LA sidewalks need repair. But what happens when City government doesn’t have the money for those repairs? In Playa Del Rey, some citizens decided they could not wait for better economic days to fix up the neighborhood. Nora Maclellan and a neighbor pitched in their own funds to repair the sidewalk outside their homes.
According to the Los Angeles Times:
More Los Angeles residents may have to do the same for the financially strapped city to have any hope of eliminating a sidewalk repair backlog that officials estimate at up to $1.6 billion. Like decades-old water lines and suspect bridges, they are an example of an aging public infrastructure.
Officials have been trying for six years to figure out how to fix the walkways without diverting money from what they view as higher-priority projects. They say that of the city’s 10,750 miles of mostly concrete paths, more than 42% are in disrepair. Even if sidewalks miraculously stopped deteriorating, by some estimates it would still take nearly 70 years to fix them all at the current rate.
(You can read more from the LA Times here).
Currently, this issue is evoking a heated debate at the government level. For years, city workers have relied on temporary repairs – like filling cracks in concrete sidewalks with asphalt. But as any resident who has tried to push a wheelchair or stroller (or any child who has tried to roller skate) on these walkways knows, that can sometimes make the sidewalks even worse.
Having residents be responsible for the sidewalks in front of their homes is not unprecedented. Indeed, up until the 1970s, this was the norm. But as an article earlier this year in The American noted, during the recession of the early 70′s Congress allotted stimulus funds to the City and “with millions of Uncle Sam’s dollars in hand, the city appropriated that responsibility and, consequently, liability for anyone tripping or falling on damaged sidewalks”:
A few years later, with both the expanded agency and services firmly entrenched, the City Council decided to continue the program even after federal funds ran out in 1978. It has been in existence ever since.
Now, in yet another dispatch from the “new normal” files, the Los Angeles City Council is expected to overturn the 36-year-old policy of city-funded sidewalk repair, returning responsibility to property owners. The city is attempting to narrow a nearly half-billion-dollar budget gap. The sidewalk repair program costs $10 million annually in construction and another $3 million to $5 million per year in legal fees defending the aforementioned cases of people falling. Still, one wonders how effective the program has been as nearly half the city’s pathways are currently deemed in need of repair at an estimated cost of over $1 billion.
(You can read more from The American here.)
Of course it is this issue of liability that complicates the question. The Times notes that “the city regularly faces lawsuits from people who say they were injured when they tripped or could not pass at all on the public right-of-way.”
The work in Playa Del Rey, however, shows that there is some potential for residents to partner with the city to solve this problem. But that may be hard in especially low income areas. The issue is controversial, and the opposition is not all from the right or the left. The American notes that, ironically, the loudest voices are from Conservatives who believe LAs high tax rates should guarantee good services:
While it’s always convenient to have things both ways, those on the right can’t demand smaller government and then complain when their favorite service is cut. What is happening in Los Angeles with some conservatives is a sort of a duplicitous “NIMFYism”: “Not In My Front Yard”. That great French chronicler of all things uniquely American, Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote in 1833: “Everywhere that, at the head of a new undertaking, you see the government in France and a great lord in England, count on it that you will perceive an association in the United States.” Conservatives have rightly taken these words to found their proposals for communal responsibility in battling an encroaching government. As the story of cracked sidewalks in Los Angeles suggests, there will be many opportunities to recommend these solutions in the coming years.