San Ysidro Is Too Far South for Sidewalks

Juan Mariscal struggles to navigate San Ysidro’s crumbling sidewalks using his walker or in his wheelchair (his wife Irma behind him).
  • Juan Mariscal struggles to navigate San Ysidro’s crumbling sidewalks using his walker or in his wheelchair (his wife Irma behind him).

Juan Mariscal rests a hand on the new walker he started using two days ago. In November, doctors amputated the 64-year-old man’s right leg because of complications from diabetes. During the next three months, as he recovered and learned to use his prosthetic, Mariscal was confined to a wheelchair.

“I couldn’t go anywhere,” he says in a thick Mexican accent. “I couldn’t roll the chair on the sidewalks. Too many bumps and cracks. Many places there are no sidewalks and you have to use the street.” Mariscal worries that doctors might have to amputate his other leg. If they do, he will be back in a wheelchair.

Mariscal sits in the lobby of the San Ysidro Community Service Center, two blocks north of the border crossing, waiting to speak to Councilman David Alvarez about the poor condition of sidewalks. After hearing that District Eight’s new councilmember would be hosting office hours for the south San Diego community, Mariscal caught a bus this morning from his home in north San Ysidro.

“It’s disappointing,” he says. “[The City] puts money where the rich live, but they forget about the poor communities like San Ysidro. Not all of us can afford electric wheelchairs. And that’s what you need to get around here because of the sidewalks. I can’t stay at home and do nothing. I’m not ashamed of being in the chair. I’m ashamed that my wife has to push me. It makes me look weak.”

Mariscal isn’t the only resident upset about San Ysidro’s infrastructure. Community members have complained for decades. Old and inadequate streets and the absence of sidewalks and pedestrian pathways were mentioned in the community plan when it was revised in 1990. Since taking office in early December, Councilman Alvarez says most of the calls he’s received from San Ysidro residents have concerned infrastructure.

“This is supposed to be the international gateway— America’s front door —but look around at the sidewalks and the streets,” he says. “No one really feels like it’s a gateway. How could they?”

Between appointments with constituents, Alvarez walks west from the community service center along Camino de la Plaza, heading for Las Americas outlet mall, on the other side of I-5. As we cross the bridge over the freeway, we can see construction crews working on the new footbridge at the pedestrian port of entry. On the south side of Camino de la Plaza, the sidewalks between the border crossing and the outlet mall are new. Alvarez points to the north side of the street, where a section of sidewalk is missing.

As he looks at the dirt, Alvarez says he can understand why some residents accuse the City of favoring the more affluent neighborhoods. “There is some truth to that,” he says, “but it’s also true that many of those wealthier areas are newer than San Ysidro. This is an old neighborhood.”

The councilmember thinks that part of the problem is geography. Annexed to the city in 1957, San Ysidro and its neighboring South San Diego communities are nearly 20 miles south of downtown, separated from the rest of San Diego by Chula Vista and National City.

To make matters worse, the City forecasts a $56.7 million budget deficit for next year. This year the budget for the Capital Improvements Program, the source of funding for new sidewalks, was $153 million less than it was last year.

The City’s Street Division estimates the deferred maintenance on street pavement at $377 million, according to an audit report on street maintenance released in November 2010. The report said that 17 percent of the streets are in “poor condition.” A study conducted by TRIP, a national transportation research group, found that 50 percent of San Diego’s roads are in poor condition. The city was ranked eighth highest in the nation in substandard road conditions for urban areas of 500,000 people or more.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that curb cuts be built into newly constructed sidewalks. In 2002, an appeals court concluded that the act’s “prohibition of discrimination in the provision of public services applies to the maintenance of public sidewalks.” The case, Barden vs. Sacramento, concerned curb cuts and access to sidewalks already constructed. Although the City of San Diego had initially joined Sacramento in the suit, in late 2002, then–city attorney Casey Gwinn withdrew his support. “It was said…that this is a civil rights issue, and I agree with you,” Gwinn told a group of disability rights advocates. “This is about civil rights.”

Despite the legal position taken by San Diego’s city attorney, the infrastructure backlog continues to grow. And while it does, many of the 28,000 residents living in San Ysidro believe their community has been particularly neglected. “I think of [capital improvement funds] like an hourglass. Money flows from top to bottom. I consider San Ysidro to be the neck of the hourglass,” says Steve Otto, who’s a member of the San Ysidro Community Planning Group and the former executive director of the San Ysidro Business Association, a business improvement district.

Spending on infrastructure in San Ysidro is hard to find in the City’s budget. One project, the West San Ysidro Streetscape project, calls for sidewalk improvements. However, despite beginning project design in 2004, the General Services Department has not yet identified funding for the project.

“The City’s Capital Improvements Program money is held pretty close to the vest,” says Otto. “Not very much of that money finds its way down to San Ysidro.”

Consequently, Otto and other residents have turned to the City’s Redevelopment Agency, which was created to “alleviate conditions of urban blight,” according to the City’s website. They have met with some success. The San Ysidro Redevelopment Project Area comprises business districts near the border. Since 2008, the Redevelopment Agency has allocated $600,000 for new streetlights along East San Ysidro Boulevard.

Lobbying the Redevelopment Agency, however, may no longer be an option if Governor Jerry Brown is successful in his effort to help balance the state’s budget by dismantling each of the state’s 425 redevelopment agencies.

Currently, Otto is heading a planning group subcommittee that is focused on improving the condition of streets and sidewalks. The group has identified 6.35 miles of streets that need to be repaved and 6175 linear feet of sidewalks missing or in disrepair. But that is only a fraction of the total work needed in San Ysidro.

