Sunday Commentary: Better Late Than Never…

Pothole-Sky

For some reason I hearken to the critical scene in the 1987 flick “Die Hard.”  Terrorists have taken over the building and the hero, John McClane, has managed to get the police to come out, but the police are not seeing terrorists and hostages, they see peace and quiet.  Frustrated, McClane drops an already dead body out of the building from high up and somehow miraculously lands it on the cop car, he then fires an automatic into the air and yells, “Welcome to the party, pal.”

Somehow I can relate to that scene this week.  On March 10, the Enterprise did a major story on the condition of Davis’ roads, highlighting the ten worst roads.  Today the editors note, “Roads are a standout concern. As detailed in The Enterprise’s March 10 story, the latest road report gave the city an overall PCI rating of 63, placing local streets at risk of degrading into worse condition.”

They write, “And degradation doesn’t only mean worse driving conditions, it means the cost of future repairs snowballs. To fix a 63-PCI road, according to the authors, costs $20 a square yard. Let that slip under 50, and the cost jumps to $27. Under 20? Then it spikes up to $81.”

I wish I had thought to report on this stuff.  Oh wait – the Vanguard has been reporting on this stuff for a long time.  Too long.  So while I jest here and say, what took you so long, the reality is, I say, “Welcome to the party.”

June 11, 2010.  Twice I have written about the alarming deterioration of the Davis roads.  Twice my articles generate ZERO comments.  On June 11, I write: “We have reported for several weeks about Davis’ deteriorating road conditions.  The bad news is that the current road condition is only in the Good to Fair range, rating at a 71.  The bad news is that with funding levels as currently projected, our roads will continue to decline.”

That article – you guessed it – generated zero comments.

Three years later and four years ago this past week, March 15, 2013, I wrote another article, “Street Level View Shows City Roadways Failing At Alarming Numbers.”

I write: “In early February the Nichols report came out showing the city’s Pavement Condition Index (PCI) was far lower than previously believed.  The average was 62, which puts the network in the fair condition category with a significant portion of the network suffering from ‘load-related distresses.’”

That article, once again, only generated two comments.

Back in 2013, the city commissioned Nichols Consulting to look into the roads.

“’Deferred maintenance’ or ‘Unfunded backlog’ consists of pavement maintenance that is needed, but cannot be performed due to lack of funding. These terms are often used interchangeably.

“Shrinking budgets have forced many cities and counties to defer much-needed road maintenance. By deferring maintenance, not only does the frequency of citizens’ complaints about the condition of the network increase, but the cost to repair these streets rises as well.”

Page 10 of the Nichols report that came out in early February lays it out.

They write, “History has shown that it costs much less to maintain streets in good condition than to repair streets that have failed. By allowing pavements to deteriorate, streets that once cost $4/sy to slurry seal may soon cost $14-$27/sy to overlay and $61-$81/sy to reconstruct.”

This is the critical point: “In other words, delays in repairs can result in costs increasing as much as 20-fold.”

That was four years ago.  The good news is that the city has put more funding into the roads.  As recently as the 2011-12 budget, the city put no money toward road repairs.  That’s right – two years after Bob Clarke’s initial report detailing a $3 million a year need, no money was allocated for roads.

In 2010, the PCI was believed to be 71.  By 2013, a more intensive survey found it to be a good deal worse, at 62.  Four years later, the number is still only 63, despite the city pumping in $4 million a year.

As you can see, from the increased costs of the road repair as further decay occurs – a drop in PCI by 8 points means millions and probably tens of millions in increased costs.

The Enterprise editorial today notes that roads are “just one parameter.”  But they are “emblematic of our long-term infrastructure dilemma. Ask around and you’ll find that everyone wants better streets, but it’s difficult to muster the political will to pay for them, especially in the absence of hard data.”

Hard data?  We had a consulting report in 2013.  No one disputed it at the time.  The council even scrounged up $4 million in annual general fund money within a year to put toward roads.

But the reality of knowing “is only half the battle.”

Writes the Enterprise, “Once we know what our future liabilities are, and what sort of self-taxing we’re going to need to address them, will we the voters, and the leaders we elect, be willing to make the hard decisions to get our finances in order?”

They go further, “In particular, will politicians from a strongly Democratic city in a strongly Democratic state be willing to take on the public-employee unions and rein in our ever-ballooning pension costs?”

They conclude: “Passing a resolution against the Dakota Access Pipeline is easy; fixing our infrastructure backlog will be less so. And it will happen only if an informed citizenry demands it.”

We have hope today because, for once, the local newspaper is reporting the reality of our situation.

