Editorial: Sidewalks are a public good that all should help pay for

Published: Friday, Sep. 13, 2013 - 12:00 am

Last week, when Rancho Cordova city officials tried to enact an ordinance to require homeowners to repair sidewalks in front of their own homes, they ran into a buzz saw of protest.

Even though long-established state law makes homeowners responsible for such repairs, and even though most cities in our region – Sacramento, West Sacramento and Roseville among them – have had such policies in place for years, the vehemence of the opposition in Rancho Cordova forced the City Council to vote unanimously to table the proposed ordinance for good.

But this is not an issue that can be ignored.

Sidewalks are important public amenities. Broken sidewalks are a hazard for everyone, but particularly for the elderly and disabled. If someone trips and injures themselves on a broken city sidewalk, the city and the owner of the house fronting the sidewalk are liable.

Rancho Cordova has about 20,000 square feet of broken sidewalks and another 5,000 linear feet of curb and gutters that need fixing. Public works officials estimate it will take six years and cost $850,000 to get through the backlog of repairs. Meanwhile, the number of broken sidewalks continues to grow.

When it incorporated a decade ago, the city of Rancho Cordova adopted Sacramento County’s ad hoc sidewalk repair scheme. When someone called to complain, the city dispatched a crew to fix the sidewalk on its own dime. But the sources of those repair funds – state gasoline taxes and County Measure A transportation money – are diminishing while the problem is growing.

In newer neighborhoods, sidewalk and curb repairs are part of development agreements. Those residents also pay for sidewalk repair and maintenance when they pay their local property taxes, while residents of older neighborhoods have their repairs paid for exclusively by the city. That’s unfair.

The best solution would be to create an assessment district funded by all property owners. That way everyone contributes equally to the maintenance of an important public asset.

Because the assessment is regarded as a tax, it will require a public vote with two-thirds approval, a hard-to-achieve threshold. Nonetheless, an assessment district is the best and the fairest way to keep Rancho Cordova’s sidewalks walkable.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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