Part II: Challenges and Opportunities for Promoting Sustainable Neighborhoods in the Mayoral Campaign
By Jay Powell /Part One is Here
Sometime last year the street grinders and asphalt layers showed up in our neighborhood in Normal Heights. They did a great job right in front of our house– which really didn’t seem to need any repair, but around the corner, the worst, most traveled portion of the street wasn’t touched. Still hasn’t been.
After some considerable neighborhood wondering and grumbling it became apparent that the bumps and rolling topography and potholes actually served as a kind of regimen of reverse speed bumps to slow down some of those folks who thought the curves on Mountain View Drive were there to test the adhesion of their Mini Cooper’s tires at high speed.
This repair was a part of the much ballyhooed “streets-are-sexy” resurfacing and slurry program touted by City Councilmembers and Mayor Sanders at the start of this decade. But the infrastructure issue in San Diego goes far deeper than neighborhood potholes.
It is well documented that the City of San Diego faces a backlog of an estimated $ 1 Billion in infrastructure repairs and replacements. Last fall a proposal to address this deficiency was being circulated by former Economic Development Corporation staffer Andrew Poat for what was then estimated as a $750 – $900 Million bond.
An article outlining the approach for the bond entitled “Want Housing? Stadium? Maybe Bribe Neighborhoods” appeared in the Voice of San Diego (August 16, 2012) and San Diego Magazine (September 2012).
The infrastructure issue received a lot more attention this year when Council President Todd Gloria created a standing City Council “Infrastructure Committee” and appointed freshman Councilmember Mark Kersey as Chairman. Others such as the Center for Policy Initiatives (CPI) are tracking this and the City budgeting process quite closely, i.e. SDFP articles Budget Matters and Community Activists Take Aim at San Diego’s Budget Priorities.
In the context of the upcoming Mayoral campaigns, here are some suggestions and observations for your consideration and evaluation of candidates.
It starts back with the characterization of “bribing neighborhoods” to get things like a stadium as opposed to really thinking about how we want our neighborhoods to work in the 21st Century.
How do we reinvest in them now in a way that will make them sustainable, self-sufficient and lively building blocks for their surrounding community areas for the coming generations? How do we ensure that the priorities really reflect what is needed in each neighborhood and they are addressed and implemented in an equitable and community-accountable manner?
First, let’s start with the realization that many of San Diego’s older, urban neighborhoods have far more deficits than those in newer communities that were constructed using what are called Facilities Benefits Assessments (FBAs) and other financing mechanisms that were rolled into the cost of developers and passed onto property buyers. Now some of those facilities are themselves deteriorating because they were either not designed for sufficient capacity, underfunded or just reached the end of their useful life.
There are models that might be useful in pursuing a bond or other funding mechanisms to address neighborhood repairs. The School District has used a list of items for each school that actually appears on the ballot and is implemented through a citizens construction oversight committee. The original 1991 City Housing Trust Fund set up a board of trustees to oversee the allocation and implementation of projects.
Too often, communities work to obtain funding from public and private sources and then it is lost in a bureaucracy that does not commit to a firm budget and timeline. The result can be a lot of money devoted to administration and less of the scopes of work items accomplished. Areas such as Mid City and City Heights are familiar with this phenomenon.
Here is a kind of menu and checklist for use in evaluating proposals for addressing the infrastructure deficit:
- Sets a baseline of quality of life standards for public facilities and ranks deficiencies by community planning group.
- Communities that do not meet standards are prioritized for funding ahead of other, better equipped and affluent communities.
- – Starts with baseline deficiency lists for walkable, safe neighborhoods (sidewalks, traffic calming, lighting, transit stops and stations) and defines potential for conversion to local self sufficient renewable energy generation.
- Priorities are community generated and community accountable.
- Incorporates achievement of climate change legislation objectives in City Climate Action Plan in areas of energy, transportation, land use, local food production, waste reduction.
- Focuses on infrastructure conversion or improvements which will consume less energy, less water and produce less waste, solid or liquid and less carbon emissions and related green house gases.
- Identifies carbon budgets by community and rewards communities that achieve or exceed the targets for carbon and waste reduction.
- Does not perpetuate or, worse yet, expand automobile dependence and recognizes that parking spaces are real estate that preclude other land uses.
- Redefines transportation to include and prioritize transit and active transportation (walking, running, skating, skipping, biking) and proper access for wheelchairs.
- Leverages other sources of funding including innovative community-based infrastructure districts, state and federal and private funding including the state-established carbon credits fund where possible.
- Expands cooperation between entities such as the County and the School Districts to make better use of facilities while maintaining accountability to communities for proper access and upkeep (the joint-use recreational fields as part of parks continues to need improvement in operations).
- Instructs City Council and Mayor to carry out priorities identified and for use of matching funds such as SANDAG local streets funds. City representatives to SANDAG carryout active transport priorities at regional level and assert priorities for those communities clearly meeting Federal environmental justice factors for “communities of concern”.
- Includes local, community-based hire and contracting requirements and livable wages to get economic multiplier effect of funds expended for both improvements and maintenance.
- Designates community representatives to serve as implementation oversight committees.
- Commits to and facilitates energy infrastructure that is renewable and locally generated.
- Creates greater transparency and community engagement in the use of public right of way (PROW). The enormously valuable franchises for SDG&E, ATT and Cox Cable will be coming up within the term of the next Mayor. What do we want as public benefits other than monopoly power for profits use of this public commons? Is the undergrounding of utilities really the highest and best use of the extra fees we have to pay on our bills if the utility is actively seeking rules to inhibit neighborhood solar power and energy efficiency?
Some collateral, yet critical issues include the disposition of redevelopment funds and assets. In Mid City area there are parcels that were acquired from Caltrans as residual pieces after the completion of the automobile and truck portion of the SR-15 freeway. Those parcels are critical assets to integrate into the new CenterLine Rapid Transit stations and bikeway for community economic benefit.
The continued bias towards expenditures for downtown needs to be arrested. The downtown redevelopment district borrowed funding from the City to start CCDC and the disposition of the remaining debt in the magnitude of $50 Million as recognized in the City’s adopted and state approved “Enforceable Obligations”list needs to be reinvested equitably to benefit those communities most in need.
This does not include helping the Spanos family build a new stadium or someone’s idea for a new City Hall. Think 21st Century. Think equitability. Think investment that improves neighborhoods’ quality of life and addresses climate change, while creating well paying jobs and new local businesses.
What is the San Diego you want and will the next Mayor actually lead that effort or just say “I’m for neighborhoods” during the campaign?
Jay Powell, a sometime commentator to San Diego Free Press is retired from 20 years work with the City Heights Community Development Corporation. He previously served with environmental organizations locally and in the Bay Area. He currently is promoting cooperations to achieve local clean energy and managed growth policies and projects.