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L.A. City’s Ten Million Dollar Sidewalk Repair Program Turns Inward

Broken sidewalk on Alameda Street in downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Roger Rudick
Don't expect L.A. City funding to fix Alameda Street's broken sidewalk any time soon. Photo: Roger Rudick
Broken sidewalk on Alameda Street in downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Roger Rudick

At Monday's Los Angeles City Council Budget and Finance Committee, the city's proposed $10 million sidewalk repair program took a turn inward. After closed session deliberations over sidewalk lawsuit liability, Committee Chair Paul Krekorian relayed the committee's action to focus on "damaged sidewalks abutting city facilities."

According to city estimates, L.A. has a $1.5 billion sidewalk repair backlog. Per the staff report, the city's 2013-14 budget approved $10M for a Sidewalk Repair Program, specified as follows:

Sidewalk repair will be limited to sidewalks damaged as a result of street tree root growth at various locations throughout the City. Priority will be given to sidewalk locations identified in claims for damages filed with the City, with locations and size of repairs to be determined at a later date.

L.A.'s departmental staff worked with electeds to determine how to spend these funds. The proposed "limited sidewalk repair plan" would have split the funding into three equal categories: 1) locations where lawsuits have been filed, 2) iconic streets, and 3) a “50/50 program” where the city and property owner split sidewalk repair costs.

There are two wrinkles that further complicate this proposal. There are ongoing sidewalk lawsuits, prominently including Willits Vs. 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. There's also a longstanding contention over who is responsible for paying for sidewalk repair: the property owner or the city? 

The clock is ticking for the $10 million approved, because the city's fiscal year ends June 30th. The monies don't need to be completely spent by June, but if the program, inadequate as it is, doesn't get underway, it's difficult to justify continuing city budget allocations.

Monday's Budget and Finance Committee sidestepped the limited sidewalk repair plan in favor of focusing only on sidewalks in front of city facilities. The committee approved revised recommendations, which still need to be approved by full council, including:

1. Instruct the CAO [City Administrative Officer - effectively the city's finance department] to coordinate, through June 30, 2014, a Citywide response (excluding the Departments of Water and Power, Harbor, Airport, Transportation, and Sanitation), identifying locations of damaged sidewalks abutting City facilities for repair, and begin implementing repairs.
2. Authorize the Controller to [transfer the $10 million from unallocated to sidewalk repair]
3. Instruct and/or request the Departments of Water and Power, Harbor, Airport, Department of Transportation, and Sanitation to survey the sidewalks abutting their respective facilities for damage and perform repairs as-needed.

Perhaps it's a tiny step in the right direction that, nearly ten months into its fiscal year, Los Angeles is finally going to get started on spending some already-set-aside money on sidewalk repair. Better late than never.

On the other hand, the downsides are numerous. This year's $10 million already represented a woefully inadequate drop-in-the-bucket amount toward a $1.5 billion backlog. Now, with the focus only on city facility sidewalks, that $10 million won't be strategically targeted toward areas of greatest need. It's possible that the city could use up its very limited sidewalk funds on nearly-never-used sidewalks at, say, Ontario Airport - owned by LAX, or other car-centric suburban locations.

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