Lompoc’s street and alley conditions are measurably bad

Anyone who lives in the city of Lompoc knows that many streets and alleys in our city are in poor shape. But when subjected to a professional review using a nationally accepted roadway standards, how bad are they?

During a City Council meeting on March 19 to discuss a public hearing to consider Measure A, a five-year local program of projects for fiscal years 2025-29, the staff report stated, “The condition of the city’s pavement is measured using the industry standard pavement condition index (PCI) system. New pavement starts with a PCI rating of 100. An overall systemwide PCI average of 70 is considered ‘good’ and is the accepted industry standard goal. The city’s current systemwide PCI average of 51 is considered ‘at risk.’ To maintain the overall PCI average at its current value of 51 using industry standard methods, the city would need to identify funding and expend over $9 million for pavement rehabilitation projects each year.

“To raise the city’s overall system-wide PCI average to ‘good’ using industry standard methods, the city would need to identify funding and expend approximately $85 million for pavement rehabilitation projects during 2024. That one-time expenditure of approximately $85 million to raise the city’s overall systemwide PCI average to 70 is in addition to an annual expenditure of over $9 million each year thereafter, to maintain the PCI of 70, using industry standard methods.”

Measure A is a countywide bond issue passed several years ago to help improve our roads. 

Mayor Jenelle Osborne said she and other council members are often asked why the city can’t fix the roads. One reason is carefully explained in the staff report: “The city anticipates having sufficient road revenues to spend an average of over $2 million per year on street and alley rehabilitation projects during the biennial budget [fiscal years] 2024-25 period, in addition to funding the city’s Street Maintenance, Urban Forestry, and Engineering Division operations.” This is far short of the $9 million needed.

This all sounds wonky, but to summarize, the city streets are in lousy condition and the general fund can’t afford to bring them to a “good” condition any time soon. But even somewhat minor repairs like filling potholes could improve.

Recently a crew of four showed up to fill some potholes at an intersection near my home; there are only a total of seven employees currently on the street maintenance crew. While one person was filling the holes, two others were consulting their cellphones, and one was pointing out where to toss the fill material. When they finished, these few potholes were professionally done; however, they ignored other potholes on the same street that were less than 200 feet from where they were working.

To be fair, there are a lot of pavement divots in the more than 150 miles of roadway to fill in the city, and there seems to be more when it rains a lot, but wouldn’t it be a more efficient use of their time to assign them to spend a day filling all the holes on one block rather than fill a few one day and then come back a week or two later to fill a couple more? Or just simply look around and fill all the potholes they see while at one location.

The staff said that they have consistently expressed that the “needs exceeded the available revenues” during the last several years when road conditions were discussed.

To put this in context, the city spent $4 million on roads in 2022, nothing in 2021, and less than an average of $2.5 million each year between 2013 and 2021. And if they continue at the current rate for the next 10 years, the pavement won’t get any better and most likely will deteriorate further.

Councilman Jeremy Ball suggested that the council needed to “think outside the box” about ways to solve the revenue issue. 

Well, there are a couple of ways for a government to increase revenue, and that’s either a tax increase or a bond issue.

Considering that most people in this community are just trying to keep a roof over their heads and feed their families in an era when the cost of day-to-day goods is on an upward spiral, the idea of any tax increase is going to be a hard sell, and even the price of a bond (which we all pay for in property taxes and/or rent increases) would be equally hard.

So for all of us who use the streets, I guess we’ll have to slow down, keep dodging all those potholes, get our cars realigned, and get tires repaired or replaced more frequently, or simply bounce up and down as we make our way around town.

Ron Fink writes to the Sun from Lompoc. Send a letter for publication to [email protected].

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