CITY HALL — While times might be tough financially — as reflected in a city budget that’s 8 percent smaller than last year — a handful of neighborhood improvement projects that residents have demanded for years could survive the cut.

The recently unveiled five-year Capital Improvement Program (CIP), which covers fiscal years 2009-10 to 2013-14, proposes seeing through the completion of both the Longfellow Street and Ocean Park Boulevard pedestrian enhancement and greening projects, fulfilling promises made to residents who have complained about traffic issues in their areas.

“We funded primarily the design of those projects last year and it was important to continue commitment made to the community and also in other areas,” said Don Patterson, an assistant to the city manager who just wrapped up a six-month stint as the acting assistant director of public works.

The CIP next year will fund about $103.5 million worth of projects, including roughly $16.2 million for the Bus Replacement Program, $3 million for street resurfacing and $2 million for streetlight retrofit. The figure does not include projects that are expected to be funded through the Redevelopment Agency, such as the Pico Library and the Civic Center improvements. They will be folded into the budget after the City Council makes its decision on which RDA projects to prioritize at its meeting on Tuesday, Patterson said.

This is the first year that city officials developed a five-year financial plan for its CIP, shifting away from the traditional three-year outlook.

“We’re tying the CIP budget into the same time frame that all the other city financial planning documents are tied to,” Patterson said. “It’s a great advantage and gives us a longer time horizon.”

The CIP budget is made up of 10 different funds, the majority of which comes from the Big Blue Bus, capital and general funds. The latter two funds are the only ones that give any flexibility as to how the money should be spent. Projects from the water fund for example have to be used on water improvement projects.

The proposed program is also the first one developed through recommendations from the new CIP committee, which is made up of various departments with an interest in the budget, such as Community and Cultural Services, Planning and Community Development and Public Works.

The committee reviewed all proposals according to how they fit with city priorities and made its recommendation to the city manager, who then made some changes before presenting it to the City Council during its budget sessions late last month.

There was approximately $1.2 billion worth of projects requested for the five-year period, which includes ones that will be funded through the RDA.

“After the five-year-period, knowing what we know today there are still $700 million of unfunded projects,” Patterson said, adding that the figure is likely to change significantly after the RDA decisions are made next week.

While City Hall has not studied how the CIP projects will lead to job growth, construction projects, especially those dealing with infrastructure, have traditionally been known to stimulate the economy.

Jim Earp, the executive director of California Alliance for Jobs, which represents the heavy construction industry, quoted a general formula where every $1 million spent on a construction project generates about 1,800 jobs, about one-third of which are directly related to construction.

“The rest of those jobs filter out into every other part of the economy,” he said.

Status of green street projects

Construction for the Ocean Park Boulevard project could begin as soon as the fall of 2010.

The Ocean Park Boulevard project seeks to improve walkability and slow traffic through various means, including adding more landscaping and perhaps creating a signalized crosswalk at Highland Avenue and Seventh Street.

City Hall is currently conducting a geotechnical survey to determine the ground’s ability to absorb runoff. The boulevard will be designed to take in water coming from the 55 acres of the surrounding neighborhood.

Peter James, associate planner for City Hall, said the project is expected to undergo final schematic design after the summer, a process estimated to take about a year. Construction could be completed in the fall 2011. The project is estimated to cost about $3 million, about $1.4 million of which will come from Proposition 1B transportation funds.

The project has grown over the year to include new elements, such as a viewing deck from the Fourth Street bridge.

Located in the Borderline Neighborhood, the Longfellow Street project aims to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment by adding landscaping and narrowing the travel way. Residents have complained that the street has often been mistaken as an alley.

The final design of the project is about 90 percent complete, Mark Cuneo, principal civil engineer for City Hall, said. The project altogether is estimated to cost about $2.5 million.

Construction could begin in the fall, taking about six months to complete.

The project will involve raising the elevation of the street and sidewalk so it’s at the same grade. Both sides of the street will have landscaping.

“It’s almost like a creation of parkway on both sides,” he said.

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