If you’ve submitted photos to us to post, know that we’re publishing about two per day so not to overwhelm folks with shoddy sidewalk pictures. Please keep them coming.
When we started The Stumblr, many of you pointed to a recent story replayed on National Public Radio’s “This American Life.” It chronicled the half dozen people who walk around all five boroughs of New York City mapping the sidewalk problems each year.
Attorneys paid people to document the sidewalks because of a quirk in the law, the show said. New York isn’t responsible for trip-and-fall lawsuits on sidewalks unless the city had notice of a problem. The sidewalk maps provide that notice each year.
This sparked a conversation on Voice of San Diego CEO Scott Lewis’ Facebook page on whether The Stumblr might do the same thing for San Diego.
I asked the city attorney’s office whether The Stumblr had an effect on city sidewalk liability, but a spokeswoman declined to answer, citing attorney-client privilege.
In New York, the attorneys delivered the sidewalk maps to the city. But that might not be necessary here. In San Diego, the dangerous sidewalk condition must only be obvious and have existed for a sufficient period before the accident for the city to be liable, Deputy City Attorney Tom Zeleny wrote in a 2011 memo. That time period could be as little as four to five days, Zeleny wrote.
So it’d be hard for the city to argue a bad sidewalk wasn’t obvious if it caught a citizen’s eye and appeared on a blog highlighting San Diego’s worst sidewalks.
Legal concerns have a history of affecting the city’s sidewalk policy. Lobbyist Phil Rath, who worked in former Mayor Jerry Sanders’ administration, said in the Facebook discussion that the Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits piled up in the early days of Sanders’ tenure.
When the city settled the suits, the ADA projects got bumped to the front of the line, Rath said, pushing other projects back.
Here are a few other good sidewalk tidbits we’ve collected so far:
• The Zeleny legal memo provides an excellent overview of the city’s legal responsibilities with sidewalks. It’s only seven pages and easy to understand. The memo formed the basis for my initial post on the city’s nonsensical policies, which identified a gap: It’s the homeowner’s job to take care of his or her sidewalks, but generally the city is legally liable if someone trips and falls on the same sidewalk.
• San Diego isn’t alone among California cities with sidewalk headaches.
Los Angeles had a major flare-up last year over its crumbling sidewalks. A series of ADA lawsuits prompted the city to take a closer look at its sidewalk repair policies.
Over the summer, city officials proposed a comprehensive evaluation of Los Angeles’ nearly 11,000 miles of sidewalks. Then they revealed the evaluation might cost $10 million and take three years.
Those eye-popping numbers sparked incredulous responses from L.A. City Council members and L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez.
Lopez wrote a series of stories documenting volunteers who wanted to assess sidewalks themselves and the policies that mandate tree-trimming only once every 50 years.
• UCLA urban planning professor Donald Shoup wants to give property owners incentive to fix sidewalks. He argues in a recent article in the journal ACCESS that California cities should require homeowners to repair sidewalks when they sell their property:
Only property owners with broken sidewalks will pay anything, they will pay only for the cost of repairing their own sidewalks, and they will not have to pay until they sell their property. Because about half the city’s broken sidewalks will be repaired each decade, all residents will be able to say, in the words of Danish urban designer Jan Gehl, “How nice it is to wake up every morning and know that your city is a little better than it was the day before.”
A hat tip to commenter Michael Clark for pointing me to the link.
• Our media partners at NBC 7 San Diego covered streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure this week in a story on the first meeting of a new council committee set up to tackle these problems. The Stumblr submitter and Pacific Beach resident Jerry Hall is featured in NBC’s story. Watch it below:
• It’s not all gloomy news for city sidewalks.
Bill Ellig, a University Heights resident, created an online map of more than 350 contractor sidewalk stamps in his neighborhood, some dating back to 1910.
“As an avid walker and cyclist in UH, I couldn’t help but notice the sidewalk stamps and became very curious about their story,” Ellig told San Diego Gay & Lesbian News. “As I began cataloging them, I noticed a pattern of older and newer stamps, which could tell us more about how UH developed. The map is definitely a work in progress and I welcome any new information on other stamps from UH residents.”
Thanks to Benny Cartwright for sending us the link.
Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next?
Please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5663.
Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.
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