Ryan Nguyen, 18, had just dropped his sister off at Ascension Solorsano Middle School and headed out Christmas Hill Park last May, when the bottom fell out of his car. Literally.
The security spikes that are supposed to prevent cars from entering the park suddenly popped up as his car exited and slashed two of his tires. He heard a whooshing sound, got out and saw the tires pancaked and the car scraping bottom.
“It was terrible,” said Nguyen, who was an all-star volleyball player at Gilroy High School in 2015 and now studies medical office management at Gavilan College. “I spent all day trying to get it fixed and had to get to school.”
He had to find $400 for tires and get his car towed, which, as a struggling student, he had trouble funding. His mother in Petaluma wired him the money to get it done.
Meanwhile, there were other cars about to do the same thing, and Nguyen stood at the gate for hours directing traffic away from the spikes. He was there so long, he missed school. One woman who didn’t understand what he was saying also drove over them, slashing her tires.
Like around 30 other people the past year, Nguyen filed a claim with the city asking it to cover his expenses. But after a closed door vote, he was denied and got a letter telling him so.
The city said that because the spikes were moved in an act of vandalism, they didn’t have to pay the claim. “I really thought they would pay it,” said Nguyen, who wrote in his claim that “the city is responsible because frequent checks should be made with these security spikes to see if they are not tampered with or are old. Based on my account it seemed to be an old mechanism.”
The city denied the claim as advised by its insurance company. The city has a group policy with other Bay Area cities in the Association of Bay Area Governments.
Mayor Perry Woodward said the claim was denied because a criminal action caused the problem, not negligence.
“If I build a park and someone commits a robbery in the park, am I responsible?” he asked. “No. There was nothing we could do to prevent that. Of course if there were 15 robberies we would be responsible for not doing something about it.”
Woodward, an attorney, said he walks a fine line on damage claims between helping residents who suffered damages and safeguarding the taxpayers’ money.
“There has to be a balance. We aren’t a charitable organization. It’s public money. Even if we’d like to give it away, we aren’t supposed to.”
Woodward said he often tries to cut through the red tape and help people when he can and when the law agrees.
There were 37 claims filed between June of 2015 and May 2016. The city settled 13 of them at a total cost of $34,162.
Some of the suits the city settled include:
Gilroy Hyundai, which received $3,941 for damage to one of its parked cars that was hit by debris falling from a truck being chased by police on Nov. 9.
A woman received $7,010 for damages to her 1996 Acura and medical treatment after a Gilroy Police officer struck her car at Long Meadow and Wet Sand Court in July 2015, saying he didn’t see her.
The city paid $2,929 after a tree fell on a 2015 Honda in October 2015. The resident split the cost of the damage with the city.
It has paid around $3,000 for damage caused by sewer backups; $6,000 for trees damaging cars and $14,000 for accidents caused by drivers employed by the city.
Still pending are the case of a five-year-old girl who had a fence post pierce her nose at Del Ray Park in January and the case of teenager Natalia Salcido who was killed May 9, 2015, when her car drove off Miller Avenue, the second fatality on that curve.
Her family’s lawyers contend that her life would have been saved if the city had spent $25,000 on a guardrail on the dangerous curve.