2011: The year of the pothole?

The pothole on Wilshire Boulevard that destroyed KPCC reporter Sanden Totten's front passenger side tire. It has since been filled. But thousands of other holes are still marking up the roads in Los Angeles.
The pothole on Wilshire Boulevard that destroyed KPCC reporter Sanden Totten's front passenger side tire. It has since been filled. But thousands of other holes are still marking up the roads in Los Angeles.
KPCC / Sanden Totten

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If the roads in Los Angeles seem worse than usual, it’s because they are. The city’s Bureau of Street Services says this year is shaping up to be one of the worst years for potholes in recent memory.

I found this out first hand. I was driving along Wilshire Boulevard when out of nowhere comes this pothole – bam! Next thing I know, I’ve blow a tire - and I’m shelling out 80 bucks for a new one. Ouch.

Now in my memory, this pothole was huge. Canyon-esque even. But I wanted an accurate reading of its size. So I headed back to the scene of the crime, tape measure in hand.

I enlisted a friendly passerby into my scheme to measure the hole. Her name was Katie Ellison and she bravely stepped into the street during a lull in traffic. She took one end of the tape measure and I the other. I asked Katie Ellison how long the pothole was.

“Five feet and 6 inches,” she replied.

Wow. She measured it at 2 feet and 7 inches wide and 9 inches deep. The numbers said it all. This pothole was a beast.

“Yeah, I’m sorry that it blew out your tire,” Ellison laughed.

After getting the exact measurements, I did what any good citizen would… I called up the city to complain.

Do you have a bottomless pit of a pothole to add to our map? Click the "add" button in the upper right corner of the map above. You can also include a photo.

John Sapone manages road repairs for LA’s Bureau of Street Services. He was impressed by the size of my pothole, but he wasn’t surprised I hit one. He says his team has been hustling to fill them in.

“But there’s still thousands and thousands out there that have some type of need that we still have to address,” Sapone told me.

Sapone says there are more potholes than usual in part due to record-breaking rainfall.

“When we have a rainy season, we have a lot of rain, it’s going to generate a lot of defects.”

He explained that a pothole occurs when a little bit of liquid seeps down a crack in the road and creates a soggy patch of dirt under the asphalt. That dirt erodes and leaves a crater hiding under the street. All it takes is a passing car to cave in the pavement.

But the Bureau of Street Services’ John Sapone says LA’s pothole problem is worse this year because there’s a pothole in the city budget.

He explained that just last year he lost roughly 35% of his staff after the city offered municipal workers early retirement benefits to help cut down on costs. With the city budget still a mess, Sapone says couldn’t hire new workers.

So the fleet of pothole trucks fixing up LA streets went from 24 to 17.

“Well, as you can imagine, your call volume doesn’t change," Sapone says. "Your request doesn’t change but you just don’t have as many people to address the road defects on the roadway.”

I feel his pain, really I do. But there’s another budget I’m much more concerned about: mine. That hole still cost me 80 bucks. And it turns out I can get it back.

I put in a call to Sharon Dickenson at the LA City Clerk’s Office. She told me it is possible to get paid for my blown tire.

Dickenson says drivers who damage their cars due to poor roads can file a complaint. If the city officials feel they failed to fix the road in a timely manner, they’ll pay the driver for the cost of car repairs. They won’t pay out if the pothole was due to recent bad weather. Only if it was sitting unfilled for a while.

These payouts range from 20 dollars up to 15 hundred. In my case, it would just be 80 bucks. It’s not a lot of money. But Dickenson says claims add up.

“For this fiscal year, we have had over 11,000 claims filed.”

So, I submitted my paperwork, attached the receipt for my new tire... and I wait. Dickenson says it could take up to a year to get a check.

In the meantime, I checked back on my pothole.

It had been less than a week since I first submitted my complaint with the city. And you know what? My pothole was filled.

So I guess you could say my tire died for a good cause: one less hole on Wilshire Boulevard.

If you've been bugged by a particular hole on the LA roadways, you can report it by calling 311 or log it on-line here.

And if your car was damaged by a pothole you can file with the city and possibly get reimbursed for repairs. Start the process by filling in this form.