City Unveils First Serious Draft Plan to Address Sidewalk Repair. Public Is Split.

Following a legal settlement in the summer of 2014, Angelenos have been waiting on the city to finally announce its plan to bring the city’s sidewalks into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Over three quarters of a year later, the city has released its draft plan, and the City Council is planning a series of public meetings to bring this plan to the public. The plan is available on the City Clerk’s website and here at Scribd.

Even if the city fixed the cracks, this sidewalk on Alameda is not ADA compliant. No wheelchair could fit past this obstacle course. Photo: Roger Rudick
Even if the city fixed the cracks, this sidewalk on Alameda is not ADA compliant. No wheelchair could fit past this obstacle course. Photo: Roger Rudick

The first of these meetings is a traditional City Council Committee hearing, albeit with two committees in attendance. However, the chairs of the Budget and Finance Committee (Paul Krekorian) and Gangs and Public Works Committee (Joe Buscaino) are already planning a series of public workshops on the plan to be held throughout the city.

“This is a critically important issue for all Angelenos,” said Krekorian in a press statement. “We have an opportunity and obligation to move beyond piecemeal legislation and create a complete program to fix our broken sidewalks. This new report won’t be the final program, but it’s a good way to begin what will be a long, very public discussion. We want to hear from all residents and stakeholders so that we can come up with the best and fairest policy possible.”

As part of its legal settlement last year, the City pledged to spend $1.4 billion over the next three decades to retrofit the city’s sidewalks to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Estimates vary over how many miles of city sidewalks need reconstruction, but there is little doubt that the decrepit and crumbling sidewalk infrastructure, along with a noticeable lack of curb cuts in many parts of the city, are the largest barriers to creating walkable communities.

The plan itself is proving somewhat controversial for what some see as a double standard between how businesses and homeowners are treated.***

Recognizing that the city cannot fix every sidewalk in the city with just the money budgeted and that maintaining the sidewalks after repair is an unfunded mandate, the city recommends turning sidewalk maintenance over to the owner of the adjacent property. In the case of privately-owned housing, the city would be responsible for returning the sidewalk to a state of good repair before turning the sidewalks over. The city is already referring to this program as “fix and release,” a play off the popular fishing style of “catch and release.”

Of course, if one has a ficus tree on your sidewalk skirt, a homeowner could still be stuck with a major long-term expense, even with a newly-repaired stretch of concrete.

The city is not planning on extending the same “fix and release” strategy to sidewalks adjacent to commercial properties. Instead, it intends to require that commercial property owners fix the sidewalks within the next couple of years and then maintain the sidewalks going forward.

So far, no city leader is commenting on the plan, although Krekorian, Buscaino, and Mayor Eric Garcetti all seem relieved to have a starting point for discussion. Monday will give us the first chance to see the public’s comments on whether or not the city has a plan to fix the sidewalks that can work for everyone.

(***For the record, I am a homeowner. However, the sidewalks in front of my house are smooth and flat, repaired by the city a year or so before we purchased the house. Thus, the debate over who should pay now doesn’t impact me on a personal level at all.)

  • brianmojo

    This is the only sensible move, to return the obligation to where it began before the 1970s: the owner of the property that the easement is on.

  • Alex Brideau III

    I think the City would need to make accommodations for property owners who become responsible for sidewalks adjacent to trees with disruptive root systems. Otherwise, the owners will just be inclined to cut down the trees to limit sidewalk maintenance.

    Maybe Phase 1 of the sidewalk repair push should include replacement of those crazy-rooted ficus trees.

  • calwatch

    It certainly seems though the city is prioritizing sidewalks over other features like street trees. Rather than doing root pruning or similar work, the likely effect is for property owners to cut hundreds, if not thousands, of trees down in order to meet accessibility guidelines – which will conflict with the city’s greenhouse gas reduction guidelines.

  • In many cases, the sidewalk is not on an easement, but is on public right-of-way where the sidewalk is part of the transportation system, therefore the responsibility of the city, not of the adjacent property owner. I have no idea what the percentage is in Los Angeles, but the statement that sidewalks are on easements is not always correct.

  • brianmojo

    That’s fine, just return it to the responsibility of whoever had to maintain it before LA took over liability for all sidewalks, whether that’s property owners or the city. The point is just to undo the stupid mistake they made, not shirk responsibility that is rightly theirs.

  • 1976boy

    I don’t have a string opinion on who should pay for sidewalk maintenance as I am not a property owner. But I am concerned that if responsibility were shifted to owners, how that would affect the growing awareness of wider and safer sidewalks, bulb-outs, and other features that make things generally better for walking. The cost of these things would be prohibitive for individual building owners unless they are very large companies.

  • Local Newsreporter

    Pedestrians should be licensed and registered and forced to wear a helmet that contains a head and taillight and registration number. The registration fee, to be applied to walking helmet, should be renewed every 3 years and used to repave the sidewalk. Once this is done, pedestrians can say that they “pay their way, unlike those scofflaws on skateboards and kickscooters.” Also, the nude not in my bed should be taxed.

  • neroden

    This is an unbelievably stupid plan. Any city with any sense is taking over sidewalk maintenance. The thing is, in cities which supposedly require the neighboring homeowner to do the maintenance, the neighboring homeowners *simply do not do the sidewalk maintenance*.

    My small city just converted all sidewalks to maintenance through direct tax funding for exactly this reason. (There’s a special sidewalk tax, flat fee for each house.)

  • neroden

    If responsibility is shifted to homeowners, sidewalks will not be repaired, and they’ll even be ripped out entirely.

  • neroden

    The city should be responsible for all sidewalks. It’s the only way to do it — anything else means the sidewalks simply do not get maintained.

    It’s OK to charge a fee (my small city charges a “sidewalk maintenance fee” to every homeowner who has sidewalks in front of their house).

  • neroden

    I gotta be clear about this. Most cities in the US have “property owner is supposed to maintain the sidewalk” laws. This NEVER works. It works in precisely ZERO cities.

    In literally every case, the sidewalks simply do not get maintained. No homeowner even wants to think about it, let alone spend their personal money on something (a sidewalk) which mainly benefits other people. And on top of that, only one homeowner has to be irresponsible to cause the whole sidewalk to be unwalkable. Landlords are even *worse*. And when a foreclosed property is owned by a bank, it’s even *worse*.

    Sidewalks need to be owned by the city and maintained by the city. It is the only way to have them actually *be* maintained. And yes, the maintenance needs to be funded by some form of fee or property tax.

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