San Diego

Study: Many City Buildings in Poor Shape; Funding Sources a Big Question Mark

NBC 7 has reported extensively on “deferred maintenance” involving thousands of miles of streets, sidewalks, water and sewer mains.

They may look all right on the outside.

But experts say one out of every four city buildings in San Diego is in poor condition -- and, that hundreds of millions of dollars will be needed for upgrades.

It's no secret that San Diego's "infrastructure" is in bad shape.

NBC 7 has reported extensively on “deferred maintenance” involving thousands of miles of streets, sidewalks, water and sewer mains.

But when it comes to buildings where city employees work and serve the public, the truth is just coming to light.

On Thursday, the City Council got chapter-and-verse from a 120-page consultant's report based on two years of analysis.

The upshot seems to be, it may take a decade or more to catch up with what needs doing.

The biggest-ticket item on the list is City Hall.

And guess what?

"We're not going to be putting a lot of money into this building, we haven't been for a while,” says Councilman Mark Kersey, who chairs the City Council’s Infrastructure Committee. “This building is old, it's decrepit, and we have had some issues like asbestos. So I think, long-term, that's something we'll have to take a look at. I think our priority now is, and remains, the neighborhood infrastructure that people see every day."

Meaning, buildings such as fire stations that also are "old and decrepit" -- not just by the standards of fire fighters who have to live in them, but those of the consultants hired by the city for millions of dollars.

The options facing the Council: rehab the buildings to acceptable "service levels"? Or replace them altogether.

Out of 560 buildings studied, 147 were found to be in poor condition.

City Hall, a high-profile example of the problem cases, is more a half-century old.

Between it and the adjacent City Operations Building, you're talking about a third of the $403 million cited as the "reinvestment cost" of bringing up all the substandard facilities up to "good condition".

So after years -- decades, actually -- of kicking the can down the road, where does the city's buck finally stop?

“I do commend Kersey, that he’s got a committee that’s working on this, “says Point Loma resident Jarvis Ross, a retiree who regularly attends council meetings, follows municipal issues, and offers opinions during non-agenda public comment sessions.

“It looks like they’re starting to address the problem, and it needs to be something that’s done in perpetuity,” Ross told NBC 7. “The idea is, dedication of the money – that’s one thing that concerns me. Sometimes we have a potful of money that’s voted on by the taxpayers to be for a certain purpose – then they dip into it for something else."

Andrew Keatts, who covers city government for NBC 7’s media partner Voice of San Diego, was anything but surprised by the findings in the report.

"Even the amount of money we're spending right now isn't enough to get us to improving the situation,” he said in an interview. “All we're doing now is preventing the situation from getting worse. The choices then become finding a new revenue source -- which, there are certainly going to be people who have a problem with that. Or, making cuts to get to the level we're comfortable with. But there's no other way to do it."

As for people having a problem with new revenue sources, the $3 billion “Rebuild San Diego” measure (Prop. H on the June ballot), is opposed by two councilmembers who say it’s the wrong approach to solving the infrastructure deficit.

The last time there were serious thoughts of replacing City Hall, during the Great Recession, the projected cost was $293 million – and eventually the idea was shelved.

Meantime, the consulting study -- discussed by the council on Thursday -- didn't cover the city's buildings in Balboa Park.

An old "deferred maintenance" estimate there: $300 million.

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