But this isn’t just about the city council willing to make hard decisions by taking on public-employee unions – that’s just a small amount of our costs.

Since 2014 when the voters passed a half-cent sales tax, council has debated over revenue measures in July 2014 and, again in February 2016, the council deferred putting an infrastructure measure on the ballot over a combination of a lack of agreement on the form and amount and goals and a lack of urgency.

How much money in deferred maintenance have those decisions cost?

And, of course, the city has to find ways to grow the economy.  The Enterprise needs to do the full math here, because cutting employee costs isn’t coming close to solving our problems.

But at least this is a start.  As I say again, “Welcome to the party.”

—David M. Greenwald

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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28 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: Better Late Than Never…”

  1. Howard P

    “Welcome to the party”, indeed… PW has been trying to get public and CC’s attention to road maintenance, and a commitment to fund preventative maintenance for 30 years.

    90% of the data, studies, staff reports came out before you caught on.  How prescient of you… clearly, you were the ‘prophet’ that was ignored…

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “90% of the data, studies, staff reports came out before you caught on. How prescient of you… clearly, you were the ‘prophet’ that was ignored…”

      Really necessary?

      1. Howard P

        You were the one claiming to be “a voice crying out in the wilderness”, with no ‘comments’ to your earlier articles… imagine how knowledgeable City staff felt… would not have taken the ‘swipe’, had you acknowledged 25+ years of previous efforts to raise the issue… you chose not to.  Re-read your narrative… portion of which…

        I wish I had thought to report on this stuff.  Oh wait – the Vanguard has been reporting on this stuff for a long time.  Too long.  So while I jest here and say, what took you so long.  The reality is, I say, “welcome to the party.”
        June 11, 2010.  Twice I have written about the alarming deterioration of the Davis roads.  Twice my articles generate ZERO comments.  On June 11, I write: “We have reported for several weeks about Davis’ deteriorating road conditions.  The bad news is that the current road condition is only in the Good to Fair range, rating at a 71.  The bad news is that with funding levels as currently projected, our roads will continue to decline.”
        That article – you guessed it generated zero comments.

        Zero recognition of efforts by others… nada…

        But I welcome you to the party… you came stylishly late… we do need everyone to ‘come to the party’… as you say, better late than…

        1. John Hobbs

          Careful, David may retaliate. As a longtime PW employee in Sacotomatoes, I know that the warnings of those on thefrontlines are usually ignored until the mayor breaks a driveshaft or has stinky water coming out of the tap. (Then the mayor and the press usually blame the messengers.) I won’t mention Davis’ ADA non-compliance, but that’s a problem that no one seems to address, either and one that could be an immediate game changer if advocates get serious  about enforcement.

        2. Howard P

          Amen… good to know someone else has been there, done that, and has a drawer full of  T-shirts… [purchased, not given… that would be a gift of public funds…]

  2. darelldd

    “And, of course, the city has to find ways to grow the economy.”

    I’m never sure what this means. Does “grow the economy” mean build more housing, build more businesses, and make Davis ever larger and more prosperous? If so, how does this help the funding shortfall for our motor vehicle roads? It isn’t like we have enough infrastructure to accommodate more users of the infrastructure that we have. So to raise more money, we build more demand for more more roads… and generally we continue to tread water while the “economy grows.” And the circular problem goes around and ’round until such a time that we can figure out how to create a sustainable environment. And that sustainable environment cannot be an ever-expanding city with ever-expanding automobile infrastructure.

        1. darelldd

          The first part of the solution is to stop externalizing the many (and high!) costs of motorized transportation. The need for roads. The repair of roads (weight and miles). The pollution generated. Injury and health. Most of these expenses are paid by the population in a roughly equal way regardless of usage. And we all know that most of our decisions are weighted by how much we have to pay for them. So when the cost of our transportation is not proportionally paid by those who use it, we tend to make REALLY poor decisions on how to implement.

          This is one reason why people drive short distance when they don’t “need” to. This is why some people choose to commute solo in full-size trucks and SUVs that are ill-suited for the job.

      1. darelldd

        Hi Matt – yes the picture is from the Marin Headlands looking over the GG bridge. Sadly, I’m not sure I follow what you mean by this being a solution to our dilemma (who know that dilemma had to m’s?) Davis needs a billion dollar bridge?

         

  3. Ron

    I was in Sonoma county, recently.  The condition of Sonoma county roads appears to be far worse than anything in Davis.  (And, many of them are higher-speed roads.)  I’ve been in third-world countries that seem to have better roads.

