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Council Risks Squandering SB1 Gas Tax Monies on "Nice-to-Have" Neighborhood Street Projects

IMG_9996Meanwhile our Major Arterial Roadways Deteriorate into 3rd-World Condition

by Alan Pryor

The following email was sent to the Davis City Council prior to last Tuesday's Council tele-meeting requesting that SB1 gas tax monies be only spent on main arterial roadway repairs in Davis because budgetary shortfalls will probably eliminate other needed roadway repairs of these critical main roadways and streets in Davis. The email was in response to a posted Consent Calendar item in which Council was asked by Staff to approve sending their proposed "wish-list"of neighborhood streets to be repaired in FY 2020-21 to the state as a pre-condition to receiving $1.3 million in SB1 gas tax monies for such repairs.

The list of streets to be repaired was prepared solely by the City  's Public Works Department and not ever vetted by the Bicycle, Transportation, and Street Safety Commission (BT&SSC) nor by the Finance and Budget Commission (F&BC) nor was there any indication in Staff's Report that these streets selected were in any worse state of disrepair than other neighborhood streets or major arterial roadways in town. It was simply a wish-list put together by Staff and there was no way of knowing if there was any quantitative basis for their selections.

Further, since the list to be sent to the State was not due until May 1, there was ample time for the consideration of the list of selected streets for repair by the appropriate Commissions prior to the submission deadline.

I objected to this arbitrary process in my following email but my request fell on deaf ears as the Council unanimously approved Staff's recommendation without comment or discussion.

__________________________________________________________________

Subject: Please Pull the Consent Calendar Item on Street Rehabilitation Selection for SB1 Financing

Date:      Tue, 24 Mar 2020 2:18:32 PM

From:    Alan Pryor <ozone21@att.net>

To:         Brett Lee <blee@cityofdavis.org>, Lucas Frerichs <lfrerichs@cityofdavis.org>, City Council

              <CityCouncilMembers@cityofdavis.org>, Will Arnold <warnold@cityofdavis.org>, Dan

               Carson <dcarson@cityofdavis.org>, Gloria Partida <gpartida@cityofdavis.org>

Re: Council Risks Squandering SB1 Gas Tax Monies on "Nice-to-Have" Projects

Dear Councilmembers -

On tonight's City Council tele-conference meeting agenda there is a Consent Calendar Item ("Recommended Projects for SBI Road Repair and Accountability Act: Local Streets and Roads Funding for City of Davis") in which the City proposes to submit a number of local projects to the State for funding through the SB1 tax collected on gas sales in the State.

I respectfully request Council pull this item from the Consent Calendar until the selected streets have undergone review by the BT&SSC according to quantitative and objective selection criteria. This information should also be posted n the City's website and available for informed Council and public review.

Let me explain

According to the Staff Report to Council,

"Senate Bill 1 (SB1), the Road Repair and Accountability Act, provides revenue for funding projects in the City of Davis to improve local streets and roads, bridges, and increase mobility options through walking, biking, and transit infrastructure. These funds will be allocated to the City of Davis for local transportation projects." 

"SB 1 was passed in early 2017 by the state legislature and provides funding to fix and maintain our local streets, roads and bridges. This legislation requires local agencies, prior to receiving funds, to annually submit a list of projects proposed to be funded with Road Maintenance and Rehabilitation Account (RMRA) funds to the California Transportation Commission (CTC). May 1, 2020 is the due date for agencies to submit a report on planned expenditures in Fiscal Year 2020/21. The CTC will review the project lists to ensure they include statutorily required information to establish eligibility for funding (CTC does not “approve” projects/lists for funding)." (Emphasis Added)

Maps prepared by City Staff showing the proposed streets to be rehabilitated through SB1 funding are shown in the Staff Report found at http://documents.cityofdavis.org/Media/Default/Documents/PDF/CityCouncil/CouncilMeetings/Agendas/2020/2020-03-24/04E-SB-1-Funding-Proposed-Projects-List-FY-20-21.pdf

The proposed streets to be rehabilitated are spread throughout the City but notably concentrated

  1. in West Davis just south of Covell on Denali;
  2. in Old North Davis on D and E Streets between 5th and 8th Streets and a short sections on W. 8th St.
  3. in East Davis extending from Pole Line along E. 8th St.;
  4. extensively in East Davis is the neighborhood just east of Birch Lane School;
  5. extensively in East Davis in the neighborhood north of 5th St. and west of Mace Ranch Park

Notably, there are no proposed rehabilitation projects at all in South Davis where many residents claim neighborhood streets have been intentionally neglected for years due to the lack of any Council members living there. Perhaps District elections might change this presumed oversight.

