You may recall the hullaballoo that ensued earlier this year when the City of Los Angeles considered discontinuing its longstanding practice of paying for sidewalk repairs. Even though state law places the burden of sidewalk maintenance on adjacent property owners, LA took over responsibility in the early 70s after it received a hunk of federal funding for sidewalks. Now that the funding has run out, the City is looking to slither out of the sidewalk repair business.
Not only does this irritate property owners, who have gotten used to the City taking charge (however slowly) of sidewalk fixes, it raises issues related to accessibility under the Americans with Disabilites Act. The federal courts have ruled that ADA regulations, which stipulate equal access to the mobility-impaired, require local jurisdictions to maintain their sidewalks in good repair.
And how will cash-strapped cities like LA afford to do this? Donald Shoup (of The High Cost of Free Parking fame) offers one suggestion in the most recent issue of Access: point-of-sale sidewalk repairs.
The point-of-sale strategy works like this: prior to the sale of any property, owners are required to obtain a Certificate of Compliance proving that the sidewalk in front of their property meets city standards (e.g. isn't unduly buckled or full of dangerous cracks and holes). If a sidewalk isn't up to snuff, the property owner can either choose to repair it prior to sale, or contract with the city to fix the problem. The advantage of this method is that it provides ample cash (from the sale of the property) for the owner to fund the repair, thus eliminating one typical objection to owner-funded repairs (limited cashflow).
Shoup estimates that such a program would ensure that sidewalks in a city like Los Angeles would be repaired about once every 24 years (compared to the 69 years estimated to fix LA's sidewalks under today's sytem). However, if a city wanted to get really sophisticated, it could fund sidewalk repairs prior to the sale of a property (perhaps on a regular, citywide schedule) and require the property owner to pay back the cost of the "loan" for the repairs whenever the owner happened to sell the property. This could allow sidewalk repairs to happen even faster.
Point-of-sale sidewalk repair programs are already in place in at least two California cities (Piedmont and Pasadena). Hopefully with the backing of a rock star like Shoup, they'll catch on elsewhere.