League of California Cities Alarmed At Precarious Pavement Conditions



In a release on Monday, the League of California Cities stated that it has “engaged in numerous discussions with state and federal lawmakers about the condition of California’s local streets and roads.”

The discussion, based on the most recent biennial Local Streets and Roads Needs Assessment, which was released last October, showed that the average rating in California was 66. Locally, however, Davis was at 62 and rural Yolo County was already in the red.

The survey uses a four-tiered Pavement Condition Index (PCI) scale from zero to 100 to assess the conditions of local roads within California’s 58 counties.

“At first glance, the fact that the on-average rating for California’s local system is 66, just four points under what the study deems as good condition, does not appear to be alarming,” the League stated. “The reality is that the local roads are on a precipice.”

“Why are local transportation experts so worried about an average pavement condition of 66?” they ask rhetorically? “This number is significant because the cost of repairing roads that slip any farther grows exponentially. The local system in 2008 ranked 68 and in the six years following the first assessment conditions slowly dropped two points. Transportation experts warn, however, that pavement condition deteriorates much more rapidly after this point in the life cycle of pavement condition.”

They continue, “This illustration shows very plainly the costs to maintain roads (per square yard) over the course of this life cycle. When conditions dip much farther under current conditions, the cost to repair and maintain these roads dramatically increases. For example, roads with a PCI ranking between 70 and 50 cost $15-$20 per square yard to maintain, but the amount doubles to $30-$40 for road conditions with PCIs in a range of 50-25.”

The League concludes, “The 2014 Local Streets and Roads Needs Assessment found that currently local agencies receive just half the revenue needed to maintain the local system. Investments must be made to the system that comprises more than 80 percent of California’s roadways because time is running out for the roads beneath our feet and wheels.”


Released last fall, the Roads Needs Assessment presented alarming results.

Yolo County had an aggregate PCI of 60, brought down by the county roads. That is below average for the state, which has an aggregate PCI of 66. There are 18 counties worse than Yolo County – most of them tending to be rural counties.

The report is a wakeup call, not just to Yolo County but to the state. As they noted, “The results are alarming. The condition of the system that makes up more than 80 percent of California’s roadways is on the path to failure. The biennial survey confirms pavement conditions are declining and finds that existing funding levels are insufficient to properly fix and/or maintain streets, roads, bridges, sidewalks, storm drains and traffic signs.”

They add, “Deferring this crucial work,” the report predicts, “will likely double the cost of repairs in the future, and impedes efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants.”

The report notes, “California’s local street and road conditions continue to decline. The Needs Assessment uses a scale of zero (failed) to 100 (excellent) to rate pavement condition. Conditions have deteriorated since the first survey six years ago when the statewide average was 68. Today it’s dropped to 66, which falls into the at risk category. Of California’s 58 counties, an alarming 54 have streets and roads that are either at risk or ranked in poor condition. In 10 years, it is projected that 25 percent of local streets and roads will be ranked poor.”

But as Save California Streets points out, “This is not a California only problem – it’s a national crisis.” They continue, “At the federal level, the Highway Trust Fund faces insolvency. Federal gasoline taxes have not kept pace with inflation and rising construction costs. Nor has the system for charging road users been updated to account for alternative fuels and increasing fuel efficiency. The same is true for the state’s gasoline taxes. The base 18-cent excise tax, last adjusted in 1994, is now only worth 9-cents when adjusted for inflation and fuel efficiency.”

Save California Streets notes, “Californians need to work together to find ways to fund local streets and roads, and push state and local governments to establish sustainable transportation revenues.”

But Davis cannot afford to wait until that money becomes available. However, previous efforts to generate additional revenues for road repair through a parcel tax appear to have at least stalled, with no public discussions in recent months as we wait for a full assessment of city infrastructure needs.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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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32 thoughts on “League of California Cities Alarmed At Precarious Pavement Conditions”

  1. zaqzaq

    It would have been nice if the mayor could have addressed how the city is going to improve the poor condition of the city’s roads.  The longer the CC fails to address this issue the more costly it will become to fix.  The number of roads with potholes is only increasing without being fixed.

      1. Frankly

        Come on hpierce… aside from the humor, this is a good point.  What politician can you cite that is actually standing up and telling the public the truth about the problems and the reasons and giving us a plan for how the problems will be fixed?

          1. Frankly

            Look it from a simply and practical numbers perspective.

