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LA’s Solution to Its $1.2 Billion Crumbling Sidewalks Crisis: Stick It to the Owners

LA WATCHDOG - In 2007, the Bureau of Street Services estimated that 4,600 miles (43%) of our 10,750 miles of sidewalks are in some state of disrepair. The cost of repair was estimated to exceed $1.2 billion, or over $260,000 per mile.

Yet the City was so broke that it suspended the popular Voluntary 50-50 Sidewalk Repair Partnership where the property owner and the City split the cost of repair.

So how does the City intend to pay for these needed repairs?  Very simple: just pass a law that unilaterally sticks it to the owners of single family residences, apartment buildings, and commercial establishments.

In response to a request from the Garcetti led City Council, the City Attorney prepared an ordinance that would repeal an exemption to the Los Angeles Municipal Code “which established City liability for repair or reconstruction of curbs, driveways, and sidewalks required as a result of tree root growth.”

But as a special concession, the proposed ordinance would increase the owners’ required response time from two weeks to 90 days.

This ordinance would then permit the City to implement a Point of Sale program where the sellers of a property would be required to obtain a Safe Sidewalk Certificate from the Bureau of Street Services prior to the close of escrow.  Other programs may also be developed where Certificates must be obtained for building permits in excess of $20,000 or which require Explicit Enforcement in commercial zones since property turnover is less frequent.

But this is just another one-off program that was developed by City Hall designed to transfer the City’s $1.2 billion obligation to property owners without the development of a well thought out operational, financial, and strategic plan for the entire 10,750 miles of City sidewalks, curbs, and driveways.

Nor has the Bureau of Street Services or the Board of Public Works made any effort to include or educate Neighborhood Councils or the owners of homes, apartment buildings, or commercial establishments.  Nor does it address the sorry state of disrepair of the City’s own sidewalks and those of other government entities such as LAUSD.  

The Bureau of Street Services and Board of Public Works need to develop an operational, financial, and strategic plan that includes the input and active involvement of the Neighborhood Councils and the impacted property owners.

The plan must address the short term needs and the long term requirements necessary for the Bureau of Street Services to maintain our 10,750 miles of sidewalks. It must also consider other alternatives to the Point of Sale program which dumps the $1.2 billion liability on the property owners.  

For example, since sidewalks are a capital asset, the City should consider financing the repair and reconstruction of our sidewalks with long term bonds that are the obligation of the General Fund.

Or the City might consider the reintroduction of the Voluntary 50-50 Sidewalk Repair Partnership, again financed through the issuance of long term general obligation bonds.  

And it may be more economical for the City and property owners to have the option to rely on qualified third party contractors rather than very expensive City work crews. Or the Bureau of Street Service might recommend the elimination of sidewalks on one side of the street if a neighborhood was willing to adopt such a program.  

However, one of the most troubling aspects of our crumbling sidewalks is the abject failure of the Board of Public Works to oversee the Bureau of Street Services and the maintenance and repair of our sidewalks.  This Villaraigosa appointed Board has been asleep on the job, despite the fact that it costs the City over $1 million a year to pay these five Commissioners, none of which have any meaningful organizational, management, technical, or financial experience or expertise.  But not too worry, four have legal backgrounds.  

On top of the hefty compensation and benefits for the five anointed Commissioners, the fully loaded budget for the Board of Public Works is almost $25 million.

The Board of Public Works is the third largest department in the City, with around 5,000 employees and a budget of almost $2 billion.  It oversees not only Street Services, but Contract Administration, Engineering, Sanitation, Street Lights, Sewers, and Storm Water.  

Unfortunately, the $1.2 billion obligation related to the sidewalks is peanuts compared to $15 to $20 billion that is needed to repair and maintain the lunar cratered streets of Los Angeles, the street lights, the aging sewers, and the storm water system.  

It is time for the termed out Mayor, the lap dog Controller, the Garcetti led City Council, and the Board of Public Works to come clean with the citizens of Los Angeles and face up to the very pressing financial obligations of our failing infrastructure and their impact on the City’s very solvency.  

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and the Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:   [email protected] –cw

Tags: Board of Public Works, Los Angeles, sidewalks, broken sidewalks, Eric Garcetti, City Controller, Mayor Villaraigosa, Bureau of Street Services, Point of Sale Program, 50-50 Sidewalk Repair Program, LAUSD

Vol 9 Issue 58
Pub: July 22, 2011