Bob Ilko is 48, drives a maroon Ford pickup, and has a license plate holder that reads: Country Living, Scripps Ranch. He’s lived in the bedroom community for two decades and he loves it.

“It’s probably the best place to live, work and play,” he says. “It’s a place where volunteerism is our No. 1 priority.”

Living proof: Ilko is the president of the Scripps Ranch Community Association, a volunteer group for the neighborhood that’s east of Mira Mesa and part of San Diego’s fifth City Council district. I’m embedded in the district this week, reporting on the issues and concerns its residents have leading up to the June City Council election.

But all is not perfect in Ilko’s paradise. Because it sits in a city that is slowly crumbling.

All downtown wants to talk about, he says, are pension reform issues.

“Those aren’t the Fifth District,” he says. “We want our air clean, our roads black and our parks green.”

In Scripps Ranch, the eucalyptus-scented air is doing fine. The other two, not so much.

This year for the first time, he says, fields in local city parks will be aerated and fertilized by community groups, not the city. Outside groups will also refinish the gym floor at the local rec center — something he says the city used to do four times a year since it’s a city facility.

Road maintenance isn’t keeping up with potholes, he says, and you only need to bounce down Pomerado Road for proof.

But what really chaps Ilko is the city’s broken infrastructure. The problems that are festering and getting worse, right in plain sight. Problems he reported two years ago that haven’t been touched.

Like what, I ask.

He leads me down Scripps Ranch Boulevard, to its end near a creek behind Scripps Ranch High School. When it rains, the five-lane-wide road empties into a broken drain that’s washed away a slope and filled up with garbage: Mattresses, buckets, a dead Christmas tree with still-frosted needles. Pavement has been chewed up, the hill washed away so much that the concrete storm drain is partly suspended in midair.

Ilko warned the city when the drain got blocked a couple of years ago, he says, and nothing got done. Now, instead of a clogged drain, the end of the boulevard is a garbled mess.

“The city allows little things to become huge things,” he says. “That’s the real tragedy of it all.”

Photo by Sam Hodgson
A busted storm drain has caused trees to collapse and erosion in Scripps Ranch.

But it doesn’t end there. Over on Rue Chantemar, on the outer edge of the neighborhood that burned in the 2003 Cedar Fire, a broken storm drain has cleaved a thick gash on the hillside. It’s 25 feet wide and deep enough to accommodate huge, rotting eucalyptus trees uprooted and swept away by erosion.

Ilko complained. The city put up a fence, he says, but didn’t fix the problem that necessitated the fence in the first place. The city tells him fixing the hill is on a list. But when? No one will tell him, Ilko says.

“The city says it ‘fixed’ the structural deficit,” Ilko says, referring to Mayor Jerry Sanders’ recent pronouncement that he’d at last balanced San Diego’s budget. But it hasn’t fixed its crumbling infrastructure, he says.

He understands. People he talks to wanted the city to spend less. But they also want it to address long-term maintenance before problems get even worse.

Ilko says he supports Mark Kersey, the sole person running for the City Council seat to represent Scripps Ranch and other northern San Diego neighborhoods. (He hasn’t donated to Kersey’s campaign, though.) He says Kersey represents the status quo in representation for the area — and he doesn’t mean it as an insult. Ilko briefly ran a campaign against incumbent Carl DeMaio, decided he was way underfunded, and quit.

“The difference between them,” he says, “is that Mark has done community outreach in his neighborhood. He stepped up.”

Ilko is content now to use the Scripps Ranch community newsletter as the neighborhood’s political voice. Seventy-five pages a month, sent to 12,000 homes. The Scripps Ranch Facebook page is growing, too. “No. 2 in the city for fans or likes or whatever you call it,” he boasts.

His plans for that sway? He wants to convince Kersey to advocate for more parking at nearby Lake Miramar, a popular fishing and recreation spot. And for the access road there to be paved. And he wouldn’t mind the community having a second fire station.

But the chances of a city behind in maintaining what it already has building Scripps Ranch another fire station?

“Not going to happen,” Ilko says.

Ilko’s Top Five Concerns

1. Broken infrastructure.

2. More police for Scripps Ranch. (The community has just one full-time officer at a time, he says.)

3. Rec center hour cuts.

4. Library hour cuts.

5. Improving communication between the city and District 5 residents.

Rob Davis is a senior reporter at Voice of San Diego covering the District 5 City Council race this week. Who else should he talk to? What are the big issues? What questions do you have for lone candidate Mark Kersey?

Contact him directly at or 619.259.0529.

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Rob Davis was formerly a senior reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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