Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Creating LA’s Capital Infrastructure Plan: 10 Lessons From Other Cities

Part 2 of 2

Los Angeles spans 468 square miles, with nearly 4 million people using 7,500 miles of roads and roughly 9,000 miles of sidewalk. Despite being one of the largest networks of infrastructure in the country, there’s no single plan for maintaining it. 

There are plenty of separate plans for individual elements of the public right-of-way, but they’re City silos planning their own piece of it, one year at a time.

In Part 1 of this series, we argued that LA needs a Capital Infrastructure Plan to guide the way the City of LA maintains our public right-of-way, and we defined three things LA can do right now to start creating one. In this post we’ll share what we’ve learned about how to create this type of plan and what should be in it.

Investing in Place has researched Capital Infrastructure Plans (CIPs) from more than 30 cities (so far!). Our initial assessments are based on reading and analyzing other cities’ plans. Our next step is to talk to leaders from select cities to learn more about their processes, successes and challenges.

There is no ONE plan for Los Angeles to copy. We differ from most cities by our sheer size, our levels of income disparity among neighborhoods, and certain policies (like California’s Prop 13). 

But this research process has helped us identify some criteria that stand out as particularly important for a city as complex as LA.

We approached our research with a few key questions in mind: 

  1. How does each city develop their plan and set their vision? Who leads that conversation?
  2. Do they have an inventory of infrastructure assets (that goes beyond pavement quality and bridge conditions)? 
  3. Have they articulated a process that includes equity for prioritizing outcomes and projects?
  4. Is their plan (and the process by which it is created) accessible to the public, and understandable for non-experts? 

For a full list of our research questions and findings, check out our research spreadsheet.


10 Things We Need in LA

What follows are some lessons and observations from various cities’ CIPs that can help inform our process for creating a plan for Los Angeles. 

1. We need to make it easy for people to engage in this process. 

  • Boston – provides a capital projects map.
  • Chicago Works survey – capital improvement suggestion form allows the public to submit neighborhood project recommendations.
  • Oakland – the Department of Racial Equity has an explicit role in development, and CIP Working Group has a coordinator dedicated to community outreach.
  • San Diego – a Citizen’s Guide to Infrastructure lays out the entire process of developing their CIP.

2. We need to go beyond engagement to give community members an official role in the process.  

  • Minneapolis – since 2019, there has been a citizen-run CIP committee, made up of appointed citizen commissioners, two from each council district and a handful of mayoral appointees.
  • San Diego – is mandated by a City Council-approved policy to engage the community about the CIP.
  • San Antonio – hosts community bond committees for streets to allow for public input into project recommendations.

3. We need to build on existing plans and policies to create a long-term vision and to develop project lists for the CIP. 

Other cities have plans that are comprehensive and include robust community engagement. These plans typically inform the CIPs and project prioritization. 

4. We need to be intentional about engagement and coordination within City agencies and departments.

  • San Francisco Office of Resilience and Capital Planning. They have a Capital Planning Committee that meets monthly. 
  • DC, Oakland, Minneapolis, and San Diego have a version of an Infrastructure Cabinet that meets regularly. It typically consists of key department managers to increase coordination and information sharing. 
  • Other cities are implementing organizational tools to facilitate intragovernmental coordination:
    • Jersey City – new Department of Infrastructure includes engineering, architecture, transportation and more under one roof to ease cross-departmental project coordination.
    • Long Beach – implemented a Dig Once Policy, which places a moratorium on excavations of right-of-way that have been developed in any way within the previous 60 months, encouraging departments to coordinate about breaking ground on projects.

5. We need to fund desired outcomes. 

6. We need a process for prioritizing projects based on equity. 

  • Oakland – has a project prioritization scoring rubric (p.6) that lists equity as its highest point-getter, tied with the Health and Safety criteria. 
  • Philadelphia – identifies racial equity in its community engagement strategy.

7. We need a comprehensive inventory of assets, which includes state-of-good-repair and maintenance. 

  • This can be budgeted within the CIP or it can be a stand-alone budget plan.
  • Dallas – has an inventory of infrastructure needs mapped out across the city.
  • Eugene – includes this as “other costs associated with CIP projects.”
  • Vancouver, British Columbia – tracks the value of its assets in real dollars, and identifies the gap between their infrastructure needs and funding as an “infrastructure deficit.”

8. We need to include an Unfunded Strategic Plan, to provide a comprehensive view of need and priorities for future funding opportunities. 

  • Identifying unfunded needs could assist cities in pursuing regional, state and federal grant funding opportunities. Having shovel ready infrastructure projects increases readiness and agreement on future priorities.
  • Eugene and Long Beach both have an unfunded needs assessment.

9. We need to build in continuous updates and coordination with the City’s operating budget.

  • Typically, capital project proposals are separate from operating or general fund proposals and budget documents, though they are often on a similar timeline or they alternate every year if the city is doing multi-year budgeting. 
  • Sometime around November to February, departments are expected to submit capital project proposals to some version of the OMB and elected officials. This can take place every two years, and is often more of an update to or a revisiting of an existing CIP.

10. We need to include resilience investments to boost emergency preparedness and preparation for climate change.

  • Houston – integrates into the city’s CIP efforts and projects from rebuilding after Hurricane Harvey in 2017, and its subsequent 2020 Plan: Resilient Houston.
  • Miami – the Stormwater and Flood program is integrated into the city’s CIP. 


Additional Resources and What You Can Do to Help

This topic can be complicated, but it would be a huge benefit to our city if more people were familiar with it. So we are investing in resources that make budgeting and planning more understandable for all citizens. 

  1. What others are doing: See our growing list of research on CIPs from 30+ cities. 
  2. Fact sheet about CIPs: What is a Capital Infrastructure Plan (CIP)? And why does L.A. need one?
  3. How we do things in LA: Materials from previous Investing in Place workshops
    1. What is a CIP? 
    2. What is LA’s budgeting process (for public works and transportation)? 
    3. Who manages LA’s public right-of-way? 

In addition to this research, we are in the process of creating our own inventory of LA’s public right-of-way, and we are meeting with people who use the right-of-way and the people who manage the right-of-way – to learn about the needs and priorities throughout our city.

Contact us to:

  • Help us with the inventory
  • Invite us to speak to and listen to your organization
  • Connect us with your experts

Subscribe to our newsletter for updates and insights. 

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