By J.M. Garcia
When Carol Shamon noticed water from city pipes had leaked into the basement of her North Park neighborhood business, she thought the problem would be easily fixed: Call the city and file a report. Repairs would be made, problem solved.
But after two years of municipal inaction, the water remains and Shamon, who is now suing the city of San Diego’s pipe contractor, worries the foundation of her 100-year-old building may be affected.
“I contacted all the departments,” said Shamon, 61, owner of Shamon Freitas Agency at 3916 Oregon St. “Everyone individually has been nice but their hands are tied, they can’t do anything because they can’t coordinate with any other department and no one does anything.”
Shamon, who had been renting the basement as an art studio, estimated she has lost $7,000 in rent and utility costs from running a dehumidifer 24 hours a day.
Her dilemma serves as an example of how a simple problem and a lack of basic coordination between city departments can create an inertia where nothing is done for weeks, months and now years.
“I never expected this,” she said. “I pay my taxes and assumed the city would fix this. If the city can’t fix a leak in a street, what can it do?”
According to Shamon, the city installed new water pipes on Oregon Street in May and June of 2017. In August, she began to notice water seeping into her basement and her tenants moved out. Shamon said she contacted the water department several times in September and October. She said city officials blamed contractor Burtech Pipeline for the damage.
Shamon began keeping notes of her contacts with city. On Oct 16, 2017, she wrote, “the city said they sent someone out and all was fine,” although water was collecting outside her building. The following month, Shamon put in a sump pump for almost $900. The pump appeared to keep the basement dry and new tenants moved in.
But in March 2018, water began seeping into the basement again. On two occasions, according to Shamon’s notes, water department officials found leaks in nearby city pipes. On April 3, one inspector, Shamon wrote, found a leak “as big as a lake.” Tests showed chlorine,which meant the water came from a pipe and not the ground. More calls from Shamon to the city followed. Her notes show that her calls were often not returned.
In October 2018, a water main break on Idaho Street flooded North Park streets, submerging cars. Water leaked into Shamon’s basement. Shamon continued calling city officials. She said they told her that city contractor Burtech Pipeline or San Diego Gas & Electric was responsible for the damaged pipes. She met with a Burtech representative and city officials on Oct. 18. According to her notes, the two sides blamed each other for the leak in her basement.
“We got nowhere,” Shamon wrote.
She spent her own money repairing the basement again but water continued to come in. “So strange,” she wrote on Dec. 27, 2018. “There is still so much water coming into the building. Sump pump running all the time and emptying into the gutter. The water is like a river in the back of my building.”
Since then, her basement has remained wet with thin streams of water snaking across the floor and the sound of a dehumidifier. Her new tenants have moved out.
In April, an inspector with the storm water department found that the leak was not coming from her building and filed a report with the public utilities department. She was encouraged to work with the public utilities department. At this time, Shamon said, city officials said San Diego Gas & Electric might be responsible.
The water seeping onto Shamon’s property has also spread to the patio of a restaurant next door, The Porchetta Shack.
“How can they do business?” said Massoud Asad, the landlord for The Porchetta Shack. “What we have is everyone has to work together to fix this. Every city department thinks it’s another department’s responsibility.”
In the 30 years she has operated her talent agency, Shamon said she has never encountered a problem like this.
“I’ve lost my tenants,” she said. “I’m worried about my foundation and mold. I’m worried about my staff with the odor. Mostly I’m amazed that nobody helps me. I didn’t cause this thing that’s happening and the city’s not fixing it.”
An inspection of Shamon’s property ruled out storm water infrastructure as being the cause of the leak, said city spokesman Anthony Santacroce.
“It’s kind of a mystery we’re trying to figure out,” he said. “There’s been a lot of pipe work in that area.”
Shamon has also been in touch with the office of her council member, Chris Ward, in District 3. In a statement, Ward’s office said it had been working with Shamon for several weeks and had referred her to the office of Mayor Kevin Faulconer, “asking for an expedient resolution. Unfortunately, city staff have yet to come to a solution to Ms. Shamon’s extended issue.”
In a May 21 email to Shamon, a staff member for Ward wrote, “I am sorry to hear about these continued issues. I have tried my best to get you connected to the right City staff to address these continued issues. [They have] the capacity to work with and direct City staff to address this.”
The mayor’s office and Burtech Pipeline did not return repeated calls for comment. A spokeswoman for SDG&E wrote in an email, “SDG&E sent a representative to visit the location, and we are confident that the source of the leak is not the product of work performed by SDG&E.”
“They can’t even stop water from coming into her building,” said attorney Jerry Moe, who is representing Shamon. “It’s common sense. Stop the damage and figure out who pays. This has been going on for two years. C’mon, this isn’t rocket science.”
Shamon remains determined to see the matter resolved.
“I’m not giving up,” she said. “I’m not just going to live with this. This is my business. I worked hard for it. I just never thought it would take two years to fix a leak.”
— J.M. Garcia is a freelance writer/photographer in San Diego. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.