Monday Morning Thoughts: Our Roads Are in Desperate Need of New Revenue

There seems to be a perception out there that we can have our cake and eat it too.  That we can have “first-rate city parks, programs and services” while controlling growth on the periphery and “reducing city taxes.”

As the Vanguard 2016 analysis showed, the present is not good.  Davis, in a measure of comparable cities, lagged way behind in per capita retail sales.

Analysis: Davis Lags in Per Capita Retail Sales

The long-term picture is actually a good deal worse than people think.  While retail in general is struggling in the internet age, Davis is not only under-developed in terms of retail sales generators, the areas where it does generate tax revenue are auto sales, which is expected to tail off over time.

The result is that Davis is not generating a lot in the way of retail sales tax now and that production is expected to drop off even more in the future.

The big picture is this – there will be those who argue for cuts as a way to maintain our high level of city services.  Given that the current gap is about $8 million or nearly 15 percent of the
total general fund budget, it doesn’t seem likely that we can improve efficiency and maintain our service level in the long term.

The council has made a decision to attempt to fund about half the current shortfall (and again, I still believe that $8 million represents a low number).  The current level of park tax support will be maintained over the next 20 years with a straight renewal and an inflator to ensure that the current level of support maintains.

The big add is the 10-year, $99 parcel tax for roads.

Since 2009 or so, the Vanguard has been sounding the alarm that our roads were underfunded.  It took until the 2013 Nichols Consulting report to recognize just how bad the roads situation was and how much is needed.

Yesterday I went out early to grab a few new photos of Davis roads for use with these articles.

I think a lot of people do not realize how bad the roads actually are in Davis.  In fact, I would argue that most roads are in deceptively bad shape.  Above you see a common example.  Here you see a long running seam down the length of the road.  While you probably do not notice the seam as you drive, like you would a pothole or bumps in the roads, it is just as bad.

One problem with road conditions like that is that it allows moisture to get below the roadway, which means as time goes on, the roadway becomes more and more impacted.  When this roadway is repaired finally, it will take more than a simple patch job or overlay, and they will likely have to dig up the roadway and repave it completely.

Until you are looking for it, you don’t notice it so much because it doesn’t impact your driving, generally speaking.  What I noticed yesterday is that virtually every road in town has a seam like this, meaning they will all eventually have to be completely repaired.

The Nichols report recommended about $8 million per year, and they even suggested spending a lot more than that and bonding against a revenue stream.  Right now we are getting about $3 million in general fund money and the council has been using separate funding for nearly another million.

This tax measure will add about $2.8 million to that, but will still leave the city well shy of what they need.

While most of the roads have seams, some have this kind of patch work of cracks and other problems, seen above.  It looks like the city attempted to patch this surface up temporarily and that patch job has since deteriorated.  In this case, you will feel the uneven surface in your car and will be more aware of the problem than with the simple seam.

Finally, on some roads, the patch jobs have worn out and created new potholes. Davis has been a little fortunate in one sense that we had only one year of heavy rains in the past decade.  That has prevented the problem of roads from actually being a lot worse.

On a long-term basis, I do not see how we can maintain our high level of services (including working roads) without raising taxes or pursuing additional commercial and economic development.

Unless I am mistaken, I believe the city is overselling how much revenue will be generated by these two tax revenue measures.

Observe that the staff report indicates that the streets tax, if approved, will “generate approximately $2.8 million in the first year, with a 2% annual inflator, to provide funding to supplement $3 million of existing General Fund dollars currently provided in the Capital Improvement Project for Transportation Infrastructure Rehabilitation.”

The good news for people afraid that the council could backfill other spending is that, under the terms of this provision, the city would be required “to continue to provide a minimum of $3 million in contributions in addition to the revenue generated through the tax, in order to levy the full amount of the tax and meet a maintenance of effort requirement.”

That is the good news.

The bad news is this: “Based on the Leland long-term forecast the two parcel taxes generate an annual average of $4.6M in new revenue over time, which closes 55% of the average annual $8.3M gap that results over the 21-year period.”

Unless the city is not counting the existing money from the parks tax, it would appear that they are double-counting the parks tax money.  In short, this measure generates $2.8 million in new money in year one, but the $1.4 million from the parks tax is existing money.

It is unclear therefore if the measure is closing $4.6 million (not sure how $2.8 and $1.4 million equal $4.6 million) or 55 percent, or whether the measure is just generating $2.8 million of the $8.3 million needed.

