NewsTeam 10 Investigates


The inequity of streets and alleys in America’s Finest City

San Diego Alley
Posted at 8:22 PM, Mar 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-09 23:22:22-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Some roads and alleyways in San Diego are crumbling, and the City of San Diego has no immediate plans to fix them.

Across the city, there are nearly 60 miles of what's known as “unimproved” streets and alleys, according to San Diego city records.

These are streets that are part of the city system but weren't originally built to city standards.

“The conditions of the roads here are horrific," said San Diego resident Damion Dillard.

Dillard lives near South Bancroft in the Memorial neighborhood.

"I’ve lived here for four years and it hasn't gotten any better,” Dillard said.

The street leading up to his house, if you can call it that, is dirt. When it rains, it's more like mud.

"People come in and you know dump their trash, dump their waste products, and park their trailers,” he said.

The area near Dillard’s home is just one of the dozens of miles of alleys and streets across San Diego that are considered unimproved.

According to city language, an unimproved street is “A street, which is part of the City’s official streets system, that is paved with less than 2 inches of hot mix asphalt, not graded or paved for drainage, and lacks a sufficient underlying base.”

The city says an unimproved alley is “A public way that is no wider than 25 feet, which is paved with less than 2 inches of hot mix asphalt, is not graded or paved for drainage, and lacks a sufficient underlying base.”

"It unearths a really ugly reality in that we have two San Diegos,” said San Diego Councilmember Vivian Moreno. “If I’m living on a dirt road in the City of San Diego and I'm paying taxes, I'm not living in ‘America's finest city.’”

Moreno represents Council District 8. It covers neighborhoods in Southwest San Diego including Logan Heights down to San Diego areas that straddle the border.

"They have been an afterthought,” Moreno said. “We cannot build, we cannot touch, we cannot even look at, even though on some of these streets they are doing city work. They are picking up trash and doing everything you would do on any normal street."

In 2020, Moreno pushed back against a decades-old policy that prevented the city from upgrading these streets and alleys and taking over their maintenance.

"I think it's a racist policy,” Moreno said.

While her words may sound strong, the majority of the unimproved streets and alleys are located in mainly low-income neighborhoods.

Combined, the south San Diego communities that makeup Council Districts 4 and 8 have more than 20 miles of unimproved streets.

“This is a living personification of that divide,” Moreno said. “To have those streets be in communities of concern, it didn’t happen by chance.”

At a council meeting in February 2021, the council voted unanimously to allow the city to spend money to upgrade those streets and alleys. It would eventually add them to the city’s maintenance schedule.

"This is such a clear equity issue it's almost a case study in the way we should be making decisions and corrections for bad policy of the past,” Council President Sean Elo-Rivera said at the 2021 meeting.

Moreno said it was a great first step.

"We're talking about things that should be in America's Finest City, things that people don't even question,” she said. “A street ̶ that goes without saying. A street and they shouldn't have potholes. Here we're saying let us have at least a street."

But passing changes is still a lot different than getting money to actually fix the streets.

ABC 10News got a map of all the unimproved streets and alleys across the city and drove through some of the neighborhoods to see how bad things are.

In some places, where the streets looked like actual streets, neighbors told us they didn’t mind the conditions.

In other areas, neighbors told ABC 10News reporter Adam Racusin the streets are dangerous. In one case a neighbor said they stopped calling for help years ago because no one ever responded.

“It’s really about priority, what do we want at the forefront. For me it’s my community,” Moreno said.

Part of the challenge is money. According to city documents, low-end street improvements could cost $5 to $10 million.

On the high end, an engineered surface, base materials, curb/gutter, sidewalks, and lighting will run $10 to $15 million.

In Moreno’s district, South Bancroft Street at the intersection of Greely Avenue has received $600,000 in funding from the Fiscal Year 22 and Fiscal Year 23 budgets. Once Engineering and Capital Projects complete preliminary work on this project, a budget will be developed.

Councilmember Moreno also asked the city auditor to perform an audit on street maintenance equity. As part of that request, she also asked the auditor to examine how the city treats unimproved streets within its street priority process.

“The money is there it’s just a matter of what we want to prioritize,” Moreno said. "Do we want to prioritize, I go back to 101 Ash or the Civic Center core, or do we want to prioritize our neighborhoods."

According to the City, there isn’t much movement on plans to fix unimproved streets across the city.

A spokesperson for the city told ABC 10News the Transportation Department is “prioritizing the rebuilding and resurfacing of our roads, the repair and installation of sidewalks in our communities, growing our urban canopy, the repair and installation of streetlights, and providing safer travel for all modes of mobility.”

ABC 10News asked Council President Sean Elo-Rivera about the hold-up on street improvements. According to a statement, "Councilmember Moreno's policy to address San Diego's unimproved streets and alleys was a critical first step in improving infrastructure in our city's long-neglected neighborhoods. The next step is identifying and prioritizing the funding needed to do the work. That is why our office continues to beat the drum for federal and state funding as well as new local revenue that will help ensure every San Diego neighborhood has the quality infrastructure they deserve."