Taxes seen as solution to fix city streets 

Twenty taxes or fees are the options being considered to repair The City’s pothole-pocked streets, after years of neglect and politicians failing to fund repairs.

For decades, The City failed to spend taxpayer dollars on the upkeep of San Francisco’s 850 miles of streets, which are now at risk of worsening without a greater investment in paving and repairs. The City needs to spend at least $751 million to keep the rough-riding and hole-ridden streets in their current condition.

The answer is to tax, according to the draft recommendation of a recently formed task force.

Poor street conditions have numerous consequences beyond just a bumpy ride. Drivers themselves pay more to maintain their cars if traveling on dilapidated streets.

Street-related lawsuits increased 17 percent during the past two years, costing The City $634,000 in payouts. And by not doing needed maintenance today, the costs only increase by as much as four times in the future.

After examining 20 revenue ideas, the Street Resurfacing Finance Working Group, formed at the behest of Mayor Gavin Newsom and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, created a draft report recommending three “best options” to generate revenue: a conditional general tax, a citywide benefits assessment district or a parcel tax based on trip generation.

A quarter-cent sales tax could generate $32 million annually, which could be collected under such circumstances as whether the streets are kept in a certain condition. A citywide benefit-assessment district or a parcel tax would be based on the number of auto trips generated by a land use or a specific parcel.

Newsom is reviewing the options and will discuss them with members of the Board of Supervisors, according to mayoral spokesman Tony Winnicker.

“What’s clear is that there are no easy and immediate solutions,” Winnicker said. “We are going to take a look at the options and the impact on residents and businesses.”

In recent years, The City has made an effort to more than double the amount of spending on streets, but still remains unable to make up for the historic underfunding. Newsom’s proposed budget — to be submitted to the Board of Supervisors by June 1 — would include enough funding using short-term borrowing to maintain the streets at the current overall rating, Winnicker said, but “that’s not the long-term answer.”

The current overall rating of streets is a 63 on the pavement-condition index, which is considered fair. In 1988, the conditions earned an overall score of 78 out of 100. But by 2005, the score dropped to the mid-60s. 

The City now needs $751 million during the next decade to improve streets to a score of 70, or “good,” and maintain them at that level. But The City would need to find as much as $502 million.

The City could decide to bring a tax measure to voters as early as for the November ballot.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com


How to pay for repairs

The Street Resurfacing Finance Working Group was formed by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu to examine options to generate revenue to improve San Francisco’s streets and prevent them from worsening. A draft report found the “best options” are tax measures:

Conditional general tax: The City would be able to collect an annual general tax — sales, payroll, utility or a general parcel — if in the previous year it spent a certain dollar threshold on street resurfacing or maintained a set pavement-condition index score.

Citywide benefit-assessment distric: Creates area where assessment is based on the number of auto trips generated by a particular land use and structured in a way that holds The City responsible for maintaining current street conditions.

Parcel tax, potentially based on trip generation: Levy a special parcel tax on all property owners, potentially based on the amount of vehicle trips their property generates

Source: Street Resurfacing Finance Working Group draft recommendations

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