No matter how you count it, we need money for roads, this measure is providing some of that, but not all of it.  Cost containment and economic development are important.  For that reason, I think it is good that they undershoot the amount they need – it will force cuts and containment of future spending.

However, anyone who believes that they can maintain our high level of services without finding new revenue sources is either fooling themselves or attempting to run for political office.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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      1. Tia Will


        Just for clarification, is the “seam cracking” that you have shown the same as the “longitudinal cracking” mentioned in your linked article. If so, it would seem that at least this type of cracking would be amenable to sealants per the article. Am I missing something ?

        1. Howard P

          Yes, and no… cracks along seams are generally longitudinal cracking, but not all longitudinal cracking occurs along seams (the all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares thing).

          Crack sealing is not a panacea… it is a good band-aid, if applied correctly (and ‘in-time’), to prevent “infection” of the wound.  Prevents water intrusion, but has no structural value.  It does not ‘heal the wound’…

        1. David Greenwald

          See longitudinal and alligator cracks.

          I believe the cable was installed on the other side of the street.  There would be a full patch line if that were the case.

        2. Howard P

          The pic with the cracks inches together, is the result of ‘rock wheel trenching’, probably from installing CATV after the roadway was completed… to explain fully would be serious ‘drifting’ and would take more time than I’m willing to spare… so Keith and David, you are both partially right, and more than a bit wrong…

          But hey, I’m just trolling, and don’t have 40 years of experience with roadway materials, construction/maintenance methods (?)… so you can both ‘safely ignore’ my reply… but please don’t pretend ‘knowledge’ that you probably don’t have…

        3. Keith O

          Picture 2 shows a full patch line which obviously looks like a small cable trench was filled and repaved and notice how the line follows the gutter evenly down the street.  I see these all over town where cable was installed.

          Thanks Howard, you just completely backed up my point.

        4. David Greenwald

          I’m told you are correct Keith, although, it probably dates back 15 to 20 years.  I didn’t think it was recent.  I guess it was originally fiber optic cable that was laid down and then not patched as well as it should have been.  There longtiunal cracks on almost every major road in town that hasn’t been repaired in the last cycle.

        5. Keith O

          Well thanks for finally giving in, it was pretty obvious.  The reason I made a point of it is if these repaired cable trenches are now a liability for our roads shouldn’t we have received compensation in the first place or have some recourse against the installers?

  1. Howard P

    Good primer, David… all stuff I knew, but it would be great if everyone understood the basics and understand the need to act before base failure (almost always due to water intrusion) occurs.

    Pavement management is in large part science, part art.

    What we’re seeing now, is the results of not spending money, strategically, for the last 30 years or so.

    “Catch-up” time…  it will be much more expensive than if we had spent the money effectively for the last 30+ years… if we don’t invest the money now/soon, the (pot)hole will only get deeper and more extensive.  PW staff has been pointing this out for 30+ years, but to no avail…

    1. David Greenwald

      I’ve not been in this game for 30 years, but I do know in 2009, Bob Clarke had a presentation on the roads.  At that time, he was talking about the need for about $1 million a year in spending.  I believe we didn’t start spending until 2015, by that time it was up to about $8 million.

      1. Howard P

        Under Dave Pelz, and Bob Weir, it was brought up neatly every budget cycle since 1985.  Bob Clarke has continued to do so, as it is the professional and responsible thing to do.

        As I recall, the 2009 # was the “treading water” number.  The “deal with it” number was higher…

    1. Howard P

      Yolo County has done the same, over the last 10-15 years…  gravel roads have similar issues, particularly due to even more moisture getting into the subgrade… gravel roads also need regular maintenance to avoid failures/impassibility…

  2. PhilColeman

    A companion proposal addressing the quality of our public roads throughout Yolo County is found at the Board of Supervisor level.

    A sales tax increase of a quarter-percent has been proposed by Don Saylor and is scheduled for public vote, I believe, in the Fall. Were this measure to pass, a proportional sum of the revenue would be given to cities as well as unincorporated areas. Deteriorated public roads exist beyond the Davis city limits, and exist due to the same funding deficiencies found here.

      1. Ken A

        Any idea how much Davis will get each year from the big new $5.2 billion annual increase in the gas tax that is supposed to go to roads?

