The Mayor's Big Streets Plan Is Actually Small


Your Regular Reminder That the Mayor’s Big Streets Plan Is Actually Small

The trumpeting of impressive-sounding-but-actually-lame street repair numbers is an old trope for San Diego mayors.

Politicians love big round numbers. Big numbers make it seem like leaders are taking big action to fix big problems. True to form earlier this week, Mayor Kevin Faulconer stood in front of road crews to announce the beginning of his effort to repave 1,000 miles of city streets over the next five years. There was even a sign with a big “1000” behind him to commemorate the effort.

One thousand miles of street repairs sounds like a lot. But it’s not, compared with the city’s needs. Even with the 1,000 miles of repairs, the city will still be at least $98 million short of the funding needed to meet its repair goals over the next five years.

“His plan, from our analysis, is underfunded,” said Andrea Tevlin, the city’s independent budget analyst.

The trumpeting of impressive-sounding-but-actually-lame street repair numbers is an old trope for San Diego mayors. Jerry Sanders liked to tout how he was doubling or tripling the miles the city was repaving in his budgets. But under Sanders, road quality plummeted.

And like Sanders, Faulconer doesn’t have a plan to fix the problem. Faulconer says he’s going to streamline the city’s repair processes and direct half of revenue growth to infrastructure fixes. But none of the solutions he’s offered come close to making up the $1.7 billion funding shortfall in street and other needed repairs over the next five years.

At this week’s press conference, I asked Faulconer a bunch of different ways if he had a plan to fully fund repairs or support a tax increase like the megabond to do it. This was the best I got:

“As I’ve said very strongly, it’s not about sending a bunch of money to City Hall unless City Hall can demonstrate that it can actually spend that money wisely,” Faulconer said.

Here’s what the city’s streets shortfall looks like.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer's Street Funding Plan

The city’s goal is to improve the street network to good condition by 2025. The shortfalls are the money needed each year to reach that goal. We should also assume that the mayor will dedicate some money to repairs in 2020 at least to meet his 1,000-mile goal, though nothing’s been identified yet. (If you add 2020 to the analysis, the mayor’s plan is $200 million short over the next five years.) And a new evaluation of city street conditions is due this fall. That new information will change the amount of repairs needed to meet the city’s goals.

What do you think?