During the subcommittee’s February 4 meeting, subcommittee member and planning group chair Michael Freedman spoke about the importance of identifying needed improvements. At the same time, he expressed frustration that, despite identifying projects, San Ysidro’s list of needed improvements continues to grow. “If projects are not included in the City’s Capital Improvements Program, then it’s very difficult to get any funding,” he said. “But here we are still waiting for projects to get done that we identified 18 years ago.”

Two hours after his meeting with Councilmember Alvarez, Juan Mariscal sits outside his wife Irma’s small apparel store, El Regalo, on West San Ysidro Boulevard. Mariscal doubts that San Ysidro’s infrastructure will ever catch up to the rest of the city’s.

He points north. “You see, there is sidewalk there, and then it stops. It’s nothing but dirt.”

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Most people think it is the city's responsibility to provide sidewalks, but in fact, it is the responsibility of the adjacent property owner. The city does have a 50-50% program, where they will help property owners who want to replace broken sidewalks. The city has other sidewalk programs, but this is only because they are generous, not because they admit to the responsibility.

Most people think it is the city's responsibility to provide sidewalks, but in fact, it is the responsibility of the adjacent property owner.

Nope, it is not the private proieprty owners responsibility-I have no idea who told you that lie but it is false. The private property owner is no more responsible for sidewalks than they are for the road that runs in front of their property or the main sewer line under the street.

Sidewalks are not the repsoniblity of the property owner, it is the muni that is responsible.

As a licensed real estate broker who did a numer of transactions with commercial properties I have had numerous cases of muni's wanting the private property owner or potential owner to cover the muni's costs of installing sidewalks where there were none before, in exchange for granting a variance or something else to the property owner. It never works. The potential buyer of property just moves on to another site, the muni loses jobs and tax revenue, and gov is just being gov wrecking the job market and economy.

I think both posters are partially correct. We live in Los Angeles, but we have owned a condo on Coronado for quite a while. I have never had any sidewalk issues in Coronado, but the city does do sidewalk repairs. There was an open bid in December for a contract to do sidewalk repairs. Up in LA , the cities special projects division does sidewalk repairs. At one time they did have a 50/50 program to help residents with sidewalk repairs, but budget issues kept them from funding it for the past couple of years. At least that’s what the very polite form letter we received said. LA does exclude damages caused by city owned trees, which the city of Los Angeles takes responsibility for. I know from personal experience that they will take care of it, but it’s a long drawn out ordeal to get it done; it took 9 or 10 months. According to the special services division website, there is something called The State of California Improvement Act of 1911 that provides cities the”authority to require property owners to effect repairs to sidewalks abutting their property Should the property owner fail to effect such repairs, City forces are authorized to make the repairs and the property owner is assessed for the cost.” A quick search of San Diego’s city website found this page:
I don’t know about installing new sidewalks, but apparently property owners and the city are responsible for repairing damaged sidewalks. Normal wear and tear or age damage is the responsibility of the homeowner and the city claims responsibility for damage caused by “vehicle accidents, water main breaks and natural subsidence” and damage done by city owned trees. And it seems that the city does have a 50/50 program for some repairs.

Normal wear and tear or age damage is the responsibility of the homeowner

Sidewalks that have aged are not the responsility of the property owner. If the property owner has a tree or in some other way their property damages the sidewalk then the muni could certainly bill the property owner-no argument there. But sidewalks are not real proeprty that the owner has exlcusive acess to, they cannot be charged for normal wear and tear from pedistrian use.

Concrete has a life span like all materials and when they meet their life span they are the muni's problem.

Sidewalks are a municipal core service the same as street repair, traffic lights, street lights and so forth.

apparently you like to argue for arguement's sake. That's fine with me. you apparently also did not bother to investigate the link that I so kindly provided. If you want to dispute what the city of San Diego says on their website, have at it. As far as I'm concerned, if a city, be it SD or LA says "Normal wear and tear or age damage is the responsibility of the homeowner", I'm not going to waste my time argueing with them. Since you purport yourself to be an attorney, from what I've read, maybe your one of those who likes to file nuisance lawsuits, for no good reason, just to be a pain in the ass. I don't know and really I don't care. In this case the facts seem to speak volumes. The city of SD says Normal wear and tear or age damage is the responsibility of the homeowner. Case closed

"Normal wear and tear or age damage is the responsibility of the homeowner, who can take advantage of the City’s 50/50 Cost Sharing Program to have repairs done."


Read it Billy Bob< I mean SurfPuppy, It's the homeowners responsibility for normal wear and tear.

Thank you for the link Tom Johnston, that was very enlightening!!

If someone trips on a broken sidewalk, they can sue the property owner. The owner of the tree with the root that dislodged the sidewalk will be liable. All you have to do is look at the sidewalks in San Diego, and know it's NOBODY'S responsibility.

I can't speak for SD, but in LA, if it's a city owned and maintained tree, the city is liable. We had that exact situation in our neighbor hood several years ago. After 3 or 4 months of nothing being done, several of us had to go downtown and deal with it in person. We just happened to take one of our neighbors along, who was in his late 70's at the time. We casually mentioned how it was hard for him to navigate around a portion of sidewalk that had been uplifted about 5" by tree roots and how fortunate he was not to have been injured when he tripped and fell. I think the picturesa and the casual use of the word lawsuit may have also been beneficial. There was an engineer out within about a week, although it still took at least 4-5 months to get it fixed although they did remove the offending piece of sidewalk and put up a temp barricade pretty quickly; all done to absolve the city of any future liability, I'm sure

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