The Long Beach City Council voted Tuesday to approve up to $90 million in bonds that the city will use in part to pay for the purchase of a Downtown building that’s being converted into a crime lab, office space and a new senior center, with the remaining $60 million paying for repairs to city streets, parks and other facilities.

Issuing bonds to pay for repairs and improvements to the city’s network of streets and buildings and other projects was part of the budget discussion last fall, when the council agreed to move forward with issuing bonds to potentially save on the cost of repairs.

At the time, over half of the city’s streets were projected to have less than 12 years of life remaining, and city officials have noted that as streets degrade more, the cost to fix them goes up.

The bonds are expected to be repaid with Measure A tax revenue, which comes from a voter-approved sales tax, and partially from the general fund, with a total of $4.8 million in annual payments due over the next 30 years, according to city documents.

The funds are going toward a five-year investment plan that the Public Works Department submitted to the council in 2022 that is expected to invest over $520 million in bonds, Measure A funding and other grants from state and county agencies.

“That’s still not enough to repair all of our streets, all of our sidewalks and all of our alleys,” Public Works Director Eric Lopez said Tuesday. “The overall need is in the billions for the city, but it still represents the largest investment in infrastructure we’ve made in a very long time.”

Council members voted Tuesday unanimously to approve the bonds, which will need to be spent quickly because of their tax-exempt status. The city will have to spend 85% of the funds over the next three years and all of the funds within five years.

Long Beach could face stiff penalties for not not doing so. Not spending the funds fast enough could require the city to pay a fine equal to 30% of the total interest paid on the bonds ($73.3 million), which could amount to a $22 million hit to the city’s general fund.

The city will have to stick to a strict schedule over the next five years to complete the projects identified in a staff report presented to the council Tuesday night that outlines the projects that the city intends to spend the roughly $53 million in bond revenue that will go to Public Works.

A city memo said that some projects could be skipped over or deferred to ensure that the list financed with bond money is completed in time. Joy Contreras, a spokesperson for Public Works, said that the department does not currently have a list of projects that could be skipped over to ensure the bond-financed ones are completed.

Contreras said the number of projects outlined in the plan is comparable to what the city completed during the first five-year plan for Measure A.

For the most part, the projects on the list are fully funded, Contreras said, but that could change if the cost of construction and materials goes up over the next few years or if the bids the city receives for the projects are over budget.

“These projects will get done, but the funding sources will have to be up to the city to figure out if projects are underfunded,” she said.

Where the bond money will be spent 

Some of the bond revenue will go toward paying the city back for the over $21 million it fronted for the acquisition of the old Southern California Edison building at the corner of First Street and Elm Avenue in Downtown.

That building is going to be converted into office space for the city’s Energy Resources Department, and it will also be home to a new crime lab for the Long Beach Police Department, as well as a new senior center.

The rest will go to Public Works projects.

About $7.5 million has already been allocated by the council for the Davenport Park, Studebaker Road and Artesia Corridor projects, but the rest of the $52.7 million will go toward other projects.

About $38 million is going toward street improvements with residential streets ($15 million) seeing the biggest chunk of funds, followed by larger arterial roads ($4.9 million) and alleyway improvements ($1.5 million).

Contreras said that the department hopes to release maps showing what exact street segments are expected to be worked on sometime in the next few days.

The Studebaker Road project, which will install bike lanes and other pedestrian safety improvements along the segment of road between Second Street and Carson Street, is getting another $5 million from the bond revenue. That project was estimated to cost $18.5 million in December and already has received a $8.75 million grant from Los Angeles Metro.

Other things like eight gateway signs at entry points into the city ($550,000), swimming pool repairs at Martin Luther King Jr. Park ($1 million) and funding for Latino, LGBTQ and African American cultural centers ($1.6 million) is included in the plan.

The city is also allocating $1.3 million toward a project that will put the first Blue Line train car to operate in the city in the middle of a pedestrian safety project along First Street. The project would stretch from the East Village to Lincoln Park and install new landscaping, sitting areas, shorten pedestrian crossing distances and develop the rail car into a museum or cafe.

County officials have already allocated $5.5 million in funding for the project to Long Beach.

Find a full list of the projects included in the initial bond spending plan here.

Long Beach to consider $150 million in bonds to speed up road repairs, other projects

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.