As mayor of San Leandro, I want residents to know about an important piece of legislation that I believe could offer tremendous assistance to communities throughout California: AB2292, which provides cities and counties with a tool for financing broadband infrastructure critical to community economic development and growth.
Over the past two years, the Bay Area has enjoyed tremendous economic growth. Unemployment rates in many Bay Area cities are less than half of their peak during the recession. This growth has been accelerated by billions of dollars in venture capital and other investments flowing into the region.
At the same time, San Francisco and Silicon Valley are becoming increasingly expensive places to secure commercial space and for employees to live, threatening the region's position at the apex of the world's innovation economy.
Investment and development follow infrastructure. In the 18th century, seaports were critical; in the 19th century, it was railroads; and in the 20th century it was highways and airports. What does the 21st century have to offer? Ultrahigh-speed broadband access. Studies by the federal government and international organizations demonstrate that broadband is a key driver of economic growth and national competitiveness, and contributes to social and cultural development.
San Leandro recognized the importance of broadband in 2011 when the city partnered with local resident and CEO of OSI Soft, Patrick Kennedy, to create a unique public/private partnership called "Lit San Leandro." Using existing conduit lines, an 11-mile fiber optic loop was installed in our industrial zone, and later expanded seven miles.
Lit San Leandro revolutionized our public infrastructure by providing local businesses with a significant competitive advantage to grow and become industry leaders.
Businesses connecting to the fiber loop enjoy Internet speeds roughly 2,000 times the average U.S. connection speed. However, many areas are not served by the loop, and the city has insufficient funding to expand this revolutionary project.
A creative new tool exists to help local governments spur local development. Known as infrastructure financing districts, or IFDs, this tool enables communities to finance public works projects by diverting a portion of existing local property taxes.
However, existing law limits the types of projects that may be financed via IFDs, such as transportation, parks, water treatment and solid waste. Although these projects are important, existing law does not explicitly allow for the use of IFDs to finance broadband infrastructure.
Assembly Bill2292 is authored by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, and the city of San Leandro is a proud supporter of it. The bill would expand the list of projects that can be funded by IFDs to include broadband. Expanded broadband access, in turn, will provide businesses with a competitive edge, spurring investment and bringing new jobs to communities that choose to take advantage of this new opportunity.
I invite everyone to join our growing coalition that includes cities such as Oakland, Sacramento, Dublin, Brisbane, the California State Association of Counties, the State Library Association, the San Leandro Chamber of Commerce, the California School Employees Association, and others who are working together to make this critical change to the law to further strengthen California's economic growth and prosperity.
Stephen H. Cassidy is mayor of the city of San Leandro.