City Creates Safety Hazard on Canon Street in Point Loma by Not Forcing Developer to Follow Law

by on July 22, 2019 · 22 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

What would you say if someone told you that you would have to walk over 700 feet out of your way to make it from one side of a 90-foot wide project to the other side on a sidewalk?

You would probably ask why.

If the only answer from the City of San Diego was just “because we say so,” I imagine you’d be a bit unsatisfied with that response. But that is precisely what the city has been doing to residents of Point Loma who live in the area near St. Agnes Church on Canon Street for over a year.  This is a tale of how much more developers matter to the city than do regular community residents.

For a year, local residents have been complaining bitterly about a temporary construction fence on Canon St. between Evergreen and Rosecrans.  The fence encompasses the sidewalk and all of the adjacent parking lane. The fence is up 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for no acceptable reason whatsoever.

There are signs on either side that say “Sidewalk Closed.” So the public’s three choices are –

  1. walk over 700 feet around the block on Locust, Avenida De Portugal and Evergreen or
  2. take a chance and walk along the fence in the northbound travel lane on Canon or
  3. jaywalk across Canon, a busy and fast street.

Those poor choices for what?  Just to make life easier on a developer? The Development Services Department or DSD makes it very clear that they are there to take care of developers first and the public a distant second.

The only reason the city could give me for allowing the fencing is that the site the developer is working on is very constrained and they need the public space permanently to make it easier to build.

Picture the old double take.

When the city says things like this to me, they are talking to someone who has been in the San Diego construction business since 1977.   Having spent a lifetime in construction, hearing an excuse like “we don’t have enough room” leaves me cold.

I have seen many, many constrained construction sites.  The builder has to include costs in its bid for those constraints. The builder’s choice is not to severely inconvenience and endanger the public so the builder can save some money.

If there is not enough of an area to store materials on-site, builders can rent space elsewhere or put some on the street if there is still enough parking.  A lot can be rented and fenced and some security may be necessary. There are costs but they are not huge.

I was told they needed a place to park their equipment. The area on Evergreen between Canon and Talbot – very near the project – is a wide street with parking on both sides. That area is perfectly adequate for parking that machinery and that is the opinion of someone who parked six or seven large pieces of equipment on the street every night.

But, instead of making this the builder’s problem, the DSD not only bent over backward to accommodate the builder, they violated serious traffic control requirements that could have, and still could, result in injuries or worse. The DSD chose to endanger and inconvenience the citizens of Point Loma instead.

I first heard about this a couple of months ago and went for a look.

I knew right away something was really wrong. I saw the site after hours. The fence was so far into the street that there was barely nine feet from the fence to the centerline of Canon.

One thing I’ve managed to accomplish so far was to get that corrected.  When I obtained the traffic control permit, it clearly showed they were required to have 14 feet from the centerline of Canon to the fence. Once I made an issue of it, the builder came out and painted 14-foot marks on the pavement and put the fence there. That should have been done the very first day they set that fence up.

What was so angering about the lane width was that it was obvious to anyone with decent eyesight to see immediately that the lane was not 14 feet, yet the area engineer and the inspectors never said a word about it.  These people are on the site regularly and did nothing.  When I was there, I watched a senior citizen walk along the fence in that nine foot lane while cars crossed the double yellow centerline into the southbound lane to avoid him.

As the pressure grew, the builder added a flag person that the Traffic Department said they should not have had and that they did not permit.  The flagger was a guy on the south side of the project with STOP paddle.  He would stop traffic both ways on Canon and walk people across. This was a ridiculous liability for the city.

I had to tell city personnel that a series of advance warning signs are required in both directions alerting drivers to a flag person ahead.  The builder had none of the required signage so the cars ended up being surprised by a stop they did not expect.

The flagger is gone now.  Of course, he was only there during working hours.

