Councilman Joe Buscaino, Chairman of the Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee advanced a $10 million sidewalk repair plan, during a special committee hearing Thursday, February 6, 2014.
“I am thrilled that we are finally making some progress on addressing the downright embarrassing condition of our sidewalks,” Buscaino said.
“A billion dollar problem like this doesn't just appear overnight. It is the result of four decades of disingenuous policies whereby the city took legal responsibility for a massive expenditure, without ever figuring out how to pay for it.”
The proposal put forth in a joint report from the City Administrative Officer, and the Public Works bureaus of Street Services, Engineering and Contract Administration would divide the money evenly among three repair priorities: the first third ($3.33 million) will be spent on locations where past claims and lawsuits have been filed in high pedestrian use areas, an additional third will be spent along “iconic streets Citywide integrating various City services to promote economic development in retail areas with heavy pedestrian traffic,” and the final third would be allocated equally among the 15 council districts for a 50/50 program. All construction would be performed by private contractors, with the Bureau of Engineering overseeing the program and the Bureau of Contract Administration inspecting the work to ensure it is up to City standards.
The Bureau of Street Services estimates 4600 miles 40% of City sidewalks are in disrepair and will require an estimated $1.5 billion to fix. Historically, most sidewalks were constructed by real estate developers as new housing tracts were built, and thereafter, state law mandated that repair was the responsibility of the adjacent property owner. Developers also planted street trees at the same time, and had long favored the Indian Laurel Fig (Ficus) tree because of their hardiness and rapid growth rate. However, the Ficus, and other fastgrowing trees also have very shallow root systems that often grow under sidewalks and cause them to buckle and uplift.
In 1973, facing an angry backlash of homeowners who received notices from the City ordering sidewalk repair, the City Council passed an ordinance that exempted the property owner from that responsibility if the
damage was caused by the growth of tree roots. The Council never adequately studied the cost implications of this policy,
and within two years, a backlog of repairs developed that has grown exponentially in the 40 years that followed.
Buscaino added a provision to require at least 5% of the work to go to contractors that hire atrisk youth and young adults, and requested the City Administrative Officer investigate the feasibility of creating a tax incentive program for businesses that proactively undertake sidewalk repair.
The proposal now moves to the Budget & Finance Committee for consideration on Monday, and then to the full City Council.