City bond to fix sidewalks

Gilroy
– After decades of batting around ways to keep up with repairs
to the city’s perennially cracked and uprooted sidewalks, city
leaders may turn to voters for wide-sweeping change in the form of
a bond measure.
Gilroy – After decades of batting around ways to keep up with repairs to the city’s perennially cracked and uprooted sidewalks, city leaders may turn to voters for wide-sweeping change in the form of a bond measure.

City Council has not held any formal discussions on the possibility, but Mayor Al Pinheiro said he and fellow council members would likely discuss such a solution as one possible fix during their June retreat.

“We certainly are aware of [the sidewalk problem] and each one of us have looked at that as one of the unfunded liabilities,” Pinheiro said.

“Trip and falls,” due to uprooted sidewalks, account for the majority of lawsuits against the city each year, according to city officials.

The city currently has a sidewalk repair program that covers half the cost of repairs for homeowners, but many have complained of exposure to liability as they wait for the city to clear out the backlog of applications for assistance.

Alice Cortez, who recently filed a lawsuit against the city after tripping on raised pavement and shattering her elbow, approved of the bond measure as an appropriate fix to the problem.

“I think it should be the city’s responsibility [to fix the sidewalks],” she said “They’re the ones that planted these trees. They’re the ones that have the roots popping up all over the place.”

For the moment, however, the city is continuing to inch its way toward sidewalk repair on a case-by-case basis through its 50/50 program, which splits the cost of repairs with homeowners.

The average sidewalk repair ranges from $3,000 to $4,000, although the price can reach as high as $30,000 depending on the nature of the work, according to City Engineer Albert Signorotti, who manages the 50/50 program. He said the city burned through roughly $83,540 this year on 42 separate repair projects and that new funds will not be available until July, the start of the 2005-06 fiscal year.

In 1994, the city began adding $100,000 per year to a sidewalk repair reserve fund, with the goal of setting aside $1 million to finance ongoing repairs. Half of the annual contribution came from the city’s general fund balance (money that has not been designated for a specific use), but that transfer was cut in half in 2002 and ultimately suspended in 2003 due to budget shortfalls.

Officials plan to put an additional $75,000 from the general fund into the program for the upcoming fiscal year, although the funding will have to compete against various other priorities, according to City Administrator Jay Baksa.

While the city seeks to boost funding for the sidewalk repair program, city attorneys are crafting an ordinance that would shift the legal liability for “trip and fall” accidents on homeowners. State law requires homeowners to maintain their sidewalks but does not state they are specifically liable if they do not fix them, according to City Attorney Linda Callon.

The new ordinance, expected to reach City Council for approval by April, would explicitly render homeowners liable for injuries caused by sidewalks in disrepair. A sample ordinance distributed to councilmen at a January retreat includes language that allows the city to conduct the repairs itself and to enforce payment by placing a tax lien on the property.

Baksa welcomed debate on a bond measure that would allow citywide sidewalk repairs, but remained skeptical, saying that in his 22 years of government service “the City of Gilroy has never passed a tax measure for the city government.”

The list of defeated ballot measures include financing for road and storm-drain repairs, a redevelopment agency, an increase in the transient occupancy tax and a tax to finance paramedic salaries.

Despite public outcry over the sidewalk issue, Mayor Pinheiro also had his doubts.

“I don’t think there’s a council member that doesn’t want the sidewalk issue resolved,” he said. “But are people going to support a bond measure? I don’t know.”

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