By Jack Humphreville.

How does a homeowner manage to fix his sidewalks for $5,000 when the City told him it would cost $38,000?  And what does this imply about the rest of the services that City provides?

In response to last Friday’s CityWatch article, With More Than 4,000 Miles of Broken Sidewalks, How Can LA Ever Claim to be Pedestrian Friendly?, a reader sent this response detailing his experience with the City.

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Jack, I read with some amusement your article on repair options for our city sidewalks.

Let me tell you a story about our sidewalks and how we took care of them (and what the City’s 50/50 program instead proposed).

Our house is a corner lot.  We know the last three owners of our home going back to the 1950’s, so it was no surprise to learn from the folks who owned the house in the 1970’s that even as far back as then the sidewalks in front and to the side were buckled by the Canfor trees which line the street.  In fact, the guy who lived in the house at the time told me that as a boy he used to ride his skateboard up and over the buckled sidewalks for fun.  We’re not into riding skateboards so don’t view the mess the City passes for our sidewalks as much fun and actually have watched several elderly citizens trip over the sidewalks as they try to make their way down the street.

After several attempts to get the City to address the sidewalks directly, we decided to handle the problem ourselves.  The first step was to contact the City’s “50/50” program and get their representative to the house for an assessment.  The program representative came to the house and measured the sidewalk from property line to property line (again, it’s a corner lot so that’s a lot of running footage).

He concluded that the City would want 100% of the sidewalk replaced and that OUR 50% WOULD COST $19,000.  Doing the simple math: that’s $38,000 for 100% of the sidewalk.  This was around 6-7 years ago so you can imagine what the City would ask for today.

In our view that was not only expensive but silly:  100% of the sidewalk wasn’t impacted by the trees; ergo, it didn’t need to be replaced.

So instead, we had a City engineer come to the house to assess for himself which sections of the sidewalk actually needed to be replaced.  With his green spray paint can in hand, he marked around 40% of the sidewalk for replacement.

The next step was to solicit the help of the City arborist who came to the house and described how we should go about remedying the problem of the large Canfor tree roots without killing the offending trees themselves.

Once we knew which sections of the sidewalk needed to be replaced (again, per the City’s own engineer) and how to fix the trees so that the sidewalks could be repaired without killing the trees, we applied and received a Class A permit from the City (at no cost to us I would add).

Then, lastly, we hired our own landscape/hardscape guy to come and remove the sidewalks, cut and treat the tree roots (and canopy), prep and replace the sidewalks to code.

The job took around four days…the total cost (paid by us of course) was around $5,000.

$5,000 for the specific sections of sidewalk that the City’s own experts wanted fixed vs. the $38,000 that the City’s own 50/50 program was asking to do the same 40% plus the additional 60% for sections which didn’t need to be replaced at all.

So I guess the real question is that when the City describes ANY project such as replacing streets, power lines, sewer pipes or sidewalks, can we rely on their judgment as to what actually needs fixing and even then, their assessment of what the actual cost should be?

Or more to the point is the City so out of touch with what things need to be done and how much it costs to do them that ANY assessment by them should be viewed as fantasy (or something more nefarious) and immediately cross checked to reality?


This staggering differential may be explained by the City’s unrealistic operating and financial policies where overstaffed work crews are billed out at overtime rates that are burdened with charges for fringe benefits (north of 40%), centralized services, and divisional and administrative overhead. Our City also assumes that these work crews will replace not only damaged sections of sidewalks, but any other adjoining sections even if they are in good repair.

Before developing a long term plan to repair our broken and buckled sidewalks, the City must complete a detailed survey of all of its 10,750 miles of sidewalks and determine which sections need to be repaired and whether the repair is the responsibility of the City as a result of “tree root growth.”

The City and the Department of Public Works will also need to develop an operational plan that details, among other things, the staffing (including private contractors) and the cost to repair our broken and buckled sidewalks.  And rather than proceeding with a top down, know it all approach, Public Works would be wise to include the Neighborhood Councils, Homeowner Associations, and other civic and business organizations in the early stages of this endeavor so that they will have a vested interest in the plan and its details, insuring that we do not have a $5,000 v $38,000 differential.

An inclusive process will help the City and Public Works begin to earn the trust, confidence, and respect of the citizens of Los Angeles.

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Originally posted at City Watch LA.