Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's idea to tap voter-approved transportation money to fix Los Angeles' streets has hit a roadblock with some City Council members, who worry the public won't get a say in the $1.5 billion plan.
Revealed last week, the mayor's L.A. Road Works plan would repair one quarter of the city's 6,500 miles of aging roadways by borrowing against Measure R revenue, the half-cent sales tax approved in 2008 to pay for transportation projects.
Major arteries and roadways from San Pedro to Sylmar would be repaved, repaired and resealed under the proposal, which would fix some streets that haven't seen repairs since the 1950s.
"Angelenos in all parts of the city rightly gripe about the condition of their streets," said Peter Sanders, spokesman for the mayor. "We have an opportunity to repair, repave and reseal nearly a quarter of the city streets in a very fast time frame."
Staff from the Mayor's Office, the Department of Street Services, and Department of Transportation have briefed council members on the plan over the past week. The mayor hopes it will be approved by the council by the end of the year.
"It's a positive concept," said City Councilman Paul Koretz. "I'm glad we're thinking outside the box."
But Koretz, like a handful of other council members, called for a full public airing.
"I'm hoping they do a significant number of community meetings," Koretz said. "We tend to rush these things
Councilman Mitch Englander said the city must let taxpayers weigh in.
"Since residents are paying for this, they deserve a seat at this table to talk about it," said Englander, pointing out that the Bureau of Sanitation recently held 70 stakeholder meetings on a recently proposed sewer sanitation charge.
The total budget for the L.A. Road Works is $900 million, while debt from the bonds is expected to top $650 million, according to city officials.
As currently proposed, the city would issue bonds worth $750 million, which would be repaid over 27 years by funds from Measure R's half-cent sales tax revenues.
Another $150 million would come from existing funding, such as the gas tax and Proposition C, passed in 1990.
Measure R will generate $38 billion in total over the next 27 years. Two billion dollars of that can be used for pedestrian, bike and road repair projects.
L.A. Road Works is similar to the mayor's 30/10 plan, which would borrow from the federal government to fund major highway and transit projects within 10 years and pay the federal loan back over 30 years with the sales tax revenue.
With both interest rates and construction costs low, the Mayor's Office argues more roadways can be fixed now than by stretching out the funds over a decades-long period.
The repairs will also be preventative, according to Nazario Sauceda, interim general manager of the Department of Street Services. The city spends $85 million a year resurfacing its streets, but does not have the money to pay for rebuilding city roads.
"If we don't do anything, our kids will have to use horses to go into the streets," Sauceda said. "Our infrastructure is crumbling so rapidly."
But City Councilman Bernard Parks expressed surprise that the city's financial team, including City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, hadn't been briefed on the proposal. Nor has there been an analysis of the city's potential debt expense.
Parks also cautioned that by taking $750 million off the table, future mayors won't be able to use that money.
"I think it's important that the public and the council need to know what funds aren't going to be available," he said. "You're charting a course for 27 years."
Public works experts were skeptical of the mayor's plan.
"Generally, you want to borrow to invest, not to spend," said Richard Little, director of the Keston Institute for Public Finance and Infrastructure Policy, pointing out that infrastructure projects like bridges can last generations.
Little worried that in seven to 10 years, the streets would need repaving again.
"Twenty years down the road, we will have repaved the road three times," he said, "And we will still be repaying the original bonds. I don't think that's prudent."