The intersection at Taraval and 33rd Avenue in San Francisco is inherently dangerous and must be fixed. Because of a crown or crest in the roadway of Taraval Street at its intersection with 33rd Avenue, a driver traveling west on Taraval Street cannot detect the presence of the crosswalk and react appropriately to the foreseeable risk of a pedestrian there. Further there is no stop sign or traffic light to assist pedestrians, when they cross the street.
Damia Wells, a city resident who worked at an office close by, called the City and County of San Francisco to alert them of the dangerous situation. She informed the employee she reached at CCSF that the intersection was dangerous for pedestrians. The city employee, who received the complaint in CCSF’s traffic engineering department, was not a traffic engineer. She noted the complaint in a relatively ambiguous manner and forwarded it to the head of the traffic engineering department.
The complaint was assigned to a department intern, whose last job had been as an usher at PacBell Park, who did not have the requisite knowledge, training or experience sufficient to investigate the complaint. Despite this, he was the person assigned to conduct the average daily traffic counts at the intersection and to gather data regarding the traffic collision history at the intersection. Unfortunately he neglected to apply the precepts in CCSF’s own crosswalk guidelines, and did not conduct a visibility study. As a result, the intersection has been left in a dangerous condition.
Despite the fact that CCSF’s standards require that any complaint regarding conditions of its streets be investigated within 90 days, nothing was addressed regarding Ms. Well’s formal complaint about the danger to pedestrians at this intersection for over 18 months. Ms. Wells stated she would “almost get hit every time we’d cross” Taraval at 33rd Avenue. She was in fear every time she had to cross there because cars never stopped and she was forced to run in order to avoid being hit. She testified that she would attempt to cross Taraval, would check for traffic and begin crossing to discover that a car or the San Francisco MUNI would be “flying” towards her and “never attempted to stop.” This was not an infrequent occurrence: she said it happened several times a week.
It is evident that the CCSF has actual notice of the danger to pedestrians at this intersection as the result of the Wells complaint to the traffic engineering department in January of 2003. Government Code section 835.2 defines the parameters for actual and constructive notice sufficient for imposition of liability under section 835. Section 835.2(a) provides that a “public entity had actual notice of a dangerous condition . . . if it had actual knowledge of the existence of the condition and knew or should have known of its dangerous character.” Ms. Wells specifically told CCSF’s employee that the intersection was a danger to pedestrians. That gave CCSF actual knowledge of the existence of the condition. Arguably, it also gave CCSF knowledge of its dangerous character. At the very least, CCSF had both the opportunity and the duty to investigate this complaint.
Hopefully the City and County of San Francisco will employ more adequate measures in the future when alerted to a significantly dangerous location; such as the crown in the road at Taraval and 33rd Avenue, which blocks a driver’s view of the crosswalk until it is too late. If the city of San Francisco continues to neglect their responsibility, when it has actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition of public property, they may be held liable in court for their conduct.
By: Albert G. Stoll, Jr. and Jennifer Nicoletto