Budget season has drawn to a close, and the city has made a significant investment in our city streets with the Board of Supervisors approving an additional $90 million in road work and resurfacing funds to be spent down over the next two years.
These are the funds that will be used to repave our city streets (600 blocks annually), extend or repair our sidewalks, paint our bike lanes, and fill pesky potholes. San Francisco Public Works is hiring more workers, and San Francisco has slowly increased its Pavement Condition Index Score.
Voters have historically been supportive when bonds have come to the ballot for approval of millions of dollars in road resurfacing funding. So with more money and more staffing, why the heck does it feel like San Francisco is under siege 24/7 with the same intersections being torn up over and over — and over?
At a hearing that I held last month at the Government Audit and Oversight Committee, several, er, ”cracks” surfaced in the city’s alleged response protocols. San Francisco Public Works has a goal of addressing potholes that have been reported through 311 within 48 work hours of the report. Their standard line has been that 90 percent of those complaints are responded to within 48 hours — and yet anecdotally, I hear from many constituents that they have experienced road issues languish without attention for weeks.
I decided to do an experiment in District 3, and sent out a team of our policy interns to map and photograph potholes and road issues, report them, and track the city’s response times with follow-up visits. Only one third of the cases were resolved in a timely fashion per Public Works’ own policy. As of the hearing, there were actually potholes that had been languishing for weeks. In addition, many of the complaints had been marked as “resolved” even though the actual work to address the complaint had not even begun.
As a result of the hearing, I have requested that 311 take the simple step of using the term “referred” instead of “resolved,” which much more accurately reflects what the centralized complaint system actually does. Staff are meeting to make this technical adjustment.
In the meantime, I continue to encourage residents to use 311. The system aggregates data and helps our office track what is happening in the district — and where the city is falling short of its commitments to respond in a timely manner.
In addition, please continue to be in touch with our office about the other big issue that surfaced in the hearing: bad subcontractors. As neighborhoods like Upper Polk, Chinatown, North Beach, and South of Market continue to bear the brunt of endless construction, we want to hear when the streets are being torn up without any significant coordination by the city.
San Francisco Public Works, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and SFMTA say they are coordinating projects to ensure the least amount of impact, but the subcontractors who are doing the work act with impunity.
The wrong signs get posted for the wrong projects on the wrong streets, construction equipment lies inactive for months in on-street parking spots, while a seemingly never-ending parade of orange-and-white striped A-frame signs line the streets letting merchants and residents know that they should brace for yet another construction project that might or might not have an actual public benefit. At the very least, it could be coordinated much better.
In addition, the hearing revealed that some repetitive projects are dropped from the city’s database, in violation of the city’s moratorium on digging up the city streets more than once in a five-year span. For example, the corner of Green Street and Columbus Avenue has been dug up at least four or five times in the last six years, yet San Francisco Public Works did not have that data for those jobs on file.
I am working with Supervisors Jane Kim and Norman Yee on legislation that would create stricter conditions for subcontractors and would trigger a construction mitigation fund for projects that run over budget or drag on endlessly.
The time has come to make sure that we are managing San Francisco taxpayer money responsibly when it comes to our city streets; these safety and road resurfacing projects are priorities that shouldn’t have to be painful.