The infrastructure in the City of Long Beach is slowly deteriorating and the city lacks the funds to keep pace with its rate of decay. It’s expected that over the next decade over $2 billion in funding is needed to bring streets, buildings and other city properties back into proper operating order, but at the current funding level, the city finds itself with a funding deficit of $212 million annually.
Those findings were presented to the Long Beach City Council Tuesday night as an ongoing series of updates by the Department of Public Works. Previous studies to the council focused on the road conditions and parking, but Tuesday’s included parks, marinas, underground sewage, lighting and a multitude of other city infrastructure maintenance and upgrade needs.
City Engineer Sean Crumby explained that in order to have a strong city, the city needs a strong foundation, which means investments in its infrastructure. The city is currently slated to spend about $50 million in new capital improvement projects for the next fiscal year, including the new civic center project, but with backlogged maintenance and the continued aging of buildings and roads, the gap in funding continues to grow.
“As the condition of the city’s infrastructure declines the repair costs increase,” Crumby said “As they’re ignored those repair costs go up and it costs more to bring them back to condition the longer we wait.”
Those costs include improvements to parks and public safety facilities like fire and police stations, which are considered to be in “poor” condition city wide, and the city’s streets, currently considered to be in good or fair condition with a pavement condition index near 60, but require an additional $25.7 million in additional investments to bring them up to optimal conditions.
Pavement experts consider a street improvement backlog of 20 percent to be unmanageable and Long Beach currently has a backlog of 43 percent.
Assistant City Manager Tom Modica said that although the city has done a good job at finding sources of funding outside the city’s general fund and funds coming from Tidelands, it needs to increase those efforts. The city has secured about $67 million in grants and other funding from both the state and federal governments but Modica said that with the rising infrastructure needs it’s not enough.
Workers tearing down the old downtown Long Beach courthouse. Photo by Stephanie Rivera.
“If you take that 2.8 billion dollars and assume that we were to fund all those needs over 10 years, essentially even with that 67 million dollars [that the city currently invests], our annual shortfall would be about 212 million dollars per year,” Modica said. “While we are doing very well at securing funds, there is a tremendous need and what we have doesn’t currently cover what our need is over the next ten years.”
Because nearly half the council was missing for the presentation due to illness and other family obligations, the report that was deemed “chilling” by Eighth District Councilman Al Austin was set for a receive and file and had little depth to the discussion.
Those council members present acknowledged the growing problem of funding shortfalls for the city’s infrastructure needs, but with the city facing years of budget deficits in the future it will be a struggle for the council to find funds within the city to address the growing problem. Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson noted the “triage” approach the city has taken in maintaining its streets and buildings, adding that that practice can only go on for so long.
“I know that our residents don’t want a second-rate city and I know that we all want to be proud of our neighborhoods, and to some degree want to control our fates and not always wait on grant funding to handle the important things that are important to our community,” Richardson said.
Those funds have become more and more scarce as votes at both the state and federal level have continued to roll back funding for infrastructure nationwide. Earlier this month a bi-partisan vote approved some $300 billion in spending nationwide over the next five years, however, that figure was roughly $175 billion less than requested by President Barack Obama.
A congressional vote in May also cut funding to Amtrak by about 20 percent about 24 hours after a derailment in Philadelphia killed 79 people and injured over 200 others. The crash was largely attributed to backlogged maintenance due to lack of funding.
Mayor Robert Garcia praised Austin’s work on his efforts to try and secure those dollars outside the city’s borders, adding that the city will continue those efforts even with the well seemingly drying up.
“We’re in a situation today, unfortunately, that the state and Congress have chosen to do very little to help our transportation, road repair, street repair needs,” Garcia said. “We will continue through our state legislation committee and to a lesser extent, through our federal legislation committee to try and get some kind of a package down to our cities.”