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

 April 9, 2019 at 10:25 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Next month, San Diego's get it done. APP will turn three years old. The App let's residents report a host of problems including potholes, graffiti, broken sidewalks, and burnt out streetlights. Kpbs Metro reporter Andrew Bowen says it's given city officials a clearer picture of each neighborhood's infrastructure needs, but some problems still take a long time to fix. So when I bought the house, the sidewalk was a nice and flat and all put together. Clint Daniels is a homeowner in mission hills, uh, and over the last maybe five or six years, the sidewalk is generally started to bow a little bit, getting gradually worse and worse because of the Jacaranda tree roots. Daniel's reported the problem on the get it done app a little over a year ago. Then nothing happened. At least from my experience, it kind of felt like a black hole so that the data went in and then there was no acknowledgement or sort of feedback on where it was in the queue or you know, when it might be addressed. Speaker 1: 00:55 Eventually Daniel's connected with city councilman Chris Ward's office. City crews later added some asphalt to smooth out the damage and Daniels was told the city will replace the sidewalk, but he's still has no idea when another possible more graffiti, a broken street light. So what is the secret to getting these things repaired in her neighborhood? They get it done. App premiered and May, 2016 this is from a city informational video. Just take a photo and upload it to San Diego's. Get it done. Smartphone APP or web with just a few taps should report will be on its way. Since the APPS launched, the city has taken in more than 440,000 requests for tree trimming, missed trash pickups and everything in between. Uh, KPBS analysis of the ABS data through the end of last year found on average potholes and graffiti get fixed in just about a month. And Response Times have improved over the years, but other problems, broken streetlights, sidewalks are curbs can take several months, sometimes more than a year. Speaker 1: 01:53 The city of San Diego has about 372 square miles of area, so there's a lot of space to cover. Alex Hampton is on the team that manages that get it done system. He says some requests take longer because the city might have to get environmental permits or issue construction contracts. A broken street light may just need a new light bulb or a could. Neat new underground wiring. Hampton says the APP is a work in progress. You know, if you have something that's been in review are in the system for a while, it'd be nice to get some updates to know what's happening. So we're always looking, uh, with get it done up. The customer experience and how we can improve it. Requests are also prioritized. Those that pose a public safety issue get to jump the line. Hampton says even if some requests take a while to get it done, system has transformed how residents interact with the city. Speaker 1: 02:42 It's one system now that nine different departments are using. So we're able to communicate across the city on the same platform. Uh, we also share all the data from getting it done through our data portal, which has been pretty amazing in terms of transparency and the way that we sort of marketed this is not doing are people justice, but those who try to use it when it comes to sidewalk problems, city council woman, Monica Montgomery has more than her share. We meet in a part of Paradise Hills that has no sidewalks at all. As you talk to constituents, he will see that this has been a priority for decades. Montgomery says most residents understand problems don't get fixed overnight. The issue is we don't want things that are reported in the get it done app to fall through sort of a black hole. We want to be able to communicate with the people that use that because we've pushed the app out so much and we want with the least we can do is to communicate with those folks, to let them know where their their request is and really try to stick to the timelines that we give to people. Speaker 1: 03:46 Clint, Daniel's sees another problem. Money. The city needs an extra $125 million over the next five years just to get it sidewalks back into good shape. When things like a sidewalk go unrepaired and we're trying to focus on, you know, improving walking and biking in the city, then we need to ensure that we're also prioritizing beyond just the words we're prioritizing where the money is spent to solve problems and help people get around without having to drive their car. The city's money problems are not going away. Later this week, may or Kevin Faulkner is scheduled to release his proposed budget for the next fiscal year. He's expected to have to close a deficit of more than $73 million. Joining me is KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew, well, thanks Maureen. After you download the get it done app, what kinds of problems can you report to this city? Well, the APP started with the basics like potholes, graffiti, et cetera. Speaker 1: 04:42 It's gone through a couple of expansions and now you can report everything from stormwater violations like overwatering or illegal discharge of hazardous waste. You can even schedule appointments to get a passport or to pick up hazardous waste from the city's environmental services department. How were these complaints handled before the introduction of the APP? The city had a number of phone numbers to call, email addresses that you could report problems too. And it wasn't always clear which number or email to use, so you could end up getting referred from department to Department. The future expansions, uh, of the APP are a plan to actually report new things like illegally parked the scooters. For example, one thing that the APP has done is really lowered the barrier to reporting problems and the results is that the city has just gotten in a lot more a repair requests and it has a better picture of where problems are, even if they can't necessarily fix them in a timely manner. Speaker 1: 05:32 Are Pot holes one of the city's priorities? Because I've seen some of these rain caused potholes this year filled in pretty quickly. Yeah. So the mayor actually just last month announced that he was tripling the number of pothole repair crews and extending their hours. Um, because we got a lot of, uh, you know, new potholes because of the heavy rains this winter. I'm there one of the most popular service or service requests through get it done. It's something that people also get really upset about. So, um, you know, they're passionate about it. I think what our analysis has shown is that the focus on pothole repair has come to an extent at the expense of other service request types that might be less popular but are also, you know, aligned with the city's goals of creating a more walkable environment. Um, broken sidewalks can are unpleasant and they could be a trip hazard. Speaker 1: 06:18 Burnt out street lights can be a public safety issue, you know, tree branches, blocking walkways or bikeways could be a safety or accessibility issue as well. So the potholes are taking precedence over these other issues that people have to deal with. Some things are handled by different departments, so it's hard to kind of compare apples to oranges. But you know, the city says that they prioritize issues that pose a public safety concern. Just some anecdotal experience on my end. I've, uh, I biked to work this morning, uh, of Montezuma road, uh, to an arterial road, really high traffic volumes in high vehicle speeds and there's a tree branches that are often encroaching into the bike lane. So I have to kind of ride into the traveling to avoid it. That's a public safety issue and I've reported this probably a dozen times and sometimes it's fixed, sometimes it's not. Speaker 1: 07:04 So I think that the city could probably do a better job at assessing whether something really poses a public safety issue. Is it the city's goal to make this app more interactive by way of letting citizens know how their complaints are being handled? Yeah, I think the APP administrators would like to give more specific communication to the users about the timelines, for example. So, and also what work was done to fix it right now, um, when crews go out to paint over graffiti or to remove graffiti, they take a before and an after photo and that allows the user to see, oh, okay, great. My, my problem is actually fixed. One thing that I heard from Clint Daniels, I'm the homeowner with the broken sidewalk, is that, you know, he says if the problem's not going to be fixed anytime soon, just be honest about that. Speaker 1: 07:46 Say it's not a priority. Say the city has a long backlog of other problems to fix and given our budget constraints in our limited staff capacity, we just can't afford a new sidewalk here right now. And your, did you get a sense about what the overall assessment is of how well the get it done APP is working for the city? I think it's good at coordinating efforts behind the scenes between departments. It's good at allowing people to report problems, but the underlying issue here is that the city has a chronic budget deficit. It's got an infrastructure backlog of nearly $2 billion and there's simply no app that can fix that. I've been speaking with Kpbs Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew, thanks. Thanks Maureen. And you're listening to KPBS mid day edition.

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.