Team 10: The true cost of San Diego's sidewalks

Posted at 10:13 AM, May 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-10 10:52:40-04

How bad are San Diego's sidewalks?

Team 10 Investigator Allison Ash has gone through the results of a public records request on city sidewalks, and the number of complaints are staggering.

Records show that there are more than 18,000 complaints about sidewalks that are cracked and crumbling, or have edges jutting that can create a tripping hazard.

Deborah MacDonald is a long-distance walker. It's not unusual for her and her friends to walk several miles of San Diego sidewalks at a time. It's great exercise, but she learned first-hand it can also be dangerous.

In 2014, MacDonald was walking east on Rosecrans when one of her feet made contact with a piece of concrete jutting about three inches above the rest of the pavement.

"My face hit the ground first," recalled MacDonald, who was knocked unconscious. When she came to, she was in UCSD's Trauma Center. "Half of my face was totally swollen and the paramedic thought I had broken my eye socket," she told Team 10.

MacDonald said she was lucky her brains weren't "scrambled." She didn't break a single bone, but she did want something to be done to prevent anyone else from the ordeal she went through.

MacDonald said she didn't want to sue the city, but felt she had no choice after city crews put an asphalt patch over the spot where she tripped. She wanted the sidewalk and curb smoothed out completely. The work has finally been done, but not until after a $12,000 legal settlement.

"They're not doing a service to the citizens who are paying for this stuff," MacDonald said, adding that she would be willing to pay more in taxes for safer sidewalks.

Team 10 learned of MacDonald's fall after filing a public records request from the City of San Diego. We wanted to find out how many people like her had fallen and gotten pay-outs because of sidewalks in disrepair.

In the past five years, San Diego received 18,463 complaints about sidewalks with 123 of them leading to injuries and claims against the city. During that five-year period the City spent $1,718,153 to settle those claims.

The average pay-out was $13,423.

The average cost to repair a section of sidewalk is $3,100.

So why doesn't San Diego fix the sidewalks? 

It's not that simple, according to Mark Kersey, who heads city council's infrastructure committee.

“Unfortunately we’re dealing with decades of neglect, so trying to catch up on that is obviously going to take longer than any of us would prefer, and we recognize it. I would say the good news here is that there is a broad recognition among the councilmembers and among the mayor that this whole issue of city-wide infrastructure is now the top priority facing the city.”

San Diego spent $6 million during fiscal year 2016 putting in new sidewalks. $600,000 was spent on maintenance. 

Next year's amount is expected to be even more, but budget details are still being hammered out.

“It's on us to right this wrong and really get the city on the right path," said Kersey.

Deborah Haygood couldn't agree more. She shattered her elbow when she tripped on a raised sidewalk in Kearny Mesa. "It was excruciating," Haygood said, recalling the pain she endured. The doctor told her that her arm was broken in seven places.

"I was very clear on whose fault it was. It was not my fault," she told Team 10. "Sidewalks are injuring people and it's simply not OK. Something has to be done."

San Diego plans to put in 170,000 square feet of new sidewalks next year, that's compared to 95,000 square feet in fiscal year 2016.

In March, city councilman David Alvarez proposed the city pay to repair damaged sidewalks, rather than wait for someone to get injured. Alvarez said the city's current practice of forcing homeowners to split the cost of damaged sidewalks with the city should change. The city attorney is reviewing the proposed policy change.

To report sidewalk issues go to and use the city's "Get it Done" reporting system. 

According to a city spokesperson, city crews are quick to investigate hazardous conditions, but "response times depend on the nature of the report and other work that may already be planned near the area of concern."