After hours was the sign in the picture below telling pedestrians the sidewalk was closed – cross Canon here – midblock with no crosswalk. This is called jaywalking and is not only illegal, it is dangerous depending on your age and if the cars coming are actually following the speed limit.  Once I pointed out the liability there, the part of the sign that said “Cross here” was gone. (See sign telling people to jaywalk picture)

There was no flagger on the north side of the project.  When I asked why, they said because there is a crosswalk at Evergreen.  I said, yes, but to legally get back across Canon, a pedestrian would have to walk all the way to Rosecrans to cross and then back up Canon.  The attitude was, so what?

I spent two half-days downtown talking to the Traffic Department. What I learned my first trip was that they – the Traffic Department – did not like the fence situation and did not allow it – but that they were overruled by higher ups.  I was eventually told an area engineer by the name of Victor Robles had allowed the set up.  The traffic control permit only allowed the fencing during working hours that ended at 3:30 each day.  The fence was supposed to be removed at the end of each day according to the permit yet the city employees allowed the fence to stay in place continuously. There was no documentation of any change to the permit.

Once I pointed this out, Robles, I was told, stepped in and executed a triplicate form that allowed the continuous fencing, contrary to what the permit was issued for.  I have not yet been able to get a copy of this piece of paper – the Traffic Department didn’t even have it.  This demonstrated that the existing permit did not allow a continuous fence set up and that the city employees ignored the permit.

I have kept the pressure on emphasizing the liability that the city, meaning us, is exposed to.  What is maddening is that there is no reason for allowing this and it is never done.  Temporary closures for bringing in underground utilities or to deliver materials are normal but this is not.  On the weekends, the only things inside the fence are two portable toilets and a piece of equipment.

A temporary fence comes in prefabricated panels with hoops on the ends.  The ends of two panels are knitted together by sliding a pipe down through the hoops.  Very easy, no fasteners or anything.  This kind of fence can be easily moved in minutes by two people. Yet, it has been left up over weekends for more than a year.

So, I thought, I finally managed to get some action. I received the following email on June 24 from Mike Arnold at the city:

After further review of the permit, I agree that the traffic control setup is intended for working hours only and is not a continuous setup.  Victor will be discussing and clarifying the permit conditions with the contractor today.  There appears to be a discrepancy in the actual working hours.  The City standard hours are from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM Monday – Friday and that is what’s shown on Page 1 of the permit..  However, contractor’s usually wants more hours.  The 2nd page of the permit shows working hours from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM Monday – Saturday.  I’ll work with Victor to verify the hours.

The fence was still in place after hours on June 25, so I emailed Arnold again and received this the same day from him:

I’ve discussed the scope of the project with my Senior Civil Engineer, Sarah Chavez, and we are working on revising the traffic control permit to allow the contractor to maintain the continuous setup as currently installed, with some changes.

It’s baffling how they flip-flopped in one day. I asked why.  No answer. I asked if they had new permit and he said yes but when I asked him for it, he said the contractor had it on the site.  Not one to be shy, I went to the site and no one had it.  Not only that but the fence was open and a welding truck was parked in the street with its wheels two feet past the 14-foot marks.  That got remedied right then.

I went back downtown and met some very sympathetic folks there, one of whom was Alireza Sabouri, the head of the Traffic Control Department. He suggested I contact the senior engineer, Sara Chavez, who had approved keeping the continuous setup.  He suggested I copy him and I did along with several others.  I sent Chavez a detailed email on July 8 and I received this response on July 9:

I appreciate you voicing your concerns. In response to your email the City’s Construction Management Field Engineering team of Victor (Resident Engineer), Mike (Construction Manager) and myself will work with the developer to maintain pedestrian access 24/7 throughout the construction.

We will advise the developer to resubmit a traffic control plan to DSD that shows how they intend to maintain access throughout the duration of work without crossing the street in a midblock scenario as you speak of. This will insure that anyone that lives or walks on the northbound sidewalk of Canon Street will have continuous path of travel and will not need to cross the street.

