A Capital Idea: Redwood City’s New Capital Improvement Program
Guest post by Greg Wilson, author of the blog Walking Redwood City
“Own a house, own a project.”
As a homeowner, I’m well aware of the truth of this old maxim. Certainly, there never seems to be an end to the things that need doing around my house. In addition to the immediate issues that crop up (a leaky faucet, a sticking window) I also have to budget for long-term maintenance, such as the paint job my house will need some years from now, or a new heater when my current one reaches its expected end-of-life.
As with a house, a city also needs constant maintenance, both short-term and long. On June 22, Redwood City’s City Council approved the City’s 2015–2016 budget, and part of that budget is dedicated to that end. While much of the budget may not excite the average citizen, the list of Capital Improvement Projects that begin on page 201 should catch your attention: it calls out the elements of our city’s infrastructure that will be improved over the next twenty-four months. Since that infrastructure includes our water and sewer system, our streets and parking, our parks and libraries, and our public safety systems, the $29+ million in capital expenditures that were just approved will have a direct — and positive! — effect on each and every one of us.
The Capital Improvement Projects section of the budget organizes the entries by funding source, which is handy if you want to know how, for instance, our Transportation funds or our Library funds are to be used. Personally, I am more focused on specific projects or areas (street repaving, for instance) and less concerned with which financial accounts used to fund them. Accordingly, I’ve listed some of the more interesting projects, in my view, below.
One note, however, on funding. The money that our City Council uses to fund these projects doesn’t just come out of thin air, as much as we would wish that it did. Some of the money comes from gas taxes, Measure A funds, and income-producing funds (such as the parking fund). The largest chunk used for capital improvement, however, comes from something called the UUT, or Utility Users’ Tax. This is a 5% tax on your gas and electricity usage and a 4% tax on your telecommunications. While the UUT is a general tax that can be used for any governmental purpose, Redwood City has wisely opted to dedicate all of this money to its Capital Improvement Projects budget. Although the UUT money doesn’t cover the full cost of the projects, it ensures a steady supply of funds, so that, for instance, when roads need repaving Redwood City has the money available and needn’t float a bond as many other cities do.
The Capital Improvement Projects list for 2015–2016 includes both items for basic maintenance as well as some interesting improvements. As a long-term resident who does a lot of wandering throughout the city, I found these items to be particularly interesting:
- The largest single budget item, $5.5 million, is for rehabilitation and replacement of sewer pipelines. There is a lot of focus on water right now, but we cannot forget that there is another side to the equation, and our sewer system has to be kept up as well. Ever had a sewer or drain pipe leak where you live? This is money well spent.
- Just under $4 million will be used to improve our water systems. About half of that amount is for an additional water tank and the associated pump station. The rest is for replacement of old pipes and equipment, plus seismic improvements to help the water keep flowing in the event of an earthquake.
- $2.4 million goes to streets and sidewalks ($800,000 for sidewalk repairs, the rest for street repaving). There are also funded projects for crosswalk enhancements ($100,000), ADA ramps ($75,000), neighborhood traffic calming ($100,000), and traffic signal upgrades ($75,000). And I’m thrilled to see that the city has re-instituted its “50/50” plan, wherein a homeowner wanting to repair the sidewalk in front of their house need only pay for 50% of the cost; the city will pay the remaining 50%. There are definitely some sidewalks in my area that could stand to be repaired…
- As I discussed in my blog post Right Down the Middle(field), Middlefield Road is about to undergo a cosmetic transformation. Redwood City will be spending $3.7 million to move utilities underground and for “streetscape projects”. This will not only enhance the look of Middlefield Road (from Main Street to just past the Costco), it should make it safer and easier to navigate and park there.
- The pay parking machines in the Jefferson and Marshall Street garages are going to be replaced, ideally with machines that are both more reliable and easier to use.
- $2.3 million will be used to replace the artificial turf at Red Morton Park. Additional monies will be used to renovate that park’s playground.
- Affordable housing will benefit to the tune of $700,000.
- $100,000 will be spent on public art in the form of additional murals throughout the city.
The full list of projects is considerably longer, but hopefully you will find some or all of the above items as exciting as I do. When you think of Redwood City as your home, you quickly see the value of projects such as these. Street repaving and sidewalk repairs are akin to redoing your driveway: it’s not the most exciting thing to spend money on, but it sure makes getting around easier. Upgrades to Red Morton? That’s like redoing your back yard. And money for public art? Just as a house without pictures on the walls is functional but not very homey, a city needs public art to make it more welcoming.
I believe that the Capital Improvements Projects list in Redwood City’s 2015–2016 budget is a good, well-thought-out list that addresses a wide range of needs throughout our city. It should go a long way towards making Redwood City an even more attractive and comfortable home than it already is.
Greg Wilson is a Redwood City resident and homeowner. Visit his blog at walkingredwoodcity.com.