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Support for L.A. street-repair bond measure ebbs at City Hall

Several City Council members back away from the proposal, which would ask voters to approve boosting property taxes.

January 15, 2013|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times
  • There is a fear at L.A. City Hall that the pool of money available for road work is about to shrink dramatically. Above, workers fill a pothole in 2011.
There is a fear at L.A. City Hall that the pool of money available for road… (Christina House, For The…)

Support for a $3-billion bond measure to fix deteriorating streets across Los Angeles is itself starting to crumble at City Hall, with City Council members backing away from efforts to get it onto the May 21 ballot.

Four council members — Paul Krekorian, Bernard C. Parks, Jan Perry and Dennis Zine — said they were unprepared this election year to support the measure, which would boost property taxes over a 20-year period. All four said there had not been enough analysis or outreach to neighborhoods.

A fifth, Councilman Tom LaBonge, said he was leaning against putting the measure on the ballot, in part because Los Angeles County is pursuing its own clean-water fee — one that would add $54 to the yearly tax bill for most single-family homes. "I'm concerned that people will feel there's too much coming at them," he said.

The statements represent a turnaround from two weeks ago, when seven council members — including Krekorian and LaBonge — signed the proposal to draft the measure for the May 21 ballot. With a vote scheduled for Tuesday on whether to proceed, Council President Herb Wesson said he too wanted to see a clearer strategy for selling the bond plan.

The street bond proposal was unveiled Jan. 4 by Councilmen Mitchell Englander and Joe Buscaino as a way of erasing a 60-year repair backlog for the city's worst streets. But it quickly came under fire from critics, who pointed out that a separate sales tax hike is on the March 5 ballot — and being billed as a way to pay for pothole repairs.

"There is no real plan to fix streets and sidewalks — just an ask for more money," said Cary Brazeman, who is running for city controller.

A spokesman for Englander said his boss had been conferring with Buscaino but would not say what Englander had decided. Buscaino, for his part, said he was open to pursuing the street repair bond in another year.

"This will be the largest street improvement project in the country. And if it's not going to happen in May, it's going to happen on a future ballot," he said.

The bond proposal reflects a growing fear at City Hall that the pool of money available for road work is about to shrink dramatically. President Obama's federal stimulus package, which generated an extra $43 million for street and sidewalk fixes over a three-year period, was exhausted last summer. Funding from Proposition 1B, a statewide measure passed in 2006, runs out in June after providing $87 million for road work in L.A., budget officials said.

Those funding sources have enabled the city to ramp up its spending on street maintenance and repairs despite tough economic times. At the same time, however, the city's general fund — which pays for basic services and would directly benefit from a sales tax hike — has been contributing far less.

When Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa took office in 2005, the general fund provided the Bureau of Street Services nearly $14 million for road reconstruction and maintenance, according to city budget figures. In 2007, when the economy was booming, that number briefly reached a peak of $32.2 million.

For the last three years, that figure has plummeted. The general fund now contributes $1.1 million per year for street maintenance and nothing for actual road repairs, according to city figures.

Englander said proceeds from a $3-billion bond would be used to target the repair backlog for roads graded D or F, which make up 31% of the city's streets and are so damaged that they can no longer be maintained. That makes the bond markedly different from Proposition A, the half-cent sales tax, he said.

Proposition A would send additional money into the city's general fund, which has street maintenance as just one of many spending programs, alongside police, firefighters, paramedics and senior programs.

Zine, who is running for city controller, said there isn't enough time to sell the public on a bond in time for a May 21 vote. "There hasn't been outreach," he said. "If you want to push something, you've got to have support."

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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