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San Diego, Los Angeles Street Repairs to Cost Billions

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles and San Diego officials are both crafting plans to rectify years of deferred maintenance on crumbling city streets and sidewalks with plans that will require billions of dollars in bonds.

Two Los Angeles City Council members are now aiming to have a $3 billion general obligation bond backed by property taxes on the November 2014 ballot, while San Diego's newly-created infrastructure committee is working on a five-year plan that will include tackling nearly $900 million in deferred maintenance for its streets.

On Jan. 15, the day before a scheduled vote, Los Angeles Councilmen Mitchell Englander and Joe Buscaino withdrew a plan to put a $3 billion bond backed by property taxes on the May 21 ballot.

The Los Angeles plan would fund $300 million of street reconstruction a year for 10 years of 8,700 miles of the city's failing streets. The city has 28,000 miles of streets. The original plan was postponed after an outcry from the community, partly over the speed with which the plan was proposed. Community leaders complained that they didn't learn of the proposal until right before the council was due to vote on it.

"Our streets are one of the most visible and important components of our infrastructure, and there is no question that they are in poor condition and must be repaired," Buscaino said. "However, a proposal of this size and scope must allow for thorough review and input from the residents and taxpayers that will ultimately pay for it."

Englander and Buscaino hope to garner more public support and allow time for the city administrative office to craft a report on the issue and for the city attorney's office to draft legislation, according to Branimir Kvartuc, a Buscaino spokesman. "Both councilmen fielded lots of calls from constituents," he said.

Some city residents questioned why the bonds will be repaid by a tax on city homes when everyone drives in the streets, but most just felt the measure was being rushed onto the ballot, Kvartuc said.

Residents would also like the city to consider methods besides raising taxes to pay for the bonds. They cited the passage in November of statewide Proposition 30 that increases taxes on earnings over $250,000 for seven years and sales taxes by 0.25% for four years, and the half-cent increase in Los Angeles' sales tax already on the March ballot.

"They said it was just a lot all at once," Kvartuc said.

The measure was referred back to the Public Works Committee chaired by Buscaino. The councilman has scheduled a series of meetings in his district to discuss the issue beginning next Wednesday.

To the south, a newly-created San Diego Infrastructure Committee met for the first time Monday. Council President Todd Gloria formed the panel to deal with an estimated $900 million in needed repairs to the city's streets and sidewalks. In addition to crafting a five-year plan to repair them, the committee is also charged with evaluating repairs needed to all city assets, including city-owned buildings.

The panel, chaired by San Diego Councilman Mark Kersey, discussed ways of streamlining the city's internal process to shorten the time it takes for projects to be completed. The goal is to have a five-year infrastructure plan approved by the council before the start of fiscal 2015, which begins in June 2014.

"We are creating a clear process for identifying needs, prioritizing those needs into a five-year plan of projects, and finding ways to get those projects built," Kersey said.

The plan will deal with a decade worth of deferred maintenance that has occurred while the city battled its fiscal woes, according to Kersey.

"There hasn't been nearly enough investment in our streets and sidewalks, parks and libraries, streetlights and storm drains," Kersey said. "We could discuss the many reasons why infrastructure has been underfunded, but I'd rather get moving on solutions."

San Diego initially fell behind on infrastructure projects after a pension scandal in 2004 resulted in the loss of its credit rating and access to bond markets.

All San Diego city departments that deal with infrastructure will report back to the committee within 60 days on the condition of the assets they manage.

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