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‘Very frustrating’: Enhance La Jolla documents 1,270 sidewalk trip hazards in The Village

This spot on Pearl Street is one of 1,270 trip hazards in The Village that Enhance La Jolla documented in a report.
This spot on Pearl Street is one of 1,270 trip hazards in The Village that Enhance La Jolla documented in a report provided to the city of San Diego.
(Enhance La Jolla)

The nonprofit, which administers the La Jolla Maintenance Assessment District, wants answers from the city of San Diego about liability issues, repairs and whether and how it needs to barricade the hazards.

After becoming involved in a second trip-and-fall lawsuit, Enhance La Jolla has provided the city of San Diego with documentation of what it calls 1,270 trip hazards in The Village.

Enhance La Jolla is a nonprofit that administers the La Jolla Maintenance Assessment District with authority to enhance city-provided services, including landscape maintenance, street and sidewalk cleaning, litter and graffiti abatement and additional trash collection in The Village.

The MAD also occasionally privately funds and completes capital improvement projects in public spaces, such as trash can upgrades, bench installation and sign augmentation.

The Nov. 14 document containing photographs and addresses of trip hazards was collected by Enhance La Jolla Chairman Ed Witt, board member Steve Warfield and MAD Manager Mary Montgomery after several days of walking Village sidewalks to identify them.

The effort was prompted by a lawsuit filed against the city in June for an undisclosed amount after a person walking along Silverado Street in The Village reportedly tripped on raised decorative pavers in September 2021.

The city passed the claim to Enhance La Jolla’s insurance carrier, arguing that Enhance La Jolla should have identified and “barricaded” the hazard with caution tape and/or cones and notified the city.

For the second time this year, the city claims the nonprofit has responsibility in connection with an incident in The Village, but Enhance La Jolla says this time ‘we’re not going to stand for it.’

A different lawsuit filed against the city in April stated that in January 2020, a resident was walking along Pearl Street in La Jolla when she tripped in an empty tree well, fell and hit her face on the sidewalk. That case was settled for $40,000, and Enhance La Jolla’s insurance paid for it, Witt said.

“In 2019, Enhance La Jolla Inc. signed a four-year contract with the city to manage operations of the La Jolla Maintenance Assessment District,” Leslie Wolf Branscomb, public information officer for the San Diego city attorney’s office, said in October. “In that contract, Enhance La Jolla Inc. agreed to regularly maintain all sidewalks consistent with [a] City Council policy and to barricade all sidewalk safety hazards and to notify the city.”

Witt said Nov. 16 that the “boilerplate contract” that requires the MAD to identify and barricade trip hazards does not specify how to barricade them and doesn’t take into account what The Village would look like if all 1,270 hazards were barricaded.

“I can tell you that it would force most people to walk on the street,” Witt said. “Who would be responsible if they tripped on the hundreds of potholes ... on the street or if they were hit by a car?”

He added that “it would look horrible” and impact holiday shopping.

Prospect Street contains several trip hazards, according to Enhance La Jolla.
(Enhance La Jolla)

Witt said the document of trip hazards was sent to City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, and the city’s Economic Development Department, along with a question about how to barricade the hazards, but he said neither office had replied.

“It’s been radio silence,” Montgomery said. “It’s very discouraging in that MAD has made a good-faith effort to proactively show the city where these issues are and there has been no response. … This is very frustrating.”

She added that she is fulfilling her responsibility to “notify the city of an issue when we see it.”

LaCava told the La Jolla Light that his office received the material about the hazards and appreciates “the time they took to document” them.

LaCava said he is working to solve whether and how the MAD should barricade the large number of identified hazards.

“It’s a policy decision as to what we expect of MADs when we get to this scale,” he said.

As a demonstration, Enhance La Jolla Chairman Ed Witt set up a barricade near where a 2020  trip and fall took place.
As a demonstration, Enhance La Jolla Chairman Ed Witt set up caution tape and cones near where a 2020 trip and fall took place.
(Ed Witt)

The documentation followed a similar inventory the MAD carried out in May with a representative of LaCava’s office, referencing unfunded and funded sidewalk repairs, Montgomery said.

“Not one of these funded improvements has been accomplished,” Montgomery said this week. “Where’s the response?”

“Even if they were to tell us that they didn’t have the manpower or the finances, that would be something,” Witt said.

LaCava said no specific sidewalks in The Village have been funded yet.

He said the state of The Village’s sidewalks mirrors conditions in other older communities across San Diego and that he is working with Mayor Todd Gloria’s office to find funding for repairs.

“We want to encourage pedestrian activity,” LaCava said.

Witt said “the bigger issue here [is that] property owners who are ultimately now going to be partially or maybe even fully liable … need to be aware of the sidewalks in front of their property because they could be dragged into a lawsuit should somebody trip and fall.”

Witt said he hopes the new document of hazards will benefit the property owners “so they can proactively contact the city” under San Diego’s 50/50 Cost Sharing Program, which states that property owners and the city will split the cost of sidewalk repairs when necessary because of deterioration.

With the MAD, he said, “the city feels free based on the contract to just put [its repair] responsibility on our insurance company or on us.”

Witt said the MAD would run out of money if its insurance had to pay for all hazards.

LaCava said addressing the question of liability is his “top priority” and that he’s working with Gloria and the city attorney’s office to “see how to talk about this.”

“I’m excited at the progress we’re making on this issue,” LaCava said.

Still, Witt said “the city is not being a team player.”

“MADs are established to help the communities be better than the city can make them,” he said. “Our board works really hard to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to enhance La Jolla through a lot of hard work and organization and creative thinking.

“We’re just trying to be partners and we feel like we’re being not treated fairly.”

San Diego spokesman Jerry McCormick said city staff is reviewing the information provided by Enhance La Jolla.

“The city’s goal is to work in partnership with our Maintenance Assessment District contractors to ensure contract compliance, safety and the overall success of commercial corridors providing enhanced services,” McCormick said.

Witt maintained that “we’re not trying to pick a fight with the city. I’m just trying to make sure that the La Jolla MAD is doing what it should be doing and that we’re not going to be held liable for all these things that really we’re not responsible for.” ◆