Behind the $3 Billion Road Repair Bond Measure, Englander Promises Better Streets for All

Last week, two of Los Angeles’ newest Council Members, Mitch Englander and Joe Buscaino, made news by announcing a campaign for a $3 billion bond to fund road repair on L.A.’s worst streets.  The “Los Angeles Emergency Local Street Safety and Traffic Improvement Measure” would need a two-thirds vote of city voters in May 21 and would create a twenty year real-estate tax that would be bonded against to fix the 31% of city roads that rate either a “D” or “F” on road conditions in the next ten years.

Englander, pictured here at a 2011 meeting on the Wilbur Road Diet, promises big things for all street users if his proposed $3 billion road repair bond passes in May.

The proposal, as outlined in the major local news outlets, drew concern from many Livable Streets advocates. The language of the proposal that the City Council would vote to send to the City Attorney, who legally is the one that drafts the ordinance for the ballot, seemed awfully car-centric. To make matters worse, a two-page report by professors at UCLA (pages 2 and 3) accompanying the motion argues that great cities are rated on how easy it is to drive from one place to another.

“Let’s not forget that bad roads are a much a threat to cyclists as bad drivers,” wrote Ted Rogers, the author of Biking In L.A. and Streetsblog contributor in an email to advocates which well summarized the feelings of a listserve formed to discuss the bond measure. “We all know people who have been taken out by potholes or had to swerve dangerously into traffic to avoid them. But fixing the streets without fixing sidewalks is just more of the same auto-centric (design) that has destroyed the quality of life in this city.”

However, in an exclusive interview with Streetsblog, Councilman Englander sounded positively upbeat about the proposed bond’s ability to improve street safety for all users.

“Everything that’s been approved on city-wide bicycle master plan, everything that’s on a reconstructed street would be completed,” Englander promised. “That includes the new crosswalks and ADA accesible access to the crosswalks.”

This week, the City Council will vote on whether or not to ask the City Attorney to draft an ordinance for the May 21 ballot. Englander’s office has already communicated with the City Attorney and city departments on the intent of the bond measure and seems certain that the language that voters see will include not just repairing the 31% of city streets, but also striping them with the most modern approved design including bike infrastructure, Continental Crosswalks, and left and right hand turning lanes.

“The end goal is to improve safety for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists,” he continued.

Englander also argued that just because the bond itself doesn’t address the  $1.5 billion dollar need to address the crisis of L.A.’s crumbling sidewalks doesn’t mean that sidewalk repair is being left behind.

“You can only bond for projects that are specifically listed by law,” he explains. “We have conditions for all 28,000 lane miles. We know where all 9,000 lane miles that are in failed and degraded condition are at.”

“With sidewalks…they haven’t been inventoried yet,” he added, referring to Mayor Villaraigosa’s plan to inventory the status of all 10,750 miles of city sidewalks over the next several years.

However, the city does officially know where many of the most degraded crosswalks are, and Englander says the final bond measure will allow funds to go to sidewalk repair adjacent to the repaired streets. The $3 billion would cover the entire street repair program for the degraded streets, but as the city earns grants from the state and federal government to work on street repair, the bond would actually produce more cash than is needed to complete the scope of the work.

By statute, that overflow will go to sidewalk repair for projects the city can list, design, and justify.

“Not a dime is allowed to go into the general fund or any other program, other than sidewalk reconstruction or the road repair fund,” Englander promises.

The proposal is already under fire from tax increase opponents including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association who argue that road repair should follow a “pay as you go” funding system. However, Englander and Buscaino argue that for whatever reason, the city has allowed it’s streets to fall into a disgraceful state of disrepair and now is not the time for finger pointing but action. They hope that the proposal coming from two of the junior Council Members will help blunt criticism that the previous council’s should have dealt with this issue earlier.

“We’ve inherited crumbling infrastructure,” Englander closes the conversation. “The question is where do we go from here?”

  • Lame

    More money diverted to general fund and retirement obligations.

  • Ubrayj02

    The reality of this bond measure: we’re going to hack off the limbs of civil government in LA in the future to pay for the gold-plated street network that can’t pay for itself today.

