Tired of waiting years for the city to repair your crumbling sidewalk?


Under a new program, you can move to the front of the line: All you have to do is cut the City of L.A. a check for $1,000 or so.


It's something developers and housing contractors have been doing for years paying extra fees to get plan checks expedited.


Now a pilot program in the northeast San Fernando Valley is being spread to property owners citywide who want quicker street and sidewalk repairs.


Backers say this is an innovative way to speed delivery of services in an era of tight budgets. But critics say it favors the well-heeled, and it's not even fair to them.


"What's happening here is that people who want their city services in a timely manner end up paying twice, once in taxes and then in these up-front expediting fees. It shows the city isn't doing a good job in delivering the services in the first place," said Steven Frates, senior fellow at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College.


City officials admit they have huge backlogs. At a repair rate of 52 miles a year, the average time between repairs on any given stretch of the city's 4,600 miles of sidewalks is 83 years. Faced with rising complaints from homeowners about tree roots and the prospect of lawsuits from people who trip over uneven surfaces, city staffers broached the idea of getting homeowners to split the cost.


Not only would the repairs be done more quickly, but if enough signed on, the backlog could be reduced for everyone else.


Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, the self-proclaimed "pothole queen," got the council to approve a 90-day pilot program for her district. The program, dubbed "50/50," drew 140 inquiries; of those 93 signed on, according to Bureau of Street Services Director Bill Robertson.


The bulk of the takers were in middle-class areas like North Hollywood, not in areas with multimillion-dollar homes.


"When we told them that their share would likely come out to about $1,000 or $1,200, they jumped at the opportunity," Robertson said.


As of July 1, the program went citywide and was expanded to include owners of apartment and condo complexes. The City Council allocated an additional $1.4 million to hire 23 more staff at the street services division.


In the first month, 21 property owners paid into the program, Robertson said.


The program may be expanded to include businesses, Robertson said even though a long-ignored city code already requires business owners to maintain their sidewalks.


"Rather than enforce that, we think bringing business owners in on a voluntary basis will prove much more successful," Robertson said.


Meanwhile, Councilman Greig Smith has introduced a similar concept for street repairs. His program targets neighborhood councils, which would be able to pay public works crews overtime to fix roads, sidewalks or trim trees.


"Essentially, this is renting out a repair crew for an eight-hour shift, to get something done that you would otherwise have to wait years for," Robertson said.

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