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Sidewalk repairs in LA: Who should pay?

Even in an auto-dependent culture, sidewalks are important infrastructure. From business customers to dog walkers, all sorts of people benefit from well-placed pavement that helps knit a city together.

The question of who should pay to maintain sidewalks, however, has become a contentious one in Los Angeles.

Who should pay to do that - property owners or the city? In this post, we will update you on the controversy.

Ordinance on the obligation to repair

Since 1974, Los Angeles has had an ordinance making the city responsible for repairing sidewalks damaged by city trees. The ordinance was passed at a time when the city was flush with federal funds.

Those funds have long since dried up. And the city has struggled to keep up with its duty to repair the tree damage. Thousands of linear miles of sidewalks throughout Los Angeles have fallen into disrepair. This isn't only a matter of appearances, either; cracked and broken-down streets are also dangerous, especially to the disabled.

Advocates for the disabled have therefore been particularly concerned with LA's sagging streetscape. Faced with a lawsuit brought by disabled residents, the city has finally committed to a multi-year maintenance project, pegged to cost $1.4 billion.

That agreement, however, was hardly a resolution to the overall sidewalk problem. Last week, the LA City Council approved a plan for a new proposed ordinance that has the working title "fix and release."

Fix and release

The wording of the proposed fix-and-release ordinance is still being drafted. But the idea is to have the city fix sidewalks, then hand off the obligation to maintain them to property owners.

It's not a quick fix. The first priority would be sidewalks near government buildings and business or commercial property. Priority would also be given to severely damaged sidewalks and to sidewalks along highly-traveled routes.

Residential homeowners would have to bide their time. But if a property owner wants to step in and take care of the repairs without waiting for the city, the city is prepared to offer a rebate of half of the cost of repair, as long as the repair is done within three years after the fix-and-release program begins.

Next steps

The program hasn't started yet. A key next step is to draft a new ordinance to repeal the old one that made the city responsible for sidewalks damaged by trees.

And of course the budget commitment will have to be clarified. But by the time the new fiscal year rolls around in July, the fix-and-release program is expected to be underway - with important implications for the city's streetscape.

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