Complaints of Potholes Keep Workers Busy

TIMES STAFF WRITER

They have sprouted--like stubborn, unwanted weeds--throughout the city with the recent record rains.

Weeds, however, won't throw your car out of alignment.

Requests to repair storm-related potholes have shot up 46%, from 2,527 in January and February last year to 3,702 during the same period this year, forcing city street maintenance crews to work on weekends to try to get an upper hand on the deluge. In the San Fernando Valley, pothole complaints rose 28%.

"It's a never-ending thing," complained city street worker Bob Linn, as he patched a hole the size of a bathroom sink on Wilbur Avenue in Reseda. His work partner, Brian Smith, agreed. "Yeah, and they are getting bigger."

As a policy, the street maintenance departments tries to fill potholes within 24 hours after they are reported. But with the overflow of work and a staff shortage caused by a two-year hiring freeze, that goal is out of reach.

"We are getting done what we have to do," said maintenance supervisor Leonard Fields. "We just aren't getting it done as fast as we'd like."

In anticipation of more complaints, the Los Angeles City Council last month approved a toll-free number for residents to report storm-related street holes. But the number was initially misprinted, sending about 200 calls in one week to a used car parts store in Phoenix.

Once the error was corrected, the complaints came pouring in. (For the record, the number--the right one--is 800-498-CITY.)

To keep up with the calls for repairs on 7,000 miles of city streets, work crews were assigned to work four straight Saturdays in January, during which they filled 6,000 chuckholes citywide.

"It's not usual that we have to resort to overtime to repair potholes," said Dennis Harding, general superintendent for the city's street maintenance unit. "Hopefully, with the dry weather we will be able to catch up with the numbers."

Potholes are created when rainwater seeps through cracks in the pavement and undermines the soil underneath. The constant impact of vehicle tires eventually causes the pavement to crack and break free.

Older and well-traveled streets generally require the majority of pothole repairs, Harding said. In the San Fernando Valley, the number of requests for pothole repairs increased from 912 in January and February of last year to 1,170 in the same period this year.

Harding said the number of complaints has not increased as much in the Valley as in the rest of the city simply because the Valley's streets are generally not as old.

Nonetheless, Valley motorists have hit a pothole or two.

"We've hit some of them to avoid getting into an accident and have wondered what they've done to our alignment," said Van Nuys resident Prudy Schultz, who has complained to city officials several times about road conditions. "I'd like to see the city reimburse us for that."

Richard Close, an attorney and president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn., said many of his neighbors have complained lately about road conditions. But he said the severity of the problem does not impress him.

"I come from Boston where a pothole is defined as being two feet in diameter," he said. "We are not in the condition of Boston yet."

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