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Mayor adds to infrastructure budget

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San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders’ proposed FY2009 budget could provide a boost to local contractors and engineers, as he announced Wednesday that he has set aside $573 million for capital improvement projects for the city.

Though at least one local contracting official said that money, while helpful, won’t mean a whole lot when spread over the entire city.

This year’s proposed budget, which is subject to City Council approval, includes $82.3 million more in funding for deferred maintenance and capital improvement program (CIP) needs than last year.

This funding will go towards infrastructure needs like street paving, upgrading water and sewer systems, and repairing pipes.

“All of these efforts and the funding we’ve included to get them accomplished are part of our larger efforts to restore financial stability and progress to the city,” Sanders said. “It’s a big step forward for the city.”

Aside from a few in-house design projects, the city will contract out nearly all of the work.

“We like to involve all different sizes of contractors,” said David Jarrell, the city’s deputy chief of public works. “We don’t have a local preference but it turns out that (we hire a lot of local firms) just because they are best able to do the work since they’re already in the city and kind of mobilized here.”

George Hawkins, president and chief executive officer of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. of San Diego, said he and his colleagues are glad the mayor is finally addressing some long-overdue infrastructure needs, but he wondered if the current amount offered is significant enough.

"We applaud the mayor for what he’s doing. The infrastructure in San Diego needs attention and we’re glad he’s able to give attention to it. We also applaud the opportunity,” Hawkins said. “Will it be a boon to the industry? $500 million is nice. (But) San Diego Unified (School District) is talking about a billion and a half, and that’s just one school district.”

Hawkins said the building industry is not in the dire straights a lot of people think these days. While the residential market has slowed considerably and that’s had an effect on other forms of construction, the commercial and industrial sectors are still “reasonably healthy.”

“It’s down, but it’s not out,” Hawkins said.

All in all, the mayor’s plan calls for re-paving and sealing about 211 miles of city streets, replacing miles of cast iron pipes, $60 million worth of utilities undergrounding, $104.1 million for wastewater improvements and dozens of other infrastructure changes for parks, the environment, engineering projects and general services.

The city’s Chief Financial Officer Mary Lewis said the city hopes to do even more work once it can return to the public bond market, which the mayor has said he hopes will be possible around the end of the calendar year.

“It’s certainly a good start and if the mayor thinks it’s enough (money), we’ll just have to see if it’s enough,” Hawkins said.

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