    If you look online, the local news media in Sonoma county (and probably anywhere in the state) bring up the same issues as the Davis Vanguard (roads in poor condition – without sufficient local funding), housing that’s ” insufficient and unaffordable” (whatever that means), unsustainable pensions, etc.  And, those communities are also not able to “resolve” those challenges, on their own.

    Bottom line:  It’s going to take a statewide effort to resolve some of these challenges.  (And, regarding housing, yeah – if you want to keep developing, that’s not going to make life any better for the 40 million who already call this state “home”.)  And yet, many communities are continuing to pursue this path – even “slow-growth” Davis. This will continue to impact water and other resource availability/costs, transportation, and the natural environment. And yet, some continue to offer this as a “solution”.

     

  4. Matt Williams

    Ron said . . . “Bottom line:  It’s going to take a statewide effort to resolve some of these challenges.”

    Ron, where is the money going to come from to fund a statewide effort?

     

    1. Ron

      Matt:

      It depends upon which challenge you’re referring to.  For example, there’s some movement toward increasing the gas tax (as we’ve previously discussed).  Other ideas that have been floated include raising the registration fee (including for electric vehicles), and (ultimately) taxes based upon miles driven.

      Even if these efforts initially fail, I suspect that such ideas will be implemented, over time.

      The alternative (aka, “business as usual” – as described by darelldd) hasn’t worked very well, to say the least. (Essentially, a pyramid scheme.)

        1. Howard P

          I like VMT on one level… but the fact is that buses (most destructive to pavement) are usually public, so not sure how that will work as to pavement maintenance costs, semi-trucks are second (‘loading’, in addition to VMT), but depending on weight, gasoline/diesel, or hybrid, or electric cars have similar impacts as it relates to maintenance/repair… bicycles have VMT, yet have lower impact, and higher expectations as to quality of pavement… how that all can be ‘fairly’ distributed as to costs, is beyond my ‘ken’… but am open to suggestions…

      1. Matt Williams

        Ron said . . . “some of these challenges.”

        Ron, you put the term “challenges” on the table.  I am simply referring to whatever challenges you believe match up to your “statewide effort.” So I defer to you to describe the challenges you were referring to.

        With that said, an increased gas tax will be paid by the people within the local jurisdictions where the additional tax is being levied (if it is levied).  That is a statewide solution in name only.

        Similarly, an increased registration fee will be paid by the people within the local jurisdictions where the additional registration fee is being levied (if it is levied).  That is a statewide solution in name only.

        Taxes on miles being driven is indeed an interesting (and worthy) idea.  To the best of your knowledge, has such a tax based on miles traveled been formulated?  If it has, how is the revenue proposed to be distributed?

        1. Ron

          Matt:

          I’m failing to see the importance of labeling a tax paid by all motorists in the state as being “local”, or “statewide”.  (I’d say that “statewide” is a much more accurate term, in this case.)

          In contrast, “local” taxes are those imposed (only) on a specific locality (e.g., a parcel tax).

          Proposals to tax based upon miles driven has been discussed periodically, in various media sources.  (Probably not difficult to find, via an Internet search.)

        2. Matt Williams

          Ron, labels are unimportant … supremely unimportant.  What is important is whose checkbooks are going to be tapped into.  In the case of both your proposals, the source of funds will be local checkbooks.

          It is highly unlikely that the net flow of increased gas tax money will be into the Davis jurisdiction.  Rather, it is highly likely that the net flow of increased gas tax money will be away from the Davis jurisdiction.  Said another way, any additional gas tax is likely to follow the Robin Hood model … take from the rich (urban areas like Davis) and give to the poor (non-urban areas that have Interstate and CA routes traversing their jurisdictions).

          It is highly unlikely that the net flow of increased vehicle registration money will be into the Davis jurisdiction.  Rather, it is highly likely that the net flow of increased vehicle registration will be away from the Davis jurisdiction.  Said another way, any additional vehicle registration fees is likely to follow the Robin Hood model … take from the rich (urban areas like Davis) and give to the poor (non-urban areas that have Interstate and CA routes traversing their jurisdictions).

          Waiting for the State to perpetrate one (or two) more revenue extractions from Davis seems like a fool’s errand … especially when the alternative is to take ownership of our local challenge(s) and put into place local solution(s). I would much rather pay a targeted road repair/replacement/maintenance tax to our local jurisdiction than an amorphous Pillsbury Doughboy gas tax to the State of California.

          With that said, your response did not address the underlying issue that you put the term “challenges” on the table. I’m looking forward to hearing your descriptions of the challenges you were referring to.

