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Repairing San Diego's Crumbling Roads An Uphill Battle

October 17, 2013 1:21 p.m.


San Diego Infrastructure Committee Chairman and Councilman Mark Kersey

Related Story: Repairing San Diego's Crumbling Roads An Uphill Battle


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Listen to any of the top candidates for San Diego Mayor and you won't have to wait long until to hear the words "neighborhoods" or "street repair". The city's back log of infrastructure repairs is a big theme during this campaign. This also become a priority for San Diego City Council. Last December the Council inaugurated an infrastructure committee headed by my guest, Councilman Mark Kersey. The committee is about to launch a series of meetings to ask San Diegan's what they want to see fixed. Welcome Councilman Mark Kersey.

MARK KERSEY: Well, thank you Maureen. Good afternoon. Thanks for having me.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now when we talk about infrastructure repair, we're not just talking about potholes. What types of things are included on the city's repair list?

MARK KERSEY: Well that is exactly right, I would say we get most of our complaints about potholes and streets that need to be repaved. But we're talking about everything from streets and sidewalks to water mains and storm drains, fire stations, libraries, police stations, parks, recreation centers, basically a large piece of physical asset that this city owns and has to maintain falls under the privy of my committee and what we're trying to accomplish.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, we have heard the figure of $900 billion to fix San Diego's infrastructure back log of repairs. Recently, the price tag has got a lot higher. Tell us about that.

MARK KERSEY: Right, there were three reports that became out a couple of years ago pegged it at about $898 million. Those were good reports but they were incomplete. What we found is that as we've come to this process of getting money on the budget for condition assessment of some of our other infrastructure the numbers are quite a bit higher. Certainly 1 billion and probably approaching 2 billion and if you start approaching things like Point Loma wastewater treatment facility that tacks on a couple billion more. So, it's a big number the reality, is that we do not have the exact number because we have to do these condition assessments and for the longest time we just have it. And so, that is something that we push for in this year's budget ñ for example getting the city's first ever sidewalk condition and needs assessment put into the budget and that is something that is going to be going on this year.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So what you are saying is that this year is going to be actually going to have to budget money to do an audit of the repairs that need to be done.

MARK KERSEY: That is exactly right. The reality of the situation is that we do not have a good handle on the condition of our current assets. Streets we actually do. We had a consultant come in a couple of years ago. They drove every street in the city. They have little monitors and sensors on the bottom of the vehicle that measure reverberations in the road. And so we have a pretty good idea of the condition of our streets, but sidewalks we have no idea. We have anecdotal evidence that we have no hard data indicating how big the price tag is going to be.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is that where the audit would start with sidewalks or would you also include and that initial audit that you had budgeted for the condition of let's say fire houses or police stations?

MARK KERSEY: We had a couple of years ago the Parsons report that looked into a lot of our building facilities including police stations and fire stations. We have a lot of the data already. Parks and Recreation for example, we don't have a any kind of comprehensive assessment on the condition of our parks. We have the infrastructure backlog is at our parks. We know that it is a big number. We got about $264 million ñ ñ $264,000, I mean, put into this year's budget to begin the process and that is something that is going to take a little bit of time but we got to have that data because we just don't have a full grasp of the totality of the problem right now.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with the Councilman Mark Kersey. A recent study marked San Diego's roads as the fourth worst in the nation. You are saying that we have a pretty good idea of what the road conditions are like, how did we let it get this bad?

MARK KERSEY: Well there is a lot of this wasn't a lack of investment over the last couple of decades. We had our fiscal crisis and during the fiscal crisis when we could not even go out to the bond market to do things like go to infrastructure bonds to talk about. We just stopped investing in maintenance. And the thing about roads is that if you don't maintain them, it's just like not getting your oil changed in your car. We can only go so long without doing that before your engine breaks. This is kind of where we are now. If you do not do the things that you're supposed to do to maintain you get to the point where you cannot catch up and you have to repave the road. And that is a lot more expensive.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Have we made any progress since we know what's wrong with the roads?

