Analysis: Staff Clarifies Street Selection Process

Last Tuesday, on consent, council was asked to approve a list of streets that the city would be funded by the state to repair.   On Friday, Alan Pryor submitted a guest commentary objecting to what he saw as an “arbitrary process.”

His chief complaints were that the list of streets were in his words “prepared solely by the City’s Public Works Department and not ever vetted by the Bicycle, Transportation, and Street Safety Commission (BT&SSC) nor by the Finance and Budget Commission (F&BC) nor was there any indication in Staff’s Report that these streets selected were in any worse state of disrepair than other neighborhood streets or major arterial roadways in town.”

The Vanguard received some feedback from the city, which wished to clarify the process as to how they made the street selection for road repair and rehabilitation.

City Engineer Dianna Jensen explained that the city hires a consultant every three years in order to conduct a survey of streets and bike paths using the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) survey protocol.

For the past 20 years, the city has used StreetSaver software, a decision-support tool.

Staff has coordinated with the consultant NCE to create a decision tree for its maintenance and rehabilitation (M&R) strategies.  This, they say, helps to determine the street “for each street classification and bike path, based on best practices, past experience, and funding.”

These are then entered into the database prior to entering survey data, and “[o]nce entered into the database, the survey data is used to calculate a Pavement Condition Index (PCI), which is used to indicate the average general condition of a pavement area based on distresses observed during the condition survey.”

PCI is an index between 0 and 100, which indicates the general condition of pavement, with 100 as the best and 0 as the worst.

All of this was described in the January 20, 2020, staff report where the council created a subcommittee to work with staff on the assumptions of the model and looking toward funding options to rehab the city’s pavement.

Dianna Jensen reported, “We have been meeting every two weeks and making progress on evaluating the assumptions.”

Part of the current strategy includes “recyclable and cost-effective treatments.”  Staff notes, “The decision trees include fully-loaded project costs including an additional 35 percent for contingency, design, construction management, inspection, and materials testing.”

Alan Pryor, in his piece, noted that “since the list to be sent to the State was not due until May 1, there was ample time for the consideration of the list of selected streets for repair by the appropriate Commissions prior to the submission deadline.”

But, as Dianna Jensen pointed out in her response to the Vanguard, “while the SB1 money has been designated for the road rehab project, there are other funding sources that support road rehab as well such as construction tax and impact fees.”

Indeed, the project funding sources show that the council this coming fiscal year will have just over $5 million at its disposal—only $1.13 million of which would come from SB 1.

That is critical to understand because it means that the number of streets are far broader than the list as described in the staff report from last Tuesday.

The bigger problem that the city faces is that the money available is insufficient for city needs.

Staff noted on January 20: “In order to reach the target PCI values set by City Council in 2013 (68 for arterials, 65 for collectors, 60 for residential/local streets and 68 for bike/multi-use paths), the analyses indicates that the City needs to spend approximately $7.9 million per year on streets and $3.9 million per year on bike paths over the next 10 years.”

Alan Pryor is critical in his letter to council—attached to his article: “Staff provides absolutely no guidance on this subject other than it was stated that these selected streets were otherwise scheduled for repair in the 20-21 fiscal year. Additionally, these recommended rehabilitation projects have never gone to the Bicycle, Transportation, and Street Safety Commission (BT&SSC) for review nor to the Finance and Budget Commission for consideration. For all the public and the Commissions know, the areas selected by Staff where chosen by the old dart and a dart board method.”

However, Dianna Jensen responded, “The street selection process is one that has been thought through and approved by Council. Because of this, the actual streets that are selected are not brought before the BTSSC.”

The March 24 staff report makes reference to little of this.  It only notes: “The projected amount of Davis’ apportionment of SB1 funding for FY 2020/21, including the Loan Repayment, is estimated at $1,317,565.”

It makes no discussion as to where those decisions were made, the process by which they were made, nor was it clear from that staff report that there would be other money and thus other roads selected.

In addition, because the city is rolling this out a bit piecemeal, there is little ability for the public or the council to weigh the repairs funded in totality.

By doing this, no one can evaluate whether these are the best or most needed repair options.  It is clear from the January 20 staff report that there is a process and the subcommittee that was created will evaluate it—however, it might be helpful for the entire process to have been laid out in the staff report and the entire array of streets rolled out at one time in order for both the council and city to make the best decision.

—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. David Greenwald

    Please note there was discrepency in the SB 1 fund amount.  Dianna Jensen has clarified: “The $1.318M is correct. The staff report was written in December for the January report and the state had not updated their numbers yet.”

