Pounding the Pavement : Student Crews Survey 600 Miles of Sidewalks in Pasadena in Search of Every Crack, Bump and Defect

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Two months and 500 miles have gone by since a small band of students began trudging Pasadena’s sidewalks, measuring and recording everything in their path.

They have worn out countless pairs of shoes, confronted hostile dogs, answered a zillion questions and learned more about Pasadena and life than they ever guessed would be possible in one summer’s work.

Now they are pushing to cover all 600 miles of sidewalks, curbs and gutters in Pasadena before they have to return to school.

If they meet their goal, the eight students will have accomplished far more than the city anticipated when it hired them for the unique project.


The idea last spring when the project was conceived was to make a complete inventory of Pasadena’s sidewalks, curbs and gutters, measuring the frontage of every property and recording and indicating the size of every crack, bump and defect.

The information goes into a computer that will give the Public Works and Transportation Department a way to determine the amount of repair work needed throughout the city, the areas most in need of repairs, the cost of capital improvements and how long it will take to get it all done.

The city has never had such an inventory, Cynthia Kurtz, capital program administrator, said. Until Kurtz and other employees had the idea to hire students at $7 an hour, such a project was deemed too expensive since only private companies were known to do the surveys.

Last spring the city sought high school and college students who had taken courses in higher math, since the measuring requires some on-the-spot mental calculations. About 30 were interviewed.


The eight were hired on the basis of several qualifications, Kurtz said. All are A students who have a variety of interests, indicating they are what she calls “self-starters.” They are athletic--a prerequisite for walking several miles a day, often up and down steep hills.

And they turned out to be far more determined than anyone expected.

While the Department of Public Works and Transportation hoped that 60% of Pasadena’s sidewalks, curbs and gutters could be inventoried this summer, the students have already completed 80% and aim to make it 100%.

“I think we’ll do it,” said Nazilla Sharifi, 19, a Citrus College student who is the team leader.


Others are Lori Takeuchi, 18, of Altadena, who will enter Stanford this month; Melissa Marsee, 17, a Duarte High School student; William Dankenbring, 18, of Pasadena, entering Pasadena City College; John Cafarella, 20, of Arcadia, in his third year at Cal Poly Pomona; Wayde Lundgren, 18, of La Verne, a Citrus College student; Richard Wimenta, 18, entering Cal Poly Pomona, and Sajjad Khan, 17, of Hacienda Heights, a student at Los Altos High School.

Khan recently left to attend a music camp for drummers and was replaced by Lundgren.

The students work in pairs, one rolling a wheel that measures distances and the other noting the condition of the sidewalk, curb and gutter of every property.

They meet at City Hall at 7 a.m. every weekday, and Sharifi drives them to their assigned areas in a city car. She brings them water and takes them to bathrooms during the day, collects them for a half-hour lunch in whatever park they are near, returning them to City Hall at 3 p.m.


None of the students have complained about weather or other discomforts.

In fact, they seem to have only praise for what they consider to be a great summer job and perhaps an adventure they’ll remember all their lives.

Pasadena is a city of extremes, having wealthy neighborhoods with immense homes and areas of extreme poverty. There are sidewalks along the banks of the Arroyo Seco and on hilltops in the Upper Hastings Ranch and Glen Oaks areas.

Everywhere they have been, the students said, people are nice, curious, courteous and interested in improving their neighborhoods. They said they have never had reason to be afraid of anyone, even in high-crime areas.


“I guess people just see our orange vests and they trust us,” Sharifi said.

What the students like the best is children, they said, and what they dislike most is dogs. They have made the acquaintance of several garbage collectors.

“People make the day better, especially kids,” Dankenbring said. “They ask us to not repair their sidewalks for a few years, so they can keep riding their skateboards over the bumps until they grow up.”

Takeuchi said: “I’ve lived in the area my entire life and there are parts I didn’t know existed. There’s a whole Armenian community, for instance. And I’ve learned that people stick together. They all want the best for their neighborhoods.”


Marsee said: “I’ve learned more about working together and getting along with each other than anything else.”

Cafarella said: “People everywhere have been great. The only dangerous things are dogs.”

The teams cover the length of about 70 blocks a day--that comes to 140 blocks, counting each side of the street, or about 12 miles.

“They’re a real energetic crew,” Kurtz said. “Their report back to me is, ‘We’re going to get there.’ They’re convinced they can get it all done this summer.”


“The day we started was then the hottest day of summer, and we began on the most damaged streets--Bonnie and Sierra Bonita,” Takeuchi said. “It’s all been downhill from there.”