MARK KERSEY: We have made good progress. Hopefully people have seen roads getting repaved throughout the city. We had an $8 million dollar project out about a month ago, and roads being repaved including stretches of Camino Del Norte, and my district ñ which was the most complained about district ñ Texas Street and North Park and Mira Mesa Boulevard, an avenue downtown, La Jolla Parkway, major thoroughfares that we get a lot of complaints about. We are getting stretches of those repaved this year.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now since 2009 the city of San Diego has borrowed more than $200 million for infrastructure repair. What has been done with the money?

MARK KERSEY: Well, a lot of it has gone to streets and roads and the sad thing about it is that we are so far behind. The Council before I got here enacted a five-year, half a billion-dollar infrastructure bond bill. The idea that was the fee would go out for $100 million a year for five years. Unfortunately, the bad thing about that it doesn't catch us up and it does not get us ahead of the curve, all it does is prevent the accelerated deterioration of an prevent hopefully things from getting tremendously worse. But they are going to get worse. That's why when I took office I sat down with our Councilman Todd Gloria and we talked about infrastructure issues and he had the vision of creating infrastructure committee. And that was a pivotal moment for the city because previously there was not the a single committee or person who had the oversight responsibility for infrastructure. Sometimes it would go to the budget committee sometimes, it will go to the natural resources committee. There was no real single place that was in charge of it. Todd had the vision to do that. He has been talking about city streets for a while now. He has beaten that drum and I have been able to pick up where he had started and really run with this. And, so we put up the committee's work plan which was a first back in January, we were able to prioritize neighborhood input and we're going through that process right now which is a first. We have really made a lot of historic steps. We're going to get the city's first five-year infrastructure plan. In outline form. It should come by the committee as part of the next year's budget cycle. And, so you when you look at that you look at the city's first sidewalk assessment we are making a lot of progress. We're not going to solve this overnight, either.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We're talking one or $2 billion, where is the money going to come from to make these repairs?

MARK KERSEY: That is a great question. I get that a lot. It's something we're going to deal with a lot. We need to have a serious civic conversation about that in the coming years. My focus has been on getting this condition assessments done ñ getting the money in the budget for that ñ getting additional money for maintenance of the current assets and obviously getting money for the five-year infrastructure plan. The five-year infrastructure plan some basic enough. Most large government agencies have one. The port has one, the county has one; most big cities have one. Not only does the city of San Diego not have a five-year infrastructure plan, we don't have evidence that we have ever had one even in a long time. That explains why we're in the bad shape we're in. We're having community meetings around the city helping us prioritize the projects that are going to get done, and then wrapping all that into the five-year infrastructure plan and hopefully having inaccurate price tag for all of this when we are done.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How do you make the case to San Diegans? They want to see some potholes filled, but when you talk about one or two billion-dollar infrastructure repair projects, San Diegans don't like to pay for public projects. How do youget around that?

MARK KERSEY: Well, since I have been the chairman of the committee for the last 10 months and now, we have a mayoral campaign again, infrastructure I believe is up priority. It is my top priority, for it is the next big crisis facing the city, now that we've done ourselves mostly out of the fiscal mess. My hope in what I've seen so far is that the mayoral candidates are making this a top priority as well. Public safety is obviously a big issue but infrastructure is an equally big issue, it's a core responsibility of local government.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, now you're starting a series of neighborhood input meetings. The next meeting will be held on Tuesday, October 22 at 6 PM in Balboa Park, and that will also have Interim Mayor Todd Gloria there. Can I ask you briefly because we are running out of time, how many of these neighborhood input meetings are you planning to have?

MARK KERSEY: We're going to have one in each Council District. We started off in mine as a pilot for this. We did that a couple months ago. We're going to have one in each Council District ñ as you mentioned we have the one in District 3 ñ with our interim Mayor Todd Gloria next week. Then we have one two days later in District 7 with Scott Sherman. We've got the following week with Myrtle Cole with District 4. Lorie Zapf the following week. We're going to do to in the next week and then one each week after that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: okay, will you come back to us after these input meetings?

MARK KERSEY: I would love to. I think it's going to be a great process.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with San Diego Councilman Mark Kersey. Thank you so much.

MARK KERSEY: Thank you Maureen, I appreciate it.