San Diego Reports Low Infrastructure Funds
Officials in San Diego recently released a report detailing how the city will only have $1.5 billion over the next five years to address $6.29 billion in needed infrastructure projects, leaving a gap in funding for flood control and other areas.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the news comes just after a recent flood damaged neighborhoods in the southern part of the city, contributing to the shortfall of $1.6 billion for flood control upgrades and storm water projects.
A report from AP News in January stated that flash floods had overrun homes and overturned cars in San Diego as heavy rains swept through a large portion of the county, toppling trees and overflowing streets across the region.
Floodwaters reportedly swept away vehicles, also causing a pile-up of cars in parts of San Diego. Several feet of water inundated the Mountain View, Shelltown and Southcrest neighborhoods, and multiple highways including Interstate 15.
Not just stormwater: San Diego needs more than $6 billion for crucial infrastructure — but has just a quarter of that https://t.co/mIxsrHHWdv— The San Diego Union-Tribune (@sdut) February 6, 2024
According to the report, over a three-hour period, 3 inches of rain fell in nearby National City, while 2 inches fell at San Diego International Airport. During the winter, the region reportedly usually averages around 2 inches of rain per month.
Deputies pulled people to safety after water rushed into homes in the Spring Valley and Casa de Oro neighborhoods, said San Diego County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Zee Sanchez. Other residents reportedly escaped by wading through waist-high water, carrying their cats and dogs.
In a follow-up from the next day, AP reported that residents were left to pick up the remains of the damage from the floods, which brought the city’s fourth-wettest day in almost 175 years.
California Governor Gavin Newsom reportedly declared a state of emergency for San Diego County and Ventura County, as it was hit by heavy rains and high surf that caused flooding.
“I find that local authority is inadequate to cope with the magnitude of the damage caused by these winter storms,” Newsom said.
A rough calculation claimed that over 150 billion gallons of water fell on San Diego County over three days, mostly in a three-to-six-hour period, Ryan Maue, former chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in an email to AP. He added that the city’s drainage canals and infrastructure are not able to handle such a deluge.
“The rainfall rates and duration ... overwhelmed the capability of the urban and natural interface to reroute the water back to the ocean especially with so much also falling inland at high elevations,” Maue said.
City workers were also reportedly sent out ahead of time to clear storm drains and monitor pump stations, but many of the pump stations reached capacity during the storm and were overwhelmed, the city statement said. The city described the stormwater system as aging with limited capacity.
“Monday’s record rainfall revealed the fragile state of the City’s stormwater infrastructure and the need for significant investments going forward to prevent the current situation from becoming the new normal for San Diego,” the statement said.
Additionally, a report from NBC San Diego revealed that another slow-moving storm system is expected to bring days of rain to San Diego this week. In response, San Diego County and California leaders are urging residents to stay off the roads.
In addition to the lack of funding for floods and storm water, shortfalls reportedly included the need for $989 million for road paving, $801 million for parks, $427 million for streetlights and $235 million for firefighting facilities, including new stations and a new training center.
Additionally, other areas with smaller shortfalls include building renovations at $140 million, bridges at $118 million, bicycle lanes at $103 million, sidewalks at $88 million and libraries at $37 million.
The report stated that these gaps were part of an infrastructure funding deficit of $4.81 billion, what is said to be the second largest in the city’s history. This is based on a total projected need of $9.25 billion during the next five years compared to total projected funding of $4.44 billion.
However, city officials have said they've chosen to calculate an alternate estimate of the infrastructure gap, not including water and sewer projects. This is reportedly being done under the reasoning that adequate funding for those projects is guaranteed.
The city has also needed to raise fees paid by sewer and water customers to cover those projects, including the Pure Water sewage recycling system and upgrades for several city dams.
Overall, the infrastructure funding shortfall reportedly passed $5 billion for the first-time last winter, causing the $4.81 billion gap from the 45-page report to mark a 7% drop.
However, city officials have stated that this does not mean that they are making progress toward closing the gap. The decrease is mostly due to projects that won’t be completed within five years not being used in the analysis.
“I don’t want someone looking at this to celebrate that somehow our needs have decreased, because they haven’t,” San Diego Councilmember Kent Lee said when the council’s infrastructure committee discussed the report on Jan. 24. “It’s just that how we’re mapping out and understanding those needs is shifting.”
The report added that the city plans to borrow money to pay for projects, accounting for $659 million of the $4.44 billion supposed to be available for projects.
Additionally, this gap has more than doubled in recent years due to factors including new state mandates, surging costs for materials and labor and the city comprehensively assessing all its assets in recent years.
“We are seeing increased design and construction costs as the industry pushes its resource limits in both labor and materials,” said Caryn McGriff, assistant director of the city’s Engineering and Capital Projects Department.
McGriff added that San Diego faces a more severe infrastructure problem than some other cities due to its largest population boom being in the 1950s and 1960s.
“Our city is aging and, as a result of periodic population booms in the past, we have more infrastructure reaching the end of its useful life,” she said.
On top of this, new earthquake standards and other regulatory requirements are reportedly beginning to take shape.
“Not only are we replacing more, but we are replacing more to a higher standard and with a focus on the future,” McGriff said.
Some critics say the report also needs to include new infrastructure needed to support all the housing that it is encouraging developers to build with incentives and looser regulations.
Additionally, the report noted that state and federal grants the city has secured for infrastructure projects are expected to rise to $100 million during the ongoing fiscal year, over double what the city typically gets.
The report is scheduled for discussion on Feb. 12 by the full City Council. An analysis by the city’s independent budget analyst is also reportedly scheduled for release later this week.
A copy of San Diego’s five-year infrastructure plan can be found here.