Pinch of Salt Graphic (English)

Preventative maintenance — that sounds good, doesn't it?

Don't pay attention to maintaining what you have, and pretty soon — relatively speaking — you won't have it anymore. Ignore the car's oil change, or worse, the check engine light, and you'll be buying another car sooner rather than later.

What brought this topic to the front of my little brain was the tour of the sparkling new City Hall. It's being built within a few hundred feet of the old City Hall, which will be all of 42 years old when it is vacated and demolished.

Part of the reason for building a new workplace for our beloved city employees and elected folk was more stringent earthquake regulations today. But the bigger issue was the basic deterioration of the building and its systems.

It was determined it would cost more to fix it than it was worth. Sounds like the last eight or 10 of my cars.

That's because of another great phase — deferred maintenance. It means what it says — putting maintenance off. The supposition is that you're going to get back to it sometime soon.

Only we never do.

Deferring maintenance is the number one way to balance a budget that's just a little out of whack. If something looks like it can last another year, then we'll make it do just that so we can pay for something else.

It happens at every level. Our federal government is pretending they will agree this year to put big bucks into repairing or replacing much of the nation's infrastructure — because they haven't spent anything on it for a couple of decades. The state has dribbled out some money to fix highways and the like, but the talk now is to find a way to get more tax revenue to try to get ahead of the pavement deterioration curve.

Monday, a chunk of Pacific Coast Highway disappeared into a sinkhole, closing southbound lanes. I'm not saying deferred maintenance was the cause for the sinkhole, but I'm not not saying it either.

A few years ago, Long Beach voters passed a sales tax designed to help the city catch up on some of its deferred maintenance, and I'll admit there has been a lot of necessary work done. Still, there's plenty more to do. And you have to catch up on all the stuff you've deferred before you can even think about preventative maintenance.

I've got to stop and brag a bit here about one of our city departments. Long Beach Water has had a pipeline replacement program in place for a few decades now. It was started long before I had anything to do with the department; I'll just say we've managed to continue that policy to the present, and plan to keep it in the future. 

The result is that Long Beach suffers the fewest water pipeline breaks of any utility in Southern California. Preventative maintenance works.

So it's clear I understand the concept. So why don't I apply the principle in my own life?

Most of my 1950s era house has the same infrastructure that it had when I moved in 19 years ago. A few new kitchen appliances have appeared, but the big stuff — roof, water heater, furnace, etc. — hasn't been touched.

I plead poverty. I spend money on other things I deem essential. Things like college for family members, weddings, airline tickets, theater tickets, gala tickets — you get the picture. 

I know, my priorities are out of whack. I make budgets and resolve to stick to them three or four times a year.

But then something comes up, like a grandchild's birthday. That's something that can't be deferred, right? It's certainly not something I can or want to prevent.

So I'll get back to putting money away for a new roof next week. We live in Southern California, you know.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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