San Francisco needs $1 billion in repairs to public assets like government-owned buildings, hospitals, landmarks, parks, playgrounds, streets and sidewalks, a Grand Jury report revealed Monday.
Deferred maintenance is causing a severe backlog of work that could be put off until 2031 unless the work is prioritized and funding is earmarked, according to the report, which warned the repairs will grow more costly as time passes.
“Properly maintaining assets as they age is far cheaper than repairing them when they break,” the report stated. “The ultimate message is clear: if The City does not pay now to maintain its physical assets, it will have to pay more in the future to prematurely replace them.”
If maintenance is deferred until 2031, the costs could increase by $800 million from inflation and further deterioration of unmaintained assets.
“Routine maintenance is deferred until it becomes a capital replacement. The need becomes more visible. But it is excruciating watching unmaintained assets deteriorate. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion,” one unnamed department manager said in the report.
The General Fund department’s maintenance division is clouded by a lack of visibility, the Grand Jury found.
Current maintenance standards lack transparency, the Grand Jury stated, whose suggestions included periodically assessing the conditions of public assets and creating a standard definition of “maintenance,” and accounting and financial reporting systems that track maintenance needs, budgets and deferment.
“Trying to do maintenance on the cheap wastes money, and takes risks with public health, public protection, and basic services that the City’s residents and visitors rely upon,” with trees and bridges especially overlooked, the report stated.
Poor maintenance of public places can even lead to possible injuries, the report noted. In March, a large tree fell and crushed a baseball backstop at St. Mary’s Playground near the intersection of Mission Street and Alemany Boulevard, although no one was injured.
“The City assets of today are not only our children’s inheritance — if maintained — they are our legacy and history. But because we — the collective ‘we’— are not getting the job done of paying to maintain this stuff, we are eating away at our children’s inheritance, and we are piling up debts for them to pay,” the Grand Jury report stated.