Sunday, May 27 , 2018, 11:48 am | A Few Clouds 62º


Ron Fink: Sacramento to White House: Help, We Can’t Manage California’s Infrastructure

The recent storms have created an opportunity for the folks who run our state and county to cash in.

In the words of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was an assistant to President Bill Clinton, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that, it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before."

That statement fits the state of California and our county’s current situation.

Following the rains, the state government figures it could take upwards of $1 billion to fix all the damage; but was it caused by the storms or is it a result of ineffective management of available resources? Some of that “damage” occurred in Santa Barbara County.

In 2014, during the middle of the drought when there was no rain to damage infrastructure the Board of Supervisors received a report that there was “an estimated total of $83.6 million in deferred maintenance projects at county facilities and parks.”

At the time, Supervisor Peter Adam led an effort to set aside money to start maintaining county property.

Adam realized that politicians, unlike any homeowner, never seem to understand that, once built, projects require periodic maintenance to make sure they can serve their intended purpose.

I guess they think their job is done once they approve the cost of construction and the inevitable overruns that can sometimes double the cost of a project.

A perfect example is an announcement on the county Public Works Department web page: “San Miguelito Canyon Road (south of Lompoc) closed at the City Limits due to road undermining. Residents only.”

Folks who live in this area have known for years that San Miguelito Creek can run high during serious rain events and that the drains under the road from nearby canyons had not been maintained for decades. So, it is no surprise that the roadway is now in danger of failing.
Lompoc — Casmalia Road, which runs through Vandenberg Air Force Base, is also closed due to shoulder slip out. This county-maintained road hasn’t seen any serious improvements in decades either. It seems it has been forgotten by the county.

Both closures were preventable if the roads were properly inspected and maintained. Now, it’s an emergency because of systemic neglect.

On the South Coast, two creek-restoration projects are perfect examples of poorly planned projects that probably will be included on the “storm damage” list.

The $1-million upper Arroyo Burro Creek restoration project couldn’t handle the water that flowed in the recent storm. This storm was not unique because storms like this have happened before; didn’t anyone think to plan for the “100-year rain event”?

The Lower Mission Creek Flood Control Project is yet another example of poor planning. Noozhawk reported that “Runoff from heavy rains last Friday abruptly swelled the creek into a surging river, the force of which broke off existing sandstone channel walls.

Only the government would plan a project like this during the rainy season, but no one will lose their job because, as Emanuel says, “never let a serious crisis go to waste.” In this case, more money will be poured into the project to fix a preventable mistake.

In northern California, the Oroville Dam was seriously compromised when millions of gallons of water were released to prevent failure of the dam. The emergency spillway was found to be seriously deficient because it too was not designed to handle the eventual overflow of water.

State officials knew about the emergency spillway because folks in the area had taken them to court because they feared it wouldn’t work right.

The normal spillway must have needed maintenance because the water found a way to get under the large concrete sections and push them out of the way.

Locally, many communities faced some serious drainage issues. Each year when it rains, it seems the same areas flood, and local news outlets show footage of the muddy mess and flooded houses on the evening news. Then it dries up and politicians turn their attention elsewhere.

Now politicians in Sacramento and all over the state who have vowed to fight the Trump Administration all the way are now asking them for money to fix things they could have prevented if they managed their budget priorities correctly.

There are hundreds of other examples that seem to indicate it may not have been the recent storms, but a lack of routine maintenance or proper project planning that led to all the damage.

Some leadership is needed here, but I doubt you’ll find it in the current makeup of either City Council’s, the Board of Supervisors or Sacramento politicians as they opt for other budget priorities.

Meanwhile, “emergency funds” will be used; politicians will gloat about how much they were able to bring home to their districts.

Then it will rain again and more damage will occur because those same politicians will again ignore their basic responsibility to maintain government infrastructure.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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