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City documents outline stormwater infrastructure problems, including 'historic underfunding'

ABC 10News has filed a public records request to find out how the money allocated for the issue is being spent.
city memo stormwater department 2021
Posted at 5:46 PM, Jan 29, 2024

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — As people continue to recover from last week's devastating storm, the City of San Diego is playing catch up. Workers are clearing drains and canals that were overwhelmed. But city documents show years of underfunding and deferred maintenance may have contributed to the stormwater drainage situation the city is in now.

Elvira Paulin is like many of her Southcrest neighbors.

"I'm really upset," she says. "Really upset with the city."

On Monday, Paulin's house on Beta Street flooded. Her belongings are ruined.

"Almost everything is gone, everything people work for," Paulin added.

Budgets from the City of San Diego show the city spending more and more money each year on stormwater work, but other documents show it is incredibly underfunded.

ABC 10News asked the city where the money was going, and how it was being spent. The city told ABC 10News that the answers would require a public records request.

ABC 10News filed a records request and is waiting for it to be fulfilled.

But publicly accessible documents show residents and city officials agree that the stormwater funding issues have been ongoing for years.

A 2021 memo from the city's stormwater department states, "Like all infrastructure, the system has aged and deteriorated. The impacts of these failures in San Diego communities are felt not only when it rains, but year-round as they can cause sinkholes, erosion along coastlines, and pollution backing up into streets and alleys."

Those same statements were echoed at a City of San Diego Environment Committee meeting in Nov. 2021.

"We're simply not able to keep up with the amount of funding that we have. We're seeing those vulnerabilities pushing to failure mode, and we're not able to manage significant consequences like the flooding you see here in Chollas Creek," Bethany Bezak with the city's stormwater department said.

In a staff report signed by the city's then stormwater department director, and now deputy chief operating officer, Kris McFadden, it states, "Underfunding stormwater has been, and will continue to be, a liability for the City."

A five-year capital infrastructure planning outlook released within the last year said deferred maintenance because of historic underfunding posed a risk of flooding and catastrophic failure. The report shows the city needs more than $2 billion in stormwater upgrades over the next five years.

The city of San Diego has attempted to address the problem though.

In 2022, Mayor Todd Gloria announced the city secured more than $700 million in loans and grants for stormwater projects over the next five years.

But, as he said during a press conference last week, fixing the situation takes time.

"It is not as easy as saying, 'Go do that.' We have regulators. We have interest groups. We have other folks that will follow a process that takes longer," Gloria said.

But as Paulin knows firsthand, water and time aren't mixing well.

"Everything's gone. Memories, furniture, we just had Christmas. Everything that the kids got, everything's gone," Paulin added.