Saturday, August 13, 2022

A Disappointing Bond Proposal - Council Work Session, August 15th

Framed up as an ostensibly responsible thing for "maintenance" and "community improvement," the proposed City bond doesn't really meet our moment. It looks to a backlog of wants and needs, formulated in largely 20th century modes, but does not do enough to sift the true needs from legacy wants, and then to identify what our 21st century needs might be.

It's primarily a 4/3 safety conversion
and complete street rebuild:
That's an "urban upgrade."

Council meets on Monday for a formal Work Session on marketing the bond proposal.

All in all the project list and total package is not very inspiring

At the same time, as we see in the diminution and reconfiguration from Build Back Better to Inflation Reduction Act, making the sausage is rarely inspiring. If the proposed bond package isn't inspiring, it's not terrible either. Maybe this was the best that was possible. But enough seams, gaps, and questions remain in it to make boosting for a hard sell.

Rhetoric on Transportation Projects is Misleading

The way the City is selling it as something for walking and biking is mainly puffery and does not inspire confidence. The transportation section leads in the City marketing materials with a bicycle and pedestrian category. But that's misleading, suspicious even, and evidence the City is doing a little bit of the bamboozle.

Misleading categorization

The State Street project is $13 million for four blocks. It's not at all mainly a bike/ped project. It's a remodel for a "complete street" and a 4/3 safety conversion, and should be categorized instead as an "Urban Upgrade."

The Pringle Creek Path is a parks project, and belongs in the parks section.

That the McGilchrist project lacks a full set of protected bike lanes shows the City is not trying very hard. 

The evidence for strong walking and biking projects is considerably weaker than the City's rhetoric suggests.

And where's the Union Street portion that was added back?

The City's project list does not appear to be up to date. The public still lacks a definitive list of what's in and what's out.

The City also has buried the Marine Drive project a little. It's nearly the size of the whole parks category. $23 million for Marine Drive vs $28 million for all the parks projects.

NY Times front page yesterday

SJ Interior page yesterday

Why isn't there better alignment on climate?

The whole doesn't look like anything designed to make meaningful progress on our climate needs. Sure, contemporary "urban upgrades" include sidewalks, bike lanes, and crosswalks, but these are generally legacy, 1980s style paint-only bike lanes and they are what the law requires on rebuilds anyway. There's not a lot of "above and beyond," and the City is trying to position the bond as if it were full of "above and beyond" for walking and biking. It meets the minimum, but they want to say it is the maximum. It may not qualify as outright dishonest, but they are spinning when they could be concretely doing more.

See also:

Peace Plaza and Parking

One of the parks projects is for Peace Plaza, and it includes more parking. But with the Police having vacated City Hall, the parking garage looks to be very underutilized now. Here it is on a weekday in late afternoon in July, before five o'clock.

A lot of unused parking at City Hall garage now

It's not at all clear we need to add any quantity of parking to the Civic Center, and the problems with Peace Plaza's deadness are not from a lack of parking, but are from it's disconnection from the sidewalks and from the lack of adjacent land uses to supply passers-by.

Undernourished Housing and Libraries, and Too Loose on Fire

Other categories

We still haven't had a community conversation about how we want Fire Response for the 21st century. Smaller trucks, some fire cars, and not deploying fire trucks on medical emergencies deserve more discussion and analysis. The equipment and new stations allocations likely have too much undefined slop in them.

For some, the inclusion of $7.5 million to buy land (and possibly an existing building) for branch libraries is meaningful bond sweetener and makes the whole thing worthwhile, but this doesn't get us any operational funding.  

$10 million for affordable housing is something, but not a great quantity.

These are something, and for some that will be enough. All in all the proposal isn't terrible. But it's not great either. For a bond that's supposed to be the big funding thing for the next decade, it's very meh. It is pretty easy to see reasons people would support it and reasons people would opposite it.

The City's wish to slide in this new bond quickly as "a one-time opportunity to invest in critical projects to improve streets, sidewalks, parks and public safety without increasing the City's property tax rate" is a bit of a high-pressure sales tactic with an implied date the special offer expires. "Order before midnight!" And it has seemed to mean the project selection has been rushed for a bond to have a decade's worth of projects.

Apart from the practical politics of passing a bond, as a purely policy matter, it would have been better for the City to advance a smaller bond for truly urgent maintenance needs, and then to continue conversation, debate, and analysis on one or more additional bonds that are more responsive to our future 21st century needs.

1 comment:

Jim Scheppke said...

Regarding the branch libraries: the best strategy might be to look for donated sites so that the bond funds could be spent on the buildings. This was the strategy for the West Salem Branch years ago which sits on Roth's property. If a branch w/housing would fit on the site of the new S. Salem transit center on S. Commercial that would be perfect. A donated site on N. Lancaster would also be ideal.