The City's Looming Debate: Build it or Fix it - Voice of San Diego

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The City's Looming Debate: Build it or Fix it

The city wants to borrow lots of money in January, and with it will come a debate over whether to fix old facilities or build new ones.

San Diego has a $1 billion-plus list of things that are broken. It also has a huge amount of things that it says it needs, the costs of which are unknown.

The city wants to borrow at least $80 million in January. With that money will come the inevitable tension between fixing the old and building the new.

City Councilwomen Marti Emerald and Myrtle Cole told the city’s chief operating officer and top public works officials last week they want to use $20 million of the January loan to build new fire stations in their districts, which cover City Heights and southeastern San Diego, respectively. These new stations would help alleviate the emergency response time woes in those neighborhoods, something city leaders have promised to address but haven’t put a dime toward funding.

Spending as much as a quarter of the loan on new things would mark a change. Every few years since 2009, the city has borrowed tens of millions of dollars mainly to fix what’s broken. Despite that spending, the city annually remains tens of millions of dollars behind on repairing streets, storm drains and buildings. City facilities and infrastructure still break faster than they can be fixed.

This loan has been in limbo for some time. The city was supposed to borrow the money last year, but Mayor Bob Filner delayed the borrowing to save cash. In April, his office asked council members where they want to spend the money. Emerald and Cole finally responded last week.

Public works officials couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday, but Filner said when he unveiled his budget in the spring that the loan would happen in January 2014. David Graham, chief of staff for council infrastructure committee Chairman Mark Kersey, said city staffers are trying to finalize that date as well as put together a project list and determine how much they want. Graham said the city’s looking to borrow at least $80 million, and the loan could end up totaling upward of $100 million. Kersey is pushing for the higher amount to try to keep pace with the need for repairs, Graham said. He said he hopes the committee would get a first look at the loan no later than October.

Keeping on schedule would require a lot from an administration that is in the midst of dealing with sexual harassment allegations.

“I take staff at their word that they’re doing all they can,” Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin said. “But they need greater policy direction. We hope they get it.”

Regardless, Filner’s office is redoing some of the planning for the loan. In February 2012, city staffers put together a draft list of projects, and those plans further highlight the tension between old and new. No new projects made the list. It did include money for repairs at 12 fire stations around the city, including two in Cole’s district and almost $8 million to rebuild a 50-year-old fire station in Emerald’s City Heights district.

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