‘Build Better SD’ helps with infrastructure improvements across SD

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – Mayor Todd Gloria Friday revealed details of his “Build Better SD” initiative, intended to do away with what he describes as inequitable planning policies restricting public infrastructure fees to a single community and instead create a citywide funding program.

“Because of our outdated method of funding infrastructure projects, some of our communities are being left behind,” Gloria said. “Build Better SD will break down barriers to get more things done in our communities by allowing us to prioritize investments in areas where the needs are greatest.

“At the same time, it will help us achieve our bold climate goals, create more equity across our city and spur economic activity in the communities that need it most,” he said.

Gloria launched the initiative — which is expected to go to City Council for consideration this spring — in Paradise Hills, a community Gloria said has had difficulty funding needed infrastructure projects due to the current, outdated funding method.

As the system exists now, when private projects are built, the development impact fees property developers pay toward new infrastructure improvements — such as libraries, streets and other public spaces — vary widely across communities based on often decades-old planning documents. Collected fees go into 43 separate neighborhood funds and these funds cannot be shared across neighborhood lines. Many of these individual pots of money are insufficient to finance planned improvement projects, Gloria said, resulting in a current combined $222 million in unspent funds.

“In order to achieve equity, we must focus on changing our systems from the inside out,” said Council President pro Tem Monica Montgomery Steppe, whose district includes Paradise Hills. “This includes having difficult conversations and removing thoughts of stigma toward our historically under- resourced communities.

“I look forward to the forthcoming infrastructure planning changes and to reclaiming our community’s narrative to drive toward future investment,” she said.

Gloria’s Build Better SD intends to fix this by putting all future development impact fees into citywide funds by asset type, which would reduce the pools of funds from 43 to far fewer. According to initiative documents, infrastructure needs would be examined across the city and funding would be directed to high-priority projects.

Previously collected fees would remain restricted to the neighborhood in which they were collected but could be topped up by new citywide fee collections to implement projects faster in every part of the city. This funding structure has already been applied to parks through the Gloria’s Parks for All of Us initiative, which was approved by the City Council in August 2021.

“For far too long, our historically underserved communities have watched their sidewalks, public streets, libraries and other facilities languish due to inequitable and inefficient funding policies,” said interim Planning Director Heidi Vonblum. “Infrastructure serves our entire city. It does not respect community boundaries, and our infrastructure funds should be available to align with this reality.

“In addition to prioritizing investments in areas with the greatest needs, we can also deliver much-needed public infrastructure projects to our entire city more quickly,” Vonblum said.

On March 10, city staff plan to hold a virtual public forum to provide more information on the initiative as well as receive feedback, and residents can also give their input through an online survey in English or Spanish. Information on both can be found at www.sandiego.gov/buildbettersd.

Categories: KUSI, Local San Diego News