            How have so much money and you have things you need to spend the money on.

            But over the years you have grown your expenses beyond the money you have and you start deferring costs instead of cutting expenses.

            Eventually the deferred costs grow unsustainable.

            1. Why don’t you admit that the expenses need to be cut, even more drastically now, so that there is a money surplus that can be used to catch up the deferred costs?

            2. And assuming you do admit it, then what prevents you from getting it done?

            The answer to both of those questions is the public sector unions.

          2. Don Shor

            Eventually the deferred costs grow unsustainable.

            1. Why don’t you admit that the expenses need to be cut, even more drastically now, so that there is a money surplus that can be used to catch up the deferred costs?

            2. And assuming you do admit it, then what prevents you from getting it done?

            That is basically what Brown is doing. You can do it gradually, or you can try to do it drastically all at once. You can try to work with the public employees, or you can choose to confront them.

          3. Don Shor

            Likewise, CM Pinkerton started the process of cutting expenses locally, and the voters adopted a tax increase. So the key will be the current council and new CM retaining the expense cuts and focusing on the longer-deferred expenses.

          4. Don Shor

            Brown is doing nothing other than posturing and talking.

            I don’t know, Frankly, when you say stuff like this it usually just ends the conversation. I really don’t understand your rhetorical tactics. This is the most fiscally prudent governor we’ve had in decades, as well as the most politically savvy.
            Wisconsin went into a pitched, highly-polarized political battle, a very predictable result of his confrontational approach. Wisconsin’s budget situation is certainly no better than California’s by any number of measures.

            Gov. Scott Walker will have to plug a roughly $280 million budget shortfall by the end of June, and the state faces a two-year deficit that could be as large as $2 billion, based on new estimates released Friday by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

            So they basically have gridlock and little to show for it.

          5. Frankly

            Don says:

            So they (Wisconsin) basically have gridlock and little to show for it.

            Not at all…

            Ted Neitzke, school superintendent in West Bend, a city of 31,000 people north of Milwaukee, said that before Act 10 his budget-squeezed district had to cut course offerings and increase class sizes. Now, the district has raised the retirement age for teachers and revamped its health plan, saving $250,000 a year. “We couldn’t negotiate or maneuver around that when there was bargaining,” Mr. Neitzke said. “We’ve been able to shift money out of the health plan back into the classroom. We’ve increased programming.”

            In Oshkosh, Mark Rohloff, the city manager, says the law has saved his city $1.2 million a year, largely because employees are now paying more of their pension and health contributions. But he said state aid cuts of $2 million a year left his city with an $800,000 shortfall.

            Don says:

            Wisconsin’s budget situation is certainly no better than California’s by any number of measures.

            These changes are recent, it will take a bit more time for the proof.   But California’s spending per GDP is 19.21% compared to Wisconsin which is 18.85% and more importantly is the difference in debt to GDP: CA = 17.98% and WI = 15.59%.

            Don says:

            Wisconsin went into a pitched, highly-polarized political battle, a very predictable result of his confrontational approach.

            That is what strong leaders sometimes have to do to in order to do the right thing.  Just like your much loved President did to get your much-loved health care bill approved (although the wrong thing).  Walking on eggshells trying to keep everyone happy when there is a crisis that demands action is a recipe for ultimate failure to do the right thing.  But your opinions here certainly match those of the union heads in Wisconsin.

            Mr. Beil, who quickly grows heated when discussing Act 10, is convinced that there was an insidious intent in the law, beyond budget-cutting and government flexibility. “The reason for the law,” he said, “is how are we going to emasculate the unions in Wisconsin so they are no longer politically influential in state elections.”
            Mr. Walker has often heard this accusation. “If it’s a political decision, it’s a very odd one,” he said. “I don’t think anyone would say, ‘Let’s do something that will generate 100,000 people coming out to protest in the capital, and go through all the grief and attacks and death threats.’ ”

            So basically you are confirming my points that Brown is taking a weak approach here.  That was my point.  His reputation as being fiscally tough is mostly from talk and little from action.

          6. Don Shor

            But California’s spending per GDP is 19.21% compared to Wisconsin which is 18.85% and more importantly is the difference in debt to GDP: CA = 17.98% and WI = 15.59%.

