City outlines its infrastructure woes at local workshop

By Pat Sherman

Despite an extreme paucity of funding for infrastructure improvements citywide, community members in pockets of San Diego have nevertheless been meeting to craft priority lists for infrastructure items they would like to see completed in their communities.

Perhaps nowhere in the city is a community’s wish list as long as in La Jolla, where the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) spent more than a year crafting its list, with input from its La Jolla Parks and Beaches, Inc. subcommittee

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The list includes some big-ticket items, such as funding the long-stalled Torrey Pines Road Corridor Project

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and the business-boosting Belvedere Promenade project on Prospect Street, as well as more modest items such as the installation of sidewalks near Pottery Canyon Park and at La Jolla Hermosa Park.

Residents of District 1 — which includes La Jolla — met at Nobel Rec Center in UTC Jan. 22 for an Infrastructure Workshop led by District 5 San Diego City Councilmember Mark Kersey, who chairs the city’s Infrastructure Committee (formed last year by City Council President Todd Gloria).

During the workshop, several thick binders sat on a table, each packed with community planning groups’ wish lists for fiscal year 2015 (including those finalized by the LJCPA).

“We are at a very critical juncture in the city when it comes to infrastructure,” Kersey said. “This is a subject that has been neglected for as long as anyone can remember. As a result, we now have a $1 billion-plus backlog of (infrastructure) projects and — spoiler alert — we don’t have a billion dollars lying around to pay for them.”

What can be done?

The city has suggested a number of remedies to get some of the projects funded and completed, such as reducing the number of times a project bounces back and forth within city bureaucracy.

In a Jan. 24 memo to Kersey, District 1 City Councilmember and La Jolla resident Sherri Lightner, who serves as vice-chair of the Infrastructure Committee, suggested the committee review the city’s capital improvement projects to assure funds are “not sitting in dormant projects,” as well as developer impact fee (DIF) accounts, to assure money collected when developers pay for their projects’ infrastructure is used in a “timely” manner. (La Jolla currently has $101,226 in its DIF account.)

Infrastructure Committee Consultant Almis Udrys said the city is not spending enough on infrastructure from its general fund, which for fiscal year 2014 is about $1.2 billion.

“If you take all the money we spend out of our general fund on infrastructure, it’s six cents on every dollar,” Udrys said. Of the $179 million budgeted for infrastructure in fiscal year 2014, 66 percent is being paid for out of sewer and water bill fees, and must be spent on water and waste-water projects.

Among measures that will help the city determine how much additional money it needs to pull from its general fund for infrastructure are condition assessments being conducted on city assets, Udrys said. An assessment of San Diego’s streets was conducted in 2011 (and can be viewed in map format online); an assessment of its roughly 5,000 miles of sidewalks — conducted by engineering students from UC San Diego and San Diego State University — began in January.

The city has about $170 million in requests for new sidewalks that it doesn’t have funding for, Kersey said, noting that repair and maintenance of city sidewalks is actually the responsibility of the property owner.

The city has a little-known “50/50 Cost Sharing Program,” in which it will split the cost of repair or replacement of sidewalks that are deteriorating.

Kersey is working to promote the program and said there are discussions of the city kicking in as much as 75 percent of a property owner’s sidewalk repair costs.

Given the funding shortage, Kersey stressed the importance of community-assisted budget prioritization for everything from police and fire stations to rec centers, storm drains and streets.

“There’s such a large amount of deferred maintenance that in some cases we can’t even catch up. We just have to essentially tear it up and start anew,” he said.

Bond money on the way

On Jan. 14 the San Diego City Council approved a $120 million infrastructure bond, that invests more than $43 million for street repairs; $1 million for sidewalk improvements; more than $27 million for five fire station and a new lifeguard station in South Mission Beach; $21 million for storm drains; and about $4.7 million for ADA upgrades.

“It frankly doesn’t even stop the decline, but it does slow it down for now,” Kersey said. “Most of those projects are ready to go … because Wall Street wants to see that money used within three years.”

To shorten the time it takes for a project to go from concept to completion, last year the city council approved streamlining measures that Kersey said would cut months off the time it takes to complete projects.

Though most large cities and government agencies have a plan for investing in future infrastructure (including the Port of San Diego and County of San Diego), the City of San Diego does not. That’s something Kersey said his committee is in the process of developing. A five-year plan will be ready for city council consideration by early summer, he said.

“Not only does the City of San Diego not have a multi-year infrastructure investment plan, we can’t find evidence that we’ve ever had one,” Kersey said. “Infrastructure has never been looked at as a strategic investment that you need to pay years in advance for.”

