Have you ever done a face plant on a sidewalk in Manteca?
I have. And guess where it was? It was on sidewalk 100 percent in the city’s control along Yosemite Avenue between the edge of the Food-4-Less parking lot and Powers Avenue.
This is sidewalk that does not front a home or a business. And because the council in place at the time had an aversion to “taxing” — as they called it — future residents in the form of a landscape maintenance district for the 166-home Curran Grove neighborhood approved in 1999, the sidewalk is the city’s responsibility.
Yes, City Hall duly dispatched crews to grind down the sidewalk and added asphalt here and there but they never really corrected the problem. And for the record I never filed a claim or threatened a lawsuit. I simply wrote a column about all of the tripping hazards around Manteca — including my mishap — that pedestrians face simply walking down public sidewalks.
I was stunned that the city responded at all given they had been wholesale ignoring citizen complaints made at council meetings saying they neither had the manpower or money to correct sidewalk issues.
I was told by the public works director at the time that if the city was made aware of a deficiency to public safety — i.e. being aware of tripping hazards on public sidewalks — and did nothing it could be used against them in a court of law. That is why the city did emergency sidewalk work around the perimeter of Curran Grove after I shared my little mishap in the Bulletin.
This brings us to a proposed amendment to the Manteca Municipal Code — Chapter 12.24 — regarding the maintenance and repair of sidewalks.
The City Council tonight is essentially being asked to transfer all liability and responsibility for public sidewalks repair to property owners. This follows 103 years of the problem being the responsibility of the city.
Up until 2008 the city stayed on top of sidewalk issues. But then due to budget shortfalls they slashed the 16-man street maintenance crew in half. That included four positions dedicated to year-round sidewalk repair.
Since then the city has done hit and miss sidewalk repair work only in high traffic areas. An example was two or so years ago along North Main Street shopping center anchored by the Dollar General Store. This is where the roots of trees planted under a municipal requirement from a city approved list of options managed to jut sidewalk sections up at sharp angles.
The council, if they choose to pull the trigger on what some might see as the nuclear option, should ask a ton of questions.
They can start with staff providing them— as well as posting on the city website — the laborers of two consultants.
The first involves a gentleman the city paid $68,000. Over the course of 18 months he literally walked every foot of sidewalk in Manteca. Not only did he note tripping hazards but even measured driveway pitches, curb heights at intersections, sidewalk widths where necessary, and whether Americans with Disabilities Act standards are met at intersections. It also included quirky Manteca touches where the city allows a private well to block a residential sidewalk.
The other is $122,000 semi-redundant study on sidewalk locations with tree root issues and where there are missing segments of sidewalks.
The city has known about the exact location of unsafe sidewalks for years yet has done nothing. That is until tonight’s proposal to shift the responsibility to property owners as many other cities have done.
Whether you agree with the premise of the proposed ordinance will certainly will be a point of contention.
But if the council opts to pull the hammer they need to ask several rather pointed questions then make a decision and stick to it. Of course they could do a repeat of the official city verb of past municipal administrations and simply “waffle”.
There clearly are a lot of unsafe sidewalks out there or the city wouldn’t have actually spent close to $500,000 on three separate studies to verify that fact. The latest was the active transportation plan aimed at making getting around Manteca safe and easy to do so if you are on foot or pedaling.
The council would be derelict in their duty of they don’t ask staff their game plan of how they will go about getting property owners to repair sidewalks. The standard staff cop out is to say action will be complaint driven.
There’s just one little problem with that. The city has specific data as to exactly what sections of sidewalks are unsafe. They don’t need to wait for complaints. They are already wrll aware of the problems.
It is also more than just tree roots buckling sidewalks.
The language in the proposed ordinance states it “shall include but not limited to” issues where grinding, replacement, repair, and such are needed so sidewalks are in a “safe and non-dangerous condition.”
Does anyone remember the sue happy lawyer that rode around town and ended up filing three dozen ADA lawsuits against Manteca businesses?
The city has created a public document at taxpayers’ expense that shows exactly where “dangerous conditions” such as driveway angles across sidewalks that do not comply to ADA standards are located. That’s in addition to buckling sidewalk issues.
It also notes intersections where sidewalks lack the yellow “bump plate” and proper cut for ADA angles. The ordinance as written refers to eliminating dangerous conditions. A danger is exactly what the lack of up-to-standard ADA sidewalks is at intersections.
This clearly means that the city can stick, if they so choose, an owner of a corner lot lacking such an improvement with an order and ultimately the tab for doing the work.
What makes this a nice little problem for the council is the fact the ordinance they could approve tonight is not only aimed at older sections of Manteca generally built before 1970 where tree roots are the biggest problem when it comes to sidewalks, but neighborhoods that were built just six or so years ago. That means what they do tonight, assuming it is not going to be yet another half-baked execution of yet another municipal ordinance, could easily impact 95 percent of the city’s neighborhoods.
Of course the city could opt to cherry pick known dangers such as sidewalks uplifted by tree roots and simply ignore the other issues involving ADA compliance a trained consulted duly noted that the city hired to do so. This would show the council treats one part of the city differently than the other when it comes to sidewalk safety.
The only fair and equitable action if the council adopts the ordinance is to direct staff to send notices to all property owners where sidewalk safety deficiencies have already been noted in existing city documents within weeks of the new municipal mandate going into effect.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org