This was very encouraging, at the time.  But, I’m writing this on July 21 and the fence is still in place covering the sidewalk and the parking lane.

On July 15, I emailed the engineer and expressed my extreme disappointment that the fence was still in place meaning the city had experienced one more week of serious exposure to liability for no good reason.

Nothing happened and on July 17 I penned another strongly worded email. This is the response the next day.

We haven’t forgotten about your concerns, rather we addressed it right away. I have also included the contractor on this email.

On Wednesday, 7/10 the City field team met with the contractor and Ali from the traffic section. We clearly identified the problem and the need for change to the contractor.

He drafted a new plan which Ali provided guidance on and standards for the ped walkway in the parking lane.

The contractor has a sub that will submit this new plan for a revised TCP and will implement upon approval. I have asked the contractor to get the plans submitted this week and implemented next week.

I got this on July 18, eight days later and they were saying it would be another week.  I wrote another strong email that same day:

While I appreciate the response I find the delay unacceptable.  It does not take two weeks to revise a traffic plan and the existing configuration does not need to remain in place until the new plan is approved.  There are on-the-shelf traffic control plans for this exact situation, it is not in the least unique and I am sure Ali would agree.

The existing plan was only for a set up during working hours anyway until Mr. Robles allowed a continuous set up.  That should stop immediately. The fence could be pulled back today, this morning, and this big liability and big inconvenience for the public would be solved. 

And, regardless of all else, that fence needs to be removed for the weekend.  This additional delay makes no sense at all.  You are the City of San Diego.  You don’t need to “work with” the contractor, you need to tell the contractor what they must do, now.

I got this answer:

I was off for 2 days for a family emergency and just saw you email right now. I have followed up with another email that you sent today about our the City team has addressed your concerns. I have also talked with Ali who will be providing a follow up phone call.

I got a call from Ali.  This time, however, Ali’s reason for calling was to admonish me for sending the strong emails I was sending because they upset the staff.  Ali was not admitting the obvious, that nothing had been accomplished by anyone until I started sending my emails showing that I knew what I was talking about.  What everyone was really upset about was I had exposed a serious liability for the city, and made sure that they all understand that they were all complicit. If anyone got hurt because of this illegally allowed fence, everyone would be liable.

So here we are, Sunday, July 21 and that fencing is still in place while they drag their feet to get a new plan.  All they had to do was enforce the original plan – immediately – and make the contractor remove the fence after working hours. Moving the fence is not difficult.  But, the builder has decided to leave it in place as long as they possibly can, thumbing their noses at the community, even though they know they will have to provide pedestrian passage in the new traffic control plan.  Why wait?  The builder just does not give a shit.

What is incredibly disturbing is that the DSD and its personnel are deviating from established safe traffic control rules exposing us all to liability for an accident for no good reason.  The DSD’s reaction has been to protect the builder from the public’s complaints involving legitimate concerns.  I’ll close with a story from one nearby resident that brings the issue home.

When Dad  was here he enjoyed walking out my pedestrian gate on Canon and walking to ST. Agnes everyday.

He is 86 years old, on Oxygen-(asbestos-Navy destroyer escort, engine room) and uses a walker. He has lost his wife, his sister, and a daughter-St. Agnes is a comfort to him-Agnes was also his sisters name.

It is difficult at best to wield the walker on and off the curb, considering no Handi-cap ramp is present on the other side of Canon. It takes him a few minutes longer to walk anywhere. His lack of speed across Canon makes drivers frustrated and makes him very nervous and scared. He was so nervous and scared he tried to go around the block-Canon to Locust to Ave De Portugal and across Evergreen-It proved to be to much of a walk with the Oxygen so…he stopped going to St.Agnes.

Having a crossing guard Monday-Friday from 7am to 3 is not a solution.

