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As I left my apartment in Hillcrest on Wednesday morning, I came upon a man standing in the middle of the street. He was diverting traffic with a spade.

It can’t be, I thought. But it was. The man was filling a pothole, and he was clearly not a city employee. I pulled over to talk to him.

For more than two months, it turned out, Primo Vannicelli has been trying to get the city to repair the pothole in front of his house, to no avail.

“I’ve been calling the city, I email them, they don’t do it, and every day it gets worse,” he said. Yes, he understood the city was in a budget crunch, he said, and that it might explain why no one had responded to his request.

“But I mean it’s actually dangerous, because you can see stones flying around,” he said. “I’ve been hit once. I was just getting into my car there, and a stone flies, because a truck hit it, boom!”

He’s been gathering the chunks of concrete that have chipped away from the pothole as it’s gotten wider and deeper.

In the last three years, the city has allowed the road system to continue deteriorating, and not even a massive street repair project now underway is expected to restore roads to the condition they were in before Mayor Jerry Sanders took office in 2005.

So on Wednesday, Vannicelli decided to take the city’s budget problems into his own hands. He took an orange bucket, filled it with quick dry cement, and gathered up the chunks of concrete he collected.

As we spoke, he fitted the chunks into the gaping pothole like a jigsaw puzzle and poured wet cement over them to fill in the gaps. He used the spade to smooth it out.

It’s a makeshift repair, but he hopes it lasts a little while.| Photo by Adrian Florido

“I think this is not going to be that strong, but it will last at least for a few months,” he said. “If they had come two months ago, it was just that little break. But if this is not fixed, it will just keep going.”

He’s watched as the pothole’s gotten wider. When it was big enough, he placed a yellow phonebook inside so drivers would see it at night.

“Nobody uses these phone books anymore, you know, so it was useful.”

Nearby, a neighbor was getting into her car.

“You’re fixing our streets now?” she asked.

“Yeah, I was just hired by the city,” Vannicelli joked. “You know we’re having budget problems, as you can see.” He said he would have preferred not to have taken matters into his own hands.

Mario Sierra, director of the city’s General Services Department, would have preferred that too.

“We do not encourage that, because people have to go into the middle of the street, but we also want to make sure the pothole is repaired properly,” he said. If it was in fact reported two months ago, he added, it should not have taken the city that long to respond. He said the Streets Division responds to pothole requests within a week — two weeks tops.

As we’ve reported, though, a two-week response time doesn’t actually mean a pothole gets repaired that quickly.

In the end, Vannicelli said it didn’t faze him much to do the work himself.

“I grew up in Italy. It’s a beautiful country, but it’s cursed by bad governments. People there, they do this all the time.”

The pothole was bigger than he’d thought. After exhausting his supply of wet cement, he put the phonebook back in and left me to go back into his yard to mix some more.

In Italy, which is cursed with bad governments, Vannicelli said, people fill their own potholes all the time.| Photo by Adrian Florido

Please contact Adrian Florido directly at or at 619.325.0528 and follow him on Twitter:

Adrian Florido

Adrian Florido is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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