Local Government

Who Should Pay to Fix Cracked L.A. Sidewalks? You!

City official suggests pushing cost of city mismanagement on property owners.


Who's responsible for those cracked sidewalks across Los Angeles? Property owners, says City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana in a new city report that suggests shifting liability and permanent maintenance of sidewalks to residential and commercial property owners. From the Los Angeles Times:

The report by City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana offers the first road map for managing a $1.4-billion, 30-year sidewalk rebuilding program required under a pending settlement of a lawsuit filed by attorneys for the disabled.

The West Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce isn't taking the news lightly. The group's president, Roozbeh Farahanipour, told the Times that local businesses would likely not support the recommendation.

"Because the businesses are paying taxes, they are assuming local government is taking care of their needs," Farahanipour said.

If only that were true. According to the report, the city doesn't even know how many miles of sidewalks exist in L.A., let alone what condition the sidewalks are in:

Previous estimates put the total sidewalk network at more than 10,000 miles, with more than 40% needing repair. There also is no centralized record-keeping on the location or condition of curb ramps.

"Without this information, it will be difficult to measure progress as the city implements its new sidewalk management strategy," the report states.

In 2013, Reason TV looked at a decentralized approach to locating these treacherous sidewalk cracks. At the time, Adrian Moore, vice president of policy at Reason Foundation, said the cracks were indicative of the kind of bureaucracy L.A. has become known for.

"One of the problems bureaucracies have, and LA in particular has, is nobody who manages these departments actually invests the management effort in saying let's be ruthless about prioritizing what's most important," said Moore. For more watch "L.A.'s New Crack Epidemic: Sidewalks":

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  1. Property owners, says City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana in a new city report that suggests shifting liability and permanent maintenance of sidewalks to residential and commercial property owners

    There are cities that don’t already do that?


    “Yes, we’re going to put in a sidewalk whether you want it or not. Now you have to pay to maintain it, forever.”

    I’d thought that was universal practice in the US. Weird that LA – of all places – hasn’t already gone there.

    1. Yeah, where I live the homeowner is responsible for all kinds of shit in front of his house, from the curb in. Hell, the front easement of my house is a bus stop, I have to mow it and maintain it. Not that I wouldn’t want to, but it’s kind of weird.

      The problem here of course is that cities have spread their dominance over so much territory that basic infrastructure becomes a ‘special budget item’ when it should be at the center of everything their revenue stream goes toward.

      Unfortunately running a mayor race on sidewalks and other mundane items doesn’t get you elected in your big cities. It’s all community, understanding, global warming, parklets, urban farming and livability issues.

      Strangely, it never occurs to anyone at city hall that this mundane shit IS a livability issue and everything else is just feel-good fodder.

    2. In the town I live in, if you want your sidewalk (actually the town property in front of your house) repaired you have to contact town hall and they (aka everyone else in town) will pay half. Not sure who hires the contractor, but the town gov’t has to vet them anyway so they probably select the crony cement contractor.

      Anyway, my neighbor complained about the condition of the sidewalk in front of my house to the town and the town replaced it at 100% taxpayer expense. I think she threatened them with a personal injury lawsuit since it is town property, not mine. (she twisted her ankle, had to limp for a couple days.) There are some blocks in town with no sidewalks, so it is clear that it is not homeowner property.

    3. San Francisco does this; not exactly a city known for stable ground so it’s potentially an enormous expense on top of the already ridiculous cost to own or rent property there. Even if an overgrown city-planted tree damages the sidewalk, it’s still the property owner’s responsibility (oh, and you can’t just cut down the tree so it doesn’t happen again, of course, as that requires a hearing and a permit).

      It’s BS. If property taxes are going to pay for public infrastructure, then they should do that. It’s like asking people who live on a block to pay for a street being repaved.

    4. IIRC, NYC recently switched to this system. Where I’m from (upstate NY) it was always a city thing. But now here in NYC, the result is: shitty, uneven sidewalks everywhere.

    5. That’s how it is in my state, in pretty much every town. If someone complains about the condition of a homeowner’s sidewalk, the city inspects it, and if it’s not up to code, the homeowner is sent a notice to repair it within a certain amount of time. If the homeowner doesn’t repair it in time, the city contracts to have it repaired and the bill is added to their property tax.

  2. My reaction to this is kind of like my reaction to the people bitching when Detroit stopped maintaining streetlights. I was kind confused because as someone living in the suburbs it never occured to me that the local government would be responsible for a streetlight to begin with.

    1. By ‘responsible for streetlights’, what do you mean? Surely you don’t mean you actually pay a contractor to erect them and maintain them?

      1. Sure, the buildering put them up when the community was built and we pay to maintain them. We pay for the electricity to run them too. They are our streetlights.

        1. Sure, the buildering put them up when the community was built and we pay to maintain them

          The buildering? Do you live in a planned community? That’s kind of a different thing.

          Of course in normal township or city I too pay for the electricity that runs through them. Just indirectly.

          Here where I live, there was a controversy where the city started tacking a tax onto the electric bill to pay for streetlights. City got sued and lost.

          The ruling by Judge Sharon Armstrong results from a decision in November by the state Supreme Court. In that decision, the Supreme Court found the city created an unconstitutional “revenue-raising ploy” when it started charging Seattle City Light ratepayers for streetlights. The court said providing public lighting was a government function that should have been paid for by general tax revenues, not tacked on to electric bills.


          1. “buildering” = builder

            It’s a condo association. But that’s how nearly all the construction is around here. Most of the roads other than the main primary and secondary routes are privately owned too.

            1. Ah, I thought there was some mysterious industry term for a planned-community contractor/builder I was unaware of.

              1. Oh you didn’t know? Bob the builderer does all the buildering in Stormy Dragons neighborhood.

          2. Here in California, when a builder puts up a community, there’s a special tax called “Mello-Roos” (after the guys who wrote the bill) that homebuyers have to pay to fund basic infrastructure.

    2. I don’t know who would be responsible for maintaining sidewalks or streetlights if we had them. The street is maintained by the state as it is officially a numbered secondary highway even though it is a quarter mile long dead end.


    Just remember this next time you hear the lame ROADZ! argument.

  4. So some contractor has a bunch of “volunteers” create a bunch of bogus broken sidewalk reports. Then underbids the competition because they know they’ll only have to fix a fraction of them.

  5. That’s how it is in Columbus. In fact, came out last summer to inspect them then waited until middle of January when ground was frozen, we had extended sub zero weather and a foot if snow on the ground and sent people notices that they had 30 days to fix them. Fuckin bureaucrats

  6. Just wait until they apply this solution to water, sewer, gas and electric! It will save the government so much money that they can give every public service worker a fabulous bonus.

  7. “According to the report, the city doesn’t even know how many miles of sidewalks exist in LA, let alone what condition the sidewalks are in.”

    If I didn’t know better, this sounds like a call for more bureaucracy. I guess LA should have a 300-person department to map, inventory, and conduct PM for all of the sidewalks. Is that what we want?

    Maybe LA already has that department and this is just an observation that they aren’t doing their job.

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