L.A. Controller Ron Galperin Calls for Overhaul of City’s ‘Broken’ Sidewalk Program

LOS ANGELES — L.A. Controller Ron Galperin released a report today analyzing the City’s sidewalk repair program and urging sweeping changes to get more walkways fixed. In “Repairing L.A.’s Broken Sidewalk Repair Strategy,” Galperin found that less than 1% of the City’s sidewalks have been certified as repaired. Why so few? When it fixes a sidewalk, the City replaces the entire parcel — far more than it is legally required to do — making repairs more costly and time consuming than they should be. In addition, the current priority is to fix sidewalks next to City-owned facilities, leaving out L.A.’s residential neighborhoods and commercial centers. Galperin also determined that the City is responding slowly to simple repair requests.

“Tens of thousands of sidewalks throughout Los Angeles are impassable for the elderly, individuals with disabilities and pedestrians of all ages,” said Controller Galperin. “Despite its recent focus on the issue, the City’s sidewalk repair program is simply not working as it should. The sheer scale of the problem, combined with the City’s inefficient and ineffective strategy to address it, means dangerous sidewalks aren’t getting fixed fast enough. In fact, most won’t be fixed for years or even many decades.”

Los Angeles lacked a comprehensive sidewalk repair program for decades. That changed following the 2016 Willits settlement, when the City agreed to spend $1.37 billion over 30 years to address broken sidewalks, inaccessible curb ramps and other barriers in the pedestrian public right-of-way. That year, the City Council also adopted a “fix and release” policy, allowing L.A. to repair broken sidewalks and then issue a certificate of compliance, along with a limited warranty to the adjacent property owner for the repair. After that, the City can enforce the owner’s duty to maintain the sidewalk on their private property.

SIDEWALK PROGRAM FACTS

The City’s program has proven largely unsuccessful, leaving hazardous sidewalks in a state of disrepair. Here’s a snapshot:

  • Over the last five fiscal years, the City received more than 1,700 claims and 1,020 lawsuits for sidewalk injuries, paying out more than $35 million in settlements, including $12 million in fiscal year 2020.
  • The City has completed Willits settlement-related sidewalk repairs at 2,100 sites — a small fraction of locations that need fixing.
  • There are another 50,000 reported sidewalk problems that haven’t been addressed at all.
  • As of the end of June 2021, the City had issued certificates of compliance to less than 1% of sidewalk parcels in Los Angeles.
  • In fiscal year 2021, it took the City 41 days on average to complete the most basic sidewalk fixes (like patching small cracks) compared to 3 days to fill street potholes.
  • Right now, the City doesn’t know how many sidewalk locations actually need repair and how much the repairs will cost. Other big U.S. cities have performed citywide sidewalk assessments, but L.A. has refused.

RECOMMENDATIONS TO FIX A BROKEN PROGRAM

To repair the City’s sidewalk program, Controller Galperin urged the City Council to adopt a new path forward:

  • Change City law to allow for the repair of individual sidewalk defects instead of requiring an entire parcel to be fixed.
  • Alter the prioritization system so that sidewalks next to residential and commercial properties can be considered for repair right away.
  • Work to provide quicker short-term responses to sidewalk problems reported by the public.
  • Invest in a citywide condition assessment of all sidewalks and curb ramps to identify locations that need urgent fixes.
  • Pursue additional funding to address the mounting backlog of sidewalk requests.

QUOTES ABOUT THE REPORT

“The issues with our sidewalks have been decades in the making and it’s imperative that we develop and fund a plan that improves infrastructure impacting the daily lives of Angelenos,” said Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, Chair of the City Council’s Public Works Committee. “We have a moral obligation to ensure our sidewalks are usable for everyone from the folks who rely on walking and transit to meet their transportation needs to parents with strollers- this is fundamentally an equity issue.”

“Investing in Place applauds the Office of the City Controller and their work to reveal was has long been felt and known to all of us in Los Angeles, L.A.’s sidewalks are broken, inaccessible and have not seen meaningful investments since the 1970s,” said Jessica Meaney, Executive Director of Investing in Place. “This report is a crucial first step in addressing the systemic failure in prioritizing need and maximizing resources for what the City needs in order to provide access and transportation options for all who call L.A. home.”

John Yi, Executive Director of Los Angeles Walks said, “This important report tells us something all Angelenos already know: that our sidewalks are not meant for walking. If we truly wish for an L.A. that is less congested and more connected, we need to begin with infrastructure we ALL rely on: our sidewalks.”

DASHBOARD MAPPING 50K+ REPAIR REQUESTS

Along with the report, Galperin created an interactive dashboard that maps 50,000+ sidewalk repair requests over the past six years. View the requests by Council District or Neighborhood Council at lacontroller.org/sidewalks.

Follow L.A. Controller Ron Galperin at @LAController on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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