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Measure M will provide more funds for improving streets, but it still will fall short of the need. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The public works capital improvement program was the focus of the budget worksession that preceded Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. Public Works Director Andrew Clough and his colleagues presented an ambitious roster of projects for the next five years, but cautioned that the plans do not keep up with the city’s needs.

“The city’s public infrastructure is indeed suffering,” Clough said. “But all is not grim. We’re here not only to tell you what we don’t have, but also what we have done and what we plan to do.” 

By the end of the current fiscal year, Public Works will have completed the implementation of the city’s public safety radio system, which integrates with the East Bay Regional Communications System Authority. Clough said that sanity sewer system overflows have been reduced by 83% since 2008. City parking garage operations have been automated, and 1,000 so-called smart parking meters have been installed. The new one-person routes for refuse and recycling and other changes in the Zero Waste Division have reduced annual operating costs by $2.5 million.

The presentation and discussion, however, focused more on future plans, particularly concerning the sanitary sewer system, streets, public buildings, and the watershed management plan. In fiscal years 2014 and 2015, the department plans to rehabilitate 4.7 miles of sanitary sewers, improve the quality of streets in the Hearst corridor, seismically upgrade the James Kenny Recreation Center and start on the five-year street rehabilitation plan using  funding.

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Public Works plans recurring spending of $10.6 million in each of the next five years on capital improvement projects. Click on the chart for an interactive version.

As the chart above shows, Public Works proposes recurring spending of $10.6 million in each of the next five years, with sanitary sewers and pavement management accounting for the bulk of the spending. As  funding kicks in, the department will have an additional $2.5 million in FY2014 and an additional $6 million in each of the four subsequent years.

But those plans leave $75-85 million of unfunded seismic retrofit or replacement for major public facilities, and an additional $15-40 million in unfunded seismic work for other facilities, according to the department’s presentation. The watershed management plan is unfunded for $37.4 million over the next five years (and has unfunded capital needs of $208 million overall).

Measure M funding will bring streets near desired goal

The  funds, according to Clough and his colleagues, will help improve city streets, but will not bring them to the desired pavement condition index (PCI) of 75.

“Measure M doesn’t have enough to ensure a desired PCI of 75 or better,” said Jeffrey Egeberg, chief engineer. “But the final five-year plan would identify that we’re going to get close to that.”

Council members focused on the departments plans for street lighting and for improving street quality.

Clough explained that the department plans to test replacing existing street lighting with LED lights, which could result in sufficient energy savings to have a payback of 10 years or so. The first trial will be on Telegraph between Bancroft and Dwight.

Council members  and Linda Maio both raised the “inequitable” distribution of lighting in different parts of Berkeley.

“Business and homeowners and renters in [south Berkeley] have been waiting 15 years for the city to catch up,” Anderson said. “What are the prospects that we make sure that all parts of the city are lit?
Lighting provides safety, it encourages businesses to come in. We need to take a real oath for equitable distribution of these resources as they come in.”

 said there were no funds currently for new lighting. “The goal,” Daniel said, “is that [energy] savings will be able to fund some new lighting.”

Gordon Wozniak: wants to slow the process down
Gordon Wozniak: “Do we need all those buildings?”
Gordon Wozniak: “Do we need all those buildings?”

 raised a broader point about funding the city’s needs.

“I think it’s pretty clear that we have insufficient funds to maintain a sustainable city and to keep the city from sliding backwards,” Wozniak said. “We’re way behind on seismic, and we’re way behind on watershed and public maintenance. I think we should have a council policy that, say, 50% of revenues above a certain amount go into capital improvements. So they don’t all go into the black hole of pensions.

“We need to do some analysis of our buildings and of our vehicles. Do we need all those buildings; do we need all those vehicles?” he continued. “Our staff is 50% 13% smaller maybe we don’t need all of [the buildings and vehicles].”

 said it was vital that Measure M funds be allocated swiftly, so rising costs would not erode the value.

“I want to ask everyone who has an interest in Measure M to take a blood oath to say, ‘I will not get everything I want from Measure M,’” he said. “Otherwise, by the time we get to the end of the process, we don’t have the money to do half of what we could have done. We need to stick to a six-month process.”

Pensions, infrastructure key Berkeley budget liabilities [02.20.13]
Budget: Spending cuts needed to avoid shortfall [01.28.13]
Council supports Sunday Streets, looks to find funds [01.25.13]
Berkeley General Fund revenues may fall short in 2012-13 [12.12.12]
Average Berkeley street in at-risk condition, many worse [11.16.11]

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...