As President Trump prepares to release his principles for an infrastructure package — and as Congress develops their own list of priorities — city leaders know that our communities need strong investment in all areas of infrastructure to remain competitive in the modern economy. America’s cities are already working towards creating that future, and look forward to a federal-local partnership that truly matches local needs.
Last week, the National League of Cities (NLC) released its set of guiding principles for infrastructure investment, which address the needs in water, broadband, workforce and transportation.
In an effort to highlight how these principles translate locally, and to raise awareness for local need, NLC will be partnering with cities across the country this year to call attention to our nation’s infrastructure crisis and its corresponding workforce needs. The first of these events was held in San Francisco.
On Wednesday, January 24, NLC held a press conference together with League of California Cities and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) calling on Congress to prioritize investments in aging water infrastructure and workforce development. The event highlighted the need for Congress to partner with cities by providing access to low-interest financing for infrastructure projects and by creating federal programs to train the next generation of the water workforce.
Representing NLC and the League of California Cities, Rich Garbarino, Councilmember from South San Francisco and president of the League of California Cities, said, “When we invest in infrastructure, we invest in our future. Congress must develop an infrastructure proposal that addresses the issues cities face today. From storm water management, to the impacts of climate change on our infrastructure, and rate affordability, this will pay dividends for the long-term for our economy and our communities.”
Derek Williams, Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 261 member and SFPUC construction worker, shared his personal story about his career in the water utility sector. A formerly incarcerated individual, Derek credits the training and job opportunities provided to him through SFPUC’s Sewer System Improvement Program (SSIP), a 20-year, multi-billion dollar upgrade of San Francisco’s aging wastewater infrastructure, as providing him a “second chance at a first-class life.” The SSIP provides a range of job opportunities, including entry-level opportunities for community members to access careers in the construction trades. These jobs provide family-sustaining wages and benefits.
The Sewer System Improvement Program is divided into three overlapping phases to maintain affordability. Phase 1, currently underway, is a $2.9 billion investment in 70 projects across the city, including upgrades to the pipes and treatment plants for reliability, resiliency and regulatory compliance, and green infrastructure investments in innovative stormwater management tools that not only reduce impacts to the system, but help beautify neighborhoods.
In addition to local financing through municipal bonds, these projects are funded through the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, as well as potential future funding from the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA). These federal programs are essential to helping cities meet their water infrastructure needs, which in California alone tops nearly $100 billion over 10 years, according to the League of California Cities.
Any investment in infrastructure must create good-paying jobs and fund workforce training. A key example of this is new legislation, S. 2346, from U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), which NLC supports, to tackle workforce training and development issues by creating a competitive grant program for water workforce development. Similar federal programs exist for several other sectors, but not in water.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, over 30 percent of the water workforce will be eligible for retirement within the next five years. At the SFPUC, two-thirds of employees will be eligible for retirement in the next 10 years. This is of particular concern for mission-critical jobs, such as the skilled trades, because utility operations rely on those qualified staff around the clock.
Additionally, across six counties in the Bay Area, more than 800 staff will be hired in the next 3-5 years to fulfill the job needs of the SFPUC capital improvement projects. For the Bay Area, this constitutes a rare job training and partnership opportunity with community colleges and non-profits to help struggling job seekers access family-sustaining employment. Baywork and the Jewish Vocational Service teamed up to conduct research analysis and recommendations for creating different career pathways into the water and wastewater sector.
As was highlighted in San Francisco last week, city leaders are in the best position to determine the infrastructure investments in their communities. Cities are leading the way in building intermodal, sustainable and interconnected infrastructure networks that support a modern economy. Congress must invest in cities’ vision to rebuild and reimagine America’s infrastructure.
About the Authors: Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman is the Program Director for Human Development at the National League of Cities. Follow Stephanie on Twitter @martinezruckman.
Carolyn Berndt is the program director for infrastructure and sustainability on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. She leads NLC’s advocacy, regulatory and policy efforts on energy and environmental issues, including water infrastructure and financing, air and water quality, climate change and energy efficiency. Follow Carolyn on Twitter at @BerndtCarolyn.