If you have been in any of Pacifica’s municipal buildings — or simply seen the photos provided for last week’s study session focused on the sorry state of the buildings — you have to wonder how we got here. How did city leaders over many years let these public assets deteriorate to this extent?
There is filthy carpeting. Termites have made a meal of the Planning and Parks, Beaches and Recreation building. Mold has driven employees from the restrooms. Windows are falling out of their frames. Water-damaged tiles sag from the ceiling. The result of all this deferred maintenance: a multimillion-dollar rebuild.
The City Council heard a range of fixes, from paying six figures to simply address the mold to a years’ long new construction project that would cost taxpayers as much as $25 million and leave the city in debt for years to come. City Manager Kevin Woodhouse rightly observed that “doing nothing is not an option” and a Band-aid approach would be shortsighted. So, staff is recommending a “minimalist” approach that will “only” cost about $6.7 million. It would include substantial work, particularly to the Planning, Beaches and Recreation building. The city would seek help through insurance and grants, use its rainy-day account and spend down the general fund, but it is still looking at about a $4 million loan that would cost between $200,000 to $300,000 a year for 25 years just to service the debt.
It’s possible the current City Council will continue to look the other way. There is talk of simply moving employees around and letting City Hall deteriorate further. What a shame.
Longtime residents know this didn’t just come to the attention of public officials. Folks at City Hall have known of mold problems since at least the 1990s. How much public money could have been saved if the city had done what any reasonable homeowner does, like treat the termites when it became aware of them?
Before we’re too hard on a generation of elected officials and the executives who have had to work in City Hall, we might all look in the mirror. The reason they have been loath to do anything about these issues is largely political. If City Council had proposed spending, say, $200,000 to fix dry rot in 2000, would citizens have descended (over pot-holed streets) to revolt? Maybe.
Public buildings are public assets. So, too, are public employees, who shouldn’t expect to work in the Taj Mahal but ought not have to conduct their business in a dungeon. Fixing the problem now will be expensive and unnecessarily so. But it’s where we are.
— Clay Lambert