Plummer street to be repaved after 60 years of patchwork

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The quarter-mile stretch of Plummer Street, between Etiwanda Avenue and Reseda Boulevard, will be repaved this month after 60 years of patchwork. Photo Credit: Misael Virgen / Assistant Photo Editor

Just a block from the CSUN campus lies a quarter-mile stretch of Plummer Street that locals said they have been hoping to see fixed for decades.  This section of the road is under the jurisdiction of the city of Los Angeles and has been maintained by the Bureau of Streets Services for nearly 60 years.

After spending 33 years staring at it from her restaurant’s store window, Rose Vargas said she has lost almost all hope that she will see Plummer Street be repaved.

“It’s just a bunch of holes—(the city) doesn’t care and won’t fix it,” Vargas said. “They just patch it up and come when people complain. Instead of resurfacing the street, like they should do, they just come and patch up the holes. And if you think they are going to fix it, you’re crazy.”

The bumpy main entrance to CSUN, between Etiwanda Avenue and Reseda Boulevard, is set to be repaved this month, according to the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services.

Repairs in the past have left the road patchy and discolored, with cracking and dips throughout. According to locals, it has been this way for decades.

Vargas, co-owner of My Hero, a sandwich shop off of Plummer Street and Reseda Boulevard, said the road used to be worse.

“Years ago it would be flooded and looked like a river,” Vargas said. “It was really, really bad. I actually think it’s better now even with the holes.”

Roads like Plummer Street should be repaved every 15 to 20 years if they’re not preserved by other methods, said Dan Leon, Bureau of Street Services superintendent. Plummer Street has not  been repaved since its inception in 1951.

Instead, it is been filled and re-filled with hot asphalt for at least the last ten years, according to Bureau of Street Services documents.

Between 2000 and 2010, Plummer Street was repaired two times a year on average. Its most common defect was potholes. In November 2009, crews were sent out three separate times to repair potholes.

In those 10 years, 18 service requests were submitted by citizens. One of those requests came from Los Angeles City Councilmember Greig Smith, whose district this section of Plummer Street falls within.

City Council District 12 has been working with the Bureau of Street Services to get Plummer Street on a resurfacing program. Council districts are allocated a certain number of miles that can be repaved yearly, and council members used to be able to submit their preferences to the Bureau of Street Services, Leon said. This is no longer the case.

According to a statement released by Smith’s office, he is advocating for a motion to put street reconstruction back in the hands of the council.

But no matter whose hands Plummer’s fate has been in, the street has been deferred from resurfacing programs since at least 2005, according to Bureau of Street Services work orders.

And even still, with Plummer Street’s resurfacing on a committed projects list available on the Bureau of Street Services website, officials say it is  tentative.

“(It’s) probably 98 percent sure that this will be final,” said Bureau of Street Services Superintendant Mark Simon. “There’s always room for someone to put a monkey wrench in it.”

The proverbial “monkey wrench” can come in the form of other projects that affect the street, like utility lines or signal maintenance. A Bureau of Street Services in-house database shows that in 2009, Plummer Street’s resurfacing was postponed at the request of a city department that coordinates traffic signals.

Leon, whose job is to approve resurfacing programs, said the estimated cost of the street’s resurfacing is $88,000 and the project should take two to three days.

The price is being covered by the state through Prop 1B, a ballot passed by voters to extend tax increases for California state schools.
Resurfacing is what shop owners and students around the area have been looking forward to for years.

“I really despised driving on Plummer Street,” said Ernesto Velazquez, 21, business major. “It caused a lot of traffic and took a toll on my tires. I never formally complained about it though. I can’t wait to see the revamped street.”

Brian Sanders, who has owned Northridge Sports Collectibles off of Plummer Street for 23 years, has dubbed the dips and bumps in the road as “landmines” because they are prevalent, yet easy-to-miss pitfalls that require careful maneuvering when crossing the street.

City officials agree Plummer Street has been in need of major reconstruction.

On one 2004 Bureau of Street Services work order sheet, a supervisor hand wrote: “Plummer Street needs to be resurf(aced)!!!”

The resounding response among city officials as to why Plummer Street has been patched over instead of being repaved is budget cuts.

“Our funding sources are drying up,” Leon said. “Every time they put (raising the gas tax) to the citizens of Los Angeles, they vote it down because of the standard theory that the money will be diverted to other pork barrel projects. And we see (that) happen. People are leery.”

In its decennial “State of the Streets” report, the Bureau of Street Services all but admits that without moistening the budget a little, the streets in Los Angeles can only get worse.

“The current level of funding can neither improve nor maintain the current physical condition of the city’s street system,” according to the report.

Plummer Street can be considered a microcosm of the bigger problem that is the Los Angeles street system, which is comprised of 6,500 miles of road.

The Road Information Program (TRIP), a non-profit research organization, released a report this year that found 63 percent of L.A.’s roads are in poor condition, costing drivers an average of $756 per year.

In the 2008 “State of the Streets” report, the Bureau of Street Services found that about 37 percent of streets are rated a D or worse. A “D” rating means that the road has cracking and/or base failure, needing to be resurfaced or totally reconstructed.

“The reason the streets are in poor condition is because for the past 30 years, L.A. City has never allocated enough budget to improve the city at a standard that would allow us to get ahead,” Leon said. “We do the best we can with what we have.”

The Bureau of Street Services estimates that in order to eliminate the maintenance backlog in one year, it would cost the city almost $2 million. They set a 10-year goal in 2008 to reach an average Pavement Condition Index of 80, which is in the B grade range.

While the city makes this goal, there sits one section of a road, not even a full mile long, that has been deteriorating for 60 years. It’s been patched and filled, formally complained about and given the cold shoulder in the form of deferrals for at least 10 years.

John Michael Simko, Rachel de Leon, Lexy Lebsack, and Ron Rokhy

Contributing Reporters