By Doug Porter
While there is near-universal agreement about the sorry state of San Diego’s infrastructure, building a consensus on the ways and means of getting the job done has proved to be challenging.
The Mayor’s office has been very public about wanting a deal to build a new football stadium, but conversations about how to keep the roads to that stadium in shape and the pipes carrying all the recycled beer away have been muted.
And then there’s the Convention Center, where monies that could have been used for keeping the building in shape were gambled on an improbable expansion plan.
Maintenance and repairs on city infrastructure have been deferred and delayed over the past decade to the point where the difference between what it will cost to fix things up over the next five years and what funding will be available is roughly $1.7 billion.
The city’s politicos long ago identified the fall 2016 elections as the optimal time to ask for voter support on a “mega” bond issue to fund the needed repairs. It was hoped that the economy would have rebounded and a bigger voter turnout drawn by the presidential race would make it possible to reach the two thirds threshold needed to pass a tax increase.
As recently as June, 2015 hope was still alive that a deal could be done. Given that the City is tied for the lowest sales tax rate in the county, a ¼ percent increase seemed like the best possibility.
From City News Service:
The City Council’s Infrastructure Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to accept a report that includes a sales tax increase as an option to raise money to pay for capital projects in San Diego.
City staffers estimate that San Diego has $3.87 billion in infrastructure needs, from fixing pothole-riddled roadways to building new fire stations. However, only $2.16 billion in funding is available.
The report from the city’s Independent Budget Analyst’s Office, scheduled to go before the council’s Infrastructure Committee, says that three viable options for covering the $1.7 billion gap are raising sales taxes, taking out general obligation bonds and eliminating a law that requires free curbside trash pickup for residents.
The Mayor’s office responded to the possibility of revenue increases by suggesting that the city was incapable of dealing with infrastructure problem until certain reforms were made.
The First Coalition Collapses
The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council jointly funded polling looking at the potential of a citywide infrastructure bond.
Negotiations on building a political coalition to campaign for a bond issue collapsed after the Chamber refused to include fair wages language as part of the deal.
It’s doubtful that Seaworld President John T. Reilly’s upcoming ascension to the CEO position at the Chamber will bring a change in that group’s hard-line positions. Jerry Sanders will reportedly remain in charge of day-to-day operations.
Marti Emerald’s Coalition Building
City Councilwoman Marti Emerald has been busy building a coalition to support a $280 million bond issue to fund 19 new fire stations around town.
The editorial board of the Union-Tribune is holding out hope for something more comprehensive:
Next year will be a year unlike any other in charting the future of San Diego. Aside from key elected offices to be decided, the spending of literally billions of tax dollars could be at stake. There is likely to be a giant bond proposal to enable City Hall to begin catching up on the multibillion-dollar backlog in street repair and other infrastructure needs, probably a separate proposal for financing the long-stalled expansion of the downtown Convention Center and – we can always hope – a proposal for a new stadium for the Chargers….
…To her credit, Emerald has indicated she is open to merging her proposal into a larger package. But she said that because of the lack of visible action so far on the megabond, she questions whether it will be ready for next year’s ballot so she’s pushing ahead with her separate firehouse bond.
Perhaps Emerald is just trying to prod the megabond along, or to build political pressure for fire stations to get a big chunk of megabond money. That’s fine.
But, particularly given the requirement for any bond package to win two-thirds voter approval, the last thing San Diego needs on the ballot next year is separate bond measures competing for votes and limited taxpayer dollars. The result would likely be lose-lose.
SANDAG to the Rescue?
The most likely scenario for a least a partial fix to San Diego’s infrastructure problems comes via a proposed Bond measure by SANDAG (the San Diego Association of Governments, a regional planning agency).
From Andrew Keatts at Voice of San Diego:
…Colin Parent, policy counsel for transportation advocacy group Circulate San Diego, sent a memo to elected leaders arguing SANDAG’s proposal could generate enough money to fix each city’s infrastructure problems, and fund regional needs.
“A regional measure is absolutely superior to a citywide measure,” Parent said.
He also pointed out that SANDAG’s long-term transportation plan is already counting on money from this bond paying for its future projects. Forget about planning more transit projects, or making them happen faster: Without this bond, SANDAG can’t even fund the transit projects it’s already counting on.
How money from SANDAG’s bond would be broken down is still up in the air. The IBA estimated it could bring around $42 million a year to the city; Circulate San Diego’s memo suggested it could be as much as $108 million annually.
Meanwhile, At the Waterfront
The San Diego Convention Center is spending money to study their options. They lost a court battle on an earlier expansion financing scheme and face big challenges from the Coastal Commission should they go ahead with a previously agreed upon waterfront expansion.
There has been a push to give consideration to a non-contiguous expansion at Tailgate Park, a half mile away from the main Convention Center facility.
Tailgate Park, however, comes with its own set of problems. From Lisa Halverstadt and Ashly McGlone at Voice of San Diego:
Fault lines exist on the property and have to be navigated. Toxins have to be removed. It’s farther from the existing center and 1,100 Padres parking spaces currently on the property would need to be replaced if the site is chosen for the expansion project.
Officials with JMI Realty, the master developer of Petco Park and the ballpark district where Tailgate is located, say all those issues can be accommodated and some may even be a draw rather than a liability.
Most conventions don’t pack the entire existing center and end up sharing the space with another group. A third convention could be held at Tailgate and have free reign of the new space without the overlap of other groups. The new building would also be a draw for its updated technology and amenities that outshine the current center and its $30 million maintenance backlog.
