unfriendly business environment even more hostile. Since it will disproportionally affect owners of smaller businesses, it will give them another reason to leave Los Angeles, which could result in a loss of jobs.
Caruso, who twice toyed with the idea of running for mayor, said the city would be better served by being more judicious about its spending and creating an environment that encourages business formation and job creation. Those tax-generating policies would feed city coffers and allow it to fund repairs.
Two City Council committees – Budget and Finance, and Public Works and Gang Reduction – were scheduled to have a joint meeting this week about the sidewalk recommendation, made by City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana. If the Santana proposal is approved, commercial property owners would have one year to make voluntary sidewalk repairs. After that, an inspection program would be implemented and property owners cited by the city would have one year to make required repairs. If they don’t comply, the city will make the repairs and send the bill to the property owner.
“I like Miguel Santana a lot, but he should sleep on this one,” said Caruso, who’s chief executive of Caruso Affiliated.
The city has been responsible for repairing buckling sidewalks – largely caused by the force of tree roots – for more than 40 years. But Santana’s report, coming in the wake of a settlement agreement reached last month in which the city agreed to invest $1.4 billion over the next 30 years to repair and improve its sidewalks, might herald an end to the practice.
The settlement stemmed from a case, Willits v. City of Los Angeles, in which the city was accused of violating the Americans With Disabilities Act by failing to maintain sidewalks in a manner such that they were safe for those who rely on wheelchairs and scooters.
The backlog of repairs that need to occur in order for the streets to be safe is huge. The Bureau of Street Services has estimated that roughly 40 percent of city sidewalks need repairs at a cost of between $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion, according to Santana’s report.
As part of the settlement, the city is expected to shell out just $30 million a year, increasing eventually to $63 million a year as costs rise, for the next 30 years.
Santana’s report, compiled after consultation with the departments of Public Works, Transportation and Disability, asked Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council to repeal an exception to a section of the municipal code that gives the city responsibility for walkways.
“Sidewalks are public domain and should be maintained by the government,” said Adam Tischer, vice president at Colliers International’s downtown L.A. office.
While that has been the way sidewalk repair has operated for the last four decades, it was not always so – and it is not that way elsewhere in California.
In the rest of the state, property owners are responsible for repairing sidewalks, in accordance with the California Streets and Highways Code. But in the 1970s, city of L.A. leaders decided to pay for the sidewalk damage caused by trees, a decision lubricated by a multimillion-dollar federal grant to fund the work.
But the federal funding dried up within a few years, and repairs have “not always been consistently funded due to funding constraints” ever since, Santana’s report says. In fact, from 1978 to 2000, the city did not have a full-scale sidewalk repair program. Even when a program was in place, there was stalling. While waiting for the settlement agreement in the Willits case to close, the city halted the sidewalk repair process almost entirely.
Funding city repairs through a tax increase is likely to face resistance as well: L.A. voters have on several occasions rejected ballot measures for sales tax increases that would fund such work.
All of which leaves the city in a bind.
In addition to shifting the burden for repairs to property owners, the Santana report proposed treating commercial and residential property owners differently. The report, released May 26, outlined a fix-and-release strategy in which sidewalks in residential areas that are damaged by trees would be fixed first by the city. After that initial city repair, any future damage would be the responsibility of the residential property owner.
Ruben Gonzalez, senior vice president for public policy and political affairs at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said the report is not acceptable in its treatment of commercial property owners.
“At a minimum, we believe that commercial property owners and residential property owners should be treated equally,” Gonzalez said. “Requiring a greater burden on commercial property owners is simply unfair.”
David Simon, executive vice president at West L.A. firm Kilroy Realty Corp., which developed and owns five large office properties within city limits and has two under development, questioned whether the proposed changes could end up making property owners liable for accidents that happen on the sidewalk on their property.
“If you are transferring the cost to property owners, are you transferring the liability, too?” he asked. “Does a landlord now need more insurance, and if someone trips and falls, is it now that landlord’s responsibility?”
Santana could not be reached for comment, and those issues were not addressed in the report.
Excluding the potential for legal liability issues, Simon said that while a mandate from the city is never a good thing, if Santana’s suggestions are approved, it won’t change the way Kilroy runs its properties.
“Long-term-hold landlords like Kilroy typically maintain and fix things,” he said, explaining that he would rather take care of an issue immediately than wait for city repairs. “You clearly don’t want (broken sidewalks) in front of your property.”
The cost to repair or replace a sidewalk is about $14 a square foot, which would make a fairly typical 200-square-foot stretch cost about $2,800, said James Donovan, owner of Santa Monica’s Master Masonry Concrete Construction, which repairs sidewalks at both residential and commercial properties in Los Angeles. He said the cost is about the same for both.
However, if a tree’s roots have undermined the concrete, a “tree surgery” is required. That tacks on roughly $2,000 to the cost. But before Donovan can even attempt a tree surgery, a city inspector must visit the site and a permit must be issued.
“They don’t make it easy,” Donovan said.
In neighborhoods where sidewalks are particularly bad – and costly to repair – the city’s proposal has been met with anger.
Scott Suh, president of the Wilshire Center-Koreatown Neighborhood Council, voiced his opposition to the plan in an article in the Korea Times last week, and said his phone has been ringing ever since.
“Just because the government cannot do their job and function as a government, it doesn’t give them the right to transfer the responsibility to homeowners,” he said, adding that the Koreatown area is rife with trees that have overgrown their sidewalk boxes and that it’s unfair for residents to pick up an issue the city has long neglected.
“I know from the calls I’m getting that this is devastating to residents,” he said. “If (homeowners) don’t hold the title to the sidewalk, they shouldn’t be responsible for its repair.”
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