New Legal Details Emerge on City Sidewalk Repair Settlement

Disabled Angelenos are on the verge of finalizing a historic settlement that will invest heavily in L.A.'s sidewalk network. Photo via CALIF website
Disabled Angelenos are on the verge of finalizing a historic settlement that will invest heavily in repairing L.A.’s sidewalk network. Photo of 2011 rally via CALIF website

New court filings today reveal more details about the settlement in Willits v. City of Los Angeles, a class action lawsuit over L.A.’s failure to make the public pedestrian right-of-way accessible to disabled people. Today’s documents concur with the basic outlines of the settlement revealed in April 2014: the city of Los Angeles will spend $1.4 billion dollars over the next thirty years to repair damaged sidewalks that impede access.

According to Kara Janssen, an attorney for the Disability Rights Legal Center, “[the settlement] is now public because it has been fully executed by all parties and was filed as part of our motion for preliminary approval, which is a necessary step in class-action settlements. It is not yet in effect because the court still has to approve it once class members have received notice and had time to file objections.”

The details are primarily contained in a joint motion [PDF], exhibits [PDF], and a settlement agreement [PDF], all filed today.

Here is the overall summary:

The proposed Settlement requires the City of Los Angeles (“the City”) to expend in excess of $1.367 billion over 30 years to make its public sidewalk and crosswalk system accessible to persons with mobility disabilities. It will require the City to install, repair, and upgrade curb ramps; repair sidewalks and walkways damaged by tree roots; repair broken or uneven pavement; correct non-compliant cross-slopes in sidewalks; install tree gates and missing utility covers; and remediate other inaccessible conditions. The proposed Settlement will also permit Class Members to submit requests for access repairs such as curb ramp installations and tree root fixes at specific locations, which the City will use its best efforts to remediate within 120 days of receiving the request. In addition, the proposed Settlement calls for the hiring of an ADA Coordinator for the Pedestrian Right of Way, and includes effective reporting, monitoring and dispute resolution mechanisms.

The city’s initial commitment will be $31 million annually for five years, gradually ramping up to $63 million annually for the final five years.

There is an extensive list of types of sidewalk repairs the city will perform: 

  • (a) Installation of missing curb ramps;
  • (b) Repair of damage caused by tree roots to sidewalk or walkways surfaces;
  • (c) Upgrading of existing curb ramps;
  • (d) Repair of broken and/or uneven pavement in the pedestrian rights of way (including utility covers and repair covers) deeper and/or wider than 1/2 inch;
  • (e) Repair of vertical or horizontal displacement or upheaval of the sidewalk or crosswalk surface greater than 1/2 inch (including sidewalk flags, curbs and utility covers);
  • (f) Correction of non-compliant cross-slopes in sidewalks or sections of sidewalks
  • (g) Removal of protruding and overhanging objects and/or obstructions that narrow pedestrian rights of way to less than 4 feet of accessible width;
  • (h) Widening of pedestrian rights of way and sections thereof to provide 4 feet of accessible width;
  • (i) Providing 4 feet of clearance to the entrances of public bus shelters;
  • (j) Repair of excessive gutter slopes at the bottom of curb ramps leading into crosswalks;
  • (k) Elimination of curb ramp lips on curb ramps;
  • (l) Installation of accessible tree grates, or other compliant remediation, where such grates are missing from tree wells;
  • (m) Installation of missing utility covers where such covers are missing from sidewalks, crosswalks or pathways; and
  • (n) Remediation of other non-compliant conditions.
The settlement also commits the city to:
  • within one year, hire an “ADA Coordinator for the Pedestrian Right of Way” whose responsibilities will include: generating twice-annual status reports on sidewalk repair progress, and recommending city policies and procedures to overcome barriers to access.
  • within two years, create and maintain a publicly-available database listing and mapping completed and requested repairs and improvements.
  • within two years, provide an “Access Request Program” that disabled people can use to submit requests for repairs in specific locations. Initially 20 percent of the city’s annual settlement funding will be targeted to fulfilling these requests.
Though lawyers on both sides have approved the settlement, there are still a few more steps before extensive sidewalk improvements commence. The court needs to go through its steps for approval. Then the clock starts ticking for the city to act; initial city expenditures need to start within a year of final settlement approval. The city has a preliminary “fix and release” plan that has been criticized by walkability advocates and by some City Councilmembers. There are a lot of moving pieces, but it looks like help will soon be on the way for many of the city’s ailing sidewalks.
  • Where will the money to do this come from?

  • Joe Linton

    To my knowledge it hasn’t been allocated yet (the settlement hasn’t been fully approved, so the funds haven’t been committed yet.) It’s possible for the city to pursue outside grant funding (Metro Call for Projects, CA Cap and Trade funding) but I expect it is likely to be a lot of general fund monies.

  • Don Ward

    The sidewalks should be considered part of the public transportation grid and maintained by the city just as the roadways are.

    With thousands of different caretakers now responsible rather than one city agency, will there be a hodgepodge of acceptible repair “styles” implemented across one block? Will some home owners opt for cheaper asphalt repair to meet a minimum standard while others will spend more on concrete fixes? Will homeowners let sidewalks crumble until they eventually receive a notice from the city? Will some homeowners be able to argue for removal of a sidewalk completely to avoid repair bills?

  • Alex Brideau III

    I hope some of the most egregious examples of sidewalks fails are being tallied on a to-do list. My contribution: 2216 N. San Fernando Rd.

    Take a look at the Streetview. That’s a sidewalk only a supermodel could love!

  • Joe Linton

    That looks like a depressingly narrow sidewalk… unfortunately it’s a commercial property, so not included in the city’s work plan (which, under the current proposal, only pays to fix residential sidewalks.) I am not sure what the city would do there – because it’s just a place where a wider sidewalk is needed… for the most part, it seems like the city would be fixing broken sidewalks… in this case, either the roadway/cars would need to moved or the building would need to be moved… so I am not sure if the city would cover it in this settlement.

  • Alex Brideau III

    It seems the adjacent car lane is wider than needed, so I’d argue the car lane can be narrowed (with appropriate signage) to allow the sidewalk to be expanded to an ADA-compliant width.

    And by “residential sidewalks” does that include sidewalks adjacent to mixed-use buildings (that tend to be mostly residential with some retail)?

  • Joe Linton

    It’s the Bureau of Sanitation trash-pick-up definition of residential – single family homes, duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes. No mixed use. Tiny bit more here: http://la.streetsblog.org/2015/11/17/muddled-l-a-sidewalk-repair-hearing-inconclusive-on-how-to-proceed/

  • Alex Brideau III

    Sad that it sounds like the most dense areas that have the highest concentrations of people will not see any of the improvements needed. :-(

  • neroden

    What Don Ward said.

    In my small town of Ithaca, NY the city took over sidewalk repairs last year; they’re funded from a sidewalk fee assessed to each property. The sidewalk fee is flat for residential property which faces a sidewalk; escalated by frontage length for commercial and industrial properties (which benefit from walk-up business); and absent for properties which don’t have a sidewalk.

    The fees are also put into separate funds by district so that each neighborhood’s fees go to repair *its* sidewalks.

    This is a perfectly sensible way of doing things.

  • So are they going to increase the tax rates to make these things happen, the question is where will the money come?

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