        “The tax increases approved by the Democrat-dominated Legislature will help raise more than $5.2 billion annually to repair California’s crumbling roads and bridges, improve mass transit, expand bike lanes and reduce traffic congestion.  The bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown will raise the state excise tax on gasoline by 12 cents, from 29.7 cents per gallon to 41.7 cents per gallon. The excise tax on diesel fuel will increase by 20 cents, from 16 cents per gallon to 36 cents per gallon, and the sales tax rate on diesel will increase from 9% to 13%.”

        Maybe the “city” should see how much they get from the proposed “state” tax increase or if the “county” adds to the sales tax for roads before we pass yet another tax increase.

        P.S. The Enterprise wrote about a county sales tax increase for the roads back in August.  I would post the link, but the Vanguard does not like multiple links.

        1. Keith O

          Yes, between any new county road taxes and what we should get from the state (if Brown doesn’t blow all the gas tax on his Bullet Train to Nowhere) maybe we should take a step back and wait for those numbers.

      2. Howard P

        OK… vast majority of the road/bridge infrastructure is the state’s (independent of KO’s pet “boondoggle”)… local share apportioned by population and/or need (65 k population out of 39 million)…  yeah… let’s wait, do nothing, and see that Davis’ share is maybe as high as $250,000… GOOD PLAN! Gotta love it!  Completely solves our backlog on street maintenance/repair…

        If anyone is thinking even 15% will go to locals… oh, wait… it’s past Jan 1… enjoy your recreational MJ…

        1. Howard P

          Didn’t disagree… someone is taking things WAY too personal (where have I heard that before?)…

          Fact is, different sources of funding… as usual you ignore main points… Davis will get nowhere near what will cover the parcel tax proposal…

          Which is inadequate to fully deal with the Davis problem… better than “treading water”, but hardly more than a “doggie paddle”… but yeah, stick to your thesis… we should do nothing, and wait and see… real mature, and wise… as usual… I defer to those principles…

        2. Keith O

          I think I’ll defer to Ron as he said it best:

          Howard:  There’s often a nasty, unfounded implication in your comments.  Seems like you often don’t put a lot of thought into your frequent responses, before posting them.

  3. Howard P

    New gas tax beneficiaries… local funding for Davis roadways and bike/ped paths…

    Bottom line… the Feds will not help much… particularly for CA and especially for a ‘sanctuary City’…

    The State will cover the facilities they are responsible first, then dole out some money for mass transit (mainly, State or regional)… then they’ll probably focus funds towards less affluent jurisdictions than Davis… reality… politics… particularly in an election year… every two years…

    Go for the parcel tax (priced too low)  or accept the tradeoffs…  simple… “Frankly, Scarlett…”


  4. darelldd

    My concern here is in the promotion of the pyramid scheme of “We need more development to raise new money in order to fund the old under-funded stuff.

    When we develop more, and raise money to catch up on unfunded infrastructure, we also require… more infrastructure to be built to support that new development. Then all the new money (which of course is never quite enough new money) goes to catching up on the old under-funded problems. And to maintain the “new” infrastructure that eventually gets old and needs repair, we need to…. develop more and produce an ever-shrinking percentage of what we need just to “catch up.”

    Rinse and repeat.

    We always need an “expanding economy” just to barely afford funding the stuff that last year’s society needed.

    How does creating more need of funding in order to raise funds help us in the long run?

    We continue to let drivers park for free. And pollute for free. We might as well also continue to let drivers use the roads for free too because, freedom!

  5. darelldd

    >> Until you are looking for it, you don’t notice it so much because it doesn’t impact your driving, generally speaking. <<

    Try riding a bicycle on it. You will notice it “much” and constantly.

  6. Tia Will

    Hi David

    was aiming my comment at automobile drivers.”

    Yes, and that is definitely the demographic that gets the most attention. However, the interests those of us who bike, or walk, demographics that I think we might want to increase, tend to get overlooked.

    1. darelldd

      Overlooked, dismissed, sidelined. When all issues are viewed through the windshield, a broad focus is difficult to achieve.

      If this article’s purpose is to figure out how to spend less money on infrastructure, it would be more effective if it considered transportation beyond the automobile. We will *never* be able to afford to keep up with our automobile infrastructure needs if reality plays any role in this discussion.

      1. Howard P

        Good points… to an extent… a big extent… it should be couched in “mobility”… all modes… car/truck, bicycle, pedestrian, wheelchair, guide animals, etc….

        Agree on “the broad focus”… all need to be kept “in focus”… they are actually inter-related on more ways than most realize…

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