Last week, I stumbled upon Hillcrest resident Primo Vannicelli as he was filling a pothole in front of his house. He said he’d gotten tired of waiting for the city to do it. They’d ignored multiple requests over several months, he said.

After our story ran, the city said Vannicelli had given the wrong location online when requesting pothole repairs. Without the right address, the city said, crews couldn’t find the pothole.

But Vannicelli did provide all the needed information. The city just never got it because of the way its computer system processes online requests.

Vannicelli made his requests in mid-September. The city said they made no mention of Georgia Street, where Vannicelli lives.

Instead, Vannicelli had said the pothole was at Florida Court and Robinson Street. That intersection doesn’t exist. Those two streets intersect Georgia Street on either side of Vannicelli’s house.

Mario Sierra, the city’s general services director, said Vannicelli described a non-existent intersection, so city crews didn’t know to look for potholes in front of his Georgia Street home. But they did fill potholes on nearby Florida Court, he said.

When I asked Vannicelli about what looked like a mistake on his part, he sounded surprised. He said he had included his Georgia Street address in the city’s online request form, and that he had provided his phone number, too. The city could have called him, he said.

Turns out that the city’s online request form did not process all the information Vannicelli said he entered.

The Street Division’s online request form gives two options to describe the location of a needed repair. You can enter your address in one box, or an intersection in another. But only one field gets submitted to the city.

Vannicelli filled out both fields. He put his Georgia Street address in the first. In the next, he entered the two nearby cross streets so city staff would know exactly what stretch of Georgia Street he was referring to. The potholes were not at just one intersection. They were all along Georgia Street between Florida Court and Robinson Street. There were a lot of them.

Vannicelli’s street address was the only indication city staff would have had that the potholes were on Georgia Street. But the address wasn’t processed because the bubble next to it wasn’t highlighted. When the city’s computer system processed his request, it recorded the cross streets as an intersection — one that does not exist. The potholes went unfilled.

Hasan Yousef, deputy director of the city’s Street Division, told me the division’s computer system uses the form’s information to pinpoint the request on a map. It transfers the location to a form that workers use to fill the request, he said.

In Vannicelli’s case, because the intersection didn’t exist, the computer identified a nearby section of Florida Street. But Florida Street had recently been repaved as part of the city’s ongoing street repair effort. There were no potholes. So staff went to nearby Florida Court and filled potholes there instead, he said.

I asked why they hadn’t called Vannicelli to clear up any confusion.

“With potholes we don’t normally call the requester back,” Yousef said. “It’s usually a clear request. There’s a street, there’s a pothole.”

In this case, he said, “They saw some potholes on Florida Court and they filled them. My staff, they go out and they find potholes everywhere. They say, ‘Oh, this must be the right one.’”

Last Friday morning, the day after we ran Vannicelli’s story, a crew showed up on Georgia Street and filled in a few small potholes surrounding his makeshift repair. But they left several large cracks nearby unpatched.

We spoke a few minutes after the crews left. “Why didn’t they take care of them all? It would have taken them two more minutes,” Vannicelli said. “It shows the inefficiency of the whole thing.”

I asked Sierra how city crews decide which potholes to fill and which ones not to fill.

“Time permitting, we tell them to fix the pothole and any ones around the vicinity, but it’s up to their discretion,” he said.

He said a crew would revisit Vannicelli’s street Tuesday to fill in the rest.

Please contact Adrian Florido directly at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org or at 619.325.0528 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido.

Adrian Florido

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

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