Illustration by Christine Hipp

Roads without potholes, running water, safe parks and sidewalks, streetlights that turn on and toilets that flush — they’re all things that some residents of Santa Cruz might take for granted. They require constant attention and money to keep them all working properly, and much of that responsibility falls upon the city of Santa Cruz’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

The CIP is a yearly budget that includes projects and expenditures that fall outside of the city’s day-to-day operations, such as paying out salaries, and generally consists of repairs and improvements to the city of Santa Cruz, as well as large-scale infrastructure projects.

“Every once in a while, we need to build a new facility, repair a road, or maybe they need four new garbage trucks because their old ones are wearing down, so when anything big like that happens, those are capital projects,” Santa Cruz finance director Marc Pimentel said. “The vast majority of our projects are something that the public is looking for and either expects or wants.”

The report detailing the proposed CIP expenditures for fiscal year (FY) 2013–14 and possible projects for FY 2014–2015 were presented to the City Council on April 24, and they will have the chance to make changes to it until July 10, when the plan is approved and work will begin on the many projects contained within it.

“A lot of them aren’t very sexy projects, but they’re important,” Santa Cruz city manager Martín Bernal said. “It’s ultimately our attempt to maintain and improve our infrastructure.”

Currently, the CIP budget for next year is $20.1 million, about 12 percent of Santa Cruz’s overall annual budget of $160 million. While much of the money comes from the Santa Cruz general fund, it is also supplemented by state and federal grants.

Pimentel said that although the most pressing items on the agenda will be taken care of by next year’s CIP, many of the projects that people would like to see will have to wait until the city’s finances have recovered from the recent recession. According to the CIP report, “The City faces an ongoing challenge to meet its capital needs with limited resources.”

“When you’re looking at a project list, you look at what can be put off a year and what do we have to do now,” Pimentel said. “So coming out of recession, most of the projects are the bare minimum of what needs to be done. It’s not what we should do — it’s what we have to do.”

Pimentel said the recession has meant that many “community space” projects, such as new parks or public art installations, have had to be postponed until the city’s revenues return to pre-recession levels. Chris Schneiter, an engineer with the Public Works Office, said that the city’s streets have been hit especially hard in recent years due to the lack of funds.

Still, in addition to the bare-minimum repairs that Santa Cruz needs to continue functioning smoothly, the 2013–15 CIP does contain a few new projects that have the potential for long-lasting impacts on residents.

One that has sparked community interest is the proposed creation of an estimated $115 million desalination plant in Santa Cruz, which some locals have strongly opposed due to the project’s potential environmental impact. Next year’s CIP budget includes funds that will go toward preliminary studies of the project, which when completed will allow the city council to reach a final decision on whether or not to go forward with the plant.

Also on the agenda for next year is the construction of the Arana Gulch Master Plan, which will create a paved bike path connecting the end of Broadway at Frederick Street with the beginning of Brommer, and would also include several unpaved trails as well as grazing areas for cattle. The paved portion of the path would consist of an eight-foot wide porous concrete walkway and would also include a 300-foot stressed-ribbon bridge spanning the Hagemann Gulch.

Other projects covered in next year’s budget include the continuation of the city’s efforts to replace all street and stoplights with LED lights, which use less energy and also last much longer than the incandescent bulbs currently in place. The CIP also contains plans to install several solar panels behind City Hall.

“It’s great for saving energy and meeting our climate goals,” Schneiter said of these projects.

Despite these new developments, the vast majority of the projects contained in the CIP will consist of much-needed repairs and upgrades to existing infrastructure, ensuring that the services residents depend on continue to function smoothly. Pimentel said this is the way Santa Cruz has kept itself going since it first became a city.

“I think we’re approaching 150 years soon,” Pimentel said. “There’s always been a capital component. It may not have been so formal 146 years ago, but definitely that was the case in some way, shape or form.”