County Plans Out Big-Ticket Projects

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

March 16, 2022

County Supervisors recently approved an update of a plan for tackling big infrastructure projects over the next several years and the overall price tag is a staggering nearly $600 million.

Called the “Infrastructure and Facilities Five Year Capital Improvement Plan,” (5-year CIP or CIP) “is a consolidated look at the infrastructure and facilities improvements that are planned to be implemented during the next five fiscal years beginning in FY 2022-23,” reads a report on the plan. “At the end of each year, the plan is revised to add a new fiscal year.”

These major projects can be anything from construction of or improvements to “roads, bridges, water and wastewater systems, and community drainage. Facility projects include the construction of, or improvements to, County offices, libraries, correctional facilities, parks, and airport facilities.”

Most all County Departments had a hand in writing the CIP, setting up a priority criteria to try and tackle the most pressing items first.

Among the documents used were the Master Plans for utility systems; Circulation Studies for Transportation; or Pavement Condition Index for street repairs.

The CIP list can’t be expected to be completed very quickly, as there are some 173 projects listed and money is an issue too

“The majority of infrastructure projects,” reads the report, “are dependent on having an outside funding source or grants in order to proceed with project implementation and be included in the Five Year CIP. These include utility system maintenance and improvement projects funded through rates and charges; road safety and capacity improvements funded through Road Improvement Fee programs and Federal, State, and local grants; and flood control projects typically covered with State/Federal grants and assessments.” 

All of the CIP projects are expected to cost over $100,000, a relatively low bar given the costs associated with any government project.

The sum of all the CIP projects tops $590 million, “spread over communities and rural areas. The plan includes 48 infrastructure projects, with a total estimated value of $250 million. Of these projects, 25 are expected to be implemented in FY 2022-23, with a total estimated cost of $29 million.”

The most expensive category is with “facility projects” or upgrades and maintenance of County-owned facilities and properties, some 125 in total at an estimated cost of $340 million. “Of these projects,” the report said, “38 are expected to be implemented in FY 2022-23 at an estimated value of $63 million.”

Three criteria were used to rank the projects — evaluation of essential needs, funding, and feasibility. The CIP isn’t cast in stone. 

“The Five Year CIP is a planning guide and is not a guarantee that all the projects will be developed or funded. Risks relative to each project need to be assessed prior to inclusion in the annual budget and implementation.”

It’s supposed to be a living document. “The evaluation of priorities and emerging needs will result in changes to the plan,” the County report said. “Changes to the plan will include the addition of new projects and the elimination of projects that have been completed or removed under reconsideration of the Five Year CIP.”

The intent is just to provide a jumping off point and to organize all of the County’s many things that need fixing. The County listed several things that they crossed off the list over the past year including HVAC, plumbing, and roofing replacement at several facilities; completion of the SLO Airport runway rehabilitation; Arroyo Grande Creek flood management program; Tefft Street and US 101 improvements; and two new drinking water storage tanks in Cayucos.

The overall costs in the CIP are high for a rural county like SLO. The big price tag is driven by several projects in the works now:

• A replacement for the Animal Services facility (cost $20 million); 

• A co-located Emergency Dispatch Center ($32 million); 

• A Probation Department Office building replacement ($26M); 

•  Pavement Rehabilitation Program 2022-27 ($75M); 

• Bridge Replacement Projects 2022-27 ($63M); 

• Improvements to the Avila Beach Drive Interchange ($13M); and, 

• Los Ranchos and Buckley Roads at State Route 227 projects ($14M).

It should be noted that each of these projects, while lumped together in the CIP, must each undergo environmental review under the California Environmental Quality ACT (CEQA) and some are already well into that process with others already having leaped over that hurdle.

Also, funding for many of the projects has already been included in past County budgets. “Of the infrastructure and facilities projects [total of $590 million], $128 million has been allocated in previous years from a variety of sources, leaving a remaining unallocated budget of $462 million,” the County report said.

The County taps a lot of different agencies — both State and Federal — for funding these projects. 

“Key outside agencies,” reads the report, “which provide funding for County projects by way of direct funding or grants include Federal Aviation Administration, State of California Assembly Bill 900, Senate Bill 81, donations from various non-profit groups, California Coastal Commission, Wildlife Conservation Board, SLOCOG, Caltrans, Senate Bill 1 (SB1), Transportation Equity Act (TEA-21), Transportation Development Act/Senate Bill 235, United States Department of Agriculture, and Federal Emergency Management Administration. 

“In addition, funding is provided under existing development mitigation accounts from the County’s Public Facility Fees and various Road Improvement Fee programs. 

“It is also anticipated staff will pursue any eligible funding made available by the federal infrastructure bill, formally known as the   ‘Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act’ and signed by the President on Nov. 15, 2021.”

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