Infrastructure Ballot Measures Should be Focused

On March 17, the city council will discuss placing measures on the November 2020 ballot to raise revenue for city-infrastructure needs.  Items at issue include upgrades to streets and sidewalks, city buildings, and handling the impacts of climate change and sea level rise.  Both tax increases and bond measures are being considered.

Key findings from a survey of voters conducted January 22-29, 2020, found that climate change/sea level rise was the biggest infrastructure concern, followed by streets and sidewalks, and city buildings.  Unfortunately, when asking about support for a proposed bond, the survey lumped all infrastructure needs together and showed that a potential broad-based bond measure did not reach the required two-thirds vote threshold.

If the city wants to succeed in November, the infrastructure issues must be separated so that voters can differentiate between the types of infrastructure spending being proposed and understand exactly what they will be paying for.

A ballot measure covering only the climate issue would allow voters to signal the importance of preparedness.  Raising revenue for upgrading streets and sidewalks or city buildings is also important, but these are separate concerns that need to be addressed separately.

The city council just agreed to hire a Sustainability and Resilience Manager to deal with climate adaptation.  If we want this person to be involved in managing civil engineering projects rather than just issuing reports, passing a climate adaptation measure would ensure that the resilience manager would have something to manage.

The city’s new Climate Action and Resiliency Plan warns that “we’re going to see more frequent extreme and dangerous weather events. These events put a strain on our residents, businesses, and infrastructure.”  We should keep in mind that the massive flooding that occurred in Houston in 2016 was not caused by sea level rise.  It was caused by a stalled, prolonged storm spawned by changing climate and a drainage system incapable of handling the deluge.  Alameda is not prepared for such events, and the recent storm water fee approved by voters was only a down payment on the infrastructure we need.

A climate action measure should spell out specifically what infrastructure upgrades are needed to cover flood protection from prolonged storms and sea level rise, reminding voters that a bond measure is restricted to capital needs and does not cover operation costs.

The city should keep it simple and not submit measures that are a catch-all shopping list of infrastructure needs.  Tell voters exactly where their money will be spent.  Then they can decide whether it’s an investment worth paying for.

Originally published in the Alameda Sun

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