  2. Todd Edelman

    BTSSC / Bicycling, Transportation and Street Safety Commission.

    People still call it the “Bike Commission”. During our meetings at the Senior Center the chalkboard that indicates meeting room location refers to it in the same way. Back in January a representative of the proposed ARC focused only on cycling in a pitch to us.  Most (in)famously, at the January City Council meeting where I was suspended, the name on the monitor (i.e. what’s seen by home viewers, and now in the City archive) used the incorrect name.

    Just over a year ago at the March 14, 2019 BTSSC meeting the Commission took up an item I suggested which included a proposal to get the name shortened so that my Commission can have a… memorable name. Minutes here, but it was not successful.

    1. Todd Edelman

      “Do tell . . . what name did you suggest?”

      “Mobility Commission” could work, but it could sound to some to be about ADA-and related. There’s “Mobility and Movement”, “Mobility and Transportation”, “Streets and Movement”, etc. I think I wanted to do some crowd-sourcing.

    2. Bill Marshall

      Originally, it was Safety Advisory Commission… due to complaints, there was created the Bicycle Advisory Commission… SAC added “parking” to their charge (SPAC)… then there were like 9 members of the BAC, 5-7 on SPAC… the proliferation of Commissions and Commissioners got to the point the CC wanted to consolidate… the BTSSC was born… or, hatched…

      Having staffed the SAC for years, there were folk who actually understood things, including when to listen to staff… now, from the meetings I’ve seen, the commissioners are all about themselves and their views… “bully pulpits”… the recent ‘blow-up’ on BTSSC has demonstrated it… interesting that was glossed over in the posts recently, by one of its members, who was a focal point of that…

  3. Matt Williams

    The response by Dianna Jensen is a good one, and when that response is put together with Alan Pryor’s  concerns and some of the Vanguard’s observations, a path toward improving the communications process emerges.

    Because of my past and present attention to the City’s annual and long-range Infrastructure Maintenance Shortfall, the process Dianna Jensen described — hiring Nichols Consulting every three years to conduct a street condition and bike path condition survey, and then enter the data into the StreetSaver software — was well known to me.  I’m comfortable with that assessment process.  See my past Vanguard comment at Monday Morning Thoughts: Missed Opportunities for City on Sales Tax | Davis Vanguard

    There is a problem though, and it isn’t with either the assessment or with Public Works.  The problem is, as Alan Pryor has pointed out, how the City acts on the assessment information.  First, it does not proactively communicate either the assessment results or the repairs priority plan to the public.

    Dianna’s answer indicates that the City has known both the Pavement Condition Index (PCI) and the current year’s priorities ever since the last Nichols Consulting survey was completed, but the City hasn’t shared that information publicly.  The Finance and Budget Commission (FBC) has made multiple requests for that information as part of FBC’s deliberations on both the Budget and the Long Range Forecast.

    In the January 2020 presentation of the Long Range Forecast by Bob Leland to the FBC, that request was made by FBC once again — because of the alarming trend of the Shortfall from $152 million ($7.6 million a year) in June 2017, to $201 million ($10 million per year) in June 2019, to $258 million ($12.9 million per year) in January 2020.

    The failure of the City to communicate what its plan is for street maintenance leaves the public in the dark, unable to know how their personal lives will be affected.  That failure to communicate also makes it hard for the public to build confidence in the very professional actions and processes of the Public Works Department.

    The logical follow-on question is, “Why doesn’t the City communicate to its citizens and in this case to the FBC?”  I believe the reason is simple.  Money.

    When the Council received the latest Nichols/City Staff Pavement Condition Report in January they created a subcommittee of Dan Carson and Gloria Partida to engage “with city staff and FBC on analyzing the numbers in the consultant report on roads and exploring actions to address the city’s funding gap for roads and bike paths.”  Since Staff and Nichols, executing the process that Dianna Jensen  has described have presented current numbers to the Council in February 2103, September 2014, December 2015, and January 2020, the numbers are very well known.  It is hard to imagine that we need more “analyzing the numbers.”

    What we need is a clear plan that is clearly communicated to the members community — and the money necessary to actually complete the plan each year rather than report a Shortfall instead of repairs done.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Yeah, and it is regrettable that the County Health official didn’t consult, vet recommendations with all the City and County commissions… before they were implemented… am sure F&B would have had concerns about the economic impacts, for sure!

