While San Diego streets and sidewalks appear like deathtraps to critics of the unregulated e-scooter industry, the city faces yet another risky urban challenge: mangled curb painting.
"Painted curbs are important because they help convey a specific message to drivers where special parking rules must be followed," observes a February 11 performance review by interim city auditor Kyle Elser.
The report notes that "five colors of paint are used throughout the City to restrict curb parking: white – passenger loading parking, yellow – commercial loading parking, green – short term parking zones, blue – disabled parking, and red – no parking. The white, yellow, and green zones can have time limitations and specific enforcement hours that limit parking. "
"Red zones prohibit parking which can be in response to public safety issues and/or property owner’s requests," the document adds. "Additionally, gray paint is used to cover previously painted curbs that should not be painted."
But managers of the city's Transportation and Storm Water Department and its other curb painting agencies have stumbled badly, allowing colors to fade and wasting time on misplaced neighborhood demands for new zones, the auditors found.
"The current process is primarily to paint curbs based upon requests and complaints rather than a uniform City plan, and the City does not have a maintenance plan to repaint faded curbs," says the report.
Exacerbating matters, "the City does not have a mechanism to readily identify authorized painted curbs and has not developed procedures ensuring appropriate coordination with other City departments and agencies related to painting curbs within the City."
As a result, the report adds, "the City is not providing the most efficient curb painting services to residents due to increased time spent researching the legality of painted curbs and redundancies in curb painting operations."
Poorly managed curb painting brings other heightened risks. "The inability to maintain painted curbs related to safety for pedestrians and motorists could result in legal liability for the City."
Color maintenance may be costly, but the result in the form of a mounting parking ticket count brings in a sizable pile of cash, the report notes. "During FY 2017, the City of San Diego issued 61,055 citations related to painted curb parking violations and subsequently collected $4,766,184, including a CA state surcharge of $12.50 that is mandated to be collected by the City per citation for the State."
A much smaller revenue source is represented by fees paid by those who successfully petition city hall to have their curbs custom painted, a process faulted by the audit. "Safety-related curb painting requests have no fee. In contrast, non-safety related curb painting requests include a $277 application fee," according to the report. "Once the request is entered, the Traffic Engineering Division staff reviews the request and makes a determination."
But less than half of the "complaints, requests, and applications for new painted curbs that are received from the public" ultimately get a green light. "Since the fees are not collected until the requests are approved, the staff are spending similar amounts of time reviewing requests that are not approved without collecting a fee as on approved requests with the fee." Revenue from new curb painting fees totaled $46,808 in fiscal year 2016 and $62,721 in fiscal year 2017, according to the audit.
In a February 8 letter to Elser, Transportation and Storm Water department director Kris McFadden agreed with the audit's four recommendations, including creating new "performance metrics to evaluate whether...curb painting goals and objectives are being met," and “written summaries of the City policy for curb painting for the public to better understand and utilize the City curb painting services."