Crumbling 'unimproved' street leaves residents confused

Between potholes and uneven surfaces, chipped paint and deep cracks, there are many streets in La Jolla that could use repair. But did you know the City has a category called unimproved streets to identify certain roads, and the City’s resurfacing program does not cover these streets? For the residents along one of them, Calle Majorca in the La Jolla Mesa area, the classification has been a thorn in their sides for more than four years.

With their street riddled with potholes and surfaces of two different depths, Maureen and Dick Gibbons began reaching out to the City in April 2012, hoping to get some major repairs scheduled. “It just killed me to see what I pay in property taxes, knowing I’ve been watching my street deteriorate and the City has done nothing about it,” she said. “The City has come and patched the potholes every now and again, but the patching doesn’t last. This street is like a forgotten soul.”

There are three residents who live on the street, and they have no other entry and egress points.

According to City documents, the 56-year-old street was constructed in 1960 and hasn’t been touched since. But when it was established, it was built as an unimproved street. In a string of e-mail correspondence between the City and the Gibbons, they were told of their street’s category in November 2015 by representatives from City Councilmember Sherri Lightner’s office, but not what that category means.

City public information officer Anthony Santacroce explained to La Jolla Light that “an unimproved street is never built to basic standards. Essentially, these are streets where some asphalt was simply laid on top of dirt; most frequently for access to homes or to address dust/rutting of dirt roads.” San Diego Council Policy 200-03 (created to establish a policy regarding City contributions to the improvement of unimproved and partially improved streets in older urbanized areas) goes on to define an unimproved street as one that “has no surfacing or that has a minimum of surface treatment so that its thickness and quality are such as to be negligible.”

Related street categories

Unimproved streets are one of a few unique categories of public streets in San Diego. The list also includes improved streets, which are constructed to current design standards; marginal streets, aka partially improved streets with all-weather surfacing but not completely improved to the standards established for roads and streets in the urbanized area; and paper streets, which exist on maps but not in reality.

Council Policy 200-03 states, “there are approximately 53 miles of unimproved streets in use and a sizeable portion of this inventory provides access to property in the urbanized areas. In addition, there are many more miles of street where existing improvements are not up to modern standards. These streets are in areas that were subdivided many years ago before street improvements were required in connection with subdivision development.”

Santacroce added that “the City’s resurfacing program is limited to improved streets and partially improved streets … the responsibility to improve the road belongs to the adjacent property owners. Once a public street or alley is improved to current standards, the City will maintain it to the same standard as other streets within the improved street network, given available funding. The City does provide minor pavement repair for unimproved roads and alleys, such as pothole repair and hazardous patching to make them passable for vehicular traffic.”

If the residents along Calle Majorca were interested in fixing their street themselves, they would be responsible for bringing the street to City Code, which could include the installation of street lights and sidewalks. 

“You have to be in conformance with zoning laws of the surrounding streets, you can’t just do whatever you want,” Santacroce pointed out. “There are public safety issues and drainage issues to consider. Even if it’s a private street, you have to get the City permits and the street work would still have to be inspected.”

Faced with a new understanding of their street problems, the Gibbons said they would look into their options to improve the street themselves, with the hope the City would only require they repave the street and not mandate the installation of sidewalks and street lights. Maureen said, “I don’t know how much choice we have, and because there are so few of us (on the street), it’s going to be difficult. I feel like we’re in a no man’s land (because) we are on a public street, but we’d have to fix it ourselves if we want it fixed, at a price that could be astronomical. I think it is the most unfair system. Talk about being stuck between a rock and hard place.” 

Want to know more? Visit streets.sandiego.gov

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