Any Fullerton resident will say one of the biggest issues they face is the deteriorating road conditions throughout the city.

For years, people have consistently demanded Fullerton City Council members fix the roads that have rough asphalt and potholes – some residents have even said they routinely need alignment work done on their cars.

Now with the help of additional one-time COVID bailout dollars, some of those streets are finally going to get the makeover residents have advocated for.

“I spoke to the city council about 20 years ago on the same subject and at the time, the city was already delinquent in dealing with some of these issues about 17 years. So this is really a good moment for us,” said Resident Rodney Lush, at a council meeting in August.

Multiple potholes at the intersection of Orangethrope Avenue and Pomona Avenue in Fullerton on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. Credit: Zia Bella Blair

At that meeting, Fullerton City Council members unanimously approved repairs for several different streets in the central and eastern part of the city for the 2022-23 fiscal year.

According to a powerpoint presentation given to the city council, Fullerton’s allocated $11.8 million to fix roads this fiscal year. Much of that – $5.5 million comes from the one-time federal COVID bailout package. 

One councilman acknowledged the city’s failure to maintain its roads over the years.

“The city has shortchanged our infrastructure over many, many years,” said Councilman Bruce Whitaker at the August 16 city council meeting. “We’re all grappling with these problems, which predates so much.” 

Repairs will take place on sections of Bradford Avenue, Highland Avenue, Pomona Avenue, Morelia Avenue, Knepp Avenue, Rolling Hills Drive as well as the Serrano-Yermo-Via Caliente area.

Click here to see a staff report on the repairs.

Construction near the intersection of Orangethorpe Avenue and State College Boulevard in Fullerton on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. Credit: Zia Bella Blair

David Grantham, a city principal civil engineer, said at the August 16 city council meeting that while some people will be happy with the streets chosen, other residents will be upset that streets in the neighborhood weren’t selected.

“There is a method to my madness,” he said. “I wanted to pick streets to be as equitable as I can throughout the city, which is what we try to do every year.”

Several residents came out to the meeting to speak on street repairs.

Jeanene Donnelly, who lives in theMeredith Manor residential community and serves on their board of directors, said Fullerton has for years distributed road repair money unevenly throughout the city.

“I’m very sad that it came to this – where we have to beg the city council to repave our street that has deep cracks (and is) crumbling into bits (puting) residents, contractors, visitors in jeopardy of falling down and hurting themselves. We are taxpayers in the city,” she said, supporting Pomona Avenue repairs.

Donnelly also noted that an elderly resident and a girl have fallen because of the large cracks and she herself almost fell.

Other Meredith Manor residents echoed similar concerns and called for the alleyway near their home to be repaved.

“The alleyways have also been, actually, to some extent there, they’re just as bad or worse than the street itself. In fact, the asphalt is deteriorating at such a rate, that it’s not only getting holes, but it’s turning into a gravel road instead of a paved road,” said resident Lush.

The alleys will not yet be a part of the repairs, although Grantham said his preference was to include the alleys and there was an effort by Councilman Ahmed Zahra to include those alleys in the repairs.

“Those alleyways are really so bad that there’s a liability issue for us because of the residents who live there and I’d like us to just complete that section of our city and move on,” Zahra said, calling for the alleyways to be added to the repairs.

Councilman Jesus Silva spoke against steering money away from other streets and to the alleys that are only used by those residents.

“Our streets are in terrible shape, no doubt about it,” Silva said. “I would rather put money in where we’re going to be able to fix a street that has public access.”

A large pothole on Washington Avenue in Fullerton on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. Credit: Zia Bella Blair

The contracts for the repairs will come back to the council for a vote at which time officials can reconsider including the alleyways, Grantham said.

Other funding for the street repairs comes from the state gas tax, grants and other pockets of money allocated for street improvements in the Capital improvement program budget each year.

Meanwhile, Fullerton’s budget has been in a freefall since the pandemic hit.

Back in December, council members voted to cut spending by 2.5%, keep some city positions vacant and steer $12 million of the federal bailout money towards backfilling lost tax revenue.

[Read: Fullerton City Council Cuts Spending, Uses Federal Bailout Money to Backfill Lost Revenue]

Some of the money for the repairs is coming from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a federal bailout bill that sent $350 billion dollars to state, county, local, territorial and tribal governments to help address the financial impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

[Read: Here’s How Orange County’s 3 Biggest Cities Spent Their Latest COVID Bailout Money]

Fullerton received nearly $33 million as part of their ARPA share and allocated about $13 million  over the span of three fiscal years for street repairs – $2.1 million last year, $5.5 million this year and $5.5 million next year, according to a staff powerpoint.

Whitaker said the reason the city is able to make improvements to residential streets is because of the ARPA money.

“It’s really good to see us making a little bit of headway in these areas,” he said. “We need to accelerate it.”

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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