The Price Tag to Fix the City’s Crumbling Sidewalks Has Nearly Doubled

Government UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

The Price Tag to Fix the City’s Crumbling Sidewalks Has Nearly Doubled

City staff told a City Council committee Wednesday that repairing the backlog of broken sidewalks is now estimated to cost $90 million to $100 million – almost twice what the city estimated four years ago.

A sidewalk near Bankers Hill / Photo by Megan Wood

In 2015, the city of San Diego said it would need $57 million to repair and maintain its backlog of crumbling sidewalks. Now, that figure has nearly doubled.

City staff told the transportation and infrastructure committee Wednesday that the original assessment of sidewalks “significantly understated” the actual square footage of needed repairs. It’s now estimated to cost $90 million to $100 million, with only $600,000 budgeted in the current fiscal year.

“We’ve got 80,000 requests, or locations, that need to be repaired,” said Councilman Mark Kersey, who is chair of the committee. “We need to be figuring out every possible way that we can to get those fixed.”

For years, officials have talked about revamping the city’s illogical sidewalk repair policy. As it stands, homeowners are responsible for fixing broken sidewalks outside their property, even though the city remains legally on the hook if someone trips and falls over the same stretch of sidewalk.

During the city’s assessment of sidewalks from 2014 to 2015, more than 85,000 locations were identified as needing repair. Since then, the city has repaired or replaced about 27,000 of those broken sidewalks, but at the same time found an additional 23,000 locations needing repair.

Another setback to getting the city’s sidewalks fixed is the long wait for residents who choose to take advantage of its cost-sharing program. Residents repairing more than 75 square feet of sidewalk are eligible to have their sidewalks fixed by city crews and only pay half the cost. On average, the share for property owners is $4,500.

Kristy Reeser, deputy director of the city’s street division, said the program has become increasingly popular because the city has issued more notices to residents who are liable for repairs. The average wait for participants can now be nine months to a year, she said.

The alternative is hiring an independent contractor to do the work. But that also has its setbacks.

The cost of a city permit to repair sidewalks is $1,900, and the process can take 30 days to three months.

Councilman Chris Ward, another committee member, compared it to a similar permit in San Francisco that costs property owners only $150. He suggested looking for a way to reduce or cover permit fees “so that we’re not further burdening homeowners on the opportunity to start working on a repair.”

Kersey previously told Voice of San Diego that he is pushing the city to create and discuss an update to the sidewalk repair policy this year.

“I don’t want us needlessly wasting taxpayer dollars if we don’t need to,” Kersey said of the city’s liability for sidewalk injury lawsuits. “I think all of us would agree that investing that money into prevention and fixing and maintenance of these things would be clearly be a better way to go.”

A report from the city’s independent budget analyst office last year said the city spent $6 million on claims from fiscal year 2013 to 2018.

Correction: A previous version of this story attributed a comment about permit fees in San Francisco to the wrong committee member.

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