Mixed up in all this are strong differences of opinion between hoteliers and downtown real estate interests. An increase in the Tourism Occupancy Tax (TOT) to levels comparable with other major cities in California could be a funding source for infrastructure upgrades.
If such an increase was proposed as a mechanism to increase revenue for the City’s general fund, a relatively easy 51% voter approval would be required. The hoteliers would not control the money, and for them that’s a problem.
They’ve got a sweet deal going with essentially controlling a 2% Tourism Marketing District tax. Any proposal for a mechanism tied to the general fund could make ending TMD as part of its sales pitch.
Such a deal would might require concessions to labor, environmental and other civic groups. Worst of all, such funding would be under greater public scrutiny. No wonder the hoteliers hate it.
Use It Or Lose It
Meanwhile, there’s one pile of money that people are scrambling to spend.
Dorian Hargrove at the Reader posted about $28.2 million pile of cash from unspent bond receipts held by Civic San Diego.
The most recent pot of redevelopment gold was discussed at an August 3 city-council meeting. During the meeting, chief accountant for Civic San Diego, Wanda Nations, informed councilmembers that there was approximately $28.2 million in unspent bond proceeds. With the council’s permission, the money can pay for capital improvement projects, including infrastructure. That’s good news, considering the city’s infrastructure backlog is estimated at over $1 billion.
However, there is a downside to money being appropriated for purposes not originally intended: if the former redevelopment agency (known as the Successor Agency) and its administrator, Civic San Diego, doesn’t identify a use for the money soon, then the money disappears and is diverted back to the County of San Diego to distribute to schools and other taxing entities.
Although word of the $28.2 million is somewhat recent, the cash has been accruing since the 1990s: it was rediscovered during audits by the Department of Finance.
Ocean Beach Community Plan Approved, Again
Citizen activists chartered a bus to get people to Chula Vista yesterday, where the California Coastal Commission was set to hear the Ocean Beach Community Plan Update.
The San Diego City Council approved the plan in the summer of 2014, and it was generally believed that the Commission would follow suit last fall.
It turns out the OB plan was a pawn in a larger struggle to force the city to pay attention to affordable-housing for visitors at the coast, among other things.
From Frank Gormlie at the OB Rag:
…the Coastal Commission’s goal is admirable, certainly. It wants to ensure that there is sufficiently strong language within the community plans of the coastal communities and zones. So, it wants the OB Plan Update to strengthen it’s language on the issue.
The city of San Diego doesn’t necessarily disagree. But the City staff believe that the over-all issue of affordable visitor coastal lodging ought to be addressed in more broad terms and places, and not done piece-meal in each plan that is updated, and not hold up the approval process of a community plan of a community with less than 15,000 residents and only a handful of over-night facilities that serve the visitors.
This is not a case of NIMBYism. Ocean Beach wants affordable everything. It also wants a community plan that is legal and usable – and many are tired of waiting for its approval. It was a year ago that the City Council approved the OB Plan. And the time is now for the Coastal Commission to approve it – and take up this issue with larger players.
After making a few minor changes to the plan, the Coastal Commission did approve it. Those changes mean the city council will once again vote on the issue.
One by one a large group made up of Ocean Beach community leaders and business owners told the “California Coastal Commission” their plan for the future.
“They need to respect OB, this community plan has been created by our local volunteer community planners and by working with the city.
This is 12 plus years of hard work, rolling up the sleeves every day, advocating for it, fine tuning it,” says Gretchen Newsom, President of the Ocean Beach Town Council.
Dueling Stadium Polls
The battle over building a football stadium for the San Diego Chargers continues, with the Lincoln Club (build it in San Diego!) and the Chargers (screw it, we’re moving to LA!) releasing competing polls.
The Lincoln Club paid Competitive Edge for a survey of 402 randomly selected likely voters in the City of San Diego.
Calling the proposed measure “Proposition One,” the pollster was able to show a slim majority in favor of a ⅓ public – ⅔ private deal much like the one floated to the NFL (and rejected by the Chargers) recently.
Saying “Proposition 1 would not raise any taxes” increased approval by more than 10%.
And the survey also confirmed the notion that Mayor faulconer is currently walking on water as far as San Diego voters were concerned, giving him a nearly 63% approval rating. (No wonder the Democrats aren’t excited about fielding a candidate!)
The Chargers’ poll, not surprisingly, showed quite different results.
From Don Bauder at the Reader:
The team commissioned two nationally known polling organizations that contacted samples of San Diegans this month.
The first was by Peter Hart, the pollster for NBC/Wall Street Journal. The Hart organization did polls over the past two weeks. The question: “Do you favor or oppose spending at least $375 million of taxpayer money from the city and county general funds to build a new NFL football stadium in Mission Valley?”
The answers were almost identical. In the first poll, 66 percent opposed using taxpayer money, 28 percent favored it, and 6 percent were not sure. In the second poll, 66 percent opposed, 29 percent favored, and 5 percent were not sure.
District 9 City Council candidate Georgette Gomez is making the stadium a central issue of her campaign. This graphic says it all:
It’s important to remember the deal the City and County have proposed to the Chargers may not raise taxes, but it does use tax dollars that could be used elsewhere.
Like for infrastructure repairs and maintenance.
On This Day: 1935 – President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act, providing, for the first time ever, guaranteed income for retirees and creating a system of unemployment benefits. 1941 – The Congress appropriated the funds to construct the Pentagon (approximately $83 million). The building was the new home of the War Department. 2000 – Police in Los Angeles, fired pepper spray and rubber bullets to clear a crowd of 9,000 people when a free concert by Rage Against the Machine turned violent.
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