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Measure of infrastructure

November ballot item would determine 15% of how the city's general fund is spent.

September 15, 2010|By Michael Miller, michael.miller@latimes.com

Dick Harlow joined a committee more than 10 years ago to help repair the crumbling infrastructure of Huntington Beach. Every time he drives through town, he's reminded that the fight isn't over.

The longtime public works commissioner, who left last year to join the city's Charter Review Commission, is among those pushing for the passage of Measure O, a November ballot measure that would require Surf City to spend 15% of its general fund every year on infrastructure improvements.

For Harlow, the measure is a long-standing passion. Ever since he began lobbying to fix Huntington's streets and sidewalks at the turn of the century, he began taking note of blemishes around town — overgrown tree roots breaking through the sidewalk, chipped walls and more.

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"It got to a point where that's all I could see when I drove down the road," he said.

If Harlow and his fellow campaigners get their way Nov. 2, each of the 15% the city sets aside for infrastructure will go to immediate repairs starting in 2017.

In 1998, the city formed a citizens committee to review local infrastructure and inform the public of areas needing repair. The committee reported two years later that the city would need about $1.37 billion to meet its infrastructure needs over the next 20 years, and in 2002, about 57% of voters passed Measure FF, which allotted 15% of the general fund to infrastructure every year.

The city, though, has spent much of that amount to pay off construction bonds on previous projects, including Pier Plaza, the Huntington Central Park Sports Complex and several city facilities.

Linda Daily, the project manager for the city's Public Works Department, said that in the 2008-09 fiscal year, 23.3% of the infrastructure fund went to debt service, and the amount was projected to be 23.9% for the current fiscal year.

When the city appointed a commission last year to recommend changes to its charter, the members suggested amending the section on infrastructure funding. The City Council approved putting the measure on the ballot this summer.

Measure O, though, has its share of opponents. Both the police and fire unions recommended a no vote when they released their endorsements at the end of August; and the ballot argument against it, written by three council members and former Mayor Debbie Cook, claims the measure would cut $6 million from the general fund every year.

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