        3. Matt Williams

          Ron said . . . “Proposals to tax based upon miles driven has been discussed periodically, in various media sources.  (Probably not difficult to find, via an Internet search.)”

          You are absolutely correct.  Proposals are not hard to find.

          However, none of the proposals have (as yet) figured out how to address the key issue of Invasion of Privacy, most notably how the government can track miles traveled without raising fears of compromising individual Constitutional rights, especially given Edward Snowden’s revelations about data collection by the NSA left so many people spooked about government overreach.

          None of the proposals have (as yet) come up with a method for segregating all the miles (and money) based on which state (much less what local jurisdiction) the car travel has occurred.  Until that basic issue is addressed there will be no way to equitably divvy up the revenue generated based on where the impacts have occurred.

        4. darelldd

           there will be no way to equitably divvy up the revenue 

          Matt,

          You are obviously correct. However, we don’t need perfect equity to get rolling on this. All we need is “better than we have now, where there is almost zero correlation between who uses and who pays.” It’s a pretty low bar to jump over.  Let’s start by simply getting the users of the product to pay for it, instead of spreading it around so equally. We all like free stuff, but that has to stop if we’re expected to make informed decisions that affect everybody.

          Remind me again why we all pay equally for downtown motor vehicle parking? And for air and water protection? And for protection of our oil shipping? And…

        5. Matt Williams

          Darell, you are addressing a very different issue than Ron is.  Ron, has proposed a vehicle miles traveled tax as a specific method for funding the repair of streets within the City Limits of Davis.

          You, if I read your words correctly, are addressing a much more holistic, social engineering issue designed to change the behavior patterns of all US residents from coast to coast.  Your approach appears to be very similar to the sugary beverage tax, where generating revenues from the tax is secondary to the behavior modification goal … and that if the behavior is successfully modified the revenue generated by the tax would continually decrease year after year.

        6. darelldd

          Hi Matt,

          Mostly correct inference. Except that, ironically, I wish to *remove* the social engineering aspects that have been compelling us to make the wrong choices forever. I want to remove the incentives that we give to those who engage in damaging, expensive transportation behavior. You are correct that I’m not looking to raise revenue by charging people what their behavior costs. I am looking for the best way for people to make the informed and logical decision to NOT participate in these expensive endeavors. If done perfectly, everybody pays less and less over time as people realize the cost of their behavior and begin to gravitate to those things that cost our society less. Right now, the cost of transportation behavior is all but totally hidden, and is spread almost evenly across society. THAT is the social engineering that’s been going on. This engineering is what I’d like to remove, not add.

          If you don’t consider “free parking” as social engineering, then we need to first agree on what the artificial sticks and carrots are here.

          Ron’s idea is not really different from what I am talking about. It is one subset of the holistic approach to having people pay more directly for their amount of use of our publicly-funded infrastructure.

        7. Ron

          darrelldd:

          Just wanted to clarify that charging drivers for miles traveled is not “my personal” idea, despite what Matt is stating.  In other words, it’s been proposed by others.  However, I suspect that it (or something like it) will eventually be instituted in California and elsewhere.

        8. Matt Williams

          darelldd said . . . “Ron’s idea is not really different from what I am talking about. It is one subset of the holistic approach to having people pay more directly for their amount of use of our publicly-funded infrastructure.”

          I respectfully disagree darell.  Ron put forward “taxes based upon miles driven” as an answer to the question I asked him, “Ron, where is the money going to come from to fund a statewide effort?”  He wasn’t thinking at the societal level.  He was simply trying to justify his argument that Davis should do nothing about its roads until the State and the Feds ride in like John Wayne coming to Davis’ rescue.

          Ron said . . . “Just wanted to clarify that charging drivers for miles traveled is not “my personal” idea, despite what Matt is stating.”

          Ron, you were the poster here in the Vanguard who injected the “taxes based upon miles driven” concept into this thread.  You and you alone did that.  As noted in my comment above, you introduced it as part of your answer to my question, “Ron, where is the money going to come from to fund a statewide effort?”

          As I was reading the words of Joan Didion earlier this morning I came across the following passage that you might identify with.

          Although to be driven back upon oneself is an uneasy affair at best, rather like trying to cross a border with borrowed credentials, it seems to me now the one condition necessary to the beginnings of real self-respect. Most of our platitudes notwithstanding, self-deception remains the most difficult deception. The charms that work on others count for nothing in that devastatingly well-lit back alley where one keeps assignations with oneself: no winning smiles will do here, no prettily drawn lists of good intentions.

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