Somewhere in the bowels of the Manteca City Center there are no less than three studies related to sidewalk safety.
They likely are jammed into a filing cabinet and haven’t seen the light ofday for several years or they might be simply gathering dust on a shelf.
Who knows; maybe the city has made enough progress to have the information gleaned to complete the studies reduced to a bunch of bytes in digital storage.
If they have, that may be the only physical progress that the expenditure of nearly $500,000 over the years to tackle serious sidewalk maintenance issues as well as critical missing links of sidewalks.
In fairness to the city, there has been a lot of footwork.
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 here we are with little to show for all the time and effort.
It is why everyone involved — property owners, elected officials, and city bureaucrats — need to stop fantasying that someday money will drop from heaven to cover the tab of repairing sidewalks.
And if they think the financial strategies the city is now exploring pursuing will generate enough money to trickle down to sidewalk repairs given the other pressing needs Manteca faces they need to stop daydreaming.
There is a way forward that can:
*Actually, fix the problem.
*Reduce city liability exposure
*Address the 900-pound gorilla.
The 900-pound gorilla is the raging beast of the public’s wrath when it comes with homeowners footing the bill or 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.
Before anyone starts hyperventilating there would be a caveat. Property owners — once the city tags their sidewalks for the repairs — would have several options.
*They could arrange to make the repairs themselves and pay for it when the work is done.
*They could have the city arrange to have the work done and then pay the bill the city incurs.
*They city could do the work and then place a lien against the property that would be collected when it is sold or the owners at the time the work is done are taken off the title whether it is through death or some other circumstances that results in the transfer of ownership.
Ideally, such a loan would have little or no interest.
The city would need to commit to setting aside funds to get the effort started. That would allow funding the work done that is ultimately recorded as a lien.
If there set aside were $400,000 when liens are collected over the years they would replenish the sidewalk repair account.
Such a plan of attack is based on an ordinance prepared last year by City Attorney Dave Nefouse that was promptly yanked from considering 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.
“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 11 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.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at email@example.com