The Public Eye

The Public Eye: Bid to have property owners pay for sidewalk repairs tabled after Rancho Cordovans protest

Published: Sunday, Sep. 8, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B

Rancho Cordova officials are searching for a new way to fund needed repairs on city sidewalks after residents voiced opposition last week to an ordinance that would have required property owners to pay.

City staff argued the proposed ordinance was necessary due to budget constraints and the growing number of sidewalks in disrepair.

"Tree roots don't stop growing. It's an ongoing process," said David Gassaway, assistant to the city manager.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, a parade of citizens railed against the measure, with many saying it would unfairly burden property owners. "The city's problem is trying to become our problem; not fair, not right," resident Wendy Reed told the crowd at City Hall.

After a three-hour discussion, the council voted unanimously to table the ordinance, which indefinitely postpones any action on the issue.

Gassaway said he was "surprised" by the attention the ordinance garnered, noting that many California cities, including Sacramento, already charge for sidewalk repairs.

"This isn't something uncommon for jurisdictions to do," he said.

Rancho Cordova, which does not charge residents for sidewalk repairs, has a backlog of 280 locations needing permanent fixes, according to officials. Temporary remedies, such as filling gaps with asphalt, are regularly undertaken at city expense.

Although the city itself is only 10 years old, many of its neighborhoods are decades older, developed when Rancho Cordova was part of unincorporated Sacramento County. To date, the young city has spent $1.6 million on permanent sidewalk repairs. A typical project costs about $1,000.

Most residents agree the sidewalks are in bad shape.

"Hell, yes, they need to be repaired. It's all over the place," said Una Tuitubou, 32, who lives near Zinfandel Drive.

Tuitubou said she thinks municipalities – not residents – should foot the bill for the repairs because "everybody benefits from a sidewalk."

The ordinance also lacked the backing of key leaders, including Mayor Linda Budge.

"Sidewalks are a critical civic asset. I have a philosophical problem telling residents to pay for repairs," said Budge, an urban designer by training.

Neighboring cities, though, have long billed residents.

Sacramento shifted responsibility of sidewalk maintenance to property owners in 1978. The city's sidewalk-repair program is complaint-driven, according to a city spokeswoman. Crews inspect about 2,500 locations a year.

The cities of Elk Grove, Folsom and Roseville all charge property owners for sidewalk repairs.

Elk Grove spokeswoman Christine Brainerd said property owners in her city paid $59,000 to repair about 4,500 square feet of sidewalk during the last fiscal year.

Rancho Cordova, Citrus Heights and Sacramento County are among the last holdouts in the region that still conduct sidewalk repairs on behalf of homeowners.

Budge praised the strong turnout Tuesday at City Hall as an example of civic engagement. "I was thrilled so many people came to express an opinion," she said.

City staff must now work on a new proposal to solve the sidewalk conundrum. Among the possible solutions voiced by citizens were requiring repairs when a property is sold and imposing a blanket service charge.

Tuitubou, the Rancho Cordova resident, said she wouldn't be opposed to a citywide fee.

"It's a community. We have to pull together," she said.

Call The Bee's Richard Chang, (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.

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