Proposition B funding would ensure that San Francisco fire stations are retrofitted to seismic code. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Voters to decide on $628.5M bond to upgrade public emergency facilities

San Francisco voters Tuesday will have the chance to approve a nearly $630 million bond for construction and seismic improvements of police and fire facilities to ensure an effective response to emergencies in the event of a major earthquake.

The $628.5 million measure, Proposition B, was introduced by Mayor London Breed and placed on the ballot with the unanimous support of the Board of Supervisors to continue paying for capital needs of The City’s public safety infrastructure.

The bond is a continuation of the Earthquake Safety and Emergency Response bond program that began in 2010.

The City plans to use $275 million of the funds to pay for seismically upgrading firehouses and replacing the Treasure Island firefighter academy and training facility, and $121 million for seismic upgrades to police stations and other police facilities.

About $150 million would go to pay for upgrades to The City’s Emergency Firefighting Water System.

Another $70 million would go toward seismic improvements to other disaster response facilities and $9 million would pay for the expansion of the Department of Emergency Management’s 911 call center.

When placed on the ballot, Breed said in a statement that the Earthquake Safety and Emergency Response Bond “will help our city make critical infrastructure investments so that we’re prepared for the next earthquake or other natural disaster and so our first responders can take care of our residents when it matters most.”

Two political committees, including the San Francisco Firefighters Local 798 Yes on B campaign, have raised nearly $700,000 as of Thursday to pass the bond measure. Contributions include $25,000 apiece from the firefighters union and the Police Officers Association.

Other $25,000 contributions came from the Golden State Warriors, the San Francisco Giants, Diane “Dede” Wilsey, a longtime Republican donor, and developer Related California.

Some of the biggest contributions include $100,000 each from Dignity Health and Christian Larsen, co-founder of Ripple.

There is no organized effort opposing it and no arguments submitted in opposition in the voter information pamphlet.

Shon Buford, head of the firefighters union, said Friday that “firefighters and first responders won’t be able to take immediate action if they are rescuing themselves inside crumbling buildings.”

The money from Prop. B “will provide seismic upgrades to critical infrastructure used for emergencies and for neighborhood fire and police stations so they can withstand the next earthquake,” he said.

The funding would also pay to improve and expand the water system to “ensure firefighters can access the water they need,” he said.

The pro-development think tank SPUR, which issues analysis and recommendations on measures each election, supports Prop. B. “We continue to believe that significant reinvestment in lifeline public infrastructure is a critical priority,” the group said.

However, the organization noted that the measure lacks specificity around the spending details.

“This measure does not specify which or how many facilities would be retrofitted,” SPUR wrote. “As a result, we don’t know how much closer this level of investment would bring The City toward its overall seismic performance targets.”

A budget analyst report said that if the bond is approved by voters, the police and fire departments would work with Public Works and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission “to prioritize the needs of each specific facility, station, and project and to scope the individual projects.”

The issuance of the bonds and appropriations of the bond fund proceeds would be subject to Board of Supervisors’ approval.

SPUR also noted that earthquakes are “just one hazard the city faces” but San Francisco needs a bond program “dedicated to retrofitting our public infrastructure to protect” against other risks like “flooding, extreme heat, power service interruption and more.”

The City would time the debt so property owners do not experience an increase in property tax bills. They also could pass on to tenants 50 percent of the cost.

The City Controller’s Office estimates the highest annual property tax cost for the bonds for the owner of a home with an assessed value of $600,000 would be $81.79.

With interest, borrowing $628.5 million would require paying back a total of $1.08 billion over 20 years.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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