With temporary one-way streets, blocked-off lanes and plenty of workers in orange vests, Long Beach Public Works Director Craig Beck knows that Downtown Long Beach has been a lot to handle over the past year. “If you’ve driven into the downtown lately, I apologize,” Beck said, half-jokingly. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however. The city just finished repaving the corner of Broadway and 3rd Street, and the new pavement is currently being painted with traffic markers.
“We’ve really been doing a lot to deliver our street projects,” Beck said about the city’s efforts to improve public infrastructure using Measure A dollars. The measure, which was approved by voters on June 7, 2016, enacted an additional sales tax of 1% for six years, after which the tax will taper off at 0.5% and then fully sunset after 10 years. Measure A was created to provide funding for both infrastructure and public safety projects.
Steve Neal is former member of the Long Beach City Council and current chair of the Citizens Advisory Transactions and Use Tax Citizens Advisory Committee, which was set up to keep checks on the city’s spending of Measure A funds. Neal said he’s satisfied with the way the city has spent the extra tax dollars so far.
“In my estimation, Measure A is doing exactly what it was designed to do,” Neal, who campaigned in support of the measure in 2016, told the Business Journal. “It’s working particularly well in the infrastructure of the streets; I think that’s one of the things that residents across the city could see,” he added. “It’s one of the smartest things the city has done in a long time.”
Beck said the investment was overdue. “For a long time, we were looking at all of our needs, how much deferred maintenance and need we had for streets and for sidewalks and for facilities, and just no money provided through the budget process, year after year,” Beck explained. “With the voter support of Measure A, that was great momentum.” The investment is paying off, he added. “There’s a ton of activity going on, and we are just delivering project after project. Really pleased to see that work happening across Long Beach.”
In 2019, the city plans to spend a total of $56.9 million in Measure A revenue. More than half of these funds, $32.1 million, have been budgeted for public safety projects, such as creating additional police and fire academies, maintaining police staffing levels and adding two quality of life officers to the police force. Of the remaining funds, $24 million is allocated for capital improvement projects, and $800,000 placed in a rainy-day fund.
In the first two years, the city collected $100.5 million in Measure A funds: $38.9 million in Fiscal Year 2017 and $61.5 million in Fiscal Year 2018. Projects included street improvements and upgrades to public facilities, such as libraries and fire stations. Beck said he’s especially excited about the completion of several playground renovations across Long Beach.
“You’re going into a park that has a dated playground and delivering this wonderful, new, themed playground experience, and then the kids [are] just loving it,” Beck said. In 2019, his department is investing another $5.4 million into city parks, including the rehabilitation of the duck pond in El Dorado Park, irrigation upgrades and the acquisition of new park land.
As for city streets, Beck said the additional tax funds are filling a long-term deficit in infrastructure investment. “For a long time, streets were not made a funding priority, and that’s one of the reasons they’ve slipped into some of the conditions that exist in our community,” he explained. “At the end of the day, your streets are only as good as you maintain them.”
Still, things are looking up, and overall, projects are on schedule, Beck said. “We’ve been very successful at getting all of the local streets, the neighborhood streets, done. But we’ve fallen a little bit behind on arterial streets,” he noted. In the next three years, the city is planning to invest $92 million into the repair and maintenance of arterial streets, such as Anaheim Street, Carson Street and Long Beach Boulevard. A majority of that money will come from revenues collected at the state and county level, such as Proposition C and Senate Bill 1 funds, but a total of $17.7 million come in the form of existing and expected Measure A revenues.
“There’s a backlog of over $500 million in need, and at the time Measure A was passed, it was closer to $600 million,” Beck said. “When you start thinking about that need, that’s one of the reasons why a big chunk of money was allocated towards street projects.”