Burbank may have to pass on $125,000 in federal grant money if an earlier City Council decision to halt sidewalk construction on two blocks of Screenland Drive near Luther Middle School remains unchanged.
Following the outcry of nearly 90% of the residents on the 1800 and 1900 blocks of Screenland Drive earlier this year, the City Council voted 3 to 2 to halt the construction of sidewalks on that stretch of street.
The residents argued they weren’t adequately notified of the project, and said the new walkways would create their own safety hazards.
The project would have been funded by a federal Safe Routes to Schools grant the city applied for in late 2006. The grant is “designed to improve and enhance the safety of schoolchildren walking or bicycling to and from school,” according to a city report.
When the city originally applied for the funds, officials polled the 1800 block of Screenland Drive and reported a 50% acceptance rate. Due to an oversight, the 1900 block residents were not originally notified.
The California Department of Transportation, which monitors the grant funding, warned city officials that while the sidewalk may be eliminated from grant without penalty, future grant applications might be impacted.
If sidewalks are not installed with the grant money allocated for the project, changing federal regulations could force the city to invest its own money. The city has received more than $3 million isince the grant program began.
There are currently no disability access laws that require sidewalks on residential streets, but officials say the regulations change annually. And since the project was originally set to take place, the city could be at increased risk should an injury occur where there’s no sidewalk, city officials said.
“If an accident occurred now that could have been prevented with sidewalk, [Burbank] may have some increased liability because of the discussions and staff recommendations,” said Traffic Engineer Ken Johnson.
Janet Strong, whose parents purchased the first house on her block of Screenland Drive, said she believes installing sidewalks will make the street unsafe for residents in their vehicles and pedestrians.
“This is the first time I have had an issue or complaint with the city,” Strong said. “But I felt strongly enough that our safety was at risk and this was an unnecessary expense.”
According to Strong, she first found out about the project two years ago when city workers were measuring her driveway. She said she received no prior notification about the planned installation.
That set off a long campaign against the project that culminated with the City Council vote.
“All of the neighbors on the street are thrilled the council voted in our favor,” Strong said. “It was a rare day in City Hall.”
But on Dec. 14, Councilman Gary Bric, who voted against installing sidewalks on Screenland Drive, announced he was considering changing his vote, pointing to the liability and safety issues of not putting the sidewalk in, and the fact that Burbank may have to give up thousands in federal grant money during an economic downturn as a result.
“It’s much more than whether the residents want them or not,” Bric said. “It’s a safety issue in the public right of way.”
Still, he said he would speak with the residents again before making his final decision in early January.
Meanwhile, city officials will have to sit on the sidewalk project, and pedestrians will either have to walk on the worn grass trail or the street.
“Bottom line is, does the staff think that sidewalks are safer than walking in the street? Yes, we do,” Johnson said, adding that “98% of our residential streets have sidewalks for good reason.”