Cracked LA sidewalks lead to class action lawsuit, settlement


Spend any time walking in LA, and you’ll understand why people don’t like to do it. Yes, the city is a sprawling metropolis – but on a micro-level, block by block basis, it is an universally inhospitable place to walk. Why is that?

Prior to 1973, property owners were responsible for the upkeep of the sidewalks abutting their property. In 1973, the City of LA got a bunch of money from the federal government and decided to take on that responsibility using federal funds. The federal funds ran out in 1976. At the time, the state was in full tax revolt – Proposition 13 passed in 1978 and since then any attempt to mandate a “new” sidewalk repair law has failed miserably. Since then, the City of LA has a 30 year backlog of repairs to attend to, and no regular source of funding that is large enough to manage the situation.

Professor Donald Shoup of UCLA has outlined the situation we face today in his paper, “Putting Cities Back on Their Feet“, published in the Journal of American Planning and Development in September of 2010:

“In 2000, the city began to repair sidewalks using general revenue. The total cost to repair the accumulated damage had ballooned to $1.2 billion, but the budget for repairs averaged only $10.8 million per year up to 2008.”

In 2002, in Barden v. Sacramento, the United States Court of Appeals found that a city that does not maintain it sidewalks and curb cuts is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Since that case, the City of Sacremento has been forced to drastically change the way it spends its transportation dollars: 20% of it’s Transportation Fund dollars go maintaining pedestrian rights of way.

Dr. Shoup has, in “Putting Cities Back on Their Feet”, proposed that sidewalk repair be mandated at the time of sale of a piece of property – a so-called “Point-Of-Sale” program that has been used successfully in many other municipalities faced with a similar crisis of sidewalk maintenance costs.

So far, his Point-Of-Sale idea has not gone very far, but a class-action lawsuit has been filed against the City of Los Angeles along the lines of Barden v Sacramento – and the City of Los Angeles is looking to settle.

Whichever way the settlement goes, let’s hope that our city’s sidewalks get the attention they deserve. We do walk in LA, and we deserve to be able to do that, despite what “Missing Persons” have to say.

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  1. denwanai
    Posted July 27, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    When we were looking for a house in Portland, OR, the first thing I put on my list was SIDEWALKS. In Portland the homeowner is still responsible for the sidewalk repair and the city canvas all the neighborhoods on a rotating basis. The sidewalk inspectors come through our hood every eight to ten years. We had to replace a section of our sidewalk due to a lifted trip hazard and it cost us $500.00. But a small price to pay for the ability to use your feet in your own neighborhood.

  2. Posted July 27, 2011 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    Oh, of course they must settle and then settle back into denial. The Point of Sale thing is a good idea I think but not an exclusive answer. I cringe to think of the navigation difficulties in some areas for people in wheelchairs. Even when the sidewalk surface is passable there is poor design and obstacles with post office boxes, bus stops, and even bike racks.

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