La Jolla surveyor says property markers are being inadvertently destroyed by city

By Ashley Mackin

Land survey monuments — small pins placed in cement statewide since the 1920s — are crucial in determining property lines. La Jolla land surveyors are accusing City of San Diego contractors of removing these monuments and not replacing or recording them during projects.

“When property lines are surveyed, under California law, the surveyor drills a hole in the cement, fills it with lead, and puts a monument (cap) on it,” explained La Jolla land surveyor Mike Pallamary. “Once these markers are in, people start to build. Without that marker it is impossible to figure out where your property is.”

California law states these markers must be protected and if they are removed, where they were located must be recorded so they can be replaced.

The Contractors State License Board is investigating the city in this matter and Pallamary said he currently has three cases involved in litigation that are based on missing markers.

Using maps recorded during the development of the state, Pallamary said he knows where markers should be. “You can simply go to those places and see the markers are not there,” he said.

If the city does not replace or record the markers, and any land-ownership issues come up, “the property owners are hung out to dry,” Pallamary said. In the event the property has to be surveyed and markers must be replaced, this can cost property owners up to $8,000.

These markers occasionally get uprooted during street repaving or city projects.

“Nothing wrong with repaving the streets [and] everyone wants new sewer lines and water lines, but the law requires you protect the markers,” Pallamary said. “That’s the beginning and the end.”

The reason the city does not thoroughly protect these markers, Pallamary said, is money. “They waste all the money needed to maintain the streets and monuments on city pensions. It is simply a matter of priorities,” he said.

Greg Hopkins, assistant deputy director city land surveyor for the City of San Diego, acknowledged that in the past, the city has not been as strict as it is now, but the lack of protection for these markers is not intentional.

“Yes, there have been times in the past that survey monuments were inadvertently destroyed or paved over and perhaps in times past the city wasn’t quite a diligent as it is now,” he said.

He also said the city was not at 100 percent for preserving monuments due to human error, contractors not hiring surveyors, and public utility companies trenching in public right-of-ways.

“We have made great strides in trying to make sure that all the departments involved with the [Capital Improvement Project] program are aware of the survey monument perpetuation issue, and are making sure that the field survey section is involved at the early stages in the process so as to be able tie out any monuments that may be affected by any proposed improvements,” Hopkins said.

He added that preserving these markers is an important issue for the city, and credits Pallamary with keeping this issue on people’s minds.

“Although this is not a new issue for any agency in the State that I’m aware of, Mike Pallamary has been the primary driver of this movement to make or remind cities and counties, and surveyors in general, of their responsibilities surrounding this issue.”