San Diego’s City Council is delving into the details for speeding up road repairs.

For decades, the city hasn’t spent the money required to fix and maintain its streets, buildings, storm drains, leaving San Diego with $840 million worth of needed repairs. More than two years ago, Mayor Jerry Sanders borrowed $100 million to improve roads and other infrastructure. But as our recent special report showed, tens of millions of repair dollars have sat idle.

In April, Sanders wants to borrow $100 million more for infrastructure repairs, the first of $500 million in loans planned during the next five years. At a press conference last week, Sanders said the city could spend money more quickly, but defended his administration’s record on repairs.

“I think we’re doing as well as we can on that,” Sanders said.

But some council members said their approval of the next loan will be contingent on improvements in city spending.

What Council Members Say About the Repair Process

“This is a very sick patient,” Councilwoman Lorie Zapf said.

“It’s a little embarrassing that we’re sitting there approving all these things and they’re not happening,” Councilwoman Marti Emerald said.

“There’s no oversight,” Councilman David Alvarez said. “There’s no real management.”

“It’s in the department’s interest, it’s in the council’s interest, it’s in the mayor’s interest to have the most efficient organizations that we can,” Councilman Kevin Faulconer said. “Most importantly, it’s in the taxpayers’ interest.”

What Council Members Are Doing About It

Over the next few weeks, two council committees will hold hearings almost exclusively devoted to attacking San Diego’s broken infrastructure.

• On Nov. 2, Councilman Todd Gloria’s budget committee will attempt to pin down an elusive figure: The amount of roads, buildings and storm drains that the city wants to fix every year. This figure will help set the city’s annual repair budget needed to maintain its infrastructure at a certain level.

While this process sounds simple, the city has lacked these targets for years. Their absence has contributed greatly to San Diego’s repair failures. Since the city hasn’t identified how much should be spent annually, no one has noticed how much it hasn’t. Councilman Carl DeMaio, who sits on Gloria’s committee, has argued that the city should include the full repair and maintenance costs when determining its budget.

Gloria’s committee also will evaluate staffing in public works departments and hear about Sanders’ own efforts to streamline the repair process.

• On Nov. 7, Faulconer’s audit committee will discuss three recent audits that found that repairs have been slowed because the city’s bureaucracy is disorganized and inefficient.

Faulconer wants to know how much it would cost to create a new department responsible for centralizing the repair process. City Auditor Eduardo Luna argues such a department will increase accountability and speed up repairs. But Sanders says an office will be too expensive and layer more bureaucracy on a process he’s trying to simplify.

For more on road repairs, read our special report and watch our San Diego Explained on the topic with our media partners NBC 7 San Diego.

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at or 619.550.5663.

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Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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