Los Angeles leaders planned to spend $27 million on sidewalk repairs this budget year -- much more than the year before. But so far, more than halfway through the fiscal year, the city has yet to spend any of it.
"I'm kind of astonished to learn that we haven't spent any more today than we did as of the end of" the last budget year, City Councilman Paul Krekorian said at a Monday meeting after being told that none of the money had been used.
"I'm astonished and I'm really disappointed," Krekorian said.
Finance officials asked Monday to make money available to city departments to pay for sidewalk repairs, the first step toward moving forward with the budgeted fixes.
Several council members said they were stunned that the city had not already done so, especially a $7-million chunk that was left over from the last budget year.
If the holdup was transferring the money, Councilman Paul Koretz said, "why couldn't we have done this in July?"
City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana said the city had not moved ahead with the planned sidewalk fixes because of an ongoing lawsuit filed by disabled residents who assert that broken sidewalks infringe on their rights to public access.
Santana said they had hesitated to spend the money because it could end up adding to city liability in the case. The exact reasons are unclear: At the Monday meeting, he said he could not publicly explain the holdup in detail because the city is still negotiating a settlement.
Santana added, however, that negotiations had reached a point at which piling onto city liability no longer appeared to be a risk. The committee voted Monday to press forward with making the money available and authorizing dozens of new positions to enable the repair program.
Similar issues surrounding the lawsuit slowed down city spending on sidewalk repairs last year: The city had budgeted $10 million to fix sidewalks next to city facilities and parks, but ended up spending only $3 million of that by the end of June.
At the time, city officials said they had delayed decisions on spending the money amid uncertainty about how it might fit into the legal negotiations.
Unencumbered money would ordinarily be swept back into the city budget and used for other purposes, but city officials decided to earmark the unused $7 million for sidewalk repairs this budget year. The city budgeted an additional $20 million on top, enabling a total of $27 million in fixes this year.
The Bureau of Street Services has estimated that roughly 40% of city sidewalks may need to be repaired or replaced. Lawmakers say the budgeted spending, while helpful, is likely a drop in the bucket compared to the total amount needed to fix up all its broken walkways.