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Lodi ponders policy to replace missing sections of sidewalk

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Posted: Wednesday, October 12, 2005 10:00 pm

Standing outside his Lodi home, John Grinder said everyday he sees someone struggling to make it around his corner.

Grinder lives at the intersection of North California and West Locust streets, and a section of sidewalk is missing along West California.

Instead of pavement, a strip of dirt and brown grass borders the street, and Grinder said it often poses a challenge for people.

"Everybody has trouble with it; people with strollers, elderly women, elderly men."

The gaps in Lodi's sidewalks are not an uncommon site.

The city's Public Works Department brought the issue to the Lodi City Council's attention during a study session in March and during a regular council meeting earlier this month. At the regular meeting, staff presented the council with an idea of asking homeowners to help pay for the cost of sidewalks.

While the council did agree on a draft policy for requiring homeowners to maintain sidewalks in front of their homes, it could not reach a consensus on how to install new sidewalks; an issue that's stymied councils in the past.

Grinder said navigating the intersection in front of his house appears to be especially cumbersome for people in wheelchairs and motorized scooters because, in addition to the missing section, the sidewalks also don't have any curb cuts, or small ramps that lead from the sidewalk to the street.

A sidewalk runs along the front of Grinder's home on Locust Street, and it picks up on California past his house. But for that one stretch, about 30 yards long, there's nothing but a trace of a foot path trodden into the grass.

Grinder said he rents his home, but believes the cost of installing a sidewalk should be covered by the city, not his landlord.

Earlier this year, city engineers estimated it would take a total of $3.5 million to construct all the missing curbs, gutters and sidewalks throughout the city. To just fill in the sidewalks in residential areas it would take $570,000.

A stretch of sidewalk has been pushed up because of the huge pine tree growing beside it on the corner of Garfield and Poplar streets. (Angelina Gervasi/News-Sentinel)

Currently Lodi spends just $25,000 a year on sidewalk installation, and maintenance has averaged $100,000 annually.

Public Works Director Richard Prima brought the council recommendations for sidewalk policies at the Oct. 5 council meeting. Those suggestions, included a two-phase policy to get homeowners to pay for installing sidewalks.

The first phase would give owners the chance to construct sidewalks with the city paying half. But during the second phase, any homeowners who failed to take part in the first phase would be ordered to build sidewalks and pay for the entire cost.

Prima estimated that if the city spent $50,000 a year in a program to cover half the cost of sidewalk installation, the city could fill most of the sidewalk gaps in residential areas in about six years.

He said it's key for the city to move forward with a sidewalk policy to promote walking and increase accessibility for disabled people. And a complete and well-maintained sidewalk system also protects the city against lawsuits from people who trip and fall while walking.

But council members deadlocked on the issue earlier this month, each publicly taking a somewhat different stance on the policy.

It's not the first time a council couldn't reach a consensus on a policy update; in January 2004 the same topic was debated and tabled.

And, in 1999 the city started using Measure K funds to pay for sidewalk installation, but that strategy ended in 2003 when the city began using the money for other transportation projects.

Councilwoman JoAnne Mounce said at the meeting the city should do more to assist those in need, because she knows most of the sidewalk problems are in the city's Eastside.

On the other hand, Councilman Bob Johnson said he saw the sidewalk problem as one that should just be assumed by homeowners as part of the cost of owning a home.

He said anyone who is a homeowner could easily take out a lien to cover the relatively affordable cost of a square feet of pavement, and the city just has to "bite the bullet" and order residents to comply.

While the council may not have been able to agree on a policy for sidewalk installation, it did approve a draft ordinance and policy requiring property owners to maintain the sidewalks in front of their homes.

At the council meeting, the city's Risk Manager Kirk Evans said the state's street code makes sidewalk repair and maintenance the responsibility of homeowners. But he added that law does not protect the city from liability claims made by people who injure themselves after tripping on a city sidewalk.

Lodi pays an average of $20,000 a year to settle such trip and fall claims, according to a report for the council prepared by Prima.

The ordinance approved by the council this month would enable the city to make homeowners' insurance companies a party to a claim even if the injured party did not necessarily name anyone else aside from the city of Lodi.

Installing sidewalks on an existing property is a tricky issue for cities in general.

Galt City Manager Ted Anderson said he doesn't think Galt has any gaps in its sidewalks, but added some options of dealing with the problem could include placing an assessment on the property or just waiting until a new owner demolishes the home and require sidewalks be built with the new home.

"There's no easy way to do it," he said.

Back in Lodi, Eastside resident Virginia Bonhom's home at the corner of Garfield and Poplar streets is surrounded by a meticulously landscaped lawn that rolls out to the street and is edged by a low, sloped gutter.

She said a sidewalk would be an unnecessary burden that would hurt the aesthetics of her home.

If the city is looking to put in sidewalks, Bonhom added, it should look first to busier streets such as Cherokee Lane and North Sacramento Street before forcing homeowners to pay for sidewalks.

"I find the government is out of control with what the property owners should pay," she said.

Contact reporter Andrew Adams at andrewa@lodinews.com.

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