San Diego's deteriorating public facilities will soon get an infusion of long-awaited repair money, but it's just a small down payment on a huge backlog of badly needed fixes.
On Tuesday, after a year of legal delays, the San Diego City Council authorized a $120 million infrastructure bond measure that had been challenged in court on grounds that it required voter approval.
The case recently was dismissed, and while it's now on appeal, San Diego's bond lawyers gave the green light to let work begin.
Nearly $50 million from the borrowing measure will be spent on upgrading 100 miles of sub-standard streets.
San Diego's thoroughfares consistently have ranked among the worst of the nation's municipalities.
At one point years ago, when the region really got rain, the backlog of unfilled potholes reached 40,000.
Even as a four-year drought persists, storm drain system improvements will get an investment of $22 million; the area’s landscape has become so dry that the next major rainfall could produce severe flash runoff.
Meantime, $26 million is earmarked for five fire station projects -- three are due for rebuilding and expansion, with the rest of the allocation going for design work on two new stations.
Several library branches will share in $11 million worth of new funding.
But as Mark Kersey, chairman of the council's Infrastructure Committee points out, all this money is just a trickle compared to a fast-flowing citywide repair deficit of $1.7 billion dollars -- which the city will tackle with a follow-up "mega-bond" issue next year.
"I think we're going to be able to spend it wisely and reasonably quickly,” Kersey said in an interview Tuesday. “We're really trying to focus on streamlining the city's own bureaucracy, so that we’re not in the way of getting projects done.”
Kersey said the mega-bond will involve low-cost state loans and a special “infrastructure district” approach: "It's kind of like redevelopment, where you're utilizing the future increase in property tax growth -- so it's not a tax increase. But you're able to bond against that growth. And it does require a vote of the people, but it's not a two-thirds vote. So there's some things we're going to be able to do that are not tax increases, but definitely part of this equation."
The city's legal experts told the council that in the unexpected event of an adverse ruling in the courts, the bond investors would suffer the downside risk, not the taxpayers.
The annual interest payment on the borrowing measure comes to $7 million.