Chain link fence in front of the Santa Clara Swim Club's empty notice board and two large pools with an empty audience stands.
The George F. Haines International Swim Center is one of Santa Clara's recreational facilities that might be supported by the city's potential infrastructure bond, slated for the November ballot. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

Santa Clara has more than half a billion dollars in needed infrastructure improvements and officials hope residents will pay to get those projects done.

The city is considering a bond measure for the November ballot to help tackle a more than $624 million infrastructure deficit. Santa Clara officials may have a chance of it passing by a slim margin, based on survey results from 400 likely voters.

“Nothing’s going to be a cure-all for that $624 million infrastructure need, (but) the capital bond would make a huge difference,” Michelle Templeton, acting assistant city manager, told San José Spotlight. “Without the proposed bond measure, the city would need to find new revenues or new costs to help pay for the unfunded capital infrastructure needs.”

The funding would go toward public services like repairs to storm drains, roads and the sewer system. Templeton said some city fire stations are 55 years old and need critical repairs to maintain emergency preparedness.

The city collected community feedback on two potential 30-year bond measures, one for $298 million and another for $598 million. After hearing positive arguments for the bonds, 63% of those surveyed said they would support the $298 million measure and 67% said they would support the $598 million bond. The threshold to pass a general obligation bond is 65%.

That threshold could change depending on the passage of another measure being approved simultaneously, known as ACA 1, a statewide ballot measure that could bring the threshold down to 55% in this upcoming election. ACA 1 applies to special taxes and bond measures.

The city also surveyed voters about how the money should be used — street and storm drain maintenance topped the list.

Councilmember Karen Hardy said based on the polling results presented at the April 23 Santa Clara City Council meeting, she feels confident that residents understand the city’s infrastructure needs. She added the city will have to be transparent with the bond’s implementation.

“We’re going to have to spell it out and let them know what we’re going to do,” Hardy told San José Spotlight. “I want to do this once and we’ll roll it out as we need to and be judicious, but if we can do it with today’s dollars and not have the cost escalate more and take care of these critical needs, I will sleep better.”

Templeton said maintaining transparency through the bond process will be important so residents know where the money is spent. The city is still gathering public input on the bond and that a second survey will be going out within the next few weeks for more input, in the hopes of presenting the results to the city council in June.

At the city’s priority setting meetings in early April, City Manager Jovan Grogan broke down the $624 million infrastructure deficit, more than half of which is facilities improvements.

One of those facilities is the International Swim Center, which the city closed in January after a review showed that many of the center’s facilities were unsafe and needed repairs. Councilmember Suds Jain said the swim center was an example of the city deferring maintenance until it became critical.

“It’s a universal problem because you kick the can down the road,” Jain told San José Spotlight. “That’s what got us in trouble with the swim center … It’s not unique to Santa Clara but I’m just pleased that we’re taking it on.”

While the bond will help pay for the bulk of the improvements, councilmembers said the city has to look into other revenue sources to maintain  infrastructure going forward. Templeton said other funding sources including grants are an option, but those sources don’t make as large a dent in unmet infrastructure costs.

Councilmember Anthony Becker said multiple revenue options will be needed, pointing to developer fees or perhaps a cannabis tax — should the city ever allow dispensaries to operate there. He said educating voters is the most important campaign that could happen in this November, should the bond be placed on the ballot.

“If we go for the higher number, that’s going to take a lot of education, a lot of door knocking, to make sure that people understand,” Becker told San José Spotlight. “If people don’t understand it, then they’re going to think (the city) is asking for half a billion dollars to play with anything.”

Contact B. Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] or @SakuCannestra on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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