Mayor Robert Garcia at a press conference in March kicking off a street improvement project funded by Measure A revenue. Photo: Ariana Gastelum
The Long Beach City Council hosted a special study session Tuesday night to discuss the proposed 2018 fiscal budget for the city’s capital improvement projects.
Last year’s adopted budget included over $77 million in road repairs, utility improvements and other general upkeep of the city’s infrastructure. It included over $27 million from Measure A, the voter-approved sales-tax increase, that went directly toward improving the city’s roadways. This year's budget has grown to a projected $93.6 million.
This year’s budget appears poised to benefit again from those funds, in addition to the recently approved Senate Bill 1 and other county taxes which aim to improve both statewide and regional infrastructure.
Long Beach Public Works Director Craig Beck said that the city is projected to receive about $2.5 million from the statewide “gas tax” (SB-1)—something expected to grow up to about $11 million in a few years—as well as $6.7 million from Los Angeles County’s Measure M. The 2018 fiscal year will also mark the first full year of Measure A, meaning that the funds generated through the half-cent sales tax markup in the city will likely contribute more than the $27 million the department received for last year’s budget which was adopted at just over $77 million.
While the budget won’t be adopted until September, and a full proposed budget has yet to be submitted to and debated on by the council, council members had many remarks regarding the capital improvement program and how it could be improved.
An earlier presentation from June where Beck presented an update on the city’s pavement management plan and the health of the city’s streets highlighted that this would represent the first year the city had a functional plan to improve alleys. Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo said that the council should look into abandoning the customary practice of dividing funding across the nine council districts, and instead target the areas in the city that have the most need.
“I hope my colleagues will agree with me that we should do that by data and we should do that by need,” Mungo said. “I say that knowing that I won’t have the most alleys that need to be paved but I know that unpaved alleys should be a priority before fixing some of the alleys that are currently paved.”
Multiple council members requested that public works provide a more detailed map of where and when specific streets in the city would be worked on so they could give their residents a better picture of when the pro-Measure A vote they cast might come to fruition.
While not directly connected to the public works’ CIP budget, Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price asked that the intersections south of the Long Beach Veterans Affairs Hospital remain on the radar for public works for any possible grants to help alleviate congestion that has created a daily slog through the portion of the city infamously called the “Iron Triangle”.
“Seventh Street is horrific, it is a horrific entrance to the city for anyone getting off the 22 and I know we’ve talked about what they’re going to do and there’s some ambiguity if they are or aren’t going to do a project, that’s just something I want to make sure that stays on the radar,” Price said.
“We’re having a thriving university that’s admitting more and more students every year, we have a hospital there and we have increased retail, businesses and homes, and I just think it’s a huge bottleneck that we need to get some help with in terms of beautification and traffic flow.”
The council was mostly laudatory of the public works staff and their efforts to keep city property in working order with the budget they’ve been allowed over the past few years.
However, one of the more pressing issues that public works has yet to resolve when it comes to street maintenance is when the streets in the poorest conditions will be addressed.
In June, and Tuesday night, members of the staff concluded that the dollar amount needed to bring the city’s pavement condition index scores to an 80 would cost $510 million. The figure has grown from 2015 ($420 million) despite the large investments being made in street maintenance because the poorest streets continue to decline. The city’s current citywide PCI score is 62.
Beck explained that resurfacing streets in better condition allows the city’s dollars to be stretched farther across the city as a slurry seal job on multiple streets is significantly less expensive than a complete rehabilitation of a single street. He noted that the department is now looking at addressing more mid-tier streets and potentially some lower-tier surfaces, but the distribution of funds might reflect a 70-30 ratio, with the higher rated streets getting the bulk of funding.
“If we fix those streets that are in the 50 or 40 ranges now, in future years you’re only going to need to slurry them and they’re going to last a long time, with minimal investment,” Beck said. “That will then free up future dollars to do those reconstructions of those worse streets in the city.”
When some of the poorest streets might be addressed has yet to be determined with Beck stating it might be 10 years out, past the point at which Measure A funding would be available to the city for infrastructure investments.
One part of town that stands to benefit greatly from this year’s CIP budget is the city’s northernmost district (District 9) which shares a border with Compton, Carson and Lakewood.
Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, who represents the district, pointed to the fact that all of the major corridors in the Ninth have been serviced or are slated for some kind of restoration in the 2018 fiscal year budget. The district also will get a chunk of funding to finally restore the Houghton Park Community Center, a building that has serviced the community since the 1930s but has been targeted for repairs for years.
“This budget will be one of the most exciting budgets that we can pass because we can finally address some of the long standing infrastructure issues that have really plagued North Long Beach for a long time,” Richardson said. “This is essentially every single corridor in our district. That’s huge.”