            Sure, I’ll go find some random numbers that prove little if you like. But how about the deficit that Wisconsin has, compared to what California has?
            Wisconsin’s 2-year deficit as of January 2015: $2 billion.
            California’s surplus, as of December 2014: $4 billion.
            Brown cut the budget, got the voters to raise taxes, and began the process of tackling long-term debt. That’s how you do things.
            The fact is, you like confrontation. You like conflict. You like polarization, and you criticize anyone who seeks compromise or tries to get people to cooperate. So Brown’s style is not your style. Your example of the ACA is a classic. The President spent months negotiating with moderate Republicans and center-right Democrats. The ACA was a compromise. Wisconsin’s governor will be popular for a brief period in the primaries. He will not likely be a good general election candidate, and he would be a terrible president. But you’d like him.

          7. Frankly

            Brown RAISED taxes and we are still facing a HUGE pension liability that he has done really nothing to fix.  Raising taxes is kicking the can down the road.  You can be proud of Brown for that, but not me.  Taking CA to the highest tax state in the nation… NOW THERE IS SOMETHING TO HELP YOUR LEGACY AS GOVERNOR!!!

            And the impact to ongoing business tax receipts is a long-term impact from tax increase.  One early sign is that California’s unemployment and discouraged worker rates are still higher than the national average and higher than Wisconsin.

            Why are you so protective of Brown?  And you call me out of confrontation and conflict and then say things that Scott Walker would be a terrible President (note, the no IMO), but that I’d like him.  Could it be your partisan hackles are up?  Pot call kettle black much?

            You like confrontation just as much, it is just that you have more of a passive aggressive style and I am FRANKLY!

          8. Don Shor

            we are still facing a HUGE pension liability that he has done really nothing to fix.

            California pension reform:

            California unions, accustomed to getting their way in the Capitol, lost some ground last year when Gov. Jerry Brown pushed through the Legislature a series of public-pension cuts that affect their members. Now several labor groups have gone to court in an attempt to reverse some of the cuts, forcing Brown to defend legislation he used to persuade voters that he was being frugal with their tax money.

            If you have a structural deficit, you cut costs, increase revenues, and make a solid plan for long-term cost reductions. Most governors are doing pretty much the same things. Some are trying to cut taxes while they cut costs. That isn’t working real well. That’s why Wisconsin and Kansas have major deficits.

          9. Frankly

            Don – you know it is not enough by a long shot, so why keep pushing it.  Are you related to Brown?

            If the governor has the eggs you seem to think he does, he would have gotten behind the Chuck Reed bill and he would be telling us all to vote for the next one in 2016.

            We need REAL pension reform… not this sugar coating stuff that the governor has made such a big deal about… that still kicks the can down the road.

            Raising taxes is for sissies and weak kneed robots of the unions… not real leaders.  Especially when it makes your state the highest taxed state in the nation.

            The problem is a crisis.

          10. Don Shor

            Don –
            Are you related to Brown?
            If the governor has the eggs
            Raising taxes is for sissies and weak kneed robots of the unions… not real leaders.

            Always good talking to you, Frankly. Always.

          11. Frankly

            Likewise Don.  And I mean that (not being sarcastic).

            By the way.  Do you happen to know what the total state pension liability is today and if it is getting smaller thanks to Brown?

          12. hpierce

            Your link Don, cites the 0.14% return on PERS investments for FY 2011-12.  From the Dec 31, 2014 PERS report:

            On behalf of CalPERS Investment Office,I am pleased to report on CalPERS’ investment performance, operations, and initiatives for the one-year period ending on June 30, 2014. The CalPERS Public Employees’ Retirement Fund (PERF) earned a time-weighted rate of return of 18.4 percent this fiscal year, with the market value at $301.1 billion. Strong returns in global equity markets and real assets continue to bolster our performance. The gain marks the fourth double-digit return CalPERS has earned in the last five years. The return of 18.4 percent outperformed its benchmark by 40 basis points and pushed the three-year return to 10.4 percent, also exceeding that benchmark by 40 basis points. Investments in domestic and international stocks…”

            Just info, no comment. [except highlighted text]

          13. Frankly

            Sounds like similar returns leading up to the financial meltdown.  Good news, but if we are going to do what good and wise investors do, we would focus on the long-range expected returns… not just the highs.   I don’t know if you spend much time watching the stock market, but if you do and sneeze while you do, it is likely to cause a 200 point swing of the DOW.  We are in another “money has nowhere to go so go back to real estate and stock to form a new bubble” period.

