$3 Billion Street Repair Bond for L.A. Ballot on Hold

In the face of opposition from Neighborhood Councils, the Los Angeles City Council last week delayed a decision on pursuing a $3 billion bond measure to repair city streets.

City Council members Mitch Englander and Joe Buscaino proposed asking voters to approve the bond measure on the May 2013 citywide general election ballot. If approved, owners of a $350,000 home would pay $119 per year in added property taxes over the course of the 29 years it would take the city to pay off the debt. The tax on a property's assessed value would start low and increase as the city borrows more heavily to fund the street repairs, with the rate eventually declining as the city stops borrowing more money.

Englander and Buscaino told the council the bond measure is needed to clear a 60-year backlog in street repairs that has left a third of city streets in poor condition.

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Englander said "the problem is growing every single day." He told fellow council members the bond measure would provide residents a positive return on their investments by increasing property values and eliminating an average $744-per-year vehicle maintenance cost associated with the city's road conditions.

City Council President Herb Wesson, however, said the plan lacked a public outreach component to gain support from the city's 95 Neighborhood Councils.

"I think that the critical piece, in order to make this work, there has to be a partnership formed with the community. We need to take advantage of the many, many Neighborhood Councils within the city that want to get engaged on this level and on this issue," Wesson said.

The Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates, a committee representing the entire Neighborhood Council system on budget and fiscal issues, voted 13-1 Tuesday to oppose the measure. The opposition came despite a personal effort by Englander earlier in the day to make his case for the bond measure.

"We all recognize the streets need to be fixed," said Jay Handal, chairman of the Budget Advocates committee. "Our argument is about the fact that the council has again given us 24 hours notice to look at a $3 billion issue." The council in December approved placing a half-cent sales tax on the March municipal primary ballot without consulting Neighborhood Councils. "Our message to the council is, 'Grow up boys and girls, and include us,"' Handal said.

On Wesson's recommendation, a vote on the bond measure was delayed until Tuesday. Wesson said Englander and Buscaino should plan to "present us with how you would do outreach, and then we, as a council, will decide if that amount of time is sufficient amount of time to engage Angelenos throughout this city."

The council has until Jan. 30 to put the measure, formally known as the Los Angeles Emergency Local Street Safety And Traffic Improvement Measure, on the May ballot. A two-thirds popular vote would be needed for it to pass.

Bureau of Street Services Director Nazario Sauceda told the council that his bureau has effectively stopped repairing the city's worst streets, instead using its resources to maintain streets that are in good condition and worth saving.

"It makes us look like we are a city in decline," Sauceda said.

Sauceda promised the council that every "failed" street in the city would be replaced in 10 years if voters approved the bond measure. He said the benefits that would come from repairing the city's streets include reduced travel times for commuters, faster police and fire response times and a better image of the city as business and development friendly.

Meanwhile, nearly two dozen bicycle and pedestrian transportation advocates showed up to express conditional support for the bond measure. The advocates, including members of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, Los Angeles Walks, and Safe Routes to School, said they would back the $3 billion bond if the city pledged to make bike and pedestrian improvements a top priority in the repaving of city streets.

"Many of you have said the era of 'car-first' thinking in L.A. is over, but we have yet to see that on the vast majority of our streets," said Kelly Martin, the manager of Bicycle Coalition Development. "A measure like this gives us a blank canvas on streets all across the city."

"We want to build the public right-of-ways of the future, not the streets of the past," Martin said.

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