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San Diego Has Little Money To Fix Its Expensive Infrastructure Problem

Road work on Meade Avenue in San Diego’s University Heights neighborhood  is ...

Photo by Zoë Meyers / inewsource

Above: Road work on Meade Avenue in San Diego’s University Heights neighborhood is shown on April 28, 2020.

Listen to this story by John Carroll.

It’s the stuff that makes a city function — roads, sidewalks, pipes, drains, traffic lights, the list goes on and on. It's known as infrastructure, and the upkeep can be very expensive.

San Diego city staff presented the current price tag to the city council Tuesday. Over the next five years, the city estimates it has $5.7 billion worth of infrastructure needs.

Right now, it only has $3.4 billion to spend to fix things, leaving a $2.3 billion gap.

The vast majority of that gap is the amount the city figures it must spend to fix its crumbling storm water infrastructure.

“It’s mind-blowing that San Diego is over $1.2 billion short of what it needs to fix the storm drain system,” said District 3 Councilman Stephen Whitburn.

Whitburn said after a heavy rain, he’s seen cars floating in the street in some of the older neighborhoods of District 3.

He said the problem compounds because the city must then use precious funds for temporary fixes.

“The city has to take money from parks projects and library projects and sidewalk repairs to pay for these sudden expenses,” Whitburn said.

RELATED: San Diego’s Biggest Infrastructure Need Isn’t Streets — It’s Storm Drains

District 9 Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera said, “We are so far from where we need to be with respect to properly funding infrastructure in our city and as several of my colleagues have mentioned, that is the result of multiple years and multiple administrations failing to have the honest conversation about what it costs.”

That theme ran through most of the councilmembers' comments, putting the blame for today’s problems on past councils and mayors.

Councilman Elo-Rivera said that lack of leadership has put the city into a situation where it’s constantly spending money on temporary fixes, when it should be doing permanent fixes or building new infrastructure.

“It really just comes down to responsibly prioritizing the maintenance and construction of our infrastructure and facilities within the budget,” said District 8 Councilwoman Vivian Moreno.

RELATED: San Diego Has About 60 Miles Of Unpaved Roads, Councilwoman Moreno Wants To Change That

The presentation on the city’s infrastructure was just informational, so no votes were taken.

But it is more clear than ever that this city council has a massive issue in front of it, figuring out how to get the dollars it’s going to take to fund infrastructure needs that are years in the making.

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John Carroll
General Assignment Reporter & Anchor

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI'm a general assignment reporter and Saturday morning radio anchor for KPBS. I love coming up with story ideas that aren't being covered elsewhere, but I'm also ready to cover the breaking news of the day. In addition, I bring you the local news headlines on Saturday mornings during NPR's Weekend Edition.

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