We tried to address everything we think you should know on our other pages. Here’s a list of our references and how we approached the difficult task of “getting to No”. Maybe we should have called this the FAQt page.
Where can I see the actual plan?
There is no one place you can see the Sidewalk Prioritization Plan, unfortunately. Prop 1 would install the sidewalks listed in Resolution 430, but a list is not easy to visualize. There is a map of these projects, but you can’t find it easily on the City’s website because there were a flurry of last minute changes to what the Sidewalk Advisory Committee recommended. For example, Richmond Beach residents successfully lobbied to put the “low-priority” street to Richmond Beach Saltwater Park on the list, the 175th Street project came off the list because it was already funded, and so on.
It’s easy to get confused if you really want to dig in by starting with the City’s Sidewalks Prioritization Plan page, which only has older draft maps on it, and all the SAC meeting minutes and historical documents. We asked the City Manager’s Office to post the final map on their Prop 1 webpage, but they declined to do so, saying that City Council would have to vote on it to make it happen. But we’ve got you covered: the final map is at the end of the July 30 staff report, when Resolution 430 was approved. But you can only access that report via the City Council page, so we include this link to the July 30 staff report with the final map in it. Scroll down to page 8a-16 to see the map. To see the ranking system the City used, see the Prioritization Matrix (but again, be careful, as this is a draft document that doesn’t reflect the final list of projects.) And if you want to see which sidewalks were eligible for Prop 1 to begin with, see the 2011 Pedestrian System Plan. That’s what Prop 1 was built on, not where people actually walk.
Why did the City separate sidewalk repair from construction?
That’s our main question. From a taxpayer perspective and a safety perspective, it makes sense to decide which sidewalks have or should have the highest pedestrian density, then fund repair and construction together as a single project for each priority stretch of sidewalk. In their Sidewalk FAQ the City claims the separation was an issue of timelines - they say the ADA Plan is a longer process (2016-2018) and the Sidewalk Prioritization Plan (SPP) is a shorter process (2017-2018). But we’re not buying that explanation, since the two processes mostly overlap in time and both supposedly end in 2018. We do know that for the SPP, starting last summer, staff and Council decided to pursue an internal process steered by a few technical staff and seeking separate new funding. The ADA sidewalk process is federally mandated, and it is a very different process, using a big consulting company to attempt to predict pedestrian density and gathering data about routes used by people with disabilities. Those projects will be funded by the additional $20 car tab fee Council also approved this summer. But we think the SPP could have waited for the ADA process, since the ADA process will be far more robust, and the data from it could have informed sidewalk construction. Having two parallel processes seems wasteful. And yes, we are actively commenting on the ADA Plan. You should too! See the next question for why and how.
Where did you find information about prices for repair/upgrade and new construction?
The repair and replace costs estimates came from the ADA Transition Plan open house slides from September 2018. While on this topic, we encourage you to submit comments before October 12 regarding where you’d like to use repairs using the form on their ADA Plan page.
We calculated the costs of new sidewalks from the City’s estimates for each project in Prop 1 on page 8a-5 of the July 30 Staff Report. Most of the projects are listed at about $1500 per linear foot of new sidewalk. We don’t know how the City got those numbers - City staff declined to answer over a dozen of our technical questions because they “didn’t have enough time” to do so. One of the City’s engineers, at one of the public meetings, said that he created a sort of “composite cost” of sidewalks based on recent bids and and average “site conditions:” such as slope, trees, utility vaults, stormwater management, drivewalks and more. We don’t know how realistic these average estimates are for the actual 12 projects.
Doesn’t Prop 1 pay for repair too?
Prop 1 could be used to pay for repairs if there is money left over after they finish the new sidewalks. Here’s how it works: City staff cut the list of projects off when they’d reached an cumulative estimate of 69% of the revenue anticipated from Prop 1, as shown on page 8a-4 of the July 30 Staff Report. So they anticipate the projects costing $29,000,000 in total. The debt “supported by” the 20 year Prop 1, or in other words, the borrowed money they could actually spend, is $42,000,000. The difference between those two amounts is $13,000,000, which could be used for sidewalks. But it’s primarily financial cushion, so it is only used on sidewalks if and after it’s determined that it’s not needed to fund the 12 construction projects. By law, the City has to pay off all debt on Prop 1 before 20 years are up. So, would the new sidewalks go over budget? We worry the projects haven’t been ground-truthed. In particular, we think the Ridgecrest project on 15th Ave NE, which is #1 on the list, and the Echo Lake project on Meridian, #2 on the list, would be far more expensive than estimated due to site conditions such as slope, trees, stormwater management, utility vaults and so on. We asked City staff if they were aware of the site conditions at these locations, but staff declined to respond. We encourage you to use your own experience and judgment about whether you think those 12 projects would be completed on budget, and whether there will be money left for repairs. Besides, the Sidewalk Advisory Committee wanted the majority of the funding, not leftover funding, to go to repairs.
Can you list and explain all the dollar amounts?
The City anticipates the projects costing $29,000,000 in total. The debt supported by the 20-year Prop 1 is $42,000,000. The difference between those two amounts is $13,000,000, which could be used for sidewalk repair. But it’s primarily financial cushion, so it gets saved until the end of 20 years. The Prop 1 sales tax increase would bring in an estimated $59,000,000 in revenue. The difference between that and $42,000,000 is $17,000,000 for “interest expense and debt issuance cost”, as discussed on page 9a-6 in the June 18 Staff Report. It’s like buying a house with a 20-year mortgage, in which you pay principal plus interest over 20 years. This is what happens when you want “Safe Sidewalks Now”. You have to decide if you to pay a higher sales tax, from which about 30% of the revenue would be used to pay interest on debt.
Finally, the City estimated that it spends $60,000 to put Prop 1 on the ballot.
How much would it cost to pave in front of my house?
We have never heard anyone ask this question, but we think it should be asked more often, because the answer is sobering. The average cost per linear foot listed in the City’s Prop 1 staff report is $1500 or so. The typical width of a residential lot is 60 feet. So it would cost about $90,000 to pave in front of the typical lot. So in order to put sidewalks on every street, each of us would have to give that much. Maybe City Council doesn’t have the guts to tell people this, but we’re going to say it. Maybe new sidewalks is something we can wait for, like a new car.
What did City Council consider besides this plan?
The City Council considered four major options, as shown in the June 18 staff report. These are:
Picking a “half-size” Prop 1, with option to bring it back to a vote in 10 years for a second 10 years, versus a 20 year “maximum allowed” Prop 1.
Choosing a “pay as you go” plan, without paying interest on a loan, versus “build now and pay back later”.
Asking voters to pay into a general fund for sidewalks that could be tapped as needed, versus identifying specific projects beforehand.
Using the fund primarily for sidewalk repair instead of new construction.
So they had the option, for example, pay as you go for sidewalk repair for ten years. But they chose to ask voters to take on debt to build a bigger list of specific projects now and pay it off over 20 years. Again, this decision was the opposite of what the Sidewalk Advisory Committee preferred. If you want to write Council a letter about what you would have preferred, use the button below! They’d love to hear from you. And also vote No on Prop 1!