Walking the streets of Manteca can be an uplifting experience.
And the latest group of residents not happy about it are in the Del Webb neighborhood.
It’s because the uplifting experience is caused by tree roots pushing the sidewalks up.
Not only do residents find themselves stumbling at times on the uplifted concrete that can sometimes be so slight you can’t detect it until its too late, but at least one person in the neighborhood has been successful at securing city reimbursement for medical costs after they took a serious fall.
The Manteca City Council on Tuesday after hearing two residents express concern about sidewalk safety, instructed staff to bring the issue of sidewalk repair back before them to address at an upcoming meeting.
This isn’t by far the first time in the last decade or so that frustrated residents have approached the city and asked for officials to address the problem. Although there have been three studies, and emergency fixes addressed by city crews, the problem hasn’t really been addressed.
This time around, though, it could be different.
That’s because Del Webb residents indicated they are ready to circulate petitions and apply pressure to city leaders if need be.
The neighborhood has been effective at pushing for city actions in the past — most notably on Airport Way — by demonstrating widespread public concern.
Several times they have circulated petitions on safety and development related issues that have numbered well in excess of 1,600 signatures.
And those signatures have included city residents that do not live in the age-restricted community.
City required street
trees are blamed
The root cause of uplifted sidewalks is city required “street” trees either along the curb in mow strips or behind sidewalks in front yards.
The reason for the requirement runs the gamut from reducing heat to aesthetics.
The city has an approved list of trees for such planting based on function, looks, and the lower likelihood of sidewalk damage happening.
But as Councilman Charlie Halford pointed out, many people in the early years after trees are planted do not deep root water. That means roots push toward the surface in search of water and often end up buckling sidewalks.
The city in the past decade has spent nearly $500,000 on various studies — including an overall city mobility plan — to tackle serious sidewalk maintenance issues as well as critical missing links of sidewalks.
One consultant spent the better part of 18 months literally walking every foot of sidewalk in Manteca. He meticulously catalogued issues. They ran the gamut from raised sidewalks, problematic cracks, missing chunks, driveway pitches cutting across sidewalks that are too sharp for American with Disabilities compliance, and such.
Before the city installed revolving doors on the offices of senior management, the risk management folks were charged with coming up with a game plan on how to tackle the substantial list and look for ways to pay for the work.
Yet there is little to show for all the time and effort.
The city asserts they have neither the manpower or the money to effectively address the problem beyond stop gap measures.
The 900-pound gorilla
in the council chambers
The 900-pound gorilla in the council chambers is the raging beast of the public’s wrath when it comes to homeowners footing the bill or those who can’t afford to do the work if Manteca shifts the responsibility of sidewalk maintenance reducing the risk to the general public to property owners as other California cities such as Ripon have done.
Sidewalks along public streets are neither fish nor fowl.
They are part of privately owned parcels — unless they are adjacent to a park, school or other public facilities. They are within a public easement that allow the general public to use them.
The sidewalks are included in property assessments and taxed accordingly. As such, they also add value to a home when it is sold.
One way to tackle the endless sidewalks around the community that have becoming tripping hazards due to tree roots pushing up concrete is to start forcing property owners to make repairs.
A plan of attack to do just that was outlined in a proposed ordinance prepared last year by City Attorney Dave Nefouse. That proposed ordinance was promptly yanked from consideration after the City Council drew flak from homeowners.
Such an ordinance is also needed to shield the city from lawsuits. Case law requires that in order to hold property owners accountable for injuries or damages to the public caused by failing to maintain sidewalks cities must adopt ordnances explicitly stating property owners owe a duty to the public to maintain the sidewalks located within the city limits in a safe condition.
The city over the years has settled a number of claims that can be precursors to lawsuits if they are rejected involving people that have sustained injuries from tripping over uplifted or sunken sections of sidewalks.
City attorney previously
outlined a sidewalk remedy
“Without this ordinance the City will continue defending lawsuits stemming from sidewalks in disrepair that are the responsibility of the property owners to maintain and expend resources repairing such sidewalks, without the ability to transfer responsibility to the property owners,” City Attorney David Nefouse noted in a memo to the council back in April 2021. “Ultimately, such an ordinance will promote public health, safety, and the general welfare.”
The ordinance as outlined made it clear:
*The property owner is responsible for the repair and maintenance of sidewalks.
*Liabilities for damages and injuries caused by sidewalks not being maintained in a safe manner are the responsibility of property owners.
*Once a property owner is notified by the city of a sidewalk that is not in good repair or in good condition, they will have 90 days to repair it.
*The property owner may elect to have the city repair the sidewalk at a cost and charge to the property owner.
*If the property owner elects to do nothing the city may make the repairs and transfer the cost to the property owner.
If the city is forced to do the repairs on its own and they are not reimbursed within a set amount of time, a lien can be placed against the property along with whatever interest accumulated until the debt is paid.
The city also would have the option to make a special assessment against the property and collect the money owed along with other taxes.
Manteca’s sidewalk maintenance efforts took a major blow in 2008 when more than half of the streets division’s 16 positions were eliminated during budget cuts. That included four workers who were dedicated to addressing sidewalk, curb and gutter issues.
Manteca has lost essentially 14 years of work when it comes to tackling sidewalk safety.
The lack of a dedicated concrete crew in the streets division has forced Manteca in recent years to use the remaining street workers when they have the time to address the most egregious sidewalk issues in high traffic areas .
The city currently due to manpower and funding issues is reduced primarily to grinding down the edges of uplifted segments of sidewalks or using asphalt to create a mini-ramp. Such work is driven in a large point by residents who point out sidewalk safety concerns using the government outreach app or accessing it via the City of Manteca’s website.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com