By Breeana Greenberg and C. Jayden Smith
Federal focus on infrastructure is heating up with the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the $1.2 trillion Build Back Better Act awaiting Senate approval. The bipartisan infrastructure bill could send funds to cities in South Orange County for projects as early as next year.
“We’re already in discussion with our friends in the different cities, San Clemente and Dana Point and so forth, about projects in their cities,” said Congressman Mike Levin, representative of California’s 49th District.
“I just had a chance to tour some of the projects with John Taylor in San Juan and also with Mayor (Kathy) Ward, and Councilman (Chris) Duncan, and some of the city staff in San Clemente,” Levin added. “So, I’m already getting a sense of what their needs are, and where we can work together, and that’s exactly what we’re going to try to do in months ahead.”
Duncan said on Monday, Dec. 6, that the council appreciated Levin’s efforts in securing funding for the San Clemente Shoreline Project, which will also protect the Los Angeles-San Diego-San Luis Obispo Rail Corridor (LOSSAN) that runs through the city.
“As I understand it, this is the closest we’ve gotten to actually getting the project going and funded and scheduled, so that we can actually get (the much-needed) sand for our beaches,” Duncan said.
According to Duncan, Levin included $9.36 million in the upcoming 2022 Congressional budget that could pass as soon as February of next year. That money would pay for the initial costs of dredging and delivering sand to the beaches, the biggest part of the project.
In the meantime, as the budget has been delayed in Congress, Duncan added that the city would appreciate some of the $200 million allocated within the infrastructure bill toward shoreline protection.
“We don’t care where the money comes from on the federal side,” he said. “Given that that bill has already passed and the money’s already there, we would welcome our project being included in those monies.”
Additionally, San Clemente would be required to provide $1.9 million on its own, and the hope is that the state will help the city with that spending.
The Shoreline Project, otherwise known as the San Clemente Sand Replenishment Project, will combat the erosion in areas such as Cyprus Shores and protect the LOSSAN tracks by adding sand to act as a natural cushion.
With the lack of sand in Cyprus Shores, for example, the ocean is not deterred from weakening the bluff’s base and allowing the weight to come down. This created a pressing need to preserve that beach.
“Our main purpose of this is to ensure that we have sandy beaches for people to enjoy, for visitors to enjoy,” Duncan said. “Our local economy is completely intertwined with our beaches and beach access, and so we need to make sure that our beaches are sustained. … That’s our No. 1 objective.”
From a federal standpoint, protecting the LOSSAN corridor is important to keep commuter trains, strategic movement for Camp Pendleton and the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and other lines carrying cargo running smoothly.
There is no timeline for when the project could eventually start, as numerous difficulties remain in terms of securing funding from the Army Corps of Engineers and getting the dredging equipment to the correct location, but Duncan said the earliest start date could be in late 2022 or 2023.
The City Council has also identified other projects around San Clemente that they could work on with federal funding, such as rehabilitating the T-Street Bridge, the Mariposa Bridge, and the pier.
They will be competing with other cities for the infrastructure money, but Duncan sees a significant benefit in having the opportunity to receive support that the city would not have otherwise.
“All we can do is try our best and explain the need that the city has and the great benefit that will result,” Duncan said. “And then, we leave it to Congress and the federal government to determine how the money is allotted.”
Also included in the infrastructure bill is $7.5 billion to start a new program at the Department of Transportation to help build 500,000 electric vehicle chargers.
“I’ve had a conversation since then with Secretary (of Transportation Pete) Buttigieg about making sure that in our region, which has very high per capita adoption of electric vehicles, that we get our fair share of that infrastructure bill in Southern California,” Levin said. “I really want to make sure that everyone that is going out to look for a car can, No. 1, they can afford an electric car, and No. 2, they don’t have any reluctance based on fuel.”
The infrastructure bill aims to create a future where people can drive their electric vehicles from Southern California to New York, charging along the way with “competitive cost and competitive timing and convenience as going to the gas station,” Levin said.
The Build Back Better Act—a companion bill to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—passed in the House of Representatives on Nov. 19.
Build Back Better proposes to address the recent oil spill with a ban on new drilling off the Southern California coast, as well as the climate crisis by offering tax incentives for electric vehicles and renewable energy projects.
Levin added that the variety of climate-related provisions in the Build Back Better Act will help the U.S. reach its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade.
“I’m excited about the variety of climate-related provisions in there. It would be the single biggest investment in climate in the history of the United States, about half a trillion dollars in investment,” Levin said. “And it’ll help us also meet our emissions goals that are important not only domestically, but internationally as well.”
The Build Back Better Act has tax incentives up to $12,500 for new electric vehicles and $2,500 for used electric vehicles to encourage more Americans to purchase electric cars.
“I’m excited about this acceleration to a whole new zero-emission transportation future,” Levin said. “And I’m really excited California, specifically OC, is a big part of it.”
The Build Back Better Act also aims to make solar panels more affordable and accessible by offering tax cuts to utility and residential renewable energy projects.
“It is really important that we reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the board, from the type of way we generate electricity, whether it be in a commercial or residential capacity, to the type of big utility scale power plants that are built and are used,” Levin said.
“We have to dramatically reduce emissions. So, rooftop solar is a clear piece of the puzzle,” he added. “And I want to make it as easy as possible for people to be able to make those decisions, whether on their business or on the rooftop of their residence.”
Local solar installers could stand to gain more customers if the bill passes, according to Tyler Boden, who owns a consulting firm called Boden Energy Solutions.
Currently, the federal tax credit for solar is 26%, which means the federal government will give a person a 26% tax credit on their tax liability for that year for however much they spent on a solar project. The rate is scheduled to continue through 2022 and then drop to 22% in 2023, before further dropping to 10% in the future.
“If this bill passes, the language in the bill suggests that it would increase to 30% until the end of 2026, would go up like 4% from where it is now, which is no small amount,” Boden said.
The federal government is also looking to expand access to low-income communities by adding more tax credits on top of the 30% figure, thus increasing the potential consumer base for installers.
However, a looming struggle within California regarding a possible new net energy metering agreement could negatively impact both consumers and businesses.
Boden said the California Public Utilities Commission will decide in January the terms of the new agreement, which could significantly raise energy costs for users.
While the bill would improve sentiments for solar usage on a national scale, it appears that the statewide developments could quickly turn local consumers in the other direction.
The Build Back Better Act also aims to increase the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction that was capped at $10,000 per household by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The Build Back Better Act would increase the SALT deduction cap to $80,000 through 2030.
Prior to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, “it used to be that you could deduct the entirety of your state and local tax bill,” Levin said. “In South Orange County, our property expenses are high, our property taxes are high as well. And what happened in 2017 is the cap of $10,000 hurt a lot of people in the working class, not über-wealthy people, but our teachers, our nurses, our firefighters, our police officers. These are people who are homeowners.”
Levin added that many South Orange County residents’ property taxes often exceed the $10,000 cap. Levin added that increasing the SALT cap will help middle-class families who were affected by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law on Nov. 15. The Build Back Better Act passed in the House on Nov. 19, and now faces Senate scrutiny.
Levin said that with last month’s passage of the infrastructure bill, the Orange County Transit Authority and Army Corps of Engineers will likely see funds for local projects early next year.
“The bipartisan infrastructure bill that has already become law, those funds will be available very soon, I would imagine,” Levin said. “We’re talking months, not years, so to speak.”
Breeana Greenberg is the city reporter for the Dana Point Times. She graduated from Chapman University with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Before joining Picket Fence Media, she worked as a freelance reporter with the Laguna Beach Independent. Breeana can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.