By Jack Humphreville.
On Tuesday, Council members Joe Buscaino and Mitch Englander announced that they have terminated their efforts to place the proposed half cent increase in our sales tax on the November ballot. This new levy, designed to raise $4.5 billion over the next fifteen years, would have been dedicated to the repair of the one-third of our streets that are in a failed or near failed condition.
While many City Hall insiders were certain that this ballot measure would have been approved by two-thirds of the voters based on their polling data, the odds of this tax increase receiving 50% voter approval were doubtful, especially given the outrage to CBS 2 Investigative reporter David Goldstein’s on air expose about City street repair crews goofing off on company time and falsifying their work logs.
Our outrage would be further fueled by the not yet released audit of the Bureau of Street Service by Controller Ron Galperin that pans its operations, control systems, and leadership.
The prospects for voter approval would only get worse when the voters realized that there were no assurances that all of our roads and alleys would be in good to excellent condition at the end of twenty years, putting the next generation of Angelenos in the same fix we are in today.
So how does the City propose to repair our lunar cratered streets?
First, Joe Buscaino and Mitch Englander (photo) and their staffs deserve gold stars for their efforts in highlighting the issue of our failed streets.
To gain the trust and confidence of the voters, any and all negotiations must be conducted in an open and transparent manner rather than behind closed doors at City Hall where the folks footing the bill have a seat at the table and a meaningful voice in crafting and drafting an acceptable street repair program.
Any plan also needs to ensure that all of our streets and alleys are in good to excellent condition at the end of the twenty year program and that they continue to be maintained in a proper manner. This will require an additional $800 million according to the Bureau of Street Services.
The plan also needs to address the concerns of the Bureau of Sanitation, especially as it relates to storm water and urban runoff and its impact on the Santa Monica Bay.
The plan also needs to consider programs being promoted by the environmental community, including Green Streets, Complete Streets, Cool Streets, and the Mobility Element.
The City must also develop a comprehensive year by year operational and management plan, especially since the Bureau of Street Services does not have the demonstrated expertise and experience to handle a project of this magnitude.
The plan must provide for adequate oversight by a well-funded Citizens Oversight Committee. This includes appointing qualified individuals who have the experience and expertise to review, analyze, and critique the progress of the street repair program to insure that it is on time and on budget. This committee must also have the power to enforce its findings.
The plan to repair our streets must detail how the City intends to fund this ambitious street repair plan, including alternatives that do not involve an increase in our sales and real estate taxes. For example, instead of a “pay as you go” structure, why not issue long term bonds to finance long term capital assets that would be serviced by the increase in General Fund revenues?
If, on the other hand, the City decides to increase our taxes to pay for the repair of our streets, this will require the approval of the skeptical voters who do not trust the City Council, the same body that created this mess by diverting money for the repair of our streets to pay for massive increases in salaries, pensions, and benefits for the City’s workers.
To convince the voters to pay for the repair of the streets for a second time, the City Council will need to place a charter amendment on the ballot that mandates that the City to Live Within Its Means. This will require the City to develop and adhere to a Five Year Financial Plan, pass two year balanced budgets, and over the next twenty years, fully fund the City’s two underwater pension plans and repair our streets and the rest of our deteriorating infrastructure.
The City Council will look us in the eye and say that we need to trust them. But we have heard that line many times before and just look at the mess we are in with over $30 billion of debt, unfunded pension liabilities, and deferred maintenance for our failing infrastructure.
It is time for Mayor Garcetti and the Herb Wesson City Council to realize that voters will not let the City hold our streets hostage for a princely ransom.