Politics, government and public life for Southern California

#DearMayor: LA voters look for relief from city's pot holes

Bureau of Street Services

Alice Walton/KPCC

The profiler is used by the Bureau of Street Services to prepare a street for repaving.

Street Services

Alice Walton/KPCC

Asphalt torn up by the profiler will be recycled into the city's asphalt mix and used to repave city roads.


Dear Mayor landing page

This was true of the responses you gave us when we asked you what you'd like to tell the next Los Angeles mayor to tackle first as part of our #DearMayor initiative.

But the topic came up only briefly when Los Angeles mayoral hopefuls Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel faced off April 22 in a live TV debate co-sponsored by KPCC, KNBC-4 and Telemundo-52. 

RELATED: #DearMayor: What should LA's new mayor work on first?

As much as Angelenos complain about rough drives, the Bureau of Street Services is spending more money than ever. This year, there were enough funds to repair 800 miles of roads and fill 350,000 potholes.

But it's a lengthy process to repair or repave a city road, and finding money to fix streets can be tricky. Street Services had $105 million for repairs this year, and that money comes from a variety of sources. For example, revenue from a 1990 ballot initiative can only be used on streets that have bus lines. Money from gasoline taxes goes to fix neighborhood streets. And money from the federal stimulus? Street services used that to fix 102 miles of roads designated as highways.

"It’s not like I can put all this money in one pot and all of a sudden spend it at the same time," says Nazario Sauceda, director of L.A.'s Bureau of Street Services.

A common complaint from residents is that streets that look OK often get attention, while 8,500 miles of failed streets remain untouched. Street services officials say it's basic economics. A slurry seal, used for routine maintenance, costs about $25,000 a mile. That’s a bargain compared to resurfacing, which comes in at $350,000 a mile. The cost to rebuild a failed street is $650,000 per mile. Sauceda says the city’s approach to street repairs is simply about spending wisely.

"If I gave you $20 and told you that you have to eat for 20 days with these $20, what would you do? Would you go to Black Angus tonight and eat a $20 steak and then not eat for 19 days? Or would you go to Jack in the Box every single day and buy 99 cent tacos?"

L.A. City Councilmen Mitch Englander and Joe Buscaino have proposed a $3 billion bond they say is needed to clear a massive backlog: 8,500 miles of the city’s worst streets. If approved by L.A. voters next year, the bond would cost the average homeowner $120 annually.

"We get a number of calls on a daily basis about potholes," says Buscaino. "And if you look at the return on investment – even today, motorists in Los Angeles are spending nearly $750 on maintenance costs on their vehicles because of the condition of our streets." 

As for where the candidates stand on a possible bond measure next year, Wendy Greuel opposes it, saying the city should identify savings before asking taxpayers for more. Eric Garcetti hasn’t taken an official position, though he says he’s open to the idea.

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