The Issue of the Sidewalk

Sidewalk improvement is something that seems trivial, but has caused dispute in the City of San Diego. Residents of San Diego have been advocating for sidewalk repairs, even though it is their responsibility to fix the sidewalks outside of their property. However, the sidewalks become the city’s legal responsibility should someone injure themselves on the sidewalk.

The City Council agreed to fix this contradictory policy about six years ago, yet no action has been taken. To combat the sidewalk issue, the city evaluated 5,000 miles of sidewalk between 2014 and 2015. In the assessment, the city found 85,000 locations that had endured cracks, lumps, or other significant issues. Furthermore, the problems would cost about $57.2 million to improve.

What does the process of sidewalk improvement look like? Once a resident reports a malfunctioning sidewalk, a city employee comes out and sees if the sidewalk is, in fact, hazardous. If the sidewalk is an issue, city crews will use a layer of asphalt to fix the broken area. After the sidewalk is repaired, it is the city’s responsibility to determine who is at fault. Residents are responsible for damage accruing over time, while the city is responsible for damage caused by trees, heat expansion, utility work, and grade subsidence.

Despite the desire for change, the incentive for property owners to fix the sidewalk is low. If the city determines the resident to be at fault, the only repercussion is a liability notice. However, the city has implemented a cost-sharing program where the city will cover half of the expenses and repair at least 75 square feet of sidewalk.

Utilizing other large cities as examples, the City of San Diego has mimicked their strategy for sidewalk improvement. Some cities require sidewalks to be fixed before the owner can sell the property, while others let the cities use a lien on properties if the owner has not fixed the sidewalk. Councilman Mark Kersey has signaled support for a policy that would balance responsibility on the residents and the city.

The residents would be held accountable for the legal aspects, but the city would help fix existing sidewalk issues. Trying to find a policy that would be the most efficient and productive in terms of sidewalk maintenance is something to strive for in the City of San Diego.


Photo by Zoshua Colah