          14. hpierce

            If you’re invested in any small group of individual stocks, or the DOW, as your portfolio, I think you a financial fool.  PERS has a portfolio that (like most good mutual funds) includes blends of stocks (both domestic and foreign), bonds (corporate and government), real estate (domestic and foreign).  How does that differ from your portfolio?  You’ve implied you intend to pass, still in “harness”, but what about your spouse, heirs?  What should public entities pay towards retirement?  SS?  SS supplemented by a 401/457 with some sort of employer contribution?  If so, what percent of matching?  Zero?  For years [when Davis was “superfunded” which was in the years before the ~ 2000 financial meltdown, the City has paid zero for the employer share, 7% for the employee share, slightly above what they would have paid for SS (employer share)].

            Long range?  Is twenty years enough?  Forty?  Fifty?  Eighty?  110?

            Inconvenient facts for you is that the City is no longer paying for employee share of PERS (saving 8-10% of salary towards PERS contributions, from previously), and, based on current trends will be seeing much lower increases, and likely reductions in employer contributions.

            I do watch the stock market.  I do not make buy/sell decisions based on daily, weekly, monthly, yearly results.  If you do, je suis desolee.  I adjust my portfolio only annually/semi-annually (at most), and almost always only to re-balance.  And I’m not a super-sophisticated investor.  On my personal investments, my results are roughly the same as PERS.

            Yet, your response to me appears to be that we should focus and make decisions on the one year 0.14 number, and not the totality.

            Or you’re proud that you have never been ‘tainted’ by being a public employee, and hate the thought somebody gets something you don’t. I might be a consumer of your services. If so, I might have saved money if you had less benefits paid for.



          15. Barack Palin

            I agree Frankly, the stock market is getting precariously close to bubble territory propped up because there’s no place else to put your money to get a decent return unless you’re currently in the stock or real estate market.  CD’s and Treasury bonds currently don’t cut it but when Yellen starts raising the rates things might get ugly.

          16. Joachim

            Frankly: Within your two questions, you are only assuming that you can’t grow revenues either through taxes or economic growth.  Why is that?

        1. hpierce

          Frankly, not one, Frankly (because you are).  But I could cite a number of knowlegable, competent, “over-compensated” public employees who have tried to ‘tell the truth’, came up with plans/recommendations, and tried to get the electeds (and the public’s) attention.  But be mindful that a public employee, unless they want to end their career and/or get rich from a ‘whistle-blower’ lawsuit, can’t go directly to the “public”.

  2. Frankly

    So, how did we get here?  What are the root causes of government in Yolo county and Davis, and across the state, deferring maintenance to roads?

    The biennial California Statewide Local Streets and Roads Needs Assessment survey found a $78.3 billion funding shortfall over the next 10 years.

    And on top of this…

    The California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) just admitted that the state-managed pension plan, that provides retirement for the state and almost 1,600 local government agencies, is 52% underfunded and will be forced to jack up taxpayer-funded contribution rates by about $1.518 billion.
     But this increase will still leave the pension plan $986.1 billion underfunded. To adequately fund pensions, the state and local governments need to more than quadruple annual taxpayer-funded contributions by $11.3 billion.

    In summary (from a 2009 report)…

    Since former Gov. George Deukmejian’s final budget in FY 1990-91, state spending—including the General Fund, special funds, and bond funds—has increased 180.9 percent, or an average of 5.91 percent a year. Spending increased from $51.4 billion in FY 1990-91 to $96.4 billion 10 years later in FY 2000-01. And spending continued to skyrocket to its current level of $144.5 billion in FY 2008-09. Since FY 1990-91, General Fund spending alone has increased 156.8 percent, or 5.37 percent a year

    And many counties and cities in California demonstrated similar trends… and these trends go back to much earlier than 1990.

    But these reports fail to tell us the true story of the growth in spending because government does not book unfunded long-term liabilities.   The largest of these is the unfunded pension commitments to existing government employees.  But road and infrastructure maintenance is another.

    Let’s add the kicker to all of this… the economy will have additional recessions.  We have not seen the true extent of road and infrastructure decline yet.  Years from now we will look back fondly of this time when our roads and infrastructure were in relatively good shape.

    What got us here?

    In a nutshell it has been public sector unions combined with primarily the Democrat party apparatus that exploits public sector unions to gain and hold political power.  This has led to the boat of government and bloat of government employee compensation.

