S.O.S. (Save Our Streets)

A citizens’ committee has formed in Benicia with a succinct goal: Save Our Streets. 

The average Benician understands the state of our roadways simply by virtue of navigating them, day in and day out.

Yet there exists a Pavement Condition Index (PCI) which tells us the specific state of our roadways on a scale of 0 (worst possible conditions) to 100 (best possible conditions). Our roads currently average at a 57 on this scale, classified as “at risk,” and they’re only getting worse.

The City of Benicia, recognizing this problem, attempted to pass Measure R in our last election.

Measure R, if it passed, would have approved a 0.75% sales tax increase earmarked for street and roadway maintenance. The measure failed by a narrow margin, with many people citing the fact that its funds would have gone into the General Fund rather than a dedicated infrastructure fund, and therefore could be used for anything, as the reason they voted against it, in addition to a lack of citizen oversight.

Since the failure of Measure R, a group of concerned citizens came together to develop another funding proposal that Benicians will hopefully support.

The measure they came up with is a 0.5% increase to the sales tax. Like any sales tax, this would generate funds from our citizens and visitors to Benicia ordering some food items and buying products in town, as well as purchasing anything online or outside of Benicia to be delivered in Benicia. 100% of the funds generated by this tax would be placed in a dedicated fund for street and roadway improvements and repairs. These funds cannot be used for any other purpose. It would also establish a citizens’ oversight committee and require annual audits. And since the measure is a citizens’ committee initiative, if it makes it onto the March 5th ballot, it only needs to pass by 50%+1.

We spoke with Mark Hughes, former City Council Member and a member of the Save Our Streets citizens’ committee, about this ballot initiative.

He informed us that the initiative will first need to gain over 2000 signatures from registered Benicia voters before the end of September. From there, the initiative turns into a bona fide campaign and the measure will appear as an initiative on the March 5th ballot.

Mark notes that some voters may believe the City already has the necessary funds to make the required road improvements via Measure C or our gas tax revenue. He assures that, based on budget detail discussions that the committee has had with City staff, coupled with some committee member’s familiarity with the City and its budget, it’s clear that current and expected revenue cannot keep up with current and future expenses in our “full service” city. And the longer we wait to pass a funding measure, the more expensive the necessary repairs will become.

He also shares that Benicia’s current sales tax rate is lower than many surrounding city’s tax rates.

Vallejo’s sales tax rate is 9.25% and Martinez’s is 9.75%. Benicia’s current sales tax rate is 8.375% and, should the Save Our Streets committee sales tax proposal take effect, it would raise our tax rate to 8.875%. But, that’s only if the initiative makes it past the petition phase.

“I’m typically not an ‘increase taxes’ kind of guy, but I am a ‘preserve the quality of life in Benicia’ kind of guy. Improving the quality of our streets is a big part of that and I’m willing to pay a little extra toward that goal,” says Mark of his involvement in the Save Our Streets initiative.

If you are interested in helping Save Our Streets by signing the petition or helping to collect signatures, or if you have questions about it, you can reach out to the committee members, or visit the Save Our Streets website at: BeniciaSaveOurStreets.com. Committee members include Mark Hughes, Maggie Kolk, David Batchelor, Glenn Loveall, Tim Hamann, Krista Heredia, and Bobbie White.