An unpaved section of road is seen on Brant Street in San Diego, where workers paved around a car that was parked rather than towing it, July 31, 2019.
An unpaved section of road is seen on Brant Street in San Diego, where workers paved around a car that was parked rather than towing it, July 31, 2019. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

Drivers heading north or south on Brant Street in San Diego’s Bankers Hill neighborhood could see something wasn’t right. The newly paved road, a smooth black surface free of the city’s notorious potholes and cracks, had a Jeep-sized hole.

The hole was that big for a reason. When a city contractor paved the street in July, a Navy pilot who parked his Jeep there was away in Virginia for work. Instead of towing the SUV or waiting until it could be moved, workers paved around it.

The result: a 3-inch dip in a sizable chunk of the pavement.

Brendan McGinnis, the Jeep’s owner, said the spot was “an eyesore for a while.”

In fact, it took three weeks before city contractor Ortiz Corp. of National City came back to fill the hole. It took the persistence of neighbor Donna Garcia to get that and other paving problems fixed in the area.

“I think all the homeowners in this area — as do all homeowners in San Diego — pay enough city taxes to have the resources to be able to finish a paving project,” said Garcia, who lives on Brant Street.

Garcia said she peppered the contractor and city officials with emails and phone calls to get the paving problems resolved. Two city engineers and a representative from Ortiz eventually came to Bankers Hill to meet with the neighbors and hear their concerns. Garcia also used a neighborhood email list to keep residents in the loop about the efforts.

Complaints about paving problems and street repairs in San Diego are far from rare. inewsource reviewed a sampling of pavement repair issues reported to the city’s Get It Done app, and it showed at least 50 complaints about street and alley repairs over a six-month period from May through October. Many people cited frustrations over repeat repairs and problematic patch work.

Get It Done pavement repair reports

A sampling of problems reported to San Diego’s Get It Done app for a recent six-month period:

“This area was recently repaired. The repair has sunk nearly 6 inches and is a serious hazard as it makes my car change course and can damage cars as it is a significant depression. Please fix.” — Clairemont, Aug. 17, 2019

“Street was dug up and when the asphalt was put back in it was just dumped. Needs to be smoothed out. This is the entrance to our community and is a horrible first impression.” — Mission Valley, Aug. 2, 2019

“Previously filled pot hole is swelling and creating a giant lump of dirt and asphalt in the middle of the alley. Please make a permanent fix!” — City Heights, July 18, 2019

“Deep dip needs repair. Most cars will bottom out. Past repairs are sloppy and may have made the dip deeper.” — North Park, July 15, 2019

“Will the asphalt job be fixed? It went around two cars and is crooked further up.” — Southeastern San Diego, July 1, 2019

A spokesman for the city’s Public Works Department acknowledged problems like the one on Brant Street do happen “on occasion.”

A string of faulty pavement repairs earlier this year drew criticism from Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who has made fixing the city’s crumbling streets a top priority. Faulconer has touted recent progress — a city news release from March cited San Diego’s “record pace for road repair.”

The city fixed 273 miles of streets last fiscal year using a mix of remedies including overlay, slurry and concrete, and repaired close to 49,000 potholes, according to numbers provided by the Mayor’s Office. That’s up significantly since Faulconer was sworn in as mayor in March 2014.

Paving around the problem

Ortiz Corp.’s decision to pave around McGinnis’ Jeep left a giant reminder to residents of the unfinished work in Bankers Hill.

Their streets had been torn up for months as part of a city project to replace aging water and sewer lines. Ortiz had been awarded a $4.3 million contract to do that work as well as repave the streets.

Here’s how McGinnis’ SUV avoided being towed and why the contractor had to later patch the parking space — a remedy that one expert said could prove problematic if it wasn’t done properly.

The Navy pilot said he left his Jeep parked on Brant Street when he departed for a weeklong work trip to Norfolk, Virginia. He had taken his keys with him, so the roommates he shares a house with were unable to move his SUV when Ortiz notified residents about the paving project.

McGinnis said he called the contractor and got a reprieve. The company said it wouldn’t tow his vehicle and would come back later to patch the spot.

Neighbor Garcia said a vacationing couple who live on Spruce Street weren’t as lucky as McGinnis. Their Porsche was towed.

“It was really, really absurd,” Garcia said.

She said a neighbor had called the city saying the Porsche owners would be back in time to move their car. But the call didn’t help. The car was towed anyway — a day before the repaving happened.

Garcia said the owners told her it cost them about $1,000 to get their car out of the tow yard and to deal with damage done to the vehicle.

When it came to deciding which cars to tow, Garcia said, there “seemed like a little bit of a discombobulated standard.”

Alec Phillipp, a Public Works Department spokesman, said city contractors decide when to tow vehicles that get in the way of a city project.

Jose Ortiz, operations manager for Ortiz Corp., said in the case of McGinnis’ Jeep, it was a “business decision” to not tow the SUV and fill in the hole later. He said workers were already scheduled to return to the area at a future time to do more paving work, so it made sense.

Phillipp said the contractor didn’t charge the city extra to patch the hole.

As for the Porsche, Ortiz said he looked into it after being contacted by inewsource and determined that a subcontractor erred in towing the car. He said last week that he’d ask the company to reimburse the couple.

Will the patch last?

Whatever the contractor’s logic was in paving around the Jeep and patching the hole later, it could take years to know if it will hold, said John Harvey, a pavement engineer and director of the UC Davis Pavement Research Center.

If the contractor did “a very good job” patching the pavement, then it’s “probably not that much of an issue,” Harvey said.

But if the asphalt wasn’t compacted correctly, cracks and other problems eventually could occur, Harvey said. Those issues, he said, “will show up long after the contract is closed and the contractor has no more responsibility.”

Harvey said city officials have the responsibility “to make sure that the contractor is giving them the quality that is in the contract.”

As for Garcia, the neighbor who helped organize to get the Jeep-sized pavement patch fixed, she said she was ultimately pleased.

“As most people probably have experienced, getting anything done or changed or altered through a city of San Diego process can take a lengthy period of time,” she said.

But Garcia said she felt city staffers heard her neighbors’ complaints, and she was thankful the lead city engineer on the project was “willing to go to bat for us.”

Update: Dec. 9, 2019
Following inewsource’s reporting about problems with this Bankers Hill paving project, Ortiz Corp. reimbursed the owners of a Porsche that was towed during the work. The owners received about $500 for the impound fee and a ticket they received.

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Natallie Rocha was a reporting intern at inewsource. To contact her with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email natallierocha [at] inewsource [dot] org.

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Mary PlummerAudience Engagement Editor

Mary Plummer is a former editor and investigative reporter for inewsource. Her reporting has ranged from major breaking news, such as covering some of California’s deadliest wildfires and mass shootings, to intensive beat reporting. Her investigations have uncovered failings in the state prison...