Costly road repairs should be in city budget, not bond measure

Proposition B is a $248 million bond measure aimed at fixing San Francisco's crumbling streets. (Examiner file photo)Proposition B is a $248 million bond measure aimed at fixing San Francisco's crumbling streets. (Examiner file photo)

Proposition B is a $248 million bond measure aimed at fixing San Francisco's crumbling streets. (Examiner file photo)Proposition B is a $248 million bond measure aimed at fixing San Francisco's crumbling streets. (Examiner file photo)

San Franciscans can be a cranky brood. That’s why it’s been fairly well-documented that about one-third of The City’s populace will be against anything.

That includes sun, fog, rain, workforce housing, new stadium bonds and even the Giants (but only during years they don’t win the World Series).

I rarely side with their ranks, but this year, folks, you can save me a seat in the bleachers.

Among the many measures on the November ballot is a proposition designed for a good cause — fixing our crumbling roads and sidewalks. And this is no minor pothole funding request — Proposition B is a $248 million bond measure aimed at doing what the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor’s Office have consistently failed to do.

That would be using our tax dollars to pay for essential services such as parks, libraries, transportation and street maintenance — you know, the reasons why people allegedly pay taxes. Except our city leaders use those funds to expand the country’s biggest social service network, and while I want to support another methadone clinic as much as my neighbor, the supervisors haven’t offered to pay for the dental and car maintenance bills that rise as our streets deteriorate.

I raised this question at mayoral debate No. 233, last week and while the seekers of the office agreed that The City’s spending priorities are woefully out of whack, they’re supporting the street bond measure anyway because they say if it doesn’t pass, San Francisco will just fall further behind and it will be much more expensive to keep up.

Former Supervisor Bevan Dufty at least had the honesty to say that he found it “embarrassing” that The City had to go into debt because city leaders have been so derelict in providing for this basic government service.

And while there are good people pushing the measure — Mayor Ed Lee, Supervisor Scott Wiener and Muni chief Ed Reiskin have been its primary cheerleaders — this is one sinkhole I must avoid. Very simply, it’s bad public policy.

To that end I join with Supervisors Sean Elsbernd and Mark Farrell, the only two board members to vote against the measure. Elsbernd, in particular, has been a voice of reason in talking about street repairs, since he fashioned the only surge in funding for street maintenance a few years back before the economy tanked and the potholes got deeper.

“My general frustration is that we shouldn’t be incurring debt for something we should be doing on an annual basis,’’ he said.

Even then he might be willing to support a bond to deal with the gnawing backload of repairs, except that there’s no program in place on what to do after the bond money is spent.

“There’s just no plan for the future,’’ he said. “I would be open to it if there was some sort of commitment that we won’t be here again.’’

But we will. Are any of our leaders going to say that they will put taxpayer funds aside every year to keep our streets smooth? No. All they’ll say is that they’ll seek “another revenue source” for street upkeep. In municipal speak, that’s another tax.

So in addition to the bond, they want to add an additional tax to those we already pay. And here you want to know how the tea party got started.

We have several people running for mayor this year taking millions of dollars from the city treasury for public campaign financing and yet they can’t commit to spending millions more to fix our streets, that is, unless we agree to give them millions more. My answer to that is $%&*#@! no.

When a city with a nearly $7 billion budget can’t find enough funds to pay for its streets and sidewalks, its got problems. The solution may sound nice except when you realize it’s a tiny Band-Aid hiding a festering wound underneath.

I could tell you that a fair share of the $248 million won’t even go to road maintenance and that Muni magically will reap its share if the bond passes, since Muni seems to get portions of its funding from every city agency.

But that’s just a tiny bump in the bond. The rest is a giant black hole.

Ken Garcia appears Thursdays and Sundays in The San Francisco Examiner. Email him at kgarcia@sfexaminer.com.

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