Multi-Billion Englander-Biscaino Bond a bad bet

LA's Bicycle District during the April 10, 2011 CicLAvia

The question posed to readers of our neighborhood news site, the Highland Park-Mt. Washington Patch, is “Would $3 Billion Pay to Fix Your Street?”. The $3 billion would come from yet another LA municipal bond and would cover only a fraction of the deferred maintenance LA’s streets need.

I feel the question being asked is the wrong one.

The real question is: borrowing to pave streets that already don’t pay for their own maintenance? Really?!

We all understand the value of streets that are smooth. However, we are long past the slope of diminishing returns on our previous investments in roads that serve fiscally unproductive uses. Paving the street in front of my house (a tiny street servicing a hundred homes) vs. paving the wide commercial boulevard where the city ought to be making enough in taxes and fees to pay for the road upkeep (but isn’t) are two different things.

Further, large projects paid for with “free” money from outside agencies like Metro’s Call for Projects, or CalTrans, or Federal highway funds aren’t really free. They all come with a 30-year sticker shock when maintenance comes due. A $100 million overpass built recently in El Sereno to allow cars to fly down Valley Blvd. isn’t growing our local tax base, isn’t improving local property values, but it most definitely is going to cost another $100 million to fix and maintain in 30 years.

I wouldn’t mind a fiscally solvent city if it meant that more alleyways (for example) went unpaved. I wouldn’t mind it if streets in the hinterlands of Los Angeles’ city limits, where our resources are stretched beyond breaking already, were de-paved and turned into compacted gravel trails again.

The other option is this bond measure, which is basically us spending our kids future taxes so that we can sustain the unsustainable now.

We need to focus on growing our revenue base in lots of small ways instead of just mortgaging the city again, and again, and again. Our long term obligations to maintain an ever-expanding amount of paved car-only roadway is only digging the hole deeper for future generations.

In the Los Angeles of the future I see, we won’t need to borrow $3 billion from our kids just to take care of our needs today. Our city should be paying its way and setting aside money to ensure that future generations have the resources they need to take care of the roads, sewers, utilities, and buildings we are building on their behalf.

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2 Comments

  1. Roadblock
    Posted January 10, 2013 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Great points thank for writing this… so how do we do it? How do you see the city “paying it’s way?”

  2. Posted January 12, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Here’s an article from Strong Towns that both gives a lot of background on Josef’s thesis and suggests ways to move forward:

    The Next Generation DOT

    I recommend this highly.

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  1. […] Not surprisingly, that proposed $3 billion street repair bond is put on hold for now; Flying Pigeon calls it a bad bet. Flying Pigeon’s Josef politely takes the author of Pearls Before Swine to task for an admittedly […]

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