Officials and road supporters are pitching Measure C, a $150 annual parcel tax for 30 years to rebuild cracked and damaged neighborhood streets. The measure would generate about $1.5 million a year.
Pothole-weary residents say the measure would fix the streets before they get worse and the cost for repair rises even more. It also would make the citywide network of roads healthy, they said.
Residents on streets in poor condition pay taxes through a 1995 road bond to ensure that major roads where others live and that everyone drives get fixed, supporters added.
"It's a matter of fairness," said Dan Bosshart, co-chairman of the Fix Our Roads Committee. "We're all part of the same community, and all the roads ought to be maintained."
Some critics disagree because they say the tax is too high, would last too long, and would not benefit major roads or private roads. Resident Bruce Peterson added, "As soon as the streets are repaved, there are going to be speeders, and then they'll want something done about the speeding. That's more money."
Lafayette has 118 neighborhood streets -- home to about 4,000 residents -- that have so many potholes and cracks they are "failing" by industry standards, said Tony Coe, city engineer.
The city has $18 million for repairs during the next nine years, but officials say they need $24 million more to clear the road backlog.
Measure C is being proposed to bridge that $24 million funding gap. If it's approved, the parcel tax would serve as a revenue stream and the city would issue bonds to get cash upfront for the roadwork, said Tracy Robinson, city finance director.
The city would pay the principle plus interest. Lafayette has a good bond rating and would land favorable interest rates, Robinson added.
The 118 failed streets would be fixed in five or six years, starting as early as 2008, Coe said. Asphalt prices have climbed at least 50 percent in the past few years. Coe said conservative estimates were used in anticipation of possible price increases.
Many of Lafayette's streets date to the 1960s. The city spends at least $1 million a year on road and drain repairs, but it isn't enough to fix everything, Coe said.
Without a big-box store or automalls to rake in sales tax money, officials say revenue is limited. The city gets 6.4 percent of property tax payments, which City Manager Steve Falk said is low.
The average among Contra Costa County's 19 cities is 10 percent, said Steve Ybarra, county auditor. Lafayette and Pleasant Hill are at the low end because they incorporated years ago as "no tax" cities and did not get part of property tax payments until the 1980s, when the state allotted them a share.
In 1995, Lafayette voters approved a $13 million road and drain bond targeting major thoroughfares and storm drains. It did not deal with neighborhood streets.
In 2004, officials followed up with a $29 million bond for neighborhood street repairs. Organized opposition surfaced on the basis that taxing for roads based on property tax is unfair to newcomers who bought their properties when real estate values were high. Voters defeated the bond.
Subsequent polls in 2005 and in January suggest a road measure would face an uphill climb to pass. The polls did not explain why some wouldn't approve it, but locals say some residents do not see a benefit because they live on private roads or busier streets that were fixed with 1995 bond measure money. Others dislike taxes in general and wouldn't approve a new tax regardless of what it's for.
Meanwhile, road supporters are distributing fliers and mailers, and have raised $17,428, according to campaign finance reports. That's more than the $15,000 amassed for last November's police parcel tax, which died at the ballot box.
No organized opposition has surfaced yet.
In addition to the road parcel tax, residents will consider Measure D, in which they weigh in on whether the city should keep setting aside at least $1 million a year from the general fund for road and drain repairs if the road tax passes.
Measure D is an advisory vote.
Reach Katherine Tam at 925-943-8163 or email@example.com.
-- Elisabeth Nardi