San Diego is likely in a strong position to get millions in new federal money for the city’s sewage recycling system, wildfire prevention, broadband internet in low-income areas and many other infrastructure projects, officials said Monday.

City officials are analyzing which projects best meet the criteria of President Joe Biden’s Investment and Jobs Act, which will provide $1.2 trillion over the next decade for a wide variety of projects across the nation.

Because cities and other government agencies will be competing against each other for much of the money, officials said it’s crucial to have a comprehensive strategy that evaluates which city projects fit with which pools of federal money.

“We’re really trying to set up the mechanisms right now and do a lot of the preplanning so when these funds do go live in the next three to 12 months we are fully prepared and have done our homework on the front end,” said Walt Bishop, the city’s strategic advisor for federal affairs.

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“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help rebuild our infrastructure,” Bishop told the City Council. “We’re working to develop what projects we have that we view as being competitive.”

San Diego’s low-income neighborhoods are poised to benefit the most from the new federal money, because at least 40 percent of it must be spent in disadvantaged areas.

Councilmember Vivian Moreno, who represents several low-income areas in the South Bay, said the federal money could be San Diego’s chance to reverse decades of underfunding suffered by low-income areas.

“The city is going to have to be very effective and aggressive pursuing the funding,” she said. “The amount of money that’s going to become available for city infrastructure projects is staggering.”

Every city neighborhood is likely to benefit from much of the money, including $3.5 billion California is slated to get for water projects like replacing the old lead pipes that make up much of San Diego’s water system.

There is also money for road projects, transit, cybersecurity and climate projects, such as alleviating heat islands by planting more trees in urban areas that lack parks and greenspace.

“It is certainly exciting to see how many different buckets there are,” Councilmember Joe LaCava said.

But there are expected to be many more requests for funding than the amount available can cover, city officials told LaCava.

“I appreciate you managing expectations as well — it’s too easy to read the headlines and think ‘I’m going to bring my wheelbarrow and load up with all the money that’s going to be flowing,” LaCava said.

In addition to creating special city subcommittees to analyze the Biden bill and how future city projects would fit with it, Mayor Todd Gloria has also created an external working group with other regional agencies to coordinate local efforts.

“Where there’s opportunity for us to collaborate, we’re doing so,” Bishop told the council.

He said applying for some programs in a coordinated way could show unity and possibly help secure funding.

San Diego may also benefit from having local money to contribute as matching funds for some projects, said Bishop, explaining that many projects under the Biden bill will be funded at a rate of 80 percent federal and 20 percent local.

While the city’s independent budget analyst does not have a formal role in the process, a representative from that office said Monday that it plans to monitor the city’s efforts closely.

“We will continue to track this and also kind of do our own due diligence on possibilities,” said Jillian Kissee, a fiscal and policy analyst for the IBA.

Councilmember Marni von Wilpert said the city’s success at landing these federal contributions will significantly affect the local economy and job market.

“We have an incredible opportunity here to create local jobs and good jobs,” she said. “These jobs are going to be incredibly important revenue sources for so many families here in San Diego.”

The federal money covers some smaller programs that city officials say could make a difference locally. An example is $50 million for wildfire prevention projects like “slip-on tanker units” that can quickly convert vehicles into fire engines.

Mayor Gloria’s staff agreed Monday to update the council regularly on which federal funds the city has applied for and which money has been secured.

Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com

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