This story first appeared in Civically Speaking, a weekly newsletter on the latest local government news from the lens of the Long Beach Post’s City Hall reporter, Jason Ruiz. To get his newsletter every Friday, sign up here.
For all the Karens out there
Before we get too far down this road, I want to make clear that I’m talking about Karen Avenue, not the viral video type of “Karen.”
If you read my story this week about where the city plans to do street repairs over the next few years and noticed your dilapidated street wasn’t on the list, you might have been a little angry.
But if you then followed up by placing the city’s maps side by side with the map of where street repairs were recently completed—I spent an unhealthy amount of time doing this—you may have noticed some streets that recently had work done are scheduled for more work.
And you might be on the verge of road rage.
Karen Avenue is a street in the Rancho Estates neighborhood north of El Dorado Park, and some stretches of it have single-digit Pavement Condition Index scores, the metric that the city uses to grade the condition of city streets.
The scale is out of 100, which means Karen, along with many other streets, is failing.
Fewer than half of the city’s streets are considered to be in very good to excellent condition while more than half have a PCI score of 60 or worse, according to city data. Nearly 20% have a PCI score of 30 or less, meaning they could require reconstruction, which can run about 15 times the cost of maintaining already “excellent” streets.
For context, the city is allocating $15 million out of recently approved bonds to fix residential streets over the next few years, and its plan lists dozens of street segments. And by “next few years,” I mean the city is obligated to spend this money by 2028 or it could have a $22 million penalty assessed to it by the IRS.
But when you’re fixing truly bad streets, the cost goes up. The price tag to fix a list of the ten worst streets made public in 2019 was $14.2 million. One of those streets still hasn’t been fixed.
The city’s process of selecting streets to repair is not easy to follow and doesn’t necessarily depend on PCI score. A council member told me this week that a Public Works official in the past had compared the process to running an auto shop.
“If I have ten jobs and nine are windshield wiper replacements and one is an engine overhaul, I’m gonna do the nine because I’ll make the most progress with that because the engine overhaul is too much work,” they recalled the official saying.
There appear to be several examples of this in the workplaces released this week. Nearly all of the streets in El Dorado Park Estates have PCI scores in the 80s or 90s, yet nearly all of them are scheduled for repairs.
Adriatic Avenue just south of Silverado Park (79) will be worked on but its neighboring streets, Baltic Avenue (15), Caspian Avenue (14) and Delta Avenue (16) will not.
The city has focused on maintaining good streets (windshield wipers) because they’re cheaper and easier to fix while letting the “overhauls” languish. At what point does the city address these overhauls?
Public Works Director Eric Lopez said that the city has added a tool, its crack and slurry seal team, which could help “stop the bleeding” and allow the city to address more challenging streets.
“It’s like putting a nice, high-quality coat of paint on your house,” Lopez said. “If you don’t paint your house, you’re going to see cracks, dry rot and maybe termite damage, and streets are similar.”
But only streets with a score of 70 and above are eligible.
In 2021, when the city first floated the idea of pursuing bonds to speed up street repairs because most of the Measure A funding has gone to police and fire departments since 2017, the average PCI score citywide was 58.
At the time, Lopez told me it would take about $1.77 billion to clear the backlog and bring the average score to an 85.
Two years later the citywide average is a 56, and I wouldn’t even venture to guess what the cost to clear the backlog would be given that bad streets have gotten worse and inflation has driven up the cost of virtually everything.
Sure, some city streets that should have been fixed years ago are finally getting some attention this year. Think Ximeno Avenue as you head north from Anaheim Street or Ocean Boulevard virtually anywhere outside of Downtown.
The ones that didn’t make the list will likely continue to deteriorate for at least the next five years as the city rushes to complete the list of projects it’s assigned bond dollars to.
I asked Lopez when people living on streets like Karen should expect repairs, and he said it depends on the budget. If Public Works is given more funding by the council, it can do more work.
“Is it fair? No, because everyone deserves a really good street, but I only have a limited amount of funding to do a limited amount of streets,” he said.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS WEEK:
This is the moment that I’m sure many of you have been waiting for. This Thursday, the Long Beach Utilities Commission is hosting its first budget workshop as it begins the process of sending its budget to the City Council for approval. The commission has to approve budgets for water and sewer and now the natural gas utilities after the merger of the two departments was approved in November. I think everyone is now acutely aware how important natural gas rates are after the historic spike in bills most people saw earlier this year. This is your opportunity to learn more about the process and tell the commission what you think should be prioritized. You’ll have to wake up early, though. The first meeting starts at 8 a.m. at the department headquarters at 1800 E. Wardlow Road. I’ll be sitting in the back, hopefully.
PAY ATTENTION TO THIS NEXT WEEK:
A proposal that could make street vending much more difficult because of proposed buffers and other regulations that the city could impose was moved off this week’s City Council agenda at the last minute and is expected to be discussed at its May 16 meeting. If you’re a street vendor or know one, you might want to tell them to be present for this discussion because the forthcoming ordinance from City Hall could have big effects on people who rely on street vending for income. While the City Council discussion could ultimately change what goes into the ordinance, here is the staff report and the list of proposals under consideration.