City to settle La Jolla resident’s sinkhole claim

By Pat Sherman

The City of San Diego is preparing to settle a damage claim filed by Murilands resident Jim Jones, whose driveway collapsed in December of 2010 after a storm drain pipe burst on his property.

“We’re hopeful of a settlement on all of this,” Deputy City Attorney Fritz Ortlieb told

La Jolla Light


On April 22, Ortlieb and about 10 other city officials — including District 1 City Councilmember Sherri Lightner, engineers and water and risk management department employees — visited Jones’ property on Camino Del Teatro to assess the damage and discuss possible remedies.

Jones said Lightner had previously visited to view the damage.

“She said there was money for repairs like this, and of course the city is always saying they don’t have any money,” he said.

The damage occurred after a rusty segment of corrugated metal pipe burst during a heavy rainstorm. The leak caused a mudslide that weakened the ground below Jones’ asphalt driveway, leading to a sinkhole that nearly swallowed a truck parked in the driveway belonging to Jones’ daughter. The gap also left an underground electrical line exposed.

“You never think it’s going to happen to you, but here I am,” Jones said.

The rusty pipe is located underground, within a public right-of-way running along Jones’ property line. Ortlieb said the city plans to replace the 12-inch metal pipe with a more durable, 18-inch concrete pipe. However, due to environmental laws and other potential regulatory hurdles that must be cleared before permits for the job can be issued, the work is not scheduled to begin until January 2015 (with a target completion date of June 2015).

“If it were just a matter of repairing his driveway two years ago we could have done that, but what good would that do if we had to tear it all up again to replace our (pipe),” Ortlieb said. “It’s the fact that we have a major piece of city infrastructure right here that has caused these delays. It’s not like we’re trying to string him along or anything. It just takes time.”

Though Jones hired an attorney and a geological consultant to help make his case for redress, the city has yet to patch the driveway, or offer Jones financial reimbursement to hire his own contractor, as he requested.

The city has estimated the job will cost about $910,000, though Jones said he believes he could find a contractor to do it for less.

A letter Jones’ attorney sent city claims representative James Coldren in November, 2011 included testimony from Advanced Geotechnical Solutions, stating that “significant rains” could lead to further damage.

“The driveway and possibly the garage could be in jeopardy,” the consultant stated. “This is especially true given the drawn-out process that the city will require for review.”

Jones said the city has changed the projected start date for the project several times, the last time moving it from 2014 to 2015. “They just keep moving it out,” Jones said. “Another year will go by and it’ll be out to 2020.”

Maneuvering a vehicle in the truncated driveway is so difficult that Jones said he rarely drives his Lexus, instead backing an older pickup truck down the steep driveway to exit his property.

Jones said he and his wife are looking to sell the property, but the damaged driveway and drainage problems make the deal less palatable to potential buyers.

“One of the buyers ran away,” he said. “We’ve got to get this (schedule) moved up, because we want to move out of here.”

Project designs are about 30 percent complete, Ortlieb said.

“We have to, first of all, design it and procure engineers to study it,” he said. “We’ve got to procure a contractor to do it. Permits are another issue that we’ve got to consider. We may or may not need them. I’m quickly evaluating all these issues right now.”