Orange County Register: San Clemente’s first allocation from new gas tax hike will go for alley upgrades

September 20, 2017

September 20, 2017
By: Fred Swegles

The first batch of money that San Clemente receives from California’s new 12-cent gasoline tax hike will be used to rehabilitate one of the city’s long alleys.

The alley runs parallel to El Camino Real from Avenida Cabrillo to West Portal. The city council agreed on Tuesday, Sept. 19, to fund it with $374,000 in new gas tax money that the city expects to receive between now and June 30. The city will try to upgrade longer stretches of the alley, if funding permits.

In April, California enacted the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017, which figures to raise $5 billion per year statewide to fix crumbling roadways. Cities will receive yearly allocations for local projects.

In November, motorists can expect to begin paying for all this with a new gasoline tax hike of 12 cents per gallon, plus higher vehicle licensing fees. The city expects to receive $1.1 million in the second year of the program, Public Works Director/City Engineer Tom Bonigut said.

The program required the city to inform the California Transportation Commission how it plans to spend its first-year money by Oct. 16. City staff recommended alley rehabilitation, and the city council concurred.

“This additional funding will be useful in significantly jump-starting the city’s efforts to rehabilitate its public alleys,” Bonigut said in a report to the city council.

The city already has a plan to rehabilitate downtown alleys between Avenida Cabrillo and Avenida Rosa, together with an alley that parallels Avenida Del Mar from Ola Vista almost all the way up to El Camino Real.

But those projects hinge on the availability of funds that are accruing in a San Diego Gas & Electric Co. account for placing overhead utility lines underground. Bonigut said that based on SDG&E’s figures, undergrounding of wires downtown likely can’t begin until 2030 for phase 1 of that two-phased project.

When roads are torn up to place utility lines underground, repaving is required and the city plans to add enhancements to downtown alleys, turning them into pedestrian-friendly paseos then.

“Due to the uncertainties regarding timing of the planned undergrounding projects, our alley rehabilitation program will first focus on alleys that are not within the current undergrounding districts,” Bonigut said via e-mail.

The alleys targeted for upgrades with the new money from state gas tax and fee increases are not part of that downtown paseo program.

The new money from the tax increases will come on top of gasoline tax revenues that the city already receives from per-gallon taxes that motorists already are paying at the pump. The city incorporates gas taxes into its yearly budgets for road repairs and rehabs.

When the city council invited residents to comment on how the new money should be used, local resident Derek Cahill asked if it could be used to provide more sand for San Clemente’s beaches. “Sand is our main road,” Cahill reasoned.

“Regrettably, no,” Bonigut replied.

The new state law also requires the state to repay gasoline tax funds intended for cities and counties that the state previously borrowed for its own budget, Bonigut said. “Over the next three fiscal years,” he said, “San Clemente can expect about $76,000 annually in gas tax repayment funds.”

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