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Streetwise and $ Foolish?

There are several interesting items embedded in the following story from today’s West County Times.


First of all, this is not news. This was first reported by the West County Times in October. See Richmond Has Second Worst Roads in Bay Area, October 18, 2006.


What seems to be news, but is not, is a revival of Jim Rogers’ campaign pitch for spending redevelopment dollars for road repair. While Rogers is correct that there is a $41 million redevelopment agency annual budget, it’s not that simple. Of the $41,265,000 budgeted for 2006-2007, only $24,141,000 is actually available for projects after deducting costs for servicing bond debt, administration and other operating costs. That remaining $24,141,000 is not just sitting there waiting for someone to figure out how to spend it. It is already allocated for a host of projects all over Richmond, which can be viewed in detail by clicking on Redevelopment Agency Projects. Even more information, including monthly status reports, is available in the CED Monthly Report. many of these projects already include street improvements, such as Downtown Area Improvements, Overpass & Underpass Studies, Redesign of Harbour Way, West Macdonald Streetscape Improvements and Macdonald 80 Shopping Center.


Funding street repair is not, as some critics have argued, against state redevelopment law. Under the line item, Street Reconstruction Funding, the Redevelopment budget already includes funding for 19 street reconstruction projects throughout the City. Sure, the City Council could dedicate an additional $5 million annually to street repairs, and maybe we should. But it would mean not funding some other project or projects that may be an equally high priority, such as moving back into the old Civic Center or improving Macdonald Avenue. One thing that we have yet to do in Richmond is to conduct a community survey to find out what the priorities are of our residents. Without that, it’s anybody’s guess how this money should be spent. When a politician advocates spending more money on something, he or she should also be willing to designate where funding would be reduced. That’s only fair.


I found most interesting the comment from Richmond Chamber of Commerce President Judy Morgan: “Poorly maintained roads take a toll on the city's image and ability to attract business … It makes it harder to lease commercial space, which makes it harder to bring businesses to Richmond," she said. "If your business has a fleet of trucks, the cost to service them is going to be higher. There's also a negative impact on real estate values."


If I recall, the City Council had a plan to raise some $8 million, largely by taxing Chevron, that could have been used for street repair. I believe it was the Chamber of Commerce that fought Measure T tooth and nail and then bragged about its defeat. Now they are complaining about bad streets! We are still waiting for the Chamber of Commerce solution.


While endorsing other cities’ attempts to raise money for road repair, the Times followed the Chamber’s lead, accusing Richmond of Going to the Well Too Often? November 4, 2006. Now they are surprised that Richmond still has the bay Area’s worst roads?


What is my solution? Like most of us, the City has only a limited amount of revenue. First, we should let the residents of Richmond decide, via community survey, where they want to spend this revenue. Currently, the City has a base line street budget made up of largely of state gasoline tax allocations, Measure C allocations, miscellaneous grants and some Redevelopment Agency projects. If the residents want to reallocate existing revenues for more street expenditures, we should do it, and hopefully, they will also tell us where they want to reduce funding. However, even that will not address the shortfall. Ultimately, new revenue sources will have to be found to surmount the growing street problem, and it will be up to the residents of Richmond to decide if they want to support that and who will pay for it.


City falls deeper into its potholes
RICHMOND: Cost to repair ailing roads soaring and problem will worsen with continued inaction


Posted on Sun, Dec. 10, 2006

Unless Richmond can speed up its street repair program over the next few years, it may be cheaper to fill the potholes with $100 bills.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission has determined that Richmond has the worst streets in the Bay Area. And each year they go unrepaired, the cost to fix them soars, according to a recent Harris & Associates pavement report.

"In other words," the report says, "it is not simply 'pay today or pay tomorrow,' but rather 'pay today or pay more tomorrow.'"

Like many cities, Richmond finance officials regularly have cut road repair funding when looking for money to balance the budget. But Richmond is now sitting on a deferred maintenance bill of $94 million, and unless the city can somehow increase repair funding, that figure will skyrocket to about $200 million in 2010, Finance Director Jim Goins said.

The city has been pouring millions each year into road repair but has not been able to keep up with the deterioration, Goins said.

"We're spending $8 million this year, and next year we'll spend $9 million. After that, spending drops to $5 million for each of the next three years," Goins said. "It's simply not enough."

The city would have to spend $38.2 million annually for the next five years to stabilize rapid street deterioration, according to the pavement report. At minimum, the city should spend $25 million a year to avoid a staggering financial obligation in five years, Goins said.

The city rolled back road repair funding after Chevron changed its formula for calculating its utility tax this summer, Goins said. That recalculation is expected to reduce city revenue by an estimated $4 million a year.

A little more than half the city's 279 miles of paved roadways are in either poor or very poor condition, which means they have reached a stage where deterioration rapidly accelerates. A roadway in very poor condition has to be completely reconstructed at a cost of $68 per square foot, according to the report.

And that doesn't include vehicle wear and tear. Driving into potholes can flatten tires, knock hub caps loose and, in some cases, break an axle. There also is an insidious damage to tires and alignment, said California Automobile Association spokesman Sean Comey.

"Potholes can dramatically increase the cost of maintaining an automobile because more often than not you do a small amount of damage each time you hit one," he said. "You don't notice it, but it builds up over time."

Poorly maintained roads take a toll on the city's image and ability to attract business, said Judy Morgan, president of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce.

"It makes it harder to lease commercial space, which makes it harder to bring businesses to Richmond," she said. "If your business has a fleet of trucks, the cost to service them is going to be higher. There's also a negative impact on real estate values."

City Councilman Jim Rogers made road repairs a centerpiece of his re-election campaign this fall. He has been an advocate of redirecting redevelopment money to road repair.

The Richmond Redevelopment Agency currently has an annual budget of about $41 million, which is expected to increase over the next few years.

Critics argue that diverting redevelopment funding -- which is meant to improve infrastructure and create housing in rundown communities -- would be a violation of state law. Rogers dismisses that argument and said he is convinced that the city would be within its rights to divert some of the money to repairing roads.

"I have suggested we take $5 million a year from redevelopment," he said. "About two thirds of Richmond is in a redevelopment area, and fixing roadways is an appropriate investment of that money."

Contact John Geluardi at 510-262-2787 or at jgeluardi@cctimes.com