By Jim Miller
A little over a week ago I was amused to see the Turko Files run a couple of segments “exposing” a disastrous Golden Hill renovation project on 25th Street that I had covered nearly six months earlier in late August of 2014. The KUSI angle was, appropriately, how bad the endless construction has been for local small businesses who have suffered through the scatter-shot planning and surreal whack-a-mole approach to getting the job done more“efficiently.”
Neighborhood residents might recall how Mayor Kevin Faulconer claimed his administration would change the game back in April of 2014 when he opined, “It’s a mindset that’s changing, and it says do it all at once. It’s taken awhile and it’s been frustrating for us, it takes more planning. So now, we do all of the projects at once – pipes, streets – so you don’t have to come back six months, two years later.”
What he didn’t consider was whether the residents of Golden Hill would dig it any better if his “efficient” new mindset of “doing it all at once” just meant that the work would keep going with no end in sight for the foreseeable future. Indeed, as bad as it is to live through the interminable disaster that is 25th Street, the political ironies are rich beyond words. As I noted back in August 2014:
“There is no such thing as a Democratic or Republican pothole.”
Remember that pat line that Kevin Faulconer used ad nauseam during the mayor’s race?
Well out here in the real world after the election, neither variety of potholes is getting fixed very quickly, and Faulconer’s fine words about efficiency and commitment to infrastructure are long forgotten once the press conferences are over.
A case in point is my Golden Hill neighborhood, where residents recently posted angry signs before they cleared several cone-blocked streets and dozens of “no parking” signs on their own after four months and counting of inaction in the wake of a Faulconer press conference where he promised big things.
As the San Diego Reader reported back in April:
Faulconer said the city has been rightfully criticized in the past for poorly coordinating infrastructure projects. For instance, the city would pave a street and then tear it up a couple months later for a sewer or water project. This project would be different, he said. The area would soon be due for a water-main replacement, so that project was consolidated with the other planned improvements.
As I write this in late August, nothing has been delivered for over four months but more potholes, bad water pressure, occasional geysers erupting from broken above-ground pipes, constant foul-ups, car accidents caused by obstructed views, perpetually unfinished sidewalks complete with dangerous uncovered holes, and a Waiting for Godot action plan.
And it has gotten so bad in the months since last summer when this was first published that most of my neighbors have just given up on even getting any coherent communication from the city no less any effective action. It seems we are stuck in some purgatorial netherworld where the clusterfunk low-bid construction company digs a hole for a day, covers it up again, goes away for a week or so, and then comes back to put a metal plate over the hole, move some dirt, and then drag a big dumpster from one end of the block to the other for no apparent reason.
The bottom line here is that there is no rational planning, adequate communication with residents, or even vaguely competent execution going on. Deadlines come and go, streets get dug up, repaved, and dug up again. But in Kevin Faulconer’s San Diego, no one is ever accountable.
Sucks to be you, Golden Hill.
This absurd comedy is occasionally interrupted by multiple car accidents, like the one where a man drove his truck into a stack of pipes in the middle of the construction site scattering light blue shrapnel up and down the street and all over my yard. Since no one offered to clean up the mess, my eleven year old collected a nice pile that we kept on our porch to remember that magic moment.
Aside from the damage to local businesses and car wrecks, there is the regular obscene waste in the midst of our historic drought as they test the pipes and pump rivers of water down the gutters of the neighborhood, the poor old folks tripping and falling on the street, the random crazy fun of people jumping in the open dumpsters on weekends to bang the walls and make big noise, and the joy of the Social Darwinist parking competition between residents and worried-looking yoga patrons.
But if one picked up UT-San Diego yesterday, you’d never know about any of this as their latest puff piece on Faulconer notes that, “The mayor has also focused on infrastructure, devoting half of all new revenue to repairing and rebuilding roads, sidewalks, recreation centers and other city facilities.
He also plans to streamline how infrastructure money is spent, blaming inefficiencies for much of the backlog.”
In the same piece the mayor himself pontificates once again on his mastery of all things infrastructural, “`It’s not about throwing money at the problem,’ he said. `I don’t believe the city’s been spending the money efficiently and wisely.’”
Well thank God he’s on it, otherwise things wouldn’t be going so well on 25th Street.
It truly is a new day in Golden Hill. The song of jackhammers in the morning sounds like victory—the victory of the very “reform” and outsourcing policies that KUSI News and Manchester’s UT-SD relentlessly sold us as manna from heaven. Amazingly, the KUSI coverage of 25th Street opens with Turko making the same old tired jokes about “government work” without any admission that this rotten deal is the pure product of the what the local right and their allies in the media have been promoting as the road to our civic redemption.
As Peter Brownell of the Center on Policy Initiatives put it when I asked him for his take on the 25th Street nightmare: “This project really suggests that the City cannot assume that contracting out to the private sector is more efficient. To the contrary, contracting effectively requires close City supervision and management.”
But that uncomfortable truth is just better left unsaid in most local media quarters.
That’s right, dear readers, instead of the magic of the marketplace delivering better services for less money, taxpayers have been treated to the worst kind of incompetent low-bid labor. So, like that neighbor you know who thought he got a great deal on his home renovation only to be stuck with a hopeless boondoggle, San Diego is getting what it paid for in projects like the one here in my storied neighborhood.
But in Kevin Faulconer’s San Diego, fantasy rhetoric about how much more “efficient” his approach is will always trump such awkward realities.