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Two Years On, Illogical Sidewalk Policies Still Illogical

The city might finally follow through on its pledge to smooth out inconsistencies in its policies governing who must maintain sidewalks and who has to pay up when someone trips and falls.

More than two years ago, San Diego’s City Council promised to fix the city’s illogical sidewalk policies that say property and business owners are responsible for fixing broken sidewalks outside their homes even though the city remains legally on the hook if someone trips and falls over the same stretch of sidewalk.

“We want to revamp the policy in such a fashion that it works,” City Councilman Mark Kersey said at a June 2013 Council meeting.

Fast-forward to now, and the policies still stand.

Kersey, who represents the city’s northeastern communities and is chairman of the Council’s infrastructure committee, said the slow pace of reform doesn’t reflect the work that’s been done.

Earlier this year, the city completed its first-ever review of all the sidewalks in San Diego, which found almost 80,000 locations with significant cracks, lumps or other problems. In the spring, infrastructure committee members reviewed sidewalk policies from other California cities. The whole Council is scheduled to discuss the issue next week.

“It’s a like a lot of these problems,” Kersey said. “A lot of these problems have built up over time and we want to get this right.”

Kersey hopes a policy change will happen this fall. So what would the new rules look like?

In San Jose and Sacramento, two cities looked at by the Council, property owners are largely responsible both for fixing the sidewalks and for any legal issues that may arise when people fall.

Kersey said he is inclined to support a new policy that makes property owners responsible for legal problems, but only after the city helps pay to fix existing sidewalk cracks.

“I firmly believe given the absolutely horrible condition of some of our sidewalks, the city should share in the cost of repairing those,” Kersey said.

This is no small task. The sidewalk review found the cost to repair all the problems was $46.4 million, roughly the equivalent of what it takes to run the city’s libraries every year. The city’s total infrastructure debt is at least $1.7 billion.

Kersey said funding for sidewalk fixes could be rolled into a 2016 infrastructure ballot measure he’s been talking about for a while. The clock has been ticking on that and it might be overtaken by a parallel effort to deal with infrastructure concerns region-wide.

There’s been little public evidence the city’s infrastructure ballot measure discussion is anything but moribund. But Kersey said lots of things are happening behind the scenes.

“Rest assured, we are working very diligently on this,” he said.

This week, the city was reminded of what happens if officials don’t fix sidewalk problems. The city agreed to pay out $300,000 to two people who tripped in North Park three years ago.

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