Let Inga Tell You: Just when it couldn’t get crazier, here’s the proposed sidewalk ‘liability ordinance’
Just when you think the city parents can’t make any worse decisions (support for SB 10, anyone?), they propose a law to shift a backlog of 37,000 sidewalk repairs (and the estimated $185 million gap in funding needed to fix them) onto San Diego property owners. Such a law is called a “liability ordinance.”
As a property owner with a corner lot, and therefore a whole lot of sidewalk, this didn’t strike fear in our hearts. It was abject terror.
According to a story in the La Jolla Light on June 29, part of the motivation for this shift is the millions the city is paying out in trip-and-fall claims from people injured on damaged sidewalks. This liability would be shifted to homeowners. That seems destined to keep a lot of law firms in perpetual prosperity.
State law makes property owners responsible for fixing nearby sidewalks. City officials are proposing some carrots to get them to make those repairs — along with one giant stick.
Some years ago, pre-Get It Done, I filed a repair request on what was then the appropriate reporting vehicle for a root-ruptured sidewalk caused by a city-owned tree. The sidewalk continued to rise and become more hazardous year by year, especially in the dark. There were trip-and-falls. I know this because I was the tripper and fallee.
Seven years later, repair workers came out … and repaired a much smaller sidewalk issue on the next-door neighbor’s property. Fortunately, I was able to accost them and get them to repair my sidewalk as well.
The city parents propose to soften the blow of shifting sidewalk repairs to property owners by reducing the permit fee for repairs from about $2,200 to $100. Wait. We need a permit? Before we even do any repairs?
Forgive me if I’m not grateful. Or softened. And with all due respect, city parents, have you applied for a permit to do anything in this city recently? With pandemic backlogs, it takes years.
Once permitted, we’d be stuck paying whatever the city sidewalk repair contractor charges (no competitive bids), which could cost as much as $5,000. Which means that actual humans could do it for $500.
What scares me even more is that my street corner has become very dark ever since the streetlight in front of our house went out in February. The backlog of broken streetlights at the time was 5,900 (now 6,100), but some streetlight repair requests have been backlogged eight years.
I concluded in a Light column (“Trying to understand streetlight math,” May 4) that our streetlight, according to the city’s current rate of repair, would not be fixed in our lifetimes.
Once our streetlight went out, even our dog was terrified to step off the front porch into the suddenly black abyss. So we’ve improvised with solar lights, hoping to be able to find our front gate.
But that has done nothing to make our large corner safely lighted at night. And if the liability for that expanse of sidewalk is shifted to us, I don’t know what we would do.
Well, my husband, Olof, has a few ideas. He says if we’re responsible for injuries on our sidewalk, then we should charge to walk on it. A little toll gate on either end. We’d even be willing to learn how to use Venmo.
Alternatively, he suggests, we could resurface our sidewalk with a layer of synthetic rubber like they use for high school tracks so that if people fall, they would bounce right up. Of course, we would have to do this in the dead of night. Increasingly (see recent Light articles), locals have taken it on themselves to do city improvements like paint railings at Windansea or relandscape tiny La Jolla Hermosa Park in Bird Rock.
If this liability proposal truly passes (please say it is just a bad joke), a whole cottage industry of rogue sidewalk repairs will, in my guess, spring up. No way are people getting sucked into the black hole of city permits and non-bid repairs.
I also can’t help but observe that some of the trip-and-falls in downtown La Jolla, an area with lots of foot traffic, were on sidewalks so badly damaged they were practically begging people to fall on them. Is there no priority system?
On the positive side, an article in the Light on July 20 reported that the city plans to prioritize fixing those 6,100-and-counting broken streetlights. The plan is to reduce the average time it takes to address a complaint about a broken streetlight from about eight months (see “streetlight math” above) to just three days. It’s a wonderful thought, and I would love to move to the planet where that is going to happen.
But if we could at least get the streetlight in front of our house working again, we hope it would greatly reduce the number of potential sidewalk accidents that the city parents want to stick us for.
Meanwhile, my engineer husband is tinkering in the backyard with rolls of spongy synthetics. If this liability ordinance passes, we’ll be ready.
Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at email@example.com. ◆
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