Preventive maintenance of public streets, so they don’t become dangerously cracked and covered with potholes, ought to be among the highest priorities of any well-run city government. But that was definitely not what occurred under prior San Francisco administrations.
In 1988, the Department of Public Works overall rating for San Francisco street conditions was 78 out of 100. But by 2005 that score had dropped to 64, where it remains today. Elected officials consistently found it too tempting to "defer" street repairs year after year, so the funding could be shunted into flashier and more politically rewarding uses.
Also, a 2007 city audit of the DPW accused the roadwork agency of inadequate project oversight that failed to ensure street repairs were completed "timely and cost-effectively." In January, Mayor Gavin Newsom hired Ed Reiskin to replace the longtime DPW director, and the department’s contracting procedures have noticeably improved.
Newsom deserves recognition for being the first San Francisco mayor in at least 20 years to make street resurfacing a top budgetary priority. He allocated a record $36.4 million in last year’s budget and wants to increase it to $38 million for 11 major projects in 2008-09. Such ambitious funding might seem foolhardy in a fiscal year when a $338 million deficit must somehow be balanced. But nearly half of the repaving costs would come from borrowing on The City’s future gas-tax revenues.
Still, borrowing against future revenues is in no way a sustainable long-term solution. In fact, the gas-tax piggybank will provide a sufficient amount of funding for only two years. Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, the Board of Supervisors’ strongest advocate for more consistent capital needs spending, agreed that at least the new level of funding ensures that San Francisco is fulfilling its annual responsibility to prevent the streets from getting worse. But "it’s doing nothing to go after the backlog that we have as a result of decades of mismanagement."
According to The City’s 2009-18 capital plan, achieving an improvement of the average pavement condition to as little as 70 out of 100 during the coming 10 years would require uninterrupted annual appropriations of $56.9 million. And it is difficult to see this happening while San Francisco remains unwilling to stop spending itself into mind-numbing deficits.
Virtually all San Franciscans and anyone who regularly spends time here would agree that many of The City streets are in poor condition. Celebrity chef Gerald Hirigoyen, whose Piperade restaurant is on Battery Street, where a $2.4 million repaving is scheduled, called "the condition of the streets ... like a Third-World country."
For now, the supervisors must pass this latest $38 million anti-pothole budget funding without any cuts, and they should try to allocate even more dollars whenever budgetary conditions permit.