San Diego’s Massive Infrastructure Spending Proposal Draws Scrutiny

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File photo by Alexander Nguyen

The Pure Water sewage recycling program headlines what’s being touted as San Diego’s largest ever proposed infrastructure spending package, Director of Public Works James Nagelvoort told the City Council’s Budget Review Committee Thursday.

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“It’s a lot more money — it’s not necessarily a huge increase in projects,” he said, referring to the overall budget. “It’s got a lot of big projects, and it’s kind of a unique period in our history to drive that.”

Nagelvoort’s comment came during a series of infrastructure and public works presentations to the committee, which this week is holding hearings on Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s $3.8 billion proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

If approved, the $533 million reserved for capital improvements would be a triple increase in infrastructure spending since fiscal year 2014 and a 16 percent increase over the current fiscal year budget. Anticipated during the fiscal year is an additional $336 million in infrastructure spending that would require separate approval. Such expenditures would be funded by grants, donations and short-term commercial paper loans.

Pure Water, allocated $121.4 million in the proposed budget, would make up a significant chunk of base infrastructure spending.

The $1.4 billion-Pure Water initiative is expected to reduce San Diego’s reliance on imported water by generating 83 million gallons of potable water — which would be roughly one-third of the city’s water supply — by 2035. Phase one construction is expected to begin early 2019.

Water and sewer infrastructure spending, including Pure Water, makes up about 85 percent of the overall infrastructure budget. Building and transportation projects comprise the next largest portions, with 18.3 and 10.7 percent of the budget, respectively.

The proposed budget reserves $108 million for 390 miles of street repairs and, to a lesser extent, sidewalk fixes.

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About $5 million would fund repairs to more than 2,500 sidewalk locations, according to Transportation and Stormwater Department Director Kris McFadden. McFadden said repairs are prioritized for sidewalks that are close to city buildings or are the subject of numerous complaints, including those related to Americans with Disabilities Act compliancy.

There are about 79,000 sidewalk locations in need of repair, Independent Budget Analyst Jillian Kissee said.

New sidewalk installations would receive $1.2 million, which is enough for roughly one-third of a mile of new sidewalk. McFadden said there are about 700 miles of streets missing sidewalks.

“The need for more investment in sidewalks is significant,” Kissee said.

An additional unspent $3.7 million in sidewalk money from the current fiscal year may carry over to the next fiscal year. McFadden’s department is also requesting funds to hire two civil engineers dedicated solely to sidewalk repairs. The city has never had such personnel, McFadden said.

Still, committee member Georgette Gomez said the relatively small percent of sidewalk funding is one reason the infrastructure budget proposal should be considered from the context of non-Pure Water and street projects.

“Taking away Pure Water and the $76 million that is street identified, what’s left?” she asked. “I want that visual because I really want us to be mindful that yes, this is the biggest CIP, but our sidewalks, our community lighting — which is very significant for the community — they’re not getting their fair share.”

Budget hearings will continue through Wednesday. A final budget is expected to be adopted in June.

–City News Service

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