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San Diego aims to crack down on street damage from utility trenching

The San Diego City Council on Monday approved an update to the city's street preservation ordinance that officials say will help crack down on damage left over from utility trenching.

Under the new rules, companies will have to pay significantly higher fees to dig in the public right-of-way. They'll also have to follow tighter timelines when using temporary asphalt trenches, which can provide easier access to the utility company but, when left for too long, can sink and cause uneven pavement.

"Nothing is more frustrating to our constituents when they see a nicely repaved street, even if it's just within recent years, get torn up and then improperly restored — or when a temporary trench gets left for months and months on end," said Councilmember Kent Lee.


The rules apply to private utilities such as SDG&E, AT&T and Cox as well as the city's own Public Utilities Department, which manages underground water and wastewater pipelines.

Mayor Todd Gloria said in a statement that the ordinance's approval would mean "our roads will receive full and timely restoration, as well as full cost recovery to protect taxpayers from picking up the tab."

But a report from the city's Independent Budget Analyst's office noted that even under the current system, city staff often struggle to keep up with proactive enforcement measures. Absent additional staffing, the Transportation Department may have to de-prioritize enforcement of other city laws to ensure the street preservation ordinance is properly followed.

"For us to be in the position to pass the ordinance but not necessarily have the backup staff is concerning for me," said Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe. "I just want to be able to manage the expectations of the public."