California Lawmakers Tackle Sidewalk Repair Responsibilities

Sylvia Cochran

Who is responsible for fixing California's sidewalks? Yesterday's assembly vote on AB 2231 -- the bill passed easily with 48 to 9 votes -- is a first step to apportion accountability for this infrastructure expenditure, the Sacramento Bee notes.

What does AB 2231 say?

Around the Capitol provides the text for the sidewalk repair bill introduced in February by Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar). AB 2231 sets a framework for sidewalk repair liability and creates a "state-mandated local program." The bill targets cash-strapped cities that decide to shift the burden for repairs onto local residents -- in spite of previously passed ordinances that make the cities responsible. Cities with such ordinances in place can only move this responsibility to residents after a majority vote of the electorate. AB 2231 does not affect cities that do not have an established ordinance with respect to sidewalk repair responsibilities.

Is this good news for homeowners?

Not necessarily; the sidewalk repair bill voids a provision that would have protected private property owners against repair assessments from cities and counties. Moreover, homeowners residing in cities that apportion sidewalk repair liability to property owners may see an increase in repair order enforcement.

How are California cities currently dealing with sidewalk repairs?

The City of Long Beach takes responsibility for fixing sidewalks, but only if there is a joint separation that exceeds one half inch, some loose concrete or the creation of a drainage problem. Long Beach currently earmarks $3 million a year to repair sidewalks. The City of San Jose holds property owners liable for maintaining, repairing and replacing sidewalks, curbs and gutters. Infrastructure inspectors alert homeowners if their sidewalks need to be fixed; a permit is included in the notice. Failure to follow through on the notification results in fines.

Why is the California assembly dealing with sidewalk repairs, if the cities are already doing so?

The catalyst for AB 2231 is the tug-of-war the City of Los Angeles undertook with local residents. While the city decided in 1973 to pass an ordinance placing the burden of sidewalk repair on the city, a continuous lack of funds caused sidewalks to fall into serious disrepair. LAist reveals it would cost Los Angeles about $2 billion to repair the approximately 4,000 miles of neglected sidewalks. As a result, the city recently attempted unsuccessfully to foist responsibility of undertaking these long-neglected repairs onto the homeowners. In the meantime, sidewalks remain in disrepair and L.A. taxpayers are responsible for paying between $3 million and $4 million each year in lawsuit claims arising from unsafe sidewalks.

Who opposes Fuentes' bill?

The City of Los Angeles is one of the cities opposing the sidewalk repair bill. The League of California Cities contends AB 2231 "undermines the role of a city council." The California State Association of Counties noted in its April bulletin that it "is difficult to justify repairing a sidewalk for a homeowner in a residential neighborhood instead of filling potholes on a thoroughfare that serves as a primary route for the movement of people and goods."

Sylvia Cochran is a Los Angeles-area resident with a firm finger on the pulse of California politics. Talk radio junkie, community volunteer and politically independent, she scrutinizes the good and the bad from both sides of the political aisle.