When I came into office a little over a 100 days ago I wanted to take the time to investigate all the issues facing our city. It didn't take long to understand that infrastructure deterioration is one of the most, if not the most, pressing problem facing Chula Vista.
Most of us take for granted the framework that holds a city together and contributes so much to our quality of life.
Things like well-manicured parks, up-to-date police cars, squared-away and well-equipped firehouses, the latest books or movies in libraries, well maintained city offices open Monday through Friday, not to mention streets, lights, signs, sewer system, buildings, open space and the list goes on and on. Many people never consider what it takes to build, equip, maintain and replace the infrastructure that we seamlessly enjoy or benefit from in our daily lives; until things start to change.
The historic recession that started in 2006 hit Chula Vista hard. The city was at the leading edge of that financial storm and our response to the massive economic downturn was a $50-million reduction in the city budget and the cutting of 320 workers in just 4 years. Those extensive losses lead to program cuts, service reductions and maintenance setbacks. Streets, parks, buildings, sidewalks and much more all had to go longer or even without upkeep in order to spread a dollar.
There is no denying that the staff that remained did and continues to do an outstanding job with the resources and people that are left. But the truth is we now see the hard evidence of those reductions as we tour our parks, libraries, police department, fire houses, drive on our streets and walk on our sidewalks. The result of the cutbacks are a slowly deteriorating infrastructure that results in more exposure for the city from a liability standpoint, resident dissatisfaction with city services and an overall perception of a diminishing quality of life.
The cost to get our infrastructure back to level ground was revealed at a recent city workshop. It is a hefty price tag; $639,000,000 for the upkeep, repair and replacement of city infrastructure. While many may shriek at the thought of a $639,000,000 price tag, the good thing is we know the cost. As Public Works Director Rick Hopkins explained, with the right plan and tools, the city can begin to revive the public property and manage its assets.
And certainly, Chula Vista has a long list of property :
• 460 miles of paved public streets,
• over 1,000 miles of sidewalks and trails and paths,
• over 500 miles of sewer pipes,
• 268 traffic signals,
• over 9,000 street lights,
• over 27,000 street trees,
• over 500 acres of park land,
• over 2,000 acres of open space,
• over 4.2 million linear feet of curb and gutters,
• 249 miles of storm drains,
…and the list goes on.
“The problem with such an abundance of infrastructure for the city,” Hopkins says, “is that it starts to deteriorate as soon as it is installed, and it deteriorates even faster if it doesn’t receive proper care.”
As do monetary assets. The city must continue to be great stewards of the hard earned money it gets from the public in order to take care of its infrastructure. The past year there are signs that the economy is picking up, in fact city revenues are inching up and it is time to start planning for the future instead of simply holding on to the present, especially as it relates to city infrastructure.
We are rightfully looking ahead to a tremendous bay front, a wondrous university project, smart growth to the east and continued west side renovation.
But as we move forward we must not lose sight of our existing and future infrastructure needs. Those needs don’t have to be met all at once, but at some point they do need to be taken care of. The challenge becomes how to pay for it all. Our public works department has 222 full-time employees and a budget of $24.3 million, a far cry from $639,000,000. We have lots of information about where our deficiencies are and what it will take to get it up to speed.
But what we need to work on now is identifying the financial resources to get the job done and discuss innovative ways of staying ahead of infrastructure issues instead of constantly falling behind. There are a number of ways to pay for it all. We will have to decide which one is best. That’s something I’ll talk to you about in an upcoming article.
If you’d like to learn more about this issue I encourage you to click on the link below for the infrastructure presentation that was provided to city council by our Public Works Department.
Or, if you would like to contact me, Councilmember Mary Salas, you can do so at:
Working together, Chula Vista has a fantastic future.
Salas is a Chula Vista Councilwoman.