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LA property owners may have to fix their own sidewalks

The sidewalk along Jenny Loi's Highland Park home is cracked.
Jenny Loi
The sidewalk along Jenny Loi's Highland Park home is cracked.

A month after the city of Los Angeles agreed to spend $1.4 billion to settle an Americans with Disabilities lawsuit over the poor condition of sidewalks, a new city plan proposes making homeowners and business owners responsible for fixing hundreds of miles of tree-damaged walkways.

Part of the settlement requires the city to come up with a coherent strategy for fixing sidewalks.

The proposal, from City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, would gradually reverse a policy from 1973, when the city accepted responsibility for sidewalk repairs in exchange for a $2 million federal grant.

Since then, the backlog of repairs along Los Angeles's 11,000 miles of sidewalks has mounted - by some estimates, to more than $1.5 billion. The city doesn't know how big the problem is because officials declined to spend $10 million on an inventory project a couple of  years ago.

Councilman Bernard Parks has long advocated putting the responsibility back onto land owners, but it's political Kryptonite for most council members.

That's how many cities handle sidewalks. A 1911 California law made sidewalk repairs the responsibility of adjacent property owners.

Gradual shift to homeowners

In his proposal, Santana said it would be unfair to suddenly put the burden of broken sidewalks onto property owners, so he recommends a gradual transfer.

In the case of tree-damaged sidewalks, the city could do something it calls "fix and release." The city would fix the sidewalks before handing responsibility back to homeowners.

Santana also recommends citing property owners and giving them a deadline to fix non-tree-damaged sidewalks. If they miss it, the city would fix the walkway and bill the owners.

Commercial property owners would get about two years to fix sidewalks. The first year is a moratorium on citations ordering fixes of broken sidewalks. After that, commercial property owners would have one year after being cited by an inspector to get their sidewalks repaired.

Santana's plan would also add a coordinator to manage and prioritize the requests for sidewalk repairs and ramp installations that come from people with disabilities.

The CAO plan puts the top priority for repairs on sidewalks adjacent to government offices, on transportation corridors, medical offices and workplaces. Residential properties remain lowest on the priority list.

The plan does not call for citywide bonds or assessment districts. It says those would take too much time, and voters would be unlikely to support them.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the recently settled lawsuit included a provision requiring the city to draft a plan that includes sharing responsibility with the adjacent property owners. KPCC regrets the error.

20150526 CAO New Policy for Repair of Sidewalks Adjacent to Private Property