Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Councilman David Alvarez reconfirmed their commitment to laying down a sidewalk in Otay Mesa on Thursday.
“Because kids should have sidewalks to walk to school on and as I’ve talked about many times, when it comes to infrastructure, that’s an area where there is absolute agreement on this council,” said Faulconer, who took office four days ago.
City officials said last year that construction was set to begin this spring on a project that includes a sidewalk for San Ysidro High students. Students currently walk to school on a skinny dirt path wedged between a steep canyon and the busy Otay Mesa Road.
Funding for the project hit a snag with the delay of the Otay Mesa Community Plan Update, which is now set to be approved on Tuesday. But many months after promising our media partner, Voice of San Diego, that funding for the full $8.5 million price tag was secured, it appears the city is no closer to breaking ground than it has been for the past 12 years.
Alvarez said Thursday he wasn’t even sure if design plans for the project were complete or not, even though that portion of the work has been funded for some time. Messages left with the company hired to design the project were not returned Thursday.
“What I’ve been doing is making a lot of noise, making sure this project gets done, trying to hold people accountable, trying to find the money to make it possible,” Alvarez said. “And what we’re going to do next week, with the approval of the Otay Mesa Community Plan, which will reprioritize this project to make sure it’s the top priority.”
City officials now say the timeline has been pushed back to construction beginning next fall.
Funding for $2 million of the $8.5 million project depends on money that will only be available once the facilities financing plan is passed along with the community plan update. But it remains unclear how the brief delay in the community plan update pushed the project back another six months.
This isn’t the first time the project has been delayed. Residents have been promised a sidewalk for kids since 2002.
“There has been expectation management that has not been fulfilled for the city on that,” Faulconer said. “I’m going to be very clear about changing that and being very upfront and direct about when projects are going to happen and when they’re not.”
San Ysidro High School Principal Hector Espinoza has been raising concerns about the dangerous conditions of the path to school since before the high school was built.
Emails to Espinoza from state Senator Ben Hueso, then a council member, say 'considerable progress' had been made, but "government does move slowly."
That was 2007.
Multiple times since then, the city has said the sidewalk would be in place by 2010 or 2011. In 2011, it was promised construction would begin April 2013.
Hueso’s office said when he left the District 8 council office, the project was ready to be completed.
Alvarez responded to a question about whether his office did not act strongly enough to push the project forward after he took over the district:
“Absolutely not. This has been a top priority from the very beginning," Alvarez said. "In fact, it was not set up to be completed. The plan update did not exist. Maybe it was on its way to getting to completion, but clearly not, it’s been three years.”.
The scope of the project includes more than just a sidewalk. Engineers will widen the street by 10 feet and straighten some of the sharp curves on Otay Mesa Road to make it safer for drivers and pedestrians. The project also includes a bike lane.
In the meantime, the Sweetwater Union High School District officials have taken action to make the situation safer for kids. The district provides free school bus passes to students who would otherwise have to walk that path.
District spokesman Manuel Rubio says the cost to the district for providing the free bus service is significant, estimated at $725,000 per year. Sweetwater buses make 25 trips a day to San Ysidro High School, by far the most of any school in the district.