Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Will AB 2231 have unintended consequences for sidewalks?

Assembly Bill 2231, introduced by Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes, shifts responsibility for sidewalk repairs from adjacent property owners to local jurisdictions. The bill is touted by groups such as the California Association of Realtors because it "rightfully stops local governments from shirking responsibility for these sidewalks and protects property owners from huge repair and legal costs for damages they did not produce."

That might be good for homeowners, but is it good for sidewalks? The bill imposes a state-mandated local program, which means that ultimately the State could be responsible for paying sidewalk repair costs if the Commission on State Mandates determines the costs are reimbursable. Given the state of California's budget, that possibility is uncertain at best, meaning local jurisdictions would likely have to pay for repairs.

Great! you say -- one way or the other, we'll finally get some much-needed sidewalk fixes. Don't be so sure. At least one city says it would remove its sidewalks rather than bankrupt itself trying to repair them. There's also the risk that jurisdictions would decide to cut down shade trees that threaten to cause sidewalk damage (or maybe just make it a policy not to plant them). Given this, it's no surprise groups like the League of California Cities and California Association of Counties oppose the bill (although the reason they give for doing so is a little discouraging: "It is difficult to justify repairing a sidewalk for a homeowner in a residential neighborhood instead of filling potholes on a thoroughfare that serves as a primary route for the movement of people and goods…").  

I don't fault Fuentes for wanting cities to take responsibility for sidewalk repair. Though it's clearly not the reason he's sponsored the bill (he's more interested in scoring points with homeowners worried about liability than in ensuring pedestrian connectivity), it galls me when cities argue they have a mandate to maintain the traveled way for vehicles--but not pedestrians. Still, I believe there is a real risk that AB 2231, if passed, could lead to fewer sidewalks. Until the bill is changed to address that problem, it's not one I believe pedestrian advocates should support.


  1. The City of Atlanta makes property owners financially responsible for repairing abutting sidewalks. The City, much to its dismay, however, was finally forced to recognize that property owners are not legally liable if someone is hurt on a sidewalk located in the public ROW. Atlanta recently paid $3 million to a pedestrian who was seriously injured after tripping on a broken sidewalk. In GA, at least the concept of property owner liability is a myth that has been used by cities to justify their unwillingness to fund much-needed repairs.

  2. I'm surprised any city would claim that liability is their excuse for not repairing sidewalks--my understanding is that most people who trip and fall on sidewalks are going to go after the city no matter what because that's where the big bucks are (and when you look at how much cities spend on trip and fall lawsuits, you'll see just how big those bucks can end up being).

  3. As a property owner, what galls me about requiring homeowners to pay for the maintenance of sidewalks is that the city requires permit fees galore and liability insurance for whomever repairs the sidewalks. To me, the current law is a cash cow for cities brought down on the heads of property owners who are having difficulties enough keeping afloat in this economy. Who "owns" sidewalks, anyway? Is this part of the property taxes I'm already paying or not? If trees are ruining sidewalks maybe part of the maintenance I undertake is to take them out too -- is the city going to prevent that from happening? Do I have no rights in this matter? Besides, good luck getting a "contractor" to do this in 2 weeks. I say the Fuentes bill should be passed to relieve homeowners.