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Get It Done’ App Great For Potholes—Sidewalks, Not So Much

A cracked sidewalk in Mission Hills is seen here patched with asphalt, April ...

Photo by Andi Dukleth

Above: A cracked sidewalk in Mission Hills is seen here patched with asphalt, April 2, 2019.

When Clint Daniels bought his Mission Hills home in 2006, the sidewalk was nice and smooth. But over the past five years, the growing roots of a jacaranda tree have started cracking and crumbling the pavement.

Daniels submitted a request to remove the tree and fix the broken sidewalk through the city's Get It Done app, which will turn three years old next month. Then nothing happened.

"At least from my experience, it kind of felt like a black hole," Daniels said. "So the data went in and then there was no acknowledgment or sort of feedback on where it was in the queue or when it might be addressed."

Nine months after his Get It Done report, Daniels contacted City Councilman Chris Ward's office. City crews later applied some asphalt to smooth out the damage. Daniels was told that because the tree caused the damage, the city would fully fund the sidewalk's replacement.

He still has no idea when that will happen.

A KPBS analysis of data from the Get It Done system shows the city fixes some problems, such as potholes or graffiti, relatively quickly. But other problems such as broken sidewalks, curbs or streetlights, often take several months—sometimes longer than a year—to get resolved.

The analysis used reports submitted through the end of 2018. It excluded reports with no location data or with coordinates outside the city of San Diego, as well as those referred to outside agencies such as Caltrans or SDG&E. It includes some reports that the city has not yet closed, and some issues may have been reported multiple times.

A chart shows the volume and average response times for various Get It Done request types.

Potholes are one of the most popular reasons to use Get It Done, with more than 40,000 pothole reports submitted through the end of last year. It took the city an average of 36 days to mark those reports "closed." The app logged more than 60,000 graffiti removal requests, with an average closure time of 33 days.

It took the city roughly three times as long—an average of 97 days—to close reports of burnt out street lights. Sidewalk repair issues were closed in an average of 185 days, while damaged curbs took an average of 363 days to be resolved.

The wide discrepancy in response times is partly explained by the complexity of the problems. Crews can fill a pothole or paint over graffiti in a matter of minutes, while sidewalk or curb repair can take weeks or months of planning. Fixing a broken street light may be as simple as replacing a light bulb, or it may be as complex as replacing underground wiring.

Daniels said the long backlog of sidewalk repair requests suggests the city is not doing everything it can to meet its Climate Action Plan goals of making the city more walkable.

"When things like a sidewalk go unrepaired, and we're trying to focus on improving walking and biking in the city, I think that says something about the priorities of where the city really is," Daniels said.

Reported by Andrew Bowen

RELATED: San Diego's Infrastructure Backlog Soars To $1.86 Billion

Alex Hempton, who oversees the Get It Done system in the city's Performance and Analytics Department, said response times may also vary because problems that pose a public safety risk take priority. Still, he acknowledged the city could do a better job communicating the complexity of a repair so residents can manage their expectations.

"If you have something that's been in review or in the system for a while, it would be nice to get some updates to know what's happening," Hempton said. "So we're always looking with Get It Done at the customer experience and how we can improve it."

Another major factor that determines how quickly issues get repaired is money. Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced last month he was tripling the number of pothole repair crews in the city and extending their hours after a winter of heavy rainfall left many streets in dismal shape. Faulconer encouraged residents to report potholes on their street through the Get It Done app.

Yet Faulconer's focus on road repair has come in part at the expense of other types of infrastructure. A February report from the city's Office of the Independent Budget Analyst noted that while the city's road repair needs are expected to be fully funded through the next five years, sidewalks will need an additional $125 million. Street lights will need an additional $202 million.

City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery, who has asked for additional sidewalk and street light funding for her southeastern San Diego district in the mayor's next budget, said most residents understand problems do not get fixed overnight. But she said historic inequities in how the city has developed mean her district—parts of which lack sidewalks all together—needs special attention.

Photo by Roland Lizarondo

City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery walks with KPBS reporter Andrew Bowen along a Paradise Hills street with no sidewalks, March 29, 2019.

"When you drive around our neighborhoods, with beautiful homes and beautiful people, you do not see the same amenities" as other parts of the city, she said. "That needs to be taken into consideration as we go into the budget season, that there may be more need here."

Montgomery added that the city should be more upfront with residents about where their Get It Done requests stand.

"The least we can do is communicate with those folks to let them know where their request is and really try to stick to the timelines that we give to people," she said.

While some Get It Done requests still take a long time to get resolved, the data also suggest the city is getting faster. The number of reports has gone up each year, but the city's overall average response time has gone down.

Hempton said the app has transformed how the city handles repair requests and how it interacts with residents, who used to have to navigate a confusing web of city department phone numbers and email addresses.

"It's one system now that nine different departments are using, so we're able to communicate across the city on the same platform," he said. "We also share all the data from Get It Done through our data portal, which has been pretty amazing in terms of transparency."

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San Diego's Get It Done app is nearly three years old, and has become a popular way for residents to report infrastructure repair needs. A KPBS analysis shows some problems are fixed fairly quickly, while others take months to get resolved.

Aired: April 9, 2019 | Transcript

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