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Everyone gathered at the bottom of the hill, because nowhere else was safe.
The students, the parents, the activists, the Girl Scouts, the principal, the politician’s staff and the politician himself came to celebrate what appeared to be a milestone in a project that’s had lots of talk over the years, but no solution.
City Councilman David Alvarez called them together Wednesday afternoon to announce the city finally had all the money it needed to build a sidewalk on the hill between San Ysidro High School and San Ysidro Middle School.
“This sidewalk is extremely important to the many students of San Ysidro who use it to go to and from school,” Alvarez said. “And obviously, just as important to the parents, the grandparents and those who care for those kids.”
The process of building a sidewalk on the winding half-mile stretch between the two schools has taken more than a decade, and the city has missed deadline after deadline to put one there. In the meantime, students have had to deal with this:
The sidewalk hasn’t been built in part because the situation is so dire. Contractors will have to blast into a hillside to make room. The project also will come with street lights, bike lanes and a redesign of the road to make it less narrow.
And the price tag has continued to balloon. Back in 2008, it was $3.3 million. Last year, it was $6.8 million. Now, it’s $11.5 million.
The City Council signed off on the full funding in March. But waiting for an actual sidewalk will drag on.
Alvarez’s spokeswoman Lisa Schmidt showed up to the press conference before her boss and started handing out news releases. 10News’ Joe Little sidled up to her.
“When are they breaking ground?” Little asked.
“Spring of next year,” Schmidt said.
“What?” Little said.
“It’s so complex,” Schmidt said.
“It’s a sidewalk. It’s not complex,” Little said.
“I know, I know,” Schmidt trailed off.
Alvarez arrived and began shaking hands. He said hello to the local Girl Scouts troop, and the group responded together with a sing-songy “Hiiiii.” The scouts were moved to the front when the press conference started.
Alvarez and the speakers who followed him sounded happy the money was there and thankful the project had an actual schedule, but still a little jaded. They’d heard things were going to work out here before.
“We don’t want any other delays,” said David Flores, who works for San Ysidro nonprofit Casa Familiar. “We don’t want to hear that the project does not have sufficient funding.”
Flores brought a giant map with him. Casa Familiar has helped organize monthly walks of the area to keep attention on the problem. The walks started in March and they won’t stop until someone sticks a shovel in the ground. Flores is thankful that the San Diego Police Department sends two motorcycle cops to shepherd the walkers up the street and make sure cars don’t hit them.
The police aren’t along the road all the time, but people are. Wednesday afternoon, Luis Sanchez, a 17-year-old going into his senior year at San Ysidro High, was finishing up his 40-minute walk from his house to the school for track practice. He was pleased a sidewalk was finally coming to replace the dirt path he uses now.
“It’s too narrow,” Sanchez said.
But Sanchez didn’t seem super excited either. He’s gotten used to the trip.
While people continue to wait for construction to begin, they can see some building along the roadside. Near the top of the hill, workers in hard hats and reflective vests were putting in some townhomes.
The construction starts just before the dirt path gets gnarly down the hill. Across from the townhomes, the workers had put up a sign. The sign is probably required because of some building code or another. But the message only adds insult to San Ysidro’s decade-long injury.
All photos by Jamie Scott Lytle.