How Can L.A. Fix Its Sidewalks?

Councliman Bernard Parks has been making news recently for his proposal to hand over the maintenance costs, and liability issues, for the city’s crumbling sidewalks to the people owning the house adjacent to the sidewalk.  Simply, people that own a house are responsible for the repair of the sidewalk in front of their house.  If someone trips and is hurt it is the home owner’s liability.

Bernard Parks, where the sidewalks aren't so bad.

While Parks’ plan has been jeered by just about everyone who has heard it, the former LAPD Chief’s plan is at least trying to address the third-world quality of the city’s pedestrian network in some places.  Homeowners were in charge of sidewalk repair in Los Angeles until 1974 when the city received a massive federal grant to take on the problem.  However, over nearly 40 years the grant ran out, and the sidewalks have gotten worse.

Parks outlines the depth of the problem on KPCC’s Pat Morrison Show, via KCET:

“(S)ince the 1970s, the city took responsibility for sidewalks that were broken by trees. Over time, they’ve taken responsibility for all sidewalks. The city has tried over the last 20 years to repair sidewalks. They’ve expended over $100 million over a 10 year period and fixed only 500 miles of sidewalks. And the sidewalks – about 10,000 miles of them – are in worse repair […] than they were before.”

Wow, it’s hard to believe this is the same guy that was worried that the city wouldn’t be able to spend $3 million a year on pedestrian projects in the summer of 2010.

Regardless of one’s views on Parks’ current proposal, there is no doubt that the city does need to get serious about the dismal state of our sidewalks.  A back of the napkin calculation based on Parks’ numbers above would show a $1.9 billion need.  Even if the city were able to magically take the 405 “Sepulveda Pass Improvement Project”money and reprogram it to sidealk repair it still wouldn’t be enough.

Last year, Parks proposed a “point of sale” plan where the cost of replacing the sidewalk would be included in any housing purchase so that the sidewalks would be repaired, if needed, when a real estate title exchanged hand.  It would take decades, but in about three decades the city would have a “new” series of sidewalks.  I have to admit I scoffed at the idea when it was proposed, but studies by UCLA’s Parking Guru Donald Shoup, who is also a trained economist, shows that a “point of sale” system doesn’t have a negative impact on real estate sales and values.

Of course, the city could always just declare sidewalk repair a high priority and find the funds, local or state, to get the job done.

Have a better idea?  Leave it in the comments section and we’ll be certain to forward your ideas to the City Council Transportation Committee staff.

  • Anonymous

    The sticking point is trees.

    Homeowners tend to see trees as a liability to be removed, especially when there are sidewalk trip-and-fall lawsuits to be made, so shifting the responsibility for repairs will inevitably result in the loss of hundreds, possibly thousands, of trees being removed all over LA.

    Without creating some legislation mitigating possible lawsuits stemming from these trees, they are essentially doomed and will be removed before the sidewalks will get fixed.

  • I prefer the idea of making homeowners responsible for the street that serves their house. It might reduce these 50mph 6-lane monstrosities in residential neighborhoods. Maybe give them a credit for decent bike infrastructure while we’re at it.

  • Dave

    “Regardless of one’s views on Parks’ current proposal”

    It’s retarded. There are no other views. What a disgusting thing to do – shifting responsibility of public land to private citizens just to save money because the city overspent on whatever. By that logic, homeowners ought to be able to do what they want with the sidewalk and keep people off of it.

  • Anonymous

    San Diego already mandates that the individual property owner must maintain the sidewalk. The City does not. Guess what … it doesn’t work.  

    Enforcement (which requires a City staff) probably costs as much as just repairing the sidewalk.  Enforcement seems to be missing in San Diego.

  • Danapointer

    But aren’t residents responsible for sidewalk/bike lane/car streets, its just that normally this is done via taxes, I believe so called “property tax” models is used in most western countries to fund public infra, why does this not work in LA?

  • There are a couple of things here:
    – Enforce Chapter 22 of the Streets and Highways Code. 

    “5610. The owners of lots or portions of lots fronting on any
    portion of a public street or place when that street or place is”
    improved or if and when the area between the property line of the
    adjacent property and the street line is maintained as a park or
    parking strip, shall maintain any sidewalk in such condition that the
    sidewalk will not endanger persons or property and maintain it in a
    condition which will not interfere with the public convenience in the
    use of those works or areas save and except as to those conditions
    created or maintained in, upon, along, or in connection with such
    sidewalk by any person other than the owner, under and by virtue of
    any permit or right granted to him by law or by the city authorities
    in charge thereof, and such persons shall be under a like duty in
    relation thereto.”
    – Pass tort reform that provides for a cap on damages assessed to government agencies. Nevada, for example, limits the maximum damage to $100,000 (NRS 41.035).

  • Anonymous

    Gotta help pay for Bernard’s six-figure pension on top of his six-figure salary.  At least he showed up today for the council meeting!

  • Dennis Hindman

    If Los Angeles would restrict money from parking meters, bus shelter or bus bench revenue for improvements to the immediate neighborhood, then sidewalk repairs, trees planted, or cleaning could be done at a faster rate than now. There would also be more demand to put in meters, benches or bus shelters as the neighborhood could see an improvement to be had by having more of these in the area.

  • Anonymous

    The “point of sale” plan makes a lot of sense. It will just become a routine repair that you perform when you sell your house.

    This plan is more radical, but could work if you limited lawsuits against property owners. It’s one thing is someone has a gaping 5 foot deep pothole in the sidewalk that they refuse to fix after being warned, it’s another to get sued every time someone falls and scrapes their knee.

    The city obviously bit off more than it could chew when it took over the sidewalks in 1974. I think most people would rather pay to fix their own damn sidewalk than pay the higher taxes needed for a massive citywide sidewalk repair operation.

  • Anonymous

    Actually in most localities property owners are responsible for their own sidewalk.

    Not everything has to be done by the government. In LA, where we have Proposition 13-level property taxes, with lots of people paying $1000 in annual property tax on a house now worth $1 million, we should take that into special account.

    LA doesn’t really have piles of money to spend on responsibilities that could be handled by property owners.

  • Anonymous

    And on a practical level, raising taxes would require 2/3 voter approval while shifting responsibility to property owners will just require a city council vote, so only the latter option is a plausible way of fixing the sidewalks.

  • neroden

    For reference, the reason the city took over the sidewalks back in 1974 is that homeowners do not maintain sidewalks. If they’re the homeowner’s responsibility, they will not be maintained. Period. We’ve seen this in cities throughout the country. End of story. It’s a non-solution.