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San Diego Sidewalk Policy ‘Needs Additional Analysis’

Broken sidewalk near Texas Street and Meade Avenue in North Park, Sept. 17, 2...

Photo by Dwane Brown

Above: Broken sidewalk near Texas Street and Meade Avenue in North Park, Sept. 17, 2014.

A controversial new city policy proposed for fixing sidewalks came before the San Diego City Council’s Rules Committee Wednesday but was kicked back to staff for more “financial and legal analysis.”

The proposed policy would force the city to act faster and take more responsibility for fixing broken sidewalks. The policy states that the cost of replacing unsafe concrete sidewalks will be borne entirely by the city. The only exceptions would come when the damage was clearly caused by a third party or the owners of adjacent property.

The policy would also require the city to repair unsafe sidewalks within 90 days of being reported. There are more than 5,000 miles of public sidewalks in San Diego, some dating back to the early 1900s.

Under state street and highway code, property owners — not the city — are currently responsible for maintaining sidewalks. Nonetheless, the City of San Diego faces liability for accidents caused by broken sidewalks. The San Diego City Attorney's list of pending lawsuits shows that, month after month, the city is sued by people who say they tripped and fell on an uneven sidewalk.

But the City Attorney’s office is concerned the new policy will make that legal responsibility even greater.

“The proposed modifications to current council policy liability will likely increase the City’s exposure to liability,” wrote the City Attorney in a memo to the rules committee. “Plaintiffs will point to the failure to adhere to the 90-day (repair) timeframe and argue the city violated its own clear directive.”

San Diego Councilman David Alvarez is a strong proponent of the new policy. He argues the city is already on the hook when a person is hurt on an unsafe sidewalk. He cites the recent example of a man who was badly injured while riding his bike on a broken sidewalk. The San Diego City Council approved a cash settlement in the case of nearly $5 million.

“We have to have a plan in place to ensure that sidewalks get fixed and get replaced on a regular basis,” Alvarez said, “as opposed to what we’ve been doing, which is just letting them sit there, creating a hazard and just making it unwalkable in many communities.”

Alvarez said it would now cost the city $38 million to repair all city sidewalks that are in an unsafe condition. San Diego’s total sidewalk budget for fiscal year 2016 was $8.4 million.

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