      1. Matt Williams

        You miss the point of the FBC request Bill.  The FBC had no desire/intention of questioning the professional judgment of either Nichols or Staff.  What the FBC wanted, and still wants, to do was build the Nichols/Staff Pavement Condition Index (PCI) snapshots and trends into Bob Leland’s Budget Forecast model so that the fiscal projections of the annual Budget Shortfall for Capital Infrastructure, which already are in the model (see graphic below — cream colored box in the upper right hand corner) can be augmented with PCI values.

        The FBC definitely has concerns about the economic impacts of the Capital Infrastructure Needs and Funding Summary … as they should.  it is a concern that our community is sustaining itself by eating its young.

        1. Bill Marshall

          But, at a street segment by street segment level?  A question unanswered… and you appear to support ‘timeliness’ info even in this cycle… who on FBC has technical knowledge as to priorities for street segments?  I suspect, none… but liberal arts majors are smarter than science majors, right?  Even on technical issues…

        2. Matt Williams

          Why filter the information … providing some pieces of data and withholding other pieces?

          FBC isn’t interested in going down to the street segment level.  It is interested in what various roll-ups look like over the 20-year duration of the Budget Forecast.

          The priorities that the engineering professionals set result in fiscal consequences.  FBC wants to model those fiscal consequences and how their impacts play out over time.

          Bottom-line, the FBC is a bunch of finance majors/professionals talking about fiscal issues.  Is an engineer better qualified to talk about the short-term and/or long-term consequences of fiscal issues than an MBA or CPA?

    1. Matt Williams

      Excellent question Laurie.  I suggest you send that question to Diane Parro <>.  She is the Director of Business and Community Engagement and she is responsible for the City’s Internal and External Communication Plan.  Barbara Archer and Stacey Winton work hard under Diane’s leadership.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Actually, it is a silly question, as written… so now beyond street segments proposed, we have to put them in ‘time order’?  But that would have to go thru at least 2-3 commissions and CC first, right?  Yeah, right…

        Now if the question was meant as “what streets are intended to be rehabbed in the current cycle”… that would be a legitimate question…

        1. Matt Williams

          No commissions necessary.

          Once Public Works and Nichols have professionally assembled the plan, and the Councilm has committed the funding, Diane Perro’s department should assemble a coherent City communication that goes to all the community (inserts in utility bills, front page article on the City website, articles in the media, etc.) that says (1) here is the priority list that came out of the Nichols/Staff process covering a 24-36 month window, (2) here is the funding Council has provided, and (3) here is the “need” that can’t be addressed because of the funding shortfall.  A very simple communication.

        2. Matt Williams

          What costs?

          The mailing costs of a utility bill with a one-page insert is no different than the mailing costs of a utility bill with no insert.

          So the total cost of the insert is the cost of printing 20,000 two-sided, one-page copies.  The Communications Department is already being paid to create such vehicles for providing the City’s stakeholders with meaningful and useful information.

  4. Bill Marshall

    More to Mr Pryor’s prior ‘points’…  what is the charge of the commissions?  To micromanage, direct staff, on line item details?… or to give advice to the council on general project and policy matters?

    IMO, we have too many commissions, because they (commissioners) consider themselves (in the main) as demi-gods… didn’t use to be that way… we’ve had some great ones…

    1. Matt Williams

      Bill, you are being paranoid.  Your reflexive defensiveness of your former colleagues is understandable, but it is getting in the way of your hearing what Alan is really saying.  Think Strother Martin in Cool Hand Luke.

      What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate

      1. Bill Marshall

        By the plain meaning of words used, am pretty sure what Alan P intended.  Thank you for your insight… but we need to agree to disagree on his intent…

        1. Ron Oertel

          but we need to agree to disagree on his intent…

          People make “guesses” on here constantly regarding “intent”. I’m sure that they make guesses regarding you (and me), as well.

          Sometimes those guesses are accurate, sometimes not.

          One thing that I’ve noticed is that the people who I consider to be rather “slow-growth” are often fiscally-conservative (read “careful with money”), as well – including concern for the city’s money.

          (I view myself that way, at least.)

          Sue Greenwald was also a fine example of that approach, as well.

  5. Sharla Cheney

    As long as the projects are not delayed, there isn’t extra administrative overhead, and the selection doesn’t become political, a commission should weigh in.  If the projects are delayed, if there is a diversion of funds from actually fixing roads, if streets are added or removed as political favor, the Public Works should just do the project management on this.

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