City controller calls for fixes to L.A.'s sidewalk repair program
Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin called Wednesday for a citywide assessment of broken and buckled sidewalks, saying city workers are still struggling to make headway on repairs that are required as part of a major legal settlement.
In his 47-page audit, Galperin also called on the Department of Public Works to change the way it goes about fixing city sidewalks, by focusing more on smaller segments of broken pavement. Right now, he said, city crews are replacing much longer stretches of sidewalk, including sections that are not necessarily damaged, making the program more expensive and time-consuming.
For the record:
8:30 a.m. Nov. 17, 2021An earlier version of this article referred to City Controller Ron Galperin as a city councilman.
“There’s a lot of ‘good enough’ sidewalk that is being taken out, when we could be using that money on the parts of sidewalk that need the help the most,” he said.
The controller’s audit comes more than five years after city leaders finalized the settlement of a lawsuit filed by disability rights advocates over the poor condition of L.A. sidewalks.
Under the settlement, the city agreed to spend more than $1.3 billion on sidewalk fixes and upgrades over a 30-year period. Around the same time, city leaders approved a policy known as “fix and release,” assigning city crews to repair sections of sidewalk and then set the stage for private property owners to take responsibility.
Once the city has certified that a stretch of sidewalk complies with the the Americans With Disabilities Act, it remains under warranty — five years for commercial properties, 20 years for residential properties — with city crews covering repair during those periods, said Elena Stern, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works. After that, responsibility is left with private property owners, she said.
Los Angeles is pledging to spend more than $1.3 billion over the next three decades to fix its massive backlog of broken sidewalks and make other improvements to help those with disabilities navigate the city as part of a tentative deal being described as a landmark legal settlement.
By June 30, city officials had issued 4,879 certificates designating specific sidewalk segments as repaired and ADA compliant, less than 1% of all the sidewalks in the city, Galperin said.
The audit does not say what percentage of the city’s sidewalks are seriously damaged. Instead, it notes that the city has received 50,000 reports of repairs that have not been addressed under the new sidewalk repair program. “We won’t truly know what’s in need of repair until we do a real assessment,” a Galperin aide said.
Harrison Wollman, a spokesman for Mayor Eric Garcetti, said his boss appreciates the feedback from Galperin’s audit.
“Mayor Garcetti has always made sidewalk repairs a top priority — that’s why he created the city’s first repair program in three decades, which has fixed more miles of sidewalk than any other program in history,” Wollman said.
Stern, the public works spokeswoman, described the sidewalk repair program as a success, saying it has resulted in more than 2,300 new or upgraded curb ramps and 141 miles of repaired sidewalk — based on a sidewalk width of five feet. The program is in compliance with the terms of the 2016 legal settlement, she said.
Meanwhile, deteriorating sidewalks continue to prove costly. Over the past five fiscal years, city leaders have signed off on $35 million in legal settlements filed over accidents that have occurred on broken sidewalks, according to the audit.
“We’re spending about $30 million a year for sidewalk repairs, but last year we spent $12 million on settlements,” Galperin said in an interview. “So we really have to look at how we use our money in a way that helps solve the problem.”
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