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Speed Up Measure R Spending to Fix LA Streets? Not So Fast

LA DOLLARS AND SENSE – No one is more interested in fixing LA streets and sidewalks than yours truly (happily known as “The Sidewalks Guy”). But before any action is taken on Mayor V’s plan to borrow against future Measure R funds, all adults should be ordered to the corner for a time-out. Attention to the details must be paid. In advance of the Mayor’s specific plan, which is expected this week, here are five key questions to consider:

#1:  What about the city’s continuing structural budget deficit?

It’s the elephant in the room … there’s no ignoring it. The proceeds from any borrowing against future Measure R funds for transportation projects must be used for the intended purpose, not to paper over the city’s structural budget deficit. The city faces a $200-million-plus shortfall next year.

The Mayor, according to news reports, hopes to accelerate spending of as much as $800 million on road repairs over the next two to three years. A reasonable transportation funding deal may be possible, but it’s no excuse to defer dealing with the city’s underlying structural deficit.

#2:  How does the city get the best terms on the potential Measure R borrowing?

Desperate borrowers usually get the worst financing terms. Rather than rush into a deal the city will later regret (and that we, the people, will have to live with long after Mayor V is gone), the city should consider all its available financing options.

For one thing, the Feds may yet approve a National Infrastructure Bank or other programs that could provide far cheaper money than traditional borrowing. Another option is not to borrow all the money at once, but perhaps in two or three phases, to reduce the interest expense over time.

#3:  How should the potential proceeds be protected to ensure they are not misspent?

Remember Al Gore’s Social Security lockbox? Well, that’s exactly where any money the city secures as an advance on Measure R funds should go: Into a lockbox! As we know, money has a way of coming and going quickly around here.

Oversight of any borrowed funds is critical, and should be spelled out as part of a deal. The worst case scenario: Borrowed proceeds disappear without delivering the intended benefits … and there goes 27 years of Measure R funds down the drain.

#4:  What’s the spending plan, man?

Before precious transportation dollars are expended at an accelerated rate, the city should hold the spending plan up to the light. Robust public discussion is key to ensure the most meaningful priorities are set, especially since the city would be giving up future spending flexibility. Sidewalk repair should be a significant part of the spending plan.

#5:  Is there a better way to fix the city than through piecemeal solutions?

Of course there is! CityWatch columnist Ken Alpern suggested as much in a column last week (“’R’ You Ready to Fix Our Roads,”).  Ken’s right. The city should be thinking comprehensively about transportation infrastructure improvements, including sidewalks and medians, and around transit.

Planning could be done by City Council district, community plan area, regional centers, rail lines or on some other rational basis. To the extent everyone knows where we’re going (literally and figuratively), support for investment plans would be that much stronger.

The bottom line: Accelerating Measure R spending on street repairs offers an incredible opportunity for infrastructure improvements to make ours a more livable city, but faster doesn’t always equal better. The city should slow down long enough to get the deal terms right.

(Cary Brazeman is a CityWatch contributor, neighborhood council board member and founder of LA Neighbors United. Cary  is a candidate for Controller of the city of Los Angeles.) -cw

Tags: Measure R, Mayor Villaraigosa, city budget, streets, street repair, infrastructure

Vol 9 Issue 91
Pub: Nov 15, 2011