San Diego Infrastructure: What it Tells Us About Priorities

Sep 13, 2017 (San Diego) By now you have heard that a city water main failed on Interstate 8. Parts of that same system burst in the Fashion Valley are with at least three other failures. Businesses have been flooded and traffic is a mess. There is good news insofar as nobody got hurt. 

The story really is not the failing pipe. That is just a symptom. City Council and the Mayor did all they could to keep the Chargers in town. Then we had the little fiasco with Soccer City. That too is a symptom. Political leaders see new projects, such as a a new shinny stadium, as legacy setting. Losing a football team is also perceived as legacy, in this case a negative legacy. 

Failing infrastructure that normally cannot be seen is not seen as either a failure or legacy setting. This is a mistake. Cities need reliable water delivery systems, and sewage systems. These are usually not seen, and most city managers tend to pay scant attention to them. Sure, there is a maintenance schedule in place to jeep them going. San Diego, like most jurisdictions, has a water department. That is their job. The city of San Diego has a problem though. We do not take enough taxes to maintain roads, or water systems. 

The argument is made that a fancy new stadium will attract more of a tax base. This, we are told, will increase that tax base and allow for more money to maintain this invisible infrastructure. 

The city is aware of this problem. They simply bring in less revenues than what they spend. 

The budget has a baseline which “consists of those expenditures required to maintain existing services and programs, financial commitments, and mandates. It does not include planned or known future expenditures.”

While the budget approved this year was lean, it still has a very large infrastructure deficit. According to Mayor Kevin Faulconer “San Diego’s economy remains strong and the Proposed Budget projects moderate growth in the City’s three largest General Fund revenue categories – Property Tax, Sales Tax, and Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT). While the Proposed Budget projects moderate increases in revenues, growth has slightly declined compared to recent fiscal years. Although many of the local economic indicators were strong, uncertainty exists in major sales tax generating categories such as oil and gas prices and general consumer goods.” 

Pipes failing this spectacularly are not only a problem for short term traffic, or overtime pay for employees. They can potentially cost the city in civil court, since businesses were affected.  

Pipes are not sexy, but they are essential. The city has been having a rash of pipe failures, and most are old. It is not just pot holes. So maybe instead of pursuing projects such as stadiums, the city should concentrate on those invisible parts of the city infrastructure that keep the city going. 

For the record, it is not just the city. Lakeside and Vista also had recent sinkholes. Nor is this problem limited to the region. 

Categories: Budget, Infrastructure, policy, San Diego Politics

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