Los Angeles lawmakers gave the green light Friday to spend $10 million to repair broken sidewalks next to parks, libraries and other city facilities.
Despite public demands for stepped-up sidewalk repairs, the action previously had been delayed because council members were concerned about how the spending might figure in negotiations to settle a related lawsuit.
But with the 2013-14 budget year drawing to a close in two months, and chances increasing that the funds might not be spent as promised, the council decided to move forward. Any money left unencumbered at the end of June would be swept back into the city's general government budget for next year.
City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana said the goal is to spend at least $3 million on sidewalk repairs before the end of June.
Failing to spend the repair money as planned would mean "we're kind of kicking the can down the road," said Jessica Meaney, Southern California policy director for the nonprofit Safe Routes to School National Partnership. "The needs for our sidewalks are in the billions."
Roughly 40% of city sidewalks may need to be repaired or replaced, according to the Bureau of Street Services. The city faces a yawning bill to fix its buckling sidewalks, city estimates show. Budget officials have proposed a sales tax increase that would generate $640 million for sidewalk repairs. That would allow the city to tackle the worst problems, but fixing every damaged sidewalk is expected to cost far more.
Despite the backlog, a council committee earlier this year chose to hold off on decisions about spending the $10 million toward repairs.
Councilman Paul Krekorian said lawmakers waited because of a lawsuit filed by disabled residents, who allege that broken sidewalks violate their rights to public access.
Krekorian said they wanted to avoid any spending that would not count toward a possible settlement.
The committee ultimately decided to approve a plan that dedicated the dollars to fixing sidewalks next to city facilities. The decision disappointed some advocates who wanted it to focus on the most dangerous, heavily used pavement.
City officials said repairs next to city facilities could be done the fastest. Santana added that the city also is clearly responsible for those sidewalks, an important distinction amid an ongoing debate over who should bear the cost to fix sidewalks.
The adopted plan is designed "to move this money as quickly as possible into the areas where it will have the most impact in improving accessibility for the public – which is around the public’s facilities," Krekorian said before Friday's vote. "It will utilize existing personnel to get that work done, starting immediately."
Next year, Mayor Eric Garcetti has recommended boosting sidewalk repair funding to $20 million.
Pedestrian advocates stressed the need for rapid action. "We still have hazardous sidewalks out there that people have to traverse every day, going to school or getting to their jobs," said Deborah Murphy, executive director of Los Angeles Walks. "Everybody in Los Angeles witnesses this every single day."