City Councilman Calls for Big Fixes at Public Utilities Department

City Councilman Scott Sherman wants significant changes at the San Diego Water Department.

Sherman’s call for action came Oct. 16, during a city council discussion of an independent audit of the problem-plagued department.

That audit, along with reporting by the NBC 7 Responds team, uncovered significant delays in the department’s effort to replace broken water meter boxes and lids.

Auditors also discovered that some department employees were working less than four hours of their eight-hour workday.

“When it takes 11 months just to replace a lid on a water meter box, or 1.7 years to replace the entire box, that is entirely too long and should not be acceptable to the taxpayers,” Sherman told NBC 7.

He was referring to the auditor’s finding that the average water department crew has time to replace 12 water meter boxes and 20-meter lids in a workday.

But the audit revealed that crews on average replaced just four boxes and 15 lids per day.

Cracked and broken boxes and lids can cause a trip hazard on city sidewalks, which exposes taxpayers to significant liability for injuries.

In recent years, the City of San Diego has paid more than $500,000 to pedestrians who injured themselves on broken boxes and lids, according to documents obtained by NBC 7 Responds.

Those settlements include a $100,000 payment to a Normal Heights woman whose leg was crushed in an accident involving a sub-standard water meter installation.

Taxpayers also face unresolved legal claims of at least 50 thousand dollars.

In addition, auditors uncovered a backlog of approximately 25,000-meter boxes and lids that should be replaced.

Councilman Sherman said those needed repairs should be contracted out, so they can be finished quickly.

He also expects management to make big changes in the department’s work ethic.

"It's going to take some leadership from the top, but we have a new director over there and he assures us that he's working as diligently as possible to try and change the culture and get people to actually start moving on the process."

Sherman’s office said the water department will update the city council on its efforts, early next year. 

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