Dig This: Utility Undergrounding Curbs Proposed to Save Street Fixes

Proposed plan also calls for excavation fee hikes

By Gene Cubbison
|  Wednesday, Jul 11, 2012  |  Updated 10:47 PM PDT
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Solutions to a frustrating aspect of San Diego's pothole problems are now on the table at City Hall.

Solutions to a frustrating aspect of San Diego's pothole problems are now on the table at City Hall.

Solutions to a frustrating aspect of San Diego's pothole problems are now on the table at City Hall.

Officials are moving to keep streets from being dug up not long after they've been fixed.

With the city finally investing tens of millions of dollars in street upgrades, it doesn't want to see all those improvements soon give way to underground utility projects.

So Mayor Jerry Sanders’ office is pushing a host of changes to San Diego's excavation ordinance, branding them as the “Street Preservation Ordinance”.

The measure, Sanders said Wednesday in a news release, “will help us preserve the unprecedented financial investment taxpayers have made in improving our streets.”

All too often, once city crews get around to repairing crumbling streets, the work is overridden by telephone, cable TV and gas and electric companies’ installation projects.

For residents, motorists, taxpayers, the back-to-back disruptions can be crazy-making.

"I would imagine that they could coordinate it a little bit better, in terms of working both with the utilities and city in coming up with a plan that makes sense,” Normal Heights resident Megan O'Dowd said Wednesday in an interview outside City Hall

To that end, city officials want utility firms to apply for excavation permits two years in advance, to start work within 90 days of issuance, and finish the projects within a year.

"This all comes down to common sense,” said city spokesman Alex Roth. “And the utilities understand it. They've been willing to work with us, and we're confident this is going to be a win-win situation for everybody."

Some exceptions to the regulations will be allowed -- but only for emergencies and, according to the mayor’s news release, “'a significant good cause approved by the City Engineer".

Otherwise, the moratoriums on digging up streets after “slurry-sealing” jobs would go from one year to three -- and after “complete overlays”, from three years to five.

But there's a cautionary note in all this.

"The city doesn't have a good history of its computer systems talking to each other," says Voice of San Diego reporter Liam Dillon, who’s specialized in covering the city’s longstanding pothole issues.

"And so if this process is going to be implemented well,” Dillon explained, “then that problem -- that computer problem -- has to be solved, as well as any ordinance that they want to put into place."

The proposal is now scheduled for a public hearing of the City Council’s Land Use & Housing Committee on August 1.

It also calls for excavation fee hikes that, according to projections, would increase city revenues by nearly half a million dollars a year.

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