It will be the first time the city has taken all these long-term projects and assigned them price tags and funding sources, based on current policy, Kersey said.

Udrys said when a community planning group requests a project, the city screens it against various criteria, including whether the project enhances public safety or economic development, and whether it is required by state or federal mandate.

For example, the city has about $4 billion in storm water infrastructure projects due for completion in the next 20 years. Though the city doesn’t have money to pay for them all, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board could fine the city for not completing them on time, Kersey said.

The process of seeking community input on the city’s annual capital improvements budget was initiated in 2012 by former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders at the urging of La Jolla resident Joe LaCava, who is chair of the city’s Community Planners Committee, which coordinates input among the city’s planning groups, such as the LJCPA (which LaCava vice-chairs).

Though it will likely be several years before the city gets around to tackling any of the significant projects on La Jolla’s priority list, LaCava said items that are partially funded by private dollars — such as the Children’s Pool sidewalk beautification project — have a better chance of receiving city funds.

La Jollan Phyllis Minick and the La Jolla Parks and Beaches committee, which spearheaded the sidewalk remodel, have reached their initial goal of raising $250,000 for the project (from two major donations and smaller gifts of $500 to $10,000, including in-kind donations of services.) A representative from Lightner’s office said that in March the city council is expected to approve an additional $70,000 in capital improvement project funding for the remodel (which will cover some or all of an estimated 20 percent cost increase since the job was first bid).

Though LaCava said some of other items on La Jolla’s priority list are fairly “ambitious,” he maintained, “I never say never. Redoing the ‘Throat’ and doing the roundabouts in Bird Rock were both pretty outrageous projects when they were first suggested, but we found a way to get those funded.”

La Jolla’s Infrastructure Priority List

(per the La Jolla Community Planning Association)

■ Coast Boulevard sidewalk improvements at Children’s Pool (to improve pedestrian flow, provide seating and reduce bluff erosion)

■ Restoration of Scripps Park

■ South Coast Boulevard Park enhancements

■ Coast Walk feasibility studies (project would restore six parking spaces at coastal access spot and viewpoint that were removed without community input or proper permits)

■ Locate funding for Torrey Pines Road Corridor Project construction (Phases 1-3)

■ Belvedere Promenade on Prospect Street (would convert northbound Prospect Street to a pedestrian-only promenade and convert southbound Prospect to two-way traffic)

■ Add sidewalk at La Jolla Hermosa Park (Rock Park)

■ Install sidewalk at northeast corner of La Jolla Boulevard at Colima Street

■ Repair sidewalks in Village of La Jolla

■ Install sidewalks at Pottery Canyon Park

■ Replace curbs at intersection of Prospect Street, Coast Boulevard and Olivetas Avenue

■ Fay Avenue Bike Path enhancements

■ La Jolla Parkway/Mt. Soledad Erosion Control

■ Charlotte Park General Development Plan

■ Coast Area park signage

■ La Jolla Heights Natural Park Reservoir replacement

■ Widen sidewalk opposite 939 Coast Boulevard

Torrey Pines Road Corridor Project update

District 1 City Councilmember Sherri Lightner said the most recent delay in starting the Torrey Pines Road Corridor Project (TPRCP) has been waiting for the city to issue an environmental impact report on the first phase of the project, which is now expected at the end of February. The TPRCP includes traffic calming measures to enhance vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic along the main artery in and out of La Jolla from Interstate 5.

Jill Esterbrooks, a representative from Lightner’s office, told

La Jolla Light

that design for phase 1 of the is 90 percent complete. Construction on phase 1 should begin in September and take 85 working days to complete. It involves building a continuous sidewalk on the north (ocean) side of Torrey Pines Road, from the Village to La Jolla Shores Drive, and a new sidewalk on the south side of the road from Calle Juela to Roseland Drive. Phase 1 is fully funded through $1.1 million in SANDAG/TransNet money and $100,000 in La Jolla development impact fees.

The estimate to build the entire project from La Jolla Shores Drive to Prospect Place is $25 million. The project has been broken into four phases of $5 million-$10 million each. City staff has suggested breaking the project down into even smaller chunks to more easily secure TransNet funding (the city’s half-cent transportation sales tax).

“Our office is looking at interim actions that can be taken while larger amounts of funding are identified for future phases, including looking for creative ways to use bicycle and pedestrian grant funding to do some improvements,” Esterbrooks said, via e-mail, noting that the establishment of a maintenance assessment district or other special district to fund the project has been considered, though it would have to have approval of a majority of voters living in the vicinity of the project.

Anyone interested in a helping fund the project through donations or private fundraising is urged to call Lightner’s office at (619) 236-6611, Esterbrooks said.