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Los Angeles

Upscale Suburb Warned Its Beauty Is Only Skin Deep

Glendora: Despite a median household income above $60,000, the city lacks money for repairs to its decaying infrastructure.

July 05, 2002|GARIOT LOUIMA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's a fairly well-to-do suburb with multimillion-dollar mansions in the foothills and a bustling commercial center, but Glendora's infrastructure is crumbling, and the city cannot afford repairs.

An independent auditor identified nearly $100 million in repairs needed to the city-owned water system and another $22 million for city streets.

The problem, said analysts with Citigate Associates, is that Glendora has only $15.6 million in reserve and $4 million in a water fund.

The report, commissioned by the city, did not mention the sewer system, but city officials said they suspect those lines also need major repairs. But they said they have no idea what the work would cost, or where they would find the money.

Citigate's report was an eye-opener to the city of 49,415 in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, 27 miles east of Los Angeles. Commercial and residential development haven't slowed during the economic slump, and the city--with a median household income in the $60,000s--has virtually escaped the increase in violent crime that has happened elsewhere.

But experts say Glendora's current financial difficulties are far from unique among the state's more than 500 cities. Public spending on infrastructure in California has declined more than 75% since the 1960s.

And since 1978's Proposition 13, which capped property taxes, municipalities all over the state have had a tough time raising money for infrastructure maintenance, said Jeffrey Lambert, president of the California Chapter of the American Planning Assn.

For the most part, Lambert said, cities make piecemeal repairs. If a specific line is leaking, for example, they handle that leak.

"There are several reports out there that suggest the infrastructure needs--not just state roads and dams, but in local cities--there is an overwhelming need for major upgrades," said Steve Preston, chairman of the California Planners Roundtable.

Most cities rely on some state funding for maintenance of arterial roads, Preston said. Cities often allocate revenue from local taxes-- many times a gas tax--to pay for street repairs. Affluent cities such as Glendora sometimes have difficulty finding resources because they often don't qualify for the resources that are out there, Preston said.

When the report, which cost $104,000, was made public in April, many Glendorans scratched their heads in confusion. The report gives 100 areas that local officials should address in the coming years, including adoption of professional standards for several key city jobs.

"The sewer pipes are collapsing, the water pipes are collapsing, the business corridor is virtually a slum, and nothing's being done," said Richard Jacob, a past city councilman who was recalled in a recent special election, along with two others. In exasperation, he added, "This isn't Watts, this is Glendora."

Douglas Tessitor, who sits on the board of directors of the Glendora Republican Club, said most elected officials have long been aware of the infrastructure problems, especially those of the water system, but have been unwilling to act for political reasons.

"The stuff that is out of sight and out of mind that costs money to fix is very easy to defer when there are other, higher profile, sexier demands for money," Tessitor said.

Idella Cloutman, an 84-year-old grandmother who moved to Glendora in 1933, said, "We're in pretty bad shape. [The city government] didn't do anything for 30 years."

Some officials said they hadn't been aware of Glendora's precarious financial state.

"I was surprised that the financial health of the community is not what I expected," said City Manager Eric Zeigler, who was appointed in May after serving nine months as interim manager.

"When you neglect the physical infrastructure, you, one day, reach a crisis point," he added. "I don't think we've reached a crisis, but I don't think we're at a very healthy place."

In response to the report, the City Council last month voted 4-1 to impose a development moratorium along Route 66, the city's main business corridor. Officials said they hope to lift the moratorium, once they have developed a downtown master plan.

The findings of the Citigate report didn't come as a complete surprise to some officials. In 1995, a report by AKM Consulting Engineers outlined most of the problems with the city's water system, estimating that improvements and repairs would cost $100 million.

Two years after publication of that report--which became the city's Water Master Plan--AKM Consulting suggested a 10-year capital improvement program to address the most pressing problems, which included the replacement of key wells and several water mains, totaling $15 million.

Although the city has collected $1.3 million annually since 1999 into a capital improvement fund, less than 20% of those initial improvements have been completed.

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