I’ve been paging through lawsuits brought by people who tripped and fell over San Diego sidewalks, and I stumbled upon a stark admission from the city about its role in fixing broken infrastructure.

The suit involved a 65-year-old disabled woman whose motorized scooter fell on top of her after she rolled over a pothole in a Mountain View sidewalk in 2009. The woman said she fractured her spine, sprained her neck, bruised her left knee and suffered head trauma. Two years after the accident, she settled with the city for $48,000.

While the case was still in court, Deputy City Attorney Brian Murphy argued in a 2011 filing that the busted sidewalk wasn’t the city’s responsibility because it didn’t know about the pothole. But Murphy went further. He said it’s the public’s job to tell the city when things are broken. From Murphy’s filing:

The city has to rely on citizenry to report problems with city property. The city encompasses 2,800 miles of streets, 271 alleys, 50,000 street lights, 1,600 traffic signals, 235,000 trees and 5,000 miles of sidewalk. The city has its hands full. It is not reasonable, practical or financially feasible to scour every sidewalk for a possible problem. Additionally, a pothole in a sidewalk is presumably very uncommon and it is unlikely the city would discover something of that nature. The bottom line is that citizens have a responsibility to report problems to the city because they are unwilling to pay for the services to perform the impossible task of monitoring the daily condition, among other things, of every sidewalk. (emphasis added)

In recent years, the city has begun to grapple with the effect of decades of infrastructure neglect, including not knowing which streets, sidewalks or pipes are broken — in part by rejecting the same argument Murray made in the filing. The city has evaluated all of its streets and part of its storm drain network to detail their poor condition and prioritize fixes.

Mayor Bob Filner, however, left out planned assessments of city buildings and sidewalks in the proposed budget he released this week.

We’ve also provided a simple way to detail city sidewalks’ shoddy conditions through The Stumblr. You can send your photos of broken sidewalks to liam@vosd.org. Once the city knows about them, it sometimes makes fixes.

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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Liam Dillon

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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