Despite a major street repaving effort and big talk from Mayor Jerry Sanders, San Diego’s roads have officially gotten worse during his tenure.

A full quarter of city streets now are in poor condition, up from 18 percent four years ago. The number of streets rated in good condition decreased from 37 percent to 35 percent during the same time. Both figures contributed to the overall deterioration of the city’s 2,800 mile street network.

These findings come from a new city report that compares road conditions now with those from a report in 2007, Sanders’ second year in office. At the time of the 2007 report, Sanders said he wanted 75 percent of the streets in good condition by the end of his tenure. The new data shows the mayor is now 40 percentage points short of that goal, even though he has continually touted his road repair efforts while in office.

“Since we are in the midst of a major road repair program, the department believes this assessment represents the low point and the next streets condition assessment will reflect the upward movement we all expect and desire and that our citizens demand and deserve,” said Kip Sturdevan, the interim director of the city’s transportation and storm water department, in the report.

The city’s failure to maintain its streets has a long and well-documented history, and repair funding had diminished to almost nothing under Sanders’ predecessor, Dick Murphy. Sanders promised to change all that, saying he would dedicate money at unprecedented levels to road repairs.

While he’s spent much more money, it hasn’t been nearly enough to keep pace with the decay. Sanders’ spokesman Darren Pudgil blamed the national economy for the mayor’s failure to improve streets.

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“It should come as no surprise to any reasonable person that government services are going to decline during a recession — not to mention the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression,” Pudgil said in an emailed statement. “As the economy has begun to improve, the city has now launched one of the most — if not the most — extensive street resurfacing project in city history.”

However, many of the city’s street repair issues lie solely with itself.

The mayor has relied on loan money, pushing to borrow $100 million in March 2009 for road and other infrastructure repairs, with half the money dedicated to streets. Sanders also wants to borrow an additional $500 million over the next five years for more repairs, starting in April.

Bureaucratic and other problems have kept the city from spending the money it already has quickly. As of September, the city had spent only half the loan.

Sanders recently began proposing a series of changes to contracting and other internal procedures in an effort to cut red tape, some of which he created himself. Five years ago, Sanders switched departments that handled repair contracts to speed up the process, but the new process took three months longer. This summer, he undid the switch and public works staffers have said the new method has cut contracting times in half.

The streets report ends with a plea to City Council members to adopt more of the mayor’s proposed changes, such as reducing the number of council approvals for individual projects and the number of contracts needed to implement repairs.

“Assuming Council moves forward with the Mayor’s proposed reforms, the department should be able to move ahead with a far more aggressive program of repairs over the next year,” Sturdevan said in the report.

KPBS’ Maureen Cavanaugh led off her interview with Sanders on Thursday with road repair questions.

Sanders answered a question about the slow pace of repairs mostly by emphasizing his proposed reforms:

Well, I think there’s been a couple of issues that have played into this. Number one, we were out of the bond market for a long time. Literally, the city was not there because they didn’t have audits, they didn’t have any of that stuff done. Once we were able to clean up all the audits and get back into the bond market, the structure in place was pretty outdated on how you spend that money.

And what we have done, and we’ve worked pretty hard over the last several months, we’ve cut the processing time down in half. So it was taking about 120 days for the bids and contracts to be awarded now it’s down to 60 days since the last four months have come by.

We also went to City Council, and there’s a lot of outdated rules made 10 or 15 years ago that don’t make any sense now. We took a package of ideas to council about how to change it so we can cut even more time down and get it down to about a 30-day time frame. Council was very supportive of that and we’ll take that back right after the first of the year so we can cut even more time off this.

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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