Do we really need to do this to an old man just to make a developer’s life easier?  No we don’t.  We won’t.  If it gets fixed this week, I will update this story.

 

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Connor July 22, 2019 at 2:55 pm

Your efforts are much appreciated. In my experience reaching out directly to the city staff involved/associated with a project usually produces the most accurate information, however in many circumstances municipal employees can be reluctant to engage in conversation.

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Avatar Geoff Page July 23, 2019 at 9:47 am

Things have changed downtown, Conner. It is more like an us versus them. I trace the change to the appointment of Robert Vacchi to head the DSD several years ago. I’ve been helping some other people fight a project on Catalina where the developer used the 50% rule to avoid public review or a coastal permit. I sent the city photographs showing the violation and they refused to listen. And, this one is a developer with several problem projects all over Point Loma, not one of the good guys. He did the same thing on Newport and got caught. Just seeing the lengths they went to in order to protect a really bad developer was eye-popping. I’m going to write that one up too. Everyone needs to be diligent in watching developments, the city sure is not.

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Avatar kh July 22, 2019 at 6:28 pm

You know it would’ve been much easier if you just ran over the old man… and maybe a few others. Then it would’ve been corrected within 5 business days.

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Avatar Geoff Page July 23, 2019 at 9:41 am

You know kh, sadly, that is true. I suggested to my wife that I could easily cover my retirement if I went out there and let a car hit me. But, she pointed out the obvious flaws in that idea. Luckily, it won’t come to that but we – the city – have been very lucky for over a year. I just wish I had heard about this sooner.

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Avatar korla eaquinta July 22, 2019 at 8:31 pm

That crossing guard helps me cross there every morning when I walk my dog to LaPlaya! I can’t believe this has been going on for so long. Chalk another one up to the developer!

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Avatar Vern July 23, 2019 at 6:27 am

Maybe some Community Direct Action – simply move the fences on Sunday morning, placing them where safest for the community. And leave a note or banner on the fences with names of the city traffic engineers and their emails/phone number on it.

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Avatar Robert Davis July 23, 2019 at 8:51 am

Leadership starts at the top. Whether it’s our Mayor or Councilmember this is their responsibility. Sadly, we have little of it in the City.

Geoff you have carefully documented the issue and callous mismanagement by DSD, Traffic Engineering and others within the city. Thank you! It is odd that city staff is more concerned about their feeling being hurt by someone holding them accountable rather than simply getting out there AND fixing a safety issue. Should an incident related to safety occur the liability is now obvious.

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Avatar Geoff Page July 23, 2019 at 9:43 am

Thanks, Robert. The lack of compassion and concern by city staff was astonishing.

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Avatar RD July 23, 2019 at 2:58 pm

I drove by there today, 7/23, it remains the status quo. But instead of just hanging out on the corner of Lotus and Cañon, the flag man was at the opening of the construction fence, holding a slow paddle sign for W/B traffic on Cañon.

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Avatar Geoff Page July 23, 2019 at 3:40 pm

Thanks for that update, RD. The new configuration was supposed to go in today, maybe tomorrow.

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Avatar Deb Porter July 23, 2019 at 10:04 am

Thank you for all your hard work. We appreciate it!?

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Avatar Connor July 23, 2019 at 11:19 am

My apologies Deb, although it appears you may be mocking me. I should have chosen my words better. I am thankful for Geoff’s hard work.

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Avatar Geoff Page July 23, 2019 at 11:54 am

The written word is interpreted through our own personal lenses and the picture comes out differently from person to person. I did not take it that you were being critical, Conner, your comment was fine with me.

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Avatar John Aiya July 23, 2019 at 11:08 am

First good thing geoff page has pushed for that the neighbors actually agree with.

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Avatar Geoff Page July 23, 2019 at 12:32 pm

Gee, thanks for the left-handed compliment, Aiya. You just can’t bring yourself to say something nice about anything, can you?

