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Billions Promised For San Diego Roads, Sidewalks And More, But Funding Falling Short

 September 17, 2019 at 10:28 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 So three years ago, voters approved a ballot measure to fix San Diego's roads, sidewalks and buildings, politicians backing the measure set. It would pay for up to $4 billion in improvements over 25 years, but I knew source investigative reporter Mary Plumber has found funding for the measure is falling far short of that. On a recent weekday morning at the Rancho Pennys Ketos library staff are busy checking in books and loading items into cards. The library opened in 1992 and like many structures around the city, it needs maintenance. Branch manager, Adrian Peterson says there's paint work that needs to get done, exterior panels that need replacing and the parking lot needs to be repaved. It's one of the largest libraries in the system. It's also one of the most popular and it's been well used and well loved and it's getting time where it needs some TLC. The library falls within councilman mark, Chrissy's district, Chrissy's here at the library to talk about rebuild San Diego. That's the name of the ballot measure he championed back in 2016 to help improve the city's crumbling infrastructure. Rebuild. San Diego was not a tax increase. Instead it was supposed to use revenues from things like property and sales, tax growth and pension savings to fund it needed repairs. Courtesy points above to the library ceiling. A tile is missing in a brown water ring, surrounds a dark hole Speaker 2: 01:22 I think from inside here. Uh, you didn't, you could see stuff like this. This is more likely a roof problem where you had a water leak Speaker 1: 01:29 under the ballot measure. The library is set to get $250,000 to pay for improvements. Repairs like these are among a nearly $2 billion infrastructure backlog citywide. A massive problem that's been growing in recent years. Rebuild San Diego was supposed to help but documents I news source reviewed show projections are far short of what Kersey and other backers, including mayor Kevin Faulconer and former mayor Jerry Sanders pitch to voters. So far, just $59 million in funding has been spent or budgeted. That's tens of millions of dollars below numbers provided in the voters guide at the time. Kersey acknowledged funding is down, but he still views the ballot measure as a success. Speaker 2: 02:12 It's just putting a dent in the overall billion dollar plus problem. Uh, but it is real money. The Speaker 1: 02:17 shortfalls come from the way the ballot measure was structured so far. No money has been available from sales tax revenues or pension savings. Some of course these critics say the plan was troubled from the get go. We are not going to generate three to $4 billion of revenue through this measure. Even though that was the promise. That's Cura Green executive director at the center on policy initiatives in San Diego. The nonprofit oppose the ballot measure. It's just clear that that is not going to happen and that it was based on mythical. Thinking about some of these sources of revenue along with the money shortage, there are timeline problems. By summer 2022 city finance officials estimate rebuild San Diego will run out of money. That's because the one piece of funding tied to property tax growth that's produced any money will sunset put simply the 25 year vision put forward by Kersey and others may have just a five year run. Speaker 1: 03:12 Scott Barnett is president of San Diego taxpayer's advocate. He also opposed the ballot measure. Burnett says the numbers coming out now should concern voters. In his view, a tax increases the only real solution to San Diego's infrastructure problems. He says the money produced so far from the ballot measure is just budget dust, not enough to fully help the city. I mean ultimately it takes political leadership and there has not been as for what happens next, Kersey says it's too soon to say he hopes future mayors and city councils will be willing to find the money in the budget to fix the city's roads, sidewalks and buildings. And he says a followup ballot measure could be one approach. Kersey is considering a run for mayor in 2020 at the same time, voters will likely face yet another ballot measure to expand the convention center like rebuild San Diego. It promises new money for infrastructure improvements. Speaker 1: 04:06 And joining me now is Mary plummer investigative reporter with our news partner I new source. Mary, welcome to the program. Thank you so much for having me. Politicians promised up to 4 billion for infrastructure fixes. Your finding show just $59 million has been spent or budgeted. Talk with us more about what exactly went wrong with this ballot measure. Rebuild San Diego was structured a to use existing city money for infrastructure improvements. It was not a tax increase. Uh, so essentially the funding methods that were built into the ballot measure have not delivered in the way that politicians hoped. Uh, it's a pretty complicated funding structure. The one bucket of money tied to property taxes that had delivered money so far will sunset by fiscal 2023 so that money will zero out. And then the other two pods depend on sales tax revenue and pension savings, which so far have not materialized at the levels needed to contribute funding for our pears. Speaker 1: 05:02 So, uh, you know, given those realities, the city's finance department is projecting that money for rebuild San Diego, uh, will run out entirely. You mentioned sales tax revenue for the city of San Diego has been down and it's one of the reasons the ballot measure has missed its projections. How surprising is this? Uh, in my reporting, I took a look at a longer view of sales tax revenue in San Diego. And you know, when you look further back, what you see is that sales tax revenues dropped significantly during the great recession. They have recovered since then, but they dipped slightly since 2016. That's the year that rebuild San Diego went before voters. And it's that downward tick that has prevented sales tax revenue from Gore, uh, from going toward the ballot measure. Okay. So let's talk about what rebuild San Diego has accomplished so far. Is there a project list and where can San Diego residents go to track repairs in their neighborhoods? Speaker 1: 05:57 Yes. So the project list, uh, was an interesting piece of this. A $59 million has so far been spent or budgeted under the ballot measure of that more than $25 million has gone toward road repairs, more than 9 million towards sidewalk improvements. Other work includes things like a security lighting at parks and bridge repairs. So certainly work has been done but on a much smaller scale than politicians like city councilman Mark Kersey who led the campaign pitch to voters. I, we did request a full project list from the mayor's office and we have published that list on our website. I knew I knew source.org this was not previously available to the public. You can have there to check out whether any work has been done in your neighborhood. And Mayor Kevin Faulkner has been very vocal about his desire to improve San Diego's infrastructure. How does rebuild San Diego fit into his administration's overall strategy? Speaker 1: 06:50 That's true. You know, I should mention that rebuild San Diego essentially formalizes a practice that was in place prior to the ballot measure. Uh, the mayor had already dedicated funds toward infrastructure projects in a similar way. When voters approved rebuild, it required that practice, uh, to become part of the city's charter. But in the, in the bigger picture here, you know, rebuild San Diego is really just a tiny portion of the city's overall spending on infrastructure. Uh, to give you a sense, you know, San Diego has a capital improvement program. Essentially it's the master plan for construction projects across the city. Uh, this fiscal year funds from the ballot measure make up about three and a half percent of the city's nearly $711 million capital improvement program. So, you know, there's a whole lot more money that's spent citywide and a ballot measure to expand. The convention center is expected to go before voters during the March, 2020 elections. Speaker 1: 07:44 If approved, that ballot measure would send some money towards street repairs. Is that likely to help? Uh, you know, it really depends on who you ask. Certainly it will devote some money toward repairs, but the money won't be available until fiscal year 2025. So a few years out and early projections reviewed by city officials show that the convention center ballot measure will likely devote under $10 million a year in the first few years towards street repairs. Um, you know, that's a very small amount, given that San Diego's current infrastructure backlog is estimated at nearly $2 billion. I've been speaking with Mary plummer, investigative reporter, with our media partner. I new source. Mary. Thanks. Thank you. Speaker 3: 08:26 [inaudible].

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A 2016 ballot measure that was supposed to fix potholes, sidewalks and street lights in San Diego is trending tens of millions of dollars short of city projections given to voters. Here’s what went wrong.
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