San Diego council passes infra funding package

The Rebuild San Diego Initiative, budgeted at up to $5bn, aims to create inroads for a modern infrastructure investment programme.

After nearly one year of pondering, San Diego's elected officials yesterday voted to add an infrastructure funding package of up to $5 billion to a June ballot. 

The initiative is a charter amendment that would dedicate between $3 billion and $5 billion from existing City revenue to neighbourhood improvements without increasing taxes, according to a statement from the office of City Councilor Mark Kersey. 

“San Diego is finally closer to having a long-term dedicated funding stream for infrastructure,” Kersey said. “The Rebuild San Diego measure will provide the resources to help repave more streets, repair more sidewalks, replace more storm drains and rebuild aging facilities like fire stations, libraries and recreation centers.” 

If approved by San Diego voters, the measure will earmark half of all new general fund revenue, a portion of sales tax growth and pension payment savings specifically for infrastructure. 

In an interview with Infrastructure Investor upon announcing the proposed funding measure last March, Kersey said that the city is still struggling through the repercussions of fiscal troubles from a decade ago which have contributed to the poor maintenance of assets. 

Kersey said that he and several other elected officials in the city have spoken about using public-private partnerships (PPPs; P3s) to leverage private finance in the modernisation of city infrastructure. He noted that P3s “have tremendous potential that has not been anything close to realised in San Diego or Southern California or the whole state”, but that their novelty and misconceptions about how they work are causing elected officials to view them with a cautious eye.

A spokesperson from San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer's office also confirmed last March that P3 talks have been underway at the city but noted that “the city has never executed a public works project through the P3 method” and that the mayor's office has been “looking into this delivery method and think that it does offer potential for the city's capital improvement programme”. 

“City staff believe it could provide advantages for certain projects,” the spokesperson said. 

While California is one of 34 states with P3-authorising legislation, Kersey said there are “some issues with the language” that are causing consternation amoung those who support the idea of the delivery method's use in local projects.

Still, he said, efforts to clear the way for private finance involvement in city infrastructure undertakings are not over. He reckoned lawmakers would continue to explore ways to better utilise them.

“There's no one magic bullet that's going to solve the [infrastructure deficit],” Kersey said. “It's going to take a variety of approaches.”