After decades of neglect, the crumbling sidewalks of Los Angeles are finally getting significant repairs, about $31 million worth in the coming year. That's great, from a citywide perspective, but it doesn't mean that the tripping hazard in front of your own home will be fixed anytime soon.
That's because the city's sidewalk repair program is part of a $1.4 billion disability rights settlement. Beginning July 1, with the new fiscal year, the city will be required under the settlement to spend at least $31 million per year on sidewalk repairs. The city actually bumped up its sidewalk repair spending beginning in 2016-17 budget year, giving streets adjacent to public buildings top priority while policies for residential sidewalks were being crafted.
The settlement deal is so large it is expected to take 30 years to spend all $1.4 billion. As things stand now, the city expects to replace about 100 miles of sidewalk over the next five years.
There are a few ways to get your bad sidewalk onto the city's priority list. You can call them the Gold, Silver and Bronze plans, although the city of Los Angeles gives them other names.
Gold plan -- "Access Request Program"
A top priority of the city's Access Request Program is to provide safe paths of travel for people with disabilities to get from their homes to school, work or transit stops. One-fifth of the spending in this first official year of the settlement must go to improving sidewalks needed by disabled people.
"Individual requests for program access fixes will be prioritized in residential neighborhoods that are necessary to provide access to bus stops or other forms of public transit," the settlement says.
This kind of repair was undertaken on the 9700 block of Denker Avenue in the Gramercy Park neighborhood. The street has small neat homes from the 1920s that have a near-constant bombardment of noise from planes heading to land at LAX.
Mark McDowell has been watching the gold standard in sidewalk repair in front of his house. He said parkway trees had torn up large sections of sidewalk, but over several weeks in May and June, city work crews ripped out the sidewalks from curb to curb and installed new concrete and wheelchair ramps at the corners. Several side streets also got the same treatment.
A neighbor who has difficulty walking requested the overhaul, but the entire neighborhood benefits, getting new sidewalks and wheelchair ramps at no cost to property owners.
"The initial requester might be asking for the sidewalk in front of their house but ultimately various public works personnel will assess really if the proper fix is corner to corner of the block," said Geoffrey Straniere of the city's Department on Disability. He coordinates sidewalk repair requests to ensure they meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"It's really a civil right," Straniere said.
The settlement requires the city to use its best efforts to evaluate the needs for repairs within 30 days and if appropriate, schedule the repairs within 120 days, as the city's budget permits.
More than 700 Access Program requests are pending, including one from James Guerra of Ridgeview Avenue near Occidental College in Eagle Rock.
"I've been asking them to fix the sidewalk right here for the longest time. I tell them I can't go outside," said Guerra, who uses a walker to get around. He's frustrated and said he has not received a definitive answer from the city when the sidewalk in front of his home will be fixed.
"I called them up already. Three, four times to come and fix the sidewalk, and they haven't responded," Guerra said.
Guerra is on the list for repairs after his report of a broken sidewalk was logged in January. City inspectors have also evaluated a section on his side of Ridgeview Avenue that includes more than 20 homes.
"It is a site that requires substantial design, tree removal etc.," said Bureau of Engineering spokeswoman Mary Nemick. She said the program is first-come, first served.
Julie Sauter, who oversees the bureau's sidewalk program, says one person with a mobility disability who reports broken sidewalks could trigger a far more extensive repair to the neighbors' parcels.
"We want to repair as many sidewalks as possible," Sauter said. "We're looking for people to tell us where the need is."
Silver plan -- Sidewalk repair rebates
The city will rebate up to $2,000 per residential parcel and up to $4,000 for a commercial parcel to owners who fix their own sidewalks according to the city's standards.
The program is so new, the city could provide only 23 addresses where rebates had already been issued. Three were on Ridgeview Avenue.
"My sidewalks weren't particularly terrible, but they were bad enough that I've been wanting to fix them for years," said Bruce Stevens, who received rebates for fixing sidewalks in front of his own home and for two adjacent rental homes he owns.
He fronted the $8,200 cost of the repairs for all three lots and received rebates totaling $6,000.
More than 900 property owners have applied for the rebates since December, when the program launched. It's also first-come first-served. In the first year of the program, the city set aside $6 million dollars for rebates. In the budget year that starts in July, that amount will be just $1.7 million dollars.
A spokesman for Mayor Eric Garcetti said officials didn't know what the demand would be in the first year, so the smaller, second year amount is more realistic, reflecting the demand. If demand turns out to be higher, the city can increase it.
Bronze plan -- Call your Councilmember
Most sidewalk repair requests are submitted through a form on the city's website known as myLA311. But the process can go faster when working through a City Council member's office.
Nona Randois says a politically-connected neighbor helped get her sidewalks replaced at no cost.
"She was talking to the council office, and it was right before the election so yeah, Thank you!," Randois said, referring her thanks to Councilman Jose Huizar.
The neighbor is Jane Demian, who said she was working on the Huizar campaign in 2014. She said she attended a neighborhood meet-and-greet where the councilman was talking about fixing sidewalks. She said she was surprised because she had to fix her own sidewalks in 2011 after appealing to the council office with no result.
But after that she worked through a Huizar aide on behalf of Randois and a few other neighbors.
She said she told him, "These people are disabled and they absolutely need it. And I took pictures, and I was like really you know pushing for it."
And it worked. Several of her neighbors got new sidewalks in 2014.
Demian's advice: "If we don't go through the council's office, then we're pretty much on our own."
Huizar's office spent about a half-million dollars of the discretionary funds each council office gets to do special things around the district, spokesman Rick Coca said. Huizar's office collects names and addresses of requests for sidewalk repairs and passes them on to the Bureau of Street Services to decide on the priority of the repair, he said..
There is no set amount that each council district spends on sidewalks and no set process. For example, Councilman David Ryu has a special committee of community members evaluate requests for discretionary funds.