Los Angeles will spend nearly $1.4 billion over the next 30 years to fix miles of broken and buckled sidewalks. Officials have promised to fork out the money not because they decided it was finally time to repair a crucial public asset, or because they realized the city had wasted about $5 million a year paying trip-and-fall claims.
No, the mayor and City Council will pay what comes to more than $30 million a year because the city was sued by disabled residents who alleged that the terrible condition of the sidewalks made it nearly impossible for them to get around. Under the settlement, Los Angeles officials will fulfill a promise made 40 years ago — but which was never really funded — to fix sidewalks damaged by tree roots. The agreement would require the city to spend more each year than it has ever spent in a single year on sidewalk repairs. The money will be is slated to come from the general fund, which pays for policing, tree trimming and other city services.
It's good that the city will finally meet its responsibility. The sidewalks are an embarrassment and a liability, and they should be repaired. However, it's disappointing that it will take 30 years to accomplish and irksome that longtime city leaders are now patting themselves on the back for doing something they admit should have been done years ago. Why did it take a lawsuit to force Los Angeles to address a glaring public infrastructure problem? Angelenos shouldn't have to go to court to compel officials to reset budget priorities. But over the years, the mayor and City Council have consistently avoided making the long-term, politically difficult decisions required to reduce the number of busted sidewalks.
When the city promised to fix sidewalks damaged by tree roots, that shifted maintenance responsibility from the adjacent property owner, who is liable for the work under state law, to the city. That seemed reasonable at the time because property owners had, for the most part, not planted the trees that were causing the problems. But the mayor and the City Council never budgeted enough money for the work, so Angelenos have had to make do with asphalt patches to fill in cracks and chasms.
The settlement will help address the backlog of repairs, but Los Angeles needs to come up with a permanent strategy to ensure that sidewalks are consistently maintained. The Times, like several neighborhood councils, has advocated for a “fix and release” policy. The city fixes the broken sidewalks that are the result of years of deferred maintenance, and then the responsibility transfers back to the adjacent property owner.