Joe Buscaino
Joe Buscaino

Los Angeles voters would be asked to increase their average property tax bills by $28 a year to help fix the city's crumbling streets under a proposal offered Friday by two city councilmen.

Councilmen Mitch Englander and Joe Buscaino are proposing to place on the May ballot a $3 billion bond measure to be repaid by taxpayers over 20 years.

Citing a UCLA Anderson School of Management study, they said interest rates for bonds are as low as they have ever been, offering the city an opportunity to pay for street repairs with less expense.

"The conditions of our streets affect everyone in the city, whether you drive a car or not," Englander said. "We have the highest repair costs per vehicle of any city in the nation. And the fact we have a 60-year backlog now is something we don't think is acceptable.

"We worked on this over the recess and are looking at what would be a good investment in terms of infrastructure and jobs, one that will provide a return to the city."

The City Council will have to act by Jan. 16 to get the official language needed to place it on the May 21 ballot. It will need support from two-thirds of the voters to take effect.

The street measure would be the second tax proposal before voters this spring. In March, Los Angeles voters will be asked to approve a half-percent sales tax to boost the city's budget.


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Englander said they are working to develop a website that will provide public information about the bond and the two are planning to meet with neighborhood and business groups across the city to explain the proposal.

"One of the things we were both insistent on is that all the money will go to street repair, so it will be in a special fund and not be part of the city general fund," Englander said. "Also, like the city did with other bond measures for police and libraries, we will have an oversight committee appointed to make sure the work gets done."

The two said the city has not been able to keep up with the repair needs of city streets - an estimated 8,700 miles are in need of repair and would cost $300 million a year to fix - as money has been needed for other programs.

"At the rate the city is currently able to tackle, it would take 60 years to finish rehabilitating all the lane miles," they said in their proposal sent to the City Council.

"Well-maintained streets not only enhance property values, but improve the quality of life of our citizens and businesses. Poorly maintained roadway conditions slow down rescue ambulances, fire apparatus and police vehicles, increasing response times to emergencies."

Also, they said, national studies estimate Los Angeles drivers sustain $750 a year per vehicle in wear and tear due to street conditions.

Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association questioned the reasoning behind the proposal.

"Maintenance of streets should be an ongoing obligation of the city where you pay as you go," Coupal said. "The only reason for a bond would be if you are building new streets. What the city needs to do is get back to its basics of public safety, trash collection and transportation.

"At the least, they will have to make their case to the public who will decide if they want to add more debt to the city."

UCLA Professor Edward Leamer, director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast, said the repair program is needed even as the city is considering a number of mass transit options dealing with mass transit.

"We have to decide if we are a city in ascendancy or a city in decline," Leamer wrote. "A city in decline will have crumbling infrastructure, blighted neighborhoods, fiscal stress and an inward looking government.

"A city in ascendancy will have a plan for improving infrastructure, schools, civic life and commerce and it will have an outward-looking government."

Leamer said the bond issue would be an example of "good borrowing," designed to improve property values and the quality of life in the city. 

"At some point, you are going to have to repair the roads," Leamer said. "You are better off doing it sooner at a reduced price than later when it will cost more.

"Also, having crummy roads and a crummy infrastructure sends the wrong message to visitors."

He added that the city should factor in not only the low cost to borrow money, but the low construction costs now available as well as the opportunity to develop construction training programs as a boost to long-term employment prospects.

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