network will continue to deteriorate every year.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer hasn’t wanted to have the financing discussion. Even though his own advisers believe the mayor needs to spend more money on infrastructure, Faulconer has said any talk about new revenue is premature because the city doesn’t know the extent of the problem.
But time is running out for the city’s likely best shot at getting new money in the near future. November 2016 has long been the target for a ballot measure to pay for infrastructure. Other cities have shown that voter approval requires a robust public outreach campaign that take more than a year to do right.
The best chance of that kind of conversation beginning now looks to be in January. The city is expecting to release its first long-range infrastructure budget, which could outline some specific plans, and include data from the ongoing assessments. This long-range infrastructure budget is late, too. It was supposed to be done in July.
City spokesman Bill Harris said the delays are explainable. It took the city a while to hire people to walk all over San Diego for the sidewalk assessment. Engineers wanted to take the time to do the building and parks assessments right, he said.
“It’s taking too long,” Harris said. “It always takes too long. It will always take too long.”