As the San Diego water department plans to plant several dozen miles of pressurized 48-inch-diameter steel pipes to and from its pure water plant, residents of University City are worried.
They are expressing those concerns at meetings held by water department officials for people in the areas the construction will plow through. The construction project calls for busting up pavement, digging trenches 20 feet deep and wide enough to be safe to work in, hauling the soil away and bringing in sand and sometimes gravel for pipe beds beneath 48-inch steel pipes.
The meetings are full of surprises: the woman who reminds her neighbors that “if we’re argumentative, they’re not going to be inclined to meet with us,” who is president of a group that is suing the city lawsuit to challenge the adequacy of the project’s 433-page environmental review.
“It took an hour and 15 minutes to get here (because of road construction) so I had lots of time to think about how construction will affect us,” said Ruth DeSantis.
University City is already feeling the impact of road, highway and rail construction while SANDAG builds the MidCoast Trolley line and the I-5 Genessee exit is improved. The area will barely rest in peace before the water piping begins, most likely next March or April.
The city is building the first water purifying station across the street from the existing North City Water Reclamation Plant, a quarter mile northeast of where the 805 intersects with Miramar Road/La Jolla Village Drive. By 2021, it should be producing 30 million gallons per day of potable water, about a third of the region’s water supply.
The plan calls for 8.4 miles of piping for moving purified water east from the plant to the Miramar Reservoir, with the first leg of the route underneath Eastgate Mall. They hope to keep one functional lane of traffic in each direction along the streets that will be torn up to place the piping, senior construction engineer Steve Lindsay said. “It’s construction. It’s a tough project.”
Then there’s the 10.7 miles of pipe – actually two pipes - bringing sewage from the Morena pumping station to the plant along a tortured route. (The second pipe sends the concentrated waste to the Point Loma sewage treatment plant from the water purification plant.) The route includes crossing under the 805 and heading west on Executive Drive, making a serious zigzag south-north-south by University Town Center and then traveling under Genessee.
That tortured route is one of the issues raised in the University City Community Foundation’s lawsuit filed in May.
The logistics of more than 20 miles of 20-foot-deep trenching are staggering, questions are innumerable. Along with University City, city officials are meeting with groups in Bay Park, Clairemont and the Scripps Ranch-Miramar Ranch North areas. The pipe is expected to last 75 years, Lindsay said.
At the heart of the meetings: a single question. How can city officials make this heavy construction bearable for residents?
“There’s no silver bullet, we know that,” Lindsay said. “We’re looking for ideas from you and we’ll keep talking with you to do our best to make this work as well as it can.”
City officials want to find ways to reach residents and businesses affected by the construction – no one platform reaches everyone any more. Some residents recommended Shift, a consortium of agencies that posts updates on construction. Others suggested social media – Twitter and Nextdoor and email blasts. Door hangers, postings on church bulletin boards were among the platforms to consider for notifying people.
“There’s no one way, there will be 10 ways,” Lindsay said, noting that he has even spoken about construction projects from a church pulpit.
University City Planning Group member and student Andie Hosch said UCSD students could probably be recruited to build an app so locals could keep up with the construction and its impacts. “It will look good on a resume,” she said.
Because the pipe is pressurized rather than sloped – as most sewer pipes are – the contractors will be able to build segments out of order. But the large and heavy equipment needed for the work limits the wisdom of jumping around.
The city hasn’t signed any contracts yet, but expects to put it out to bid late this year.
Officials say they intend to ask for night work in the contracts – though there are extra costs to that. They hope to have crews working four 10-hour days rather than five 8-hour days because the first hour of each day isn’t very productive – uncovering what was covered at the end of the day before; moving equipment back into place, marking traffic routes and other setting up.
The crews won’t work between Thanksgiving to New Year’s, and they don’t want crews to work in front of schools during pick-up and drop-off times. They want to reach people in the complexes where the driveways come out on Genessee and they’re hoping to pack up before southbound rush hour traffic gets too heavy.
“So far we haven’t stuck to a single agenda,” said Lewis Michaelson, a professional facilitator whose firm, Katz & Associates, was hired to herd the vocal crowd through the third of four meetings. By the end of the meeting, the group was planning for six meetings.
Though the groups of residents from the planning group, the community association, several of the larger residential complexes seemed to be working well with city engineers, in a vocal and disorganized kind of way, several people said later that the first meeting the city held for University City was very contentious.