What has started out as a very wet winter in Los Angeles could shape up to be one of the worst pothole seasons too.
Dozens of repair crews took to the streets Saturday to patch up hundreds of potholes and other road damage caused by recent storms.
"We hope to make between 10,000 to 15,000 small asphalt repairs, including potholes, pop-outs and skin patching," said William Robertson, director of the city Bureau of Street Services.
The agency has received about 3,000 calls from residents in the last week about potholes and other road damage, he said. More than 50 street repair workers participated in Saturday's operation, and several dozen more were expected to join them Sunday, Robertson said.
A large pothole near the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and Alameda Street has been the bane of commuters for more than two weeks. Cars trembled, tractor-trailers wobbled and some drivers cursed as they attempted to maneuver around the crater.
But relief for commuters arrived Saturday when nine workers used shovels and pickaxes to clear out loose asphalt, while a grinder pulverized the surface in an effort to repave about 400 feet of asphalt near the intersection, said Roland Mares, project manager for HP Telecommunications.
He and his crew, who do not work for the city, were restoring the asphalt after placing a telecommunications conduit there several weeks ago. Recent storms had prevented them from sealing the trench completely.
"We placed metal plates over it, but the rain came and made everything mushy," he said. "Now we're back to finish the job."
Refueling his truck at a gas station across the street, Victor Villagra, 34, watched crew members repairing the street.
"Muy bien," he said, nodding contentedly. "Potholes damage trucks too. It was so bad you had to roll over it slowly. Or else you end up losing your cargo."
The light construction created a traffic jam that many drivers said they were happy to endure to get the street fixed.
"It's great that they're doing this," said Brian Pickett, 22. "I drive through this street a lot, and it's been bad."
"It needed to be taken care of," said Mark Gonzalez, 32. "I mean, you're in California, you've got tourists coming here, and this is what you're going to show them?"
Many drivers also said they had seen more potholes in the city recently than they could remember, and Robertson said the increase could be attributed to budget cuts and furloughs that have led to increased emergency response times and a reduction in basic services.
Furloughs have made it more difficult for workers to play catch-up, he said. Street services workers are required to take 26 furlough days a year.
"The bulk of our operations is to trim trees, fill potholes, and I have 26 fewer days to respond to residents," Robertson said.
But now the bureau could face even more furlough days.
City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana released a report Wednesday calling for new furloughs for some civilian employees, including workers in departments that handle streets services, personnel and facility maintenance. If the plan is approved by the City Council, some workers would see their furlough days jump from 26 to 36 this year.
As a result, city street crews have launched an online campaign to draw attention to the furloughs that have contributed to the deterioration of Los Angeles' streets.
Although the city is facing a deficit of at least $350 million in the next fiscal year, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said, "There will be money for street repair without question" in next year's budget. But he stressed that every department is facing cuts.
"Until last July, I was repairing 31/2 times the potholes that my predecessors did," Villaraigosa said Saturday after attending a campaign kickoff event for Eastside Councilman Jose Huizar in Boyle Heights. "But we're down a little bit — we're down and we will probably go down further. There's no question that the financial crisis that we face is going to have an impact on services."
Times staff writer Maeve Reston contributed to this report.