Back in March 2006, Palo Alto City Auditor Sharon Erickson told the community that we had a $28.7 million backlog in road repairs.
Just driving through town daily, I know our roads are bad and in need of much repair, but I had not realized how far behind we were in paying for repairs. The $28.7 million figure is a huge amount of money, especially since the city talks about budgeting a mere $2 million a year for road repairs. At that rate of spending, we will never catch up.
For the past 10 years, residents have been complaining about the condition of our roads. In fact, a city survey reported that more than half the residents think their roads are in "poor" (18 percent) to "fair" (34 percent) condition. Given that residents rated other items in the city much higher, Erickson decided to conduct a study to see why the public perceived the roads were so bad.
Her conclusion: The roads have been neglected for years. Either the money slated for repairs was spent on other things, and/or the Public Works Department's request for more money was not addressed.
It's now seven months since Erickson's report, and there's no plan in sight yet as to what the city can do to come up with the money. City Manager Frank Benest and Director of Administrative Services Carl Yeats presented a report to the City Council's Finance Committee Tuesday night, saying not only does the city need money for street repairs, but it also now needs about $3 to $5 million in new long-term spending for retiree health costs, as well as a lot for building repairs. And the city is also facing a potential loss in utilities tax revenues.
City Manager Frank Benest suggested the city find new ways to get more money in, such as asking residents to partly finance sidewalk repairs, or charging a development impact fee for roads, boosting hotel taxes, or charging more for city classes, but none of these will bring in a lot of money.
The Finance Committee instead told Benest to go back and start looking for some real cuts in this city, including possible cuts in city services. A big hooray for the committee!
We don't have much choice left.
I don't know what the solution is, but I know some of us have been waiting for repairs for years. In the meantime our roads are getting progressively worse, particularly in old Palo Alto. We already are paying for these bad roads through the daily wear and tear on our cars. How much does an alignment cost?