A pothole repair crew. Photo Credit: City of San Diego

The San Diego region maybe in a moderate drought and “way below normal” for rainfall, according to Matt Moreland of the National Weather Service, but with six more weeks of the rainy season to come, there is still a good chance for more jarring potholes.

Since Jan. 1, just .86 inches of rain have fallen at the San Diego International Airport, compared to the normal 3.77 inches, according to the local office of the weather service.

How much do these holes in the road brought on by rain cost drivers and San Diego taxpayers?

To find out, the Times of San Diego filed a public-records act request with San Diego for “reimbursement to vehicle damage due to road conditions maintained by the city” and for what parts of the cars and trucks are being damaged by the potholes.  

The city reported that since 2017 it has paid damages on 1,279 incidents, averaging $495.65 each for a total of $633,939.23. It should be noted that there was a good chunk of time during this period when vehicle traffic was greatly diminished due to the coronavirus pandemic.

We also asked how many complaints were rejected and on what grounds. A staffer handling public records requests replied that the city doesn’t track “the number of sustained complaints and the number of complaints rejected and the grounds for dismissal.”

The lack of these records was confirmed by my own experience. I filed a claim providing photos and a copy of my mechanic’s note saying my new wheel rim was destroyed by a pothole. After the claim was rejected, I tried to find out why, contacting the city, not as a journalist but as a citizen.

The city could not provide me details on the grounds for my claim’s denial. The damage was caused by a pothole on a city-maintained road leading onto Interstate 5. It is something I’ve noticed at other city-maintained freeway entrances and exits.

The city’s Department of Risk Management is responsible for responding to open-records requests. It noted in its responses to Times of San Diego that the department doesn’t track a number of other related items.

My request had asked “what part of the car are they claiming damages for caused by street conditions, for example, front end, tires, tire rims.” Also requested was information on where in San Diego the claims are being made.

“We are unable to generate any reports that provide what part of the car was damaged,” the department responded.

The 76-page document provided by the city does show the recipient of the check, where it happened and the date of the pothole encounter. For example, one line in the document reads in part “clmt alleges veh damage from pothole.” A check for $502.12 was paid on Aug. 12, 2019, with an address in the 10000 block of Black Mountain Road

But the city said it cannot provide more information, including zip codes, out of privacy concerns.

According to the American Automobile Association, the proliferation of potholes nationwide is $3 billion a year headache.

JW August is a San Diego-based broadcast and digital journalist.