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tldr summary: Alameda could secure grant funding to rebuild Fernside Boulevard, as the Bay Trail traverses that length of city-owned street. And there are more grant opportunities coming from the county, the region, the state, and the federal government. Successfully leveraging all of these funds to fix and improve Alameda's infrastructure requires some flexibility with local funding — "flexibility" that Vice Mayor Daysog apparently dislikes and misunderstands.

Thanks to everyone who's continued to email Vice Mayor Tony Daysog since last week about Alameda's canceled infrastructure bond measure. Also a shout-out to folks who have shared the response that Mr. Daysog has been emailing back.

It's a long email. I won't quote it at length or try to characterize it in its entirety. (If you want to read his thoughts in full, he can be reached at tdaysog@alamedaca.gov) But I will quote one of his sentence-long paragraph. Vice Mayor Daysog writes that:

The notion of "flexibility" makes no sense.  

"Flexibility" as in city staff having some leeway to propose different infrastructure-related projects to future Alameda City Councils as being worthy of being funded from bond proceeds.

Instead of trusting a majority of future City Council members to make appropriate decisions based on information at-hand, staff's guidance, and the three focus areas identified in the bond measure, Vice Mayor Daysog expressed strongly in his email that the voters of today must be presented with a fixed list of the exact infrastructure projects that will be funded by exactly $150mm over the lifetime of a bond.

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Unstated in his email is that he's so opposed to "the notion of 'flexibility'" that he voted to prevent all of us voters from having our own choices of whether or not we agree.

Vice Mayor Daysog could have let the measure go out to voters, and instead of writing his long email of post-hoc rationalizations, he could have instead held it and published it as an argument against the ballot measure to be featured in the voter guidebook in November... and then we could have all had a choice.

On this point about "flexibility," Vice Mayor Daysog is wrong. And he's wrong for at least two reasons:

  1. Flexibility – within well-defined criteria and focus areas – is exactly what Alameda needs in terms of a new funding source to tackle deferred maintenance and build new infrastructure.
  2. And using that flexibility, Alameda could actually accomplish more than $150mm of infrastructure improvements.

Leveraging to accomplish more

To that second point first: As city staff repeatedly explained at the July 2 City Council meeting, a local funding source for infrastructure (like this proposed bond) is ideally available to serve as local match funds when applying for further external funds.

Federal, state, or regional grants often require that a city — especially one that is as affluent as Alameda — commit some of its own money toward a project when applying for grants. The portion of "local match" can often be quite modest — for example, 20% of the project's total cost — but it demonstrates a firm commitment by local decisionmakers that they care enough about the proposed project to put some skin in the game. It's more than just a psychological commitment; the process of budgeting for this local match can demonstrate to grantmakers that an applicant is serious enough to have jumped through its own bureaucratic hoops to get internal approvals. It also shows that should the applicant be awarded the grant, they'll also be more likely to succeed at successfully executing all of the contracts required to actually receive funds from a federally-funded program.

Pulling this off does require a lot of staff time, therefore this blog's repeated questions about whether the City of Alameda should allocate more staff positions to transportation and infrastructure.

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Staffing is somewhat distinct from this blog post's topic of bonds. Let's just assume we're talking only about money for capital expenses in this blog post, even if maybe some grant opportunities might provide options in terms of whether the local cost share is cash contribution or an in-kind contribution like staff hours.

When these applications for funding from county, regional, state, and federal sources do work, they can turn a local "pot" like that hypothetical $150mm bond and leverage it into a whole lot more effective funding.

At the July 2 City Council meeting, staff spoke of "nearly $800 million in deferred maintenance in public infrastructure citywide." Councilmember Trish Herrera Spencer and Vice Mayor Daysog repeatedly questions why the bond measure was only proposed for $150mm. In their questioning, they suggested that the difference in dollar amounts would be used to intentionally fool voters. That voters would be enticed by a wide range of potential projects... only to eventually learn that all $150mm went to, say, fire stations and no other infrastructure out of that $800mm total was fixed or improved. However, that's a deliberate misunderstanding of how these funds are supposed to work — the point of the $150mm bond would be to provide the city with local match funds to pair with as many applications for external funds as possible. Think of that $150mm as more like 20% of the bigger pool of externally-sourced funds and that total figure of $800mm of needed infrastructure work is now sounding much more tractable.

Flexibility to pursue opportunities that arise

To successfully leverage all those outside funding sources will require a lot of match-making: pairing projects with grant opportunities. Each grant opportunity comes with its own requirements and its own scoring criteria, so city staff (and/or their consultants) will ideally analyze many possible pairings, with the goal of maximizing the city's changes of winning as much external funding as possible.

