Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Infrastructure and Economic Stimulus--Can Oakland Get Its Fair Share?

Apparently, our new Councilwoman, Rebecca Kaplan, has made it known that she intends to lead the charge to ensure that Oakland gets its fair share of federal economic stimulus dollars. We applaud her and find her perspective to be refreshing.

Becks at Living in the O reported that: At Kaplan’s reception yesterday, she told her supporters that her first focus in office is to add to the infrastructure requests that Mayor Dellums drafted to submit to the Obama administration. I got a chance to talk to her in depth about her plan and asked her what her top priorities would be for infrastructure funding. First, she focused on two projects that are entirely ready to go - street paving and implementing the Bicycle Master Plan. Street paving requires no EIR and could be implemented immediately (and I think we all know that parts of Oakland desperately need it). As for the Bicycle Master Plan, the plan itself is great and the EIR is already done - now we just need the funding to complete it.

We Fight Blight reported our dismay that the City of Oakland's request for only $2 million for repaving projects was woefully inadequate given the approximately $27 million dollar annual funding need to maintain our streets through repaving projects. We are extremely happy to see that Councilwoman Kaplan gets it. For those who were concerned about her liberal credentials, early indications are that she is indeed pragmatic and understands the fundamental need for local government to address our crumbling infrastructure.

To begin to understand how woefully inadequate the Mayor's request for $2 million for repaving is, we have to understand how little Oakland has invested in its streets. Currently, there is an approximately $300 million backlog in street repairs, overlays and rehabilitation needs. Through its Pavement Management Plan (PMP), the City has identified an ongoing need of approximately $27 million to keep our streets from further crumbling. The problem is that the City, through various funding sources including Measure B, Department of Transportation, Proposition 42, and the General Fund, gets only $5-7 million per year. That means there is an approximately $20-22 million annual shortfall when it comes to funding our street maintenance.

Unfortunately, our City Council and Mayor have not made it a budget priority to address this underfunding of our streets. Because we are significantly underfunding street repairs on an annual basis of approximately $20-22 million, the approximately $3oo million backlog increases year after year. As well, the longer we wait to repair our ailing streets, the more it costs. Streets that once could get by with an overlay, may require a substantial rehabilitation if maintenance is deferred for too long. Rehabilitation can cost five times more than an overlay. Consequently, the $300 million backlog will grow exponentially larger as we continue to defer maintenance. We are moving in the wrong direction.

As Councilwoman Kaplan noted, paving jobs do not typically require significant CEQA review. Repaving jobs can be made shovel ready in a relatively shorter period of time as compared to constructing new streets or replacing bridges or other transportation infrastructure in environmentally sensitive areas. The challenge, however, is whether the City of Oakland Public Works Department has the capacity to manage a significant number of paving jobs by getting the plans, specifications and estimates ready for bid, putting the projects out to bid and then overseeing the actual construction.

Interestingly, one well positioned insider at City Hall confirmed that the Mayor's team putting together Oakland's Economic Stimulus wish list did not consult with key Public Works staff responsible for managing the City's roadway infrastructure and repaving programs. Perhaps that is why there is such a disconnect between what the Mayor has requested and the City's true needs. As one commenter to this blog pointed out, Santa Ana CA, a City of comparable size to Oakland... listed $122,014,000 for street improvement projects alone. That's right, they listed more for street improvement projects than Oakland did for its entire "ready to go" list. If the Mayor's Office can't even coordinate on something as simple as street repaving, one has to wonder what other major infrastructures needs are left wanting.

In all fairness, however, we have also heard that the Mayor's list does not represent the City's true needs for street improvements because transportation funds will be funneled through the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and provided to cities, counties and transportation authorities using well established formulas. Consequently, what shows up on the Mayor's list for transportation infrastructure is irrelevant.

Even so, it doesn't hurt the City to make well known what its needs are. We have a $300 million backlog and an annual need of $20-22 million. The $2 million noted by the Mayor doesn't even come close. Where is the advocacy? If you can list $2 million, why not put down $300 million. We are in a fight with hundreds of other communities who want a share of the pie. Oakland should not go hungry. We need to be absolutely clear what our needs are. The Obama Administration has signaled that it doesn't want any pork in the stimulus plan. Repaving jobs are fundamental to maintaining our roadway infrastructure--they certainly are not pork and are not a bridge to nowhere. The odds are in our favor. What are we waiting for?

Rebecca, welcome to the fight. Put on your boxing gloves. Oakland needs you. We are desperately hungry for a piece of pie.

While you're at it, can you get us some federal funds to plant more street trees in downtown Oakland to address blight and fight global warming?

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