Unfortunately, there is absolutely no discussion at all in Staff's Report as to the selection criteria used to pick the selected streets designated for rehabilitation which leaves many unanswered questions; including,

  1. Are these selected neighborhood streets objectively in a more degraded state than others in the City?,
  2. Do these selected neighborhood streets objectively carry more traffic given their objective status of disrepair than other streets in the City?,
  3. Have these selected streets gone a longer period of time without rehabilitation than other comparable neighborhood streets in the City?,
  4. Do these neighborhood streets play a critical role in the Safe Routes to School bicycle program and are they objectively in more need of repair than other Safe Routes to School neighborhood streets?

Unfortunately, Staff provides absolutely no guidance on this subject other than it was stated that these selected streets were otherwise scheduled for repair in the 20-21 fiscal year. Additionally, these recommended rehabilitation projects have never gone to the Bicycle, Transportation, and Street Safety Commission (BT&SSC) for review nor to the Finance and Budget Commission for consideration. For all the public and the Commissions know, the areas selected by Staff where chosen by the old dart and a dart board method.

More importantly, however, is the fact that the City will almost certainly face extreme budget shortfalls this year as a result of the Corona Virus crisis. As part of the City's approximate $61,000,000 budget for FY 2019-2020, revenues of $16,226,000 are expected from sales and use taxes levied and collected in the City. Many pundits expect this to fall by a minimum of 50% and possibly 75% on an annualized basis during the duration of the current ongoing Corona Virus crisis. This could result in an annual shortage of as much as $8,000,000 to $12,000,000 if the economic damage is extended for a year into the future. This would be disastrous for the City government's economic well-being.

These shortfalls, if they materialize, may cause unavoidable cash shortages in the Capital Improvement budget for the City causing other planned rehabilitation of major arterial roadways (i.e. the "need-to-have" street rehabilitation projects) to be canceled if General Fund monies are not available as anticipated before the Corona Virus crisis fell upon us. A more prudent approach would be for the City to plan to use SB1 road tax revenues for major arterial roadway repairs and IF the budget shortfall is not as severe as might be expected and more capital improvement monies do prove to be available, then available capital could be allocated for these "nice-to-have" neighborhood street rehabilitation project.

In any event, the report is not due to the State specifying which projects are going to be funded in FY 2020-21 by the SB1 monies until May 1 according to Staff. Thus, there is still plenty of time for appropriate Commissions to review the selection criteria and resultant projects selected by the City for SB1 funding to ensure the best transportation interests of the residents of Davis are objectively considered.

Now is not the time to give free rein to Staff to arbitrarily select which streets get repaired and which languish unless they have demonstrated they have an equitable and objective means for doing so.

Respectfully submitted,

Alan Pryor

IMG_9972

Photos of Covell Blvd. by Iggie Walsh

Comments

Todd Edelman

It’s perhaps worth noting that the City has not had a senior level transportation engineer – a licensed civil engineer with a focus on and extensive experience in transportation, generally a department head, etc. – for close to three years. Public Works has civil engineers and and a transportation planner. There’s a lot of knowledge there, but the City has never found a replacement for the former head transport engineer who left in 2017. There was also a transfer of another civil engineer, superior to the current head traffic planner, to another part of Public Works. They had or have a budget for the senior engineer postion, at least one person of the desired experience level was very nearly hired but then dropped out, and sometime later a junior level was hired but then left within a few months (with no notice to the BTSSC, of which I am a member). Other civil engineers within Public Works have been tasked to manage individual projects.

I first expressed concern about the issue at my first BTSSC meeting in December 2017. Most recently I brought it up during a Council review of capital projects. I’ve always had to ask about the status; it’s never been offered. The full transportation team in Davis needs all its seats filled, from policy (Council and Commissions) to analysis, to design, to implementation… to communication. The BTSSC could not meet in February because it was short of quorum; how are we approving major and minor projects with missing actors, even as City policy seems to indicate that they’re needed? Perhaps we need to tighten up the policy.

Colin Walsh

I agree Todd,
I have real concerns about the City pushing through large spending items like this without having the staff and commissions to properly process and vet them. I really have to wonder if in the light of the new economic challenges the City will be facing if this was the best use of the SB1 money, they had time for BTSSC to consider this before passage, but they chose not to. In fact the Council choice not even to discuss these choices among them selves.

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