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Avatar Deb Porter July 23, 2019 at 1:10 pm

I meant it as a positive comment- I really am grateful that someone takes the time to try to fix something- especially when it comes from dealing with the ever intransigent DSD….. I think they are wholly owned by developers. Btw- didn’t mean to end my reply with a question mark- meant to add another!!!

Sent from my snazzy iPhone 8 ?

On Jul 23, 2019, at 11:19 AM, OB Rag wrote:

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My apologies Deb, although it appears you may be mocking me. I should have chosen my words better. I am thankful for Geoff’s hard work.
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Avatar Michael Kossett July 23, 2019 at 2:05 pm

Geoff, thank you for your diligence. As someone who is directly and immediately impacted by this project (I live next door), your efforts are appreciated. Not only are they infringing on the street, but they also want us (those that live on church property) to allow them to tear down fences, set up scaffolding and use our garages because they have ‘ limited space’ due to the building being 3” from the property line. Thanks again.

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Avatar Geoff Page July 23, 2019 at 3:38 pm

Thank you, Michael. I’m very sorry you’ve had to live with this stupidity. As I said, I’ve spent my whole career in the construction business. As with any business, there are bad apples but there are mostly hardworking, honest people trying to make a living. Projects like this reflect badly on the industry as a whole and that is part of why I do what I do. But, more importantly, when there is an obvious danger I recognize, I feel compelled to get involved. I would hate to have ignored a problem I knew about like this only to learn later that someone was hurt or even killed. No building is worth that.

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Avatar Deron July 24, 2019 at 3:39 am

Thank you for the time you’ve spent researching and documenting this. As a layman who passes the site daily it all just didn’t seem to pass the smell test but I couldn’t put my finger on anything. Reading this made a light bulb go off constantly. Ive also been curious – when the flagperson holds the sign at his hip showing STOP am I supposed to stop, proceed slowly or proceed at the speed limit?

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Avatar Geoff Page July 24, 2019 at 11:56 am

You’re welcome, Deron. Here is what the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) says:

“04 The optimum method of displaying a STOP or SLOW message is to place the STOP/SLOW paddle on a rigid staff that is tall enough that when the end of the staff is resting on the ground, the message is high enough to be seen by approaching or stopped traffic.”

Many times, a short handled paddle is used without the rigid staff but the visibility issue should be the same, the paddle needs to be held high enough to be as visible to on-coming traffic as described above. Also, since the paddles usually say STOP on one side and SLOW on the other, they are not to be used to stop two lanes of traffic going in opposite directions for obvious reasons. One lane will see STOP and the other will see SLOW. I would ignore a paddle down at someone’s hip.

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Avatar Tim D'Angelo July 25, 2019 at 8:58 am

Geoff,
My appreciation for your support is endless. This has been a problem for a very long time. My wife and I have done everything possible to remedy this abuse, to no avail. It is my hope that your engagement, and that of the community, will provide a solution for this symptomatic problem; ultimately to find a cure for the disease that infects our city. The blatant ignorance, obfuscation, and push-back from the city employees and elected officials is simply unacceptable. We can no longer allow their agendas to drive the narrative. The community should be heard, and the problems should be solved by the people paid or elected to solve them. We need to hold developers accountable, just as much as our city employees. The developers need to know that we will not accept anything but compliance to the law and codes. I truly hope this issue gets the attention of the city; but more importantly the community of Point Loma. It is only a matter of time before they are affected by this blatant behavior by the developers. Thank you, again, Geoff.

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Avatar Geoff Page July 25, 2019 at 11:06 am

Thank you Tim, for your gracious comments. We will all feel a lot better once this is finally remedied. Your comments about the city and developers is spot on. It has been 15 days since the city said they went to the site and told the contractor to redo the traffic plan to allow pedestrian access. As of this morning, no change. They still have an illegal flagger out there with no advance warning to on-coming cars and no way for people to get past the site. Can’t wait to hear their explanation.

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