No money for repairs

With RDA out, Gilroy discusses funding woes for proposed
downtown streetscape, storm drain projects
The City of Gilroy needs more than $35 million to repair its
broken sidewalks, resurface roads, complete the Monterey
Streetscape Project in the downtown area, and fix its archaic storm
drains.
With RDA out, Gilroy discusses funding woes for proposed downtown streetscape, storm drain projects

The City of Gilroy needs more than $35 million to repair its broken sidewalks, resurface roads, complete the Monterey Streetscape Project in the downtown area, and fix its archaic storm drains.

And with 98 percent of the General Fund already exhausted to pay for city services and future expansion of services – and no Redevelopment Agency in the works – finding the money to fix the problems will be like pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

At a study session Wednesday night, the Gilroy City Council discussed ways to start tackling the problems.

With City Administrator Jay Baksa facilitating the informal meeting, the council looked into revamping the city’s decaying infrastructure and brainstormed ideas to generate additional revenues to help complete the four major projects without impacting other areas-namely police and fire.

“The only thing that’s keeping us going right now is the economic development approach,” said Baksa, about the city’s decision to expand the area east of Highway 101 and Highway 152 with retail and commercial space. “(Sales tax revenue from those areas) will basically pay for salaries and benefit increases.”

Currently, the city is just barely staying afloat financially. The fear is that in order to do the infrastructure projects, General Fund monies will have to be tapped and other areas will suffer.

Currently, 78 percent or $20 million of the General Fund is used for public safety. The city spends another 17 percent on parks and landscaping. The remaining 5 percent is allocated for everything else.

Although he could not attend the meeting, Gilroy City Councilman Charles Morales was very concerned with the obsession to complete the streetscape project at the expense of Gilroy’s citizens.

“I’m not going to sacrifice the priorities of public safety like police and fire for the streetscape,” said Morales on Wednesday afternoon. “I’m more concerned with the humanscape-not shifting the priority funding away from the General Fund.”

The council also addressed ways to improve the downtown-a theme that’s been discussed for decades.

At the present time the city needs roughly $4 million to fix its sidewalks, which are cracked, uneven and buckled from shallow tree roots and years of wear and tear.

Gilroy also needs $4.1 million to finish its much-anticipated Streetscape Project aimed at updating Monterey Street from Eighth to Fourth Streets and ultimately to Leavesley.

The streetscape project was approved in May 2000. It was designed as a way of luring pedestrians downtown by making the area more appealing. It calls for the widening of sidewalks along Monterey Street and replacing the chicane lanes with a straight landscaped center median.

The remaining two infrastructure projects call for $9.3 million to resurface and rebuild many city streets and another $18 million to fix Gilroy’s storm drains.

Realizing that the money was not available to complete everything, a debate ensued over what projects should be tackled first.

Gilroy Mayor Tom Springer was in favor separating the projects into three categories, placing sidewalk repair and the streetscape project together and separating storm drainage and pavement management.

Since the latter two requires more than $27 million, Springer felt the city should deal with them separately.

“The storm drains are almost too big to deal with,” he said. “And the pavement management problem is bigger than a city problem; it’s a problem at the statewide level.”

But Councilman Bob Dillon felt that repairing the storm drain should be Priority 1.

“I think we’re avoiding the (big problem),” said Dillon. “You may get into a public health issue with that problem. The amount to repair the drains is out of sight and I don’t have the solution, but it’s a big concern. When its starts raining, you could even have some backed up sewage out there.”

Baksa agreed.

“Somebody’s got to step up to this problem someday,” he said. “It’s

getting bigger and bigger. And every time it rains a quarter-inch, the calls start coming in.”

Councilman Peter Arellano, who was a proponent of an RDA for revitalizing the city’s downtown, jumped in.

“If that area starts flooding because the storm drains won’t go down, (it won’t matter what is done to the downtown because) people can’t even get into the area,” said Arellano, which evoked a laugh from the 30 people attending. “I think when you’re talking about the downtown, you’re also talking about the streets east and west of Monterey. To want to fix the downtown but ignore the storm drains, I don’t think it’s right.”

Some of the streetscape work would repair storm drains on Monterey, but it would minimal, said Baksa.

But Springer said that focusing on such a major problem could make things worse and handcuff the city.

“When you’re looking at $18 million, you’ve got to find a way to fund it almost overnight,” he said. “But that could become the clog in the drain itself if nothing behind it gets addressed.”

Councilman Roland Velasco was all for the repairing of the sidewalks and streetscape area, if it was found to be feasible.

“I believe that the first role of the city is not fixing the sidewalks and revitalizing the downtown, but public safety,” he said. “Having said that, I fully support downtown revitalization. But it’s more important to bring a third and fourth fire station online and full paramedic service. Then, if we can support the others, it’s a no-brainer. But if we can’t, I’ll side on public safety.”

By April of next year, city staff will have completed a comprehensive analysis of all general fund services to determine what additional funds may be available for other projects.

Springer believes the answer lies in the commercial and retail development in and around the Highway 152 corridor.

“If it weren’t for that 1 million square feet of retail space, we’d be in some serious trouble now,” he said. “I believe, conservatively speaking, that that area will generate $3.5 to $4 million a year once the economic incentives are paid off. And even with growth projections (increases to city services like salaries) that will still leave us with $1 million a year from that area.”

Springer went on to say that he would be willing to use $500,000 of that for sidewalk repair and another $500,000 for the streetscape.

“I think that’s highly acceptable and I would wish to bond both–$15 million over a 10-year period,” he said. “We can deal with the rest by looking at other creative ways.”

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