SOUTH GATE — A divided City Council has approved an ambitious $900,000 survey of the city's infrastructure that drew criticism during the recent council election campaign.
Critics said the expenditure simply amounted to spending money to paint manhole covers and count trees.
But last week, the council voted 3-2 to fund the the effort to inventory, map, computerize and create a master plan for the city's water, sewer, street and lighting systems as well as street and park trees.
"We have to look at things beyond today. This puts us into the 21st Century," said Councilwoman Mary Ann Buckles, who joined with council members Larry Leonard and Jerry Garcia in approving the package. Mayor Johnny Ramirez and Councilman Albert Robles dissented.
Robles, who was elected last month, objected to the large expenditure, arguing the city is in "terrible" financial condition. He acknowledged that the project would benefit the city, but said it should be done "down the line."
City Manager Todd Argow said that precarious city finances make the project even more important. "When you don't have much money, this provides a mechanism to more efficiently fund infrastructure improvements," he said.
He said the computerized system will allow the city to gauge street deterioration and make repairs before roadways must be replaced, determine the exact location of water and sewer lines so pavement won't be needlessly torn up, and keep track of the health of trees to avoid disease.
Robles and Garcia, who also was elected last month, had been among those taking the financially strapped city to task for counting trees and painting manhole covers--the latter so that the metal discs, which were painted white, would show up on high-resolution aerial photographs.
Both now blame city officials for not communicating the importance of the projects to citizens during the months they were being planned.
"Until I got on the council, I didn't know they were even going in for this system," Garcia said. "I wondered why they were doing this. I knew they were taking aerial photos, but they've never painted manhole covers before to take aerials."
He said the projects "represent a lot of money, but they give quite a return on the investment."
The package includes:
* $799,595 to map and computerize the sewer, street and water systems and other aspects of the infrastructure over an 18-month period. Computer modeling will be used to determine deficiencies and future demands in the various systems. Mapping will be done by Brown and Caldwell Consultants.
* $61,740 to survey the condition of the city's 125 miles of streets. The information will be computerized to determine priorities for street repairs.
* $44,980 to assess the current health of street and park trees and make recommendations for future maintenance, including disease control and replacement.
The street and tree projects will take six to seven months to complete.
The street assessment, called the Pavement Management System, will be done by SFC Engineering Co. Argow said it will "enable us to have on computer the health of each individual street and to know which are reaching the point of no return. The cost of losing one street is the difference between a few thousand dollars for a slurry seal or half a million dollars for a reconstruction."
He said the project will also make the city eligible for more state and federal funds that require such management plans showing exactly where money is needed.
The tree study will be done by Urban Forestry Consultants, which will survey the city's 14,000 street trees and 3,000 park trees.
Officials said all of the projects, which total $906,315, will be paid with sewer, water, street lighting and landscape maintenance funds that are collected through user fees.