    The state and most cities and counties in California have insolvent balance sheets, and cash flow deficiencies that cause them to shift more unreported liabilities making the balance sheets even more insolvent.

    What is the solution?  

    The first step has to be to once and for all eliminate the rights of public sector employees to form collective bargaining entities.  The Democratic system is corrupted to the point that it is fiscally dysfunctional when political power is coupled with perpetually organized labor groups that only exist to grow members and the compensation of members.

    What happens if we don’t do this?

    Our children will suffer terribly.

    1. hpierce

      At least in Davis, and probably in most jurisdictions, PW professionals have been warning about this for over 20 years.  Regularly.  They were ignored (as they should be, right, Frankly, because they were over-compensated public employees?).

      For the public, and the electeds, where do you spend resources?  The pattern has been for Teen Centers, recreation programs, “special projects”, etc.  The fact is Davis has decimated its crews and equipment for routine street maintenance over the last 10 years.  The topic just isn’t “sexy” enough to get attention.

      1. Frankly

        “The topic just isn’t “sexy” enough to get attention.”

        I agree with this to a degree.  I think it would get attention if more knowing people pulled their head out of the sand and started talking about it.  I think this goes full circle to the challenge.  Look at Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin.  He did this and what is your opinion of him?  What is the general media opinion of him?  How do you think the generation of that negative opinion has been promulgated?

        Most people really don’t understand the hugely corrosive power of public sector unions.  And those that do generally don’t have the eggs to stand up to them.  And those that do have the eggs get slammed like Scott Walker.

         “The American Republic will endure until
        the day Congress discovers that it can
        bribe the public with the public’s money.”

        Alexis de Tocqueville



        1. hpierce

          Wow.  I say that Davis public employee professionals have been pointing out the problem with pavement maintenance funding for 20 + years, and you blast unions (which, when they are formal, organized unions, such as IAM, CTA, AFL-CIO, DTA, AFSCME, etc., I actually agree with), and by implication, all government employees, and cite a situation thousands of miles away.  Nice retort/response.

          How do you respond to Davis CM/HR’s actions to cut back on street maintenance crews and equipment over the last ten years to “save” money and to ‘punish’ employees in a bargaining group, even though that group was not a formal union (no outside support/affiliation)?

          I don’t know ‘diddley’ about Wisconsin, and don’t care to.

        2. Joachim

          I think this is a big problem with our system.  Instead of attempting to identify, address, and solve our problems, we turn it into a huge political football that turns off middle of the road people and encourages the extremes to lock into battle.  As such, Frankly’s comments actually make his preferred solution less likely.

        3. Barack Palin

          “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”

          That’s already happening.  You hear of stories all of the time where Federal and State money will be held back unless certain conditions are adhered to.

  3. Frankly

    I don’t know ‘diddley’ about Wisconsin, and don’t care to.

    You should.  It is the state that basically started public-sector unionization.  And the state that is leading the charge to reform the mess it has led to.

    Mr. Walker’s landmark law — called Act 10 — severely restricted the power of public-employee unions to bargain collectively, and that provision, among others, has given social workers, prison guards, nurses and other public employees little reason to pay dues to a union that can no longer do much for them. Members of Mr. Beil’s group, the Wisconsin State Employees’ Union, complain that their take-home pay has fallen more than 10 percent in recent years, a sign of the union’s greatly diminished power.

    Since the law was passed, membership in his union, which represents state employees, has fallen 60 percent; its annual budget has plunged to $2 million from $6 million.

    It bars public-sector unions from bargaining over pensions, health coverage, safety, hours, sick leave or vacations. All they can negotiate is base pay, and even that is limited: any raises they win cannot exceed inflation.
    Mr. Walker’s tough stance toward public-employee unions has steeled governors and mayors grappling with large unfunded pension obligations. And his criticisms of pensions have been reinforced by the turmoil in Detroit, where the often-generous and sometimes scandal-ridden pension system played a substantial role in the city’s bankruptcy.
    “You’re seeing more politicians willing to stand up to public-sector unions,” said Gary Chaison, a professor of labor relations at Clark University. “Fairly or unfairly, public-sector unions are increasingly being seen as part of the problem.”

    What does it say that a change to the law that prevents the unions from forcing unions dues leads to a 60% reduction in members choosing to pay unions dues?  It says that the unions were not serving the interests of at least 60% of their members.  It says that the unions had become a self-serving entity corrupted by easy money that was acquired tax-free and used to corrupt the political process.

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