This is why it's so useful to have multiple "shovel ready" projects at hand — not to mention projects at all different stages of planning, public input, etc. When a new opportunity comes along, the city can then quickly evaluate its entire portfolio of projects to determine which could be best paired with that funding opportunity. (This is also why systematic plans like the Alameda Active Transportation Plan and the Alameda Vision Zero Action Plan are useful and important.)

Here's one concrete example: At the June 26 city Transportation Commission meeting, city staff and their consultants presented near-term and long-term plans for redesigning Fernside Boulevard. The full project has a goal of being completed by 2030, but has no currently identified funding source:

from June 26, 2024 presentation about the Fernside Traffic Calming & Bikeways Project

Early on June 26, another transportation commission also met — the Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) — and they voted unanimously to approve on a potentially related program: a "Safe Routes to Transit & Bay Trail" competitive grant program.

(The program should win some sort of award for its mouthful of an abbreviation: SR2TBT :)

Cities and counties around the Bay Area can apply for portions of this new $150mm pot of funds dedicated to improving the Bay Trail, bike/ped access to transit, and bike/ped access to the Bay Area's toll bridges. (The funds come from Regional Measure 3, a voter-approved increase to bridge tolls.)

The " SR2TBT" program is potentially relevant to Alameda's Fernside Boulevard because Fernside Boulevard is the Bay Trail:

from the SF Bay Trail map

Instead of waiting until 2030 and an unidentified funding source to pay for the Fernside Traffic Calming & Bikeways Project, what if the city acted on this brand new opportunity? That is, what if the city had the flexibility to react to this newly announced source of external funds? And what if the city were even flexible enough to use the timeline of the grant program to inform its project schedule and the scoring criteria of the grant program to inform aspects of the project designs?

(Again, there's the question of whether Alameda has sufficient staff and consultant resources to apply to as many grant applications as possible and to do so on prompt timelines. I'm still doubtful that the city is properly resourced, but at this point, I guess all we can do is wish them all the best of luck!)

This particular grant opportunity doesn't require a local match, but in the extended documentation they sure do imply that applicants will do well to demonstrate a commitment of some local funds:

The SR2TBT program will not require matching funds for program applications; however, MTC will prioritize applications that include funding from additional non-regional discretionary funding sources. Applicants must provide a complete (phase-by-phase) project funding plan through construction that demonstrates that the SR2TBT and leveraged funding in the plan (local, federal, state, and private sources) is reasonably expected to be available and sufficient to complete the project. Additionally, applicants must indicate the amounts and sources of leveraged funds in the application cover letter.
—p. 8 of the SR2TBT guidelines

Consider if the city had placed the full budget of the Fernside Traffic Calming & Bikeways Project on "The List" that Vice Mayor Daysog says he and voters need to see before voting for a bond. Then learning of this new source of external funds that looks, at least on first glance to this novice, like a great match would mess up the certainty of The List. Should city staff put time toward applying for an external grant for a project that they already have internally funded? (Yes, they should because external money is good; but no, the incentive may be to not change The List.) Or alternatively, the Fernside project might not appear at all on the list — in which case the bond couldn't be used as a source for a comparatively small amount of funds to use as a local match to secure a much large amount from MTC.

Every grant program comes with its own constraints, its own scoring criteria, and many more details than I would have knowledge to even enumerate. But I do apparently either know more than Vice Mayor Daysog knows — or more likely, more than he wants to let on — because it sure looks clear why the city and local taxpayers will all benefit from having some flexibility within a bond measure to allow the city to react effectively as these funding opportunities continually appear. Because these sources of potential external funds will hopefully continue to appear both often and unexpectedly.

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There's another potential angle to interpreting Daysog's opposition to this bond measure that he doesn't mention in his long email: Fire. On the one hand, he probably wanted to appear firmly opposed to any new fire spending to his core group of supporters — no new fire station could appear on The List of Permissible Infrastructure Projects; on the other hand, given that he's almost certainly running for Mayor when Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft finishes her current term, he may not want to publicly launch such bold shots at the fire union. So, coming up with an excuse to chicken out of the entire bond measure was perhaps the most appealing option... He couldn't vote for the bond because it doesn't have The List; but he couldn't publicly tell staff or other councilmembers what he would want off The List. So, no List — and no flood protection for home-owners, no safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists, and no more local matching funds to reach toward covering the whole $800mm of infrastructure needs.

To be frank, I have no strong feelings about how the city budgets for fire-related infrastructure, and I think we should be able to trust that city staff and their consultants can effectively manage capital improvements planning, project ranking, and so on.

Leaving aside this failed attempt at an infrastructure bond measure, I do hope the City of Alameda closely evaluates this SR2TBT funding program — and I hope we'll have opportunities as voters to weigh in with our own thoughts on the benefits of responsibly flexible local infrastructure funds someday.

"The Notion of 'Flexibility'" and Fernside Boulevard