subtitled: Lies, Money and Sidewalks ---
LA Trying to Find a Way to Walk the Walks
By Michael Cohen
Bill Robertson, Director of the L.A. Bureau of Street Services, at the Neighborhood Council Action Summit last Saturday, gave a professional and very entertaining and, I should say, a very candid presentation. At one point saying that the City has lied to us about who owns the side walks. It turns out it is not the City, but the property owner.
Robertson said “Of the 10,750 miles of sidewalks, the largest municipal network in the nation, 4,600 miles are damaged and in need of repair.” Curiously, that is exactly the same number of existing and damaged miles of sidewalks that he said were in need of repair in early 2006 in a Daily News article by staff writer Lisa Mascaro.
Los Angeles is one of very few major cities in the nation that generally doesn’t maintain residential sidewalks as a matter of policy.
He explained that the individual property owners own, and are required to maintain, their sidewalks. During the ’60s and ‘70s many trees were planted, and not necessarily sidewalk friendly trees, which are causing the continuing problem of buckled sidewalks.
Robertson said the major impetus for repair by the City is the Courts. They have held the City liable to the tune of between $2 million and $6 million annually in liability payouts for claims filed by people who get injured from trips and falls caused by broken sidewalks.
LA does have programs that allow homeowners to repair their sidewalks rather than waiting in line 80 years for the City to do the service.
One way is to split the cost with the City 50/50 and have City employees do the repair. In 2006 the program was so successful … with the property owner paying an average of $1,200 per household … that the City became inundated. This led to a waiting list with a shortage of personnel. “Now,” Robertson said, “we have to concentrate on getting everybody caught up”.
Today neither the City nor many residents have the money to even cover their respective 50/50 share.
As an alternative, the homeowner can get a City no fee permit and do it themselves or hire a contractor.
A homeowner who would like to remove the offending tree to prevent a recurrence of a buckled sidewalk is prohibited by City ordinance even though: 1) The homeowner owns the tree; 2) The homeowner planted the tree; 3) The homeowner is paying for the tree removal; and 4) The tree is on the homeowner’s property.
During 2005-2006, at the height of the real estate boom, with the City raking in windfall revenue from the property tax, sales tax, and property transfer tax there still wasn’t enough to fix the sidewalks and pave the streets. Frankly, it doesn’t seem to matter what the economic climate is – the City never has the will to maintain its infrastructure, arguing that there is little revenue to do so.
Robertson felt that people should be more responsible and at least sweep their streets in front of their homes as was common in the past. That, he explains in the video, could save the City over $20 million a year alone. Enough money saved to greatly increase the number of sidewalks repaired.
The City streets manager outlines the City’s history of sidewalk repair and offers several suggested solutions to fix the sidewalks in the accompanying video. Solutions that are part of an Action Plan he will present to the Public Works Committee in November and subsequently to neighborhood councils.
During Q &A the problems and cost to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act were discussed, and needs to be addressed by the City, said Robertson.
Maybe his Action Plan and an idea also presented at the NC Action Summit by Paul Hatfield might be the solution. Hatfield would require the City to use five year budgets instead of the single year as is currently the practice, which would allow the allocation of resources for infrastructure (among other things) on a rational and economic basis, not on a political one.
Michael N Cohen is a member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council and is a long time community activist in the San Fernando Valley.