    If our streets are so financially unproductive, why are we going to go into hock just to double down on our bad investment? The streets in my community are designed for the benefit of road users who give nothing but pollution and danger to our streets while they flee to the big box stores set up on the border with LA and smaller communities to shop and spend the money they earn in LA in Alhambra, South Pasadena, unincorporated East LA, Burbank, Glendale, and Pasadena.

    If we took local revenue generation seriously, we would be taking a very hard look at the immense expense of a street like Huntington Drive/Mission and the horrible economic utility that street provides. In fact, the way streets like that are designed, it isn’t that it doesn’t pay its own bills – it generates additional expenses on top of the problems the road itself has. More deaths and illness from pollution, lowered real estate values, no building ownership turnover to current property tax rates, commercial vacancy, low business tax revenues, lowered sales tax revenues.

    Mortgaging our kids’ future to pay for baby boomer-era road repaving can’t be papered over with a bike lane. We need to start finding ways to reduce our long term maintenance costs and to make the infrastructure we do choose to maintain really, really, count.

  • JimBone

    I wouldn’t trust Englander any further than I can throw a Mack Truck.

  • Marta

    As someone who would like to bike commute from Venice to Hollywood, this can’t happen fast enough. My major stumbling block isn’t my bike, my physical condition, weather or traffic, but the bone-jarring road conditions on Venice blvd and La Brea.

  • El Barto

    ooooh boy is this thing doomed…

  • Erik Griswold


    Is this thing using the Level of Service (“LOS”) rating of D or F as a measure?  Because if so, this is a a wolf in sheep’s clothing; improving LOS, as it is currently construed by the Asphalt-heads at AASHO means widening and “moving more cars”.

    Has anyone ever seen a grading of road surface quality using the A-F scale?  

    If so, please point me to it.

    Otherwise, lookout!

  • JimBone

    GREAT point!! Do not think for one split second that Englander is to be taken for his word. NOT ONE MILLISECOND. We need a lawyer to inspect every crevice of this thing or we oppose and destroy this garbage.

  • Jay Handal

    At the BUdget Advocates meeting Tuesday night, COuncilman Englander told us the sidewalks to be repaired are the ones involved in a major class action lawsuit against the city. So, once again, the neglect by the elected officials must be paid for by additional taxes on the people who already paid for the repairs, but never got the funds to the right place.
    Jay Handal
    NC Budget Advocates

  • Jason81

    I don’t believe these are the same types of grades.  Like you said, LOS typically refers to moving cars (though it can refer to moving people).  I suspect the D’s and F’s referred to in the road repair discussion is referring more to the physical condition of the road rather than that road’s ability to move traffic.  Ultimately, of course, they’re related.  Also note that LOS includes a grade of E.

  • Eric B

     Check out the webpage the City put up on the proposal to explain the pavement quality index.

  • jane c

    I would also check out the Bureau of Street Services’ 2011 State of the Streets Report:

  • Erik Griswold

    Thanks for the responses.

    The use of picture of the fire truck falling into the sinkhole is misleading and needs to be condemned.  That had nothing to do with pavement quality or road funding.

    Jane’s suggested document ought to have been in Engalnader’s list of reports as it explains much more, but then shows that a good portion of these “failed streets” are residential.  IMHO, rough residential streets are a good thing as they calm traffic quite nicely.

    And yet somehow, Ambulance drivers don’t seem to be impeded by them.

    And it seems that this survey of conditions is done by a van fitted with cameras, etc. which is good, because in some places data is entered into the micropaver software by humans, which leads to over-pessimism as demonstrated in this video:

  • Erik Griswold

    If life is a game of chess, one thing the car-addicts are going to have to remember is that if a funding measure such as this is implemented, the argument that “gas tax” pays for all roads gets put to rest completely.

    Now, Measure R is paying for asphalt, paid for by sales taxes; and Metro distruibutes some gas tax funding to cities for asphalt projects.  But, if this passes, asphalt in the City of Los Angeles gets paid for even more so by property taxes, which are paid by everyone, either directly, or as a cost to a landlord which gets passed along into rents.

    No longer will there be any real connection between the funds collected at the gas pump and those spent on streets in Los Angeles.   Which means they belong to all users.

    You really want to go there, you of the cars-first mentality?


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