Central 311 Complaint Hotline Under Study at SD City Hall

When it comes to customer service, a lot of San Diegans think the city could do much better.

So do City Auditor Eduardo Luna and City Council Infrastructure Committee Chairman Mark Kersey, and they've got big plans to improve the process of gathering and responding to citizen's complaints.

Starting with a new, centralized 311 reporting service.

Possible catch-phrase branding for marketing purposes: "One call does it all".

That sounds like just the ticket to residents interviewed Thursday by NBC 7, echoing concerns about runaround and red tape cited by respondents in an auditor's survey of how the city handles services calls about "right of way" issues.

"A 311 system would be awesome," said City Heights resident Teela King, as she walked her 3-year-old son through a playground in Teralta Park on Thursday. "We see a lot of volunteers out here, but I don't see a lot of workers. All I see is maybe people picking up trash. But I don't see a lot of workers fixing anything."

Response times for trouble-shooting graffiti, broken lights and sidewalks in the park can drag up to a week or more, at best -- and it gets a lot of use, wear and tear.

So neighbors tend to pitch in with a hand every now and then when Park & Rec staffers are scarce.

There's no shortage of problems that need reporting to the city south of Interstate 8, because residents here live in older neighborhoods established back well into the 20th century.

"They need two more barbecue grills," said a resident who identified himself only as "Plazz". This place is pretty happening on the weekend because the neighborhood brings all the kids in for birthday parties around the clock And they would appreciate two more grills."

The park also serves as recess retreat for nearby schools that don't have playgrounds.

Troy Vanderpool, who volunteers walking students to mid-day recreation breaks, enthusiastically welcomed the prospect of a centralized, citywide dial-up service.

"It's a brilliant idea," Vanderpool told NBC 7. "When have problems like when a water fountain is jammed with sand or rocks, trying to get one person to take care of it or call is a lot of work. I had to talk to four different workers here that take care of the grounds to find out which department to call, because none of them were it. "

A 311 call center might spare taxpayers a lot of delays, gas mileage and frustration -- if not safety hazards as well.

As a quantum leap, Luna's office has been pushing the discussion at City Hall for a couple months, and it's been allocated startup planning funds in the mayor's next budget -- but an on-line launch date figures to be a ways off.

"For something like this, it should be moved up," says Vanderpool. "Because having a particular person or area you can call and they know who to contact for a problem or graffiti or stuffed water fountain, that's much more efficient than you call somebody, get a message and call somebody else."

According to Luna, of the nation's 20 most populous cities, San Diego is among only four that don't have a 311 system.

Phoenix, San Jose and Fort Worth are the others -- but San Jose is now in the process of establishing one.

The system in Los Angeles is branded: "One Call to City Hall".

Ed. Note: An earlier version of this story mentioned and unfairly mischaracterized the work of the 211 hotline service in this context. NBC 7 regrets the error.

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