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Show Me the Money: Sidewalks

Did you know that almost half of the sidewalks in Los Angeles are cracked, crumbling, or buckled and in need of major repair? In our continuing series "Show Me the Money," correspondent Vince Gonzales examines the issue of broken sidewalks. It's another expensive city problem—one that could put homeowners on the hook for thousands of dollars.

VINCE GONZALES: WALKING IN LA IS OFTEN NO WALK IN THE PARK.

MANY SIDEWALKS RESEMBLE OUR LOCAL FAULT LINES… WITH CRACKING, BUCKLING, AND BULGING CONCRETE ALMOST GUARANTEED TO TURN A SIMPLE WALK… INTO A MAJOR HIKE.

THE CITY ESTIMATES ABOUT 4600 MILES OF THEM ARE IN NEED OF REPAIR, AT A PRICE TAG OF OVER A BILLION DOLLARS. THE PROBLEM IS SO BAD THAT SOME RESIDENTS SAY LOS ANGELES COULDN'T BE MORE PEDESTRIAN UN-FRIENDLY.

Jessica Prior: "This has been this way for ten years. All over the neighborhood you can walk and trip and fall all over Westchester."

Nora McKellen: "I've actually tried to walk this many times, it's a very difficult area to get by."

VG: NEARBY HOMEOWNER NORA MCKELLEN SHOWED US WHAT RESIDENTS CALL "THE MONSTER." WE WATCHED AS SEVERAL PEOPLE WENT UP.. DOWN... AND AROUND, EACH TAKING THEIR CHANCES CROSSING THIS CONCRETE CREST.

Marcela Amiune: "I have to climb it with a stroller every time I go to the park with the baby. Or I have to try to avoid it. "

Dee Imamura: "it has been this way for a long time. I've been here 11 years"

Nora McKellen : "The city has acknowledged that this is a severe safety issue. But somebody needs to take action."

VG: SO WHO IS SUPPOSED TO FIX THE SIDEWALKS? HERE'S A LITTLE HISTORY. SINCE 1911, HOMEOWNERS AND LANDLORDS IN LOS ANGELES - LIKE MOST IN CALIFORNIA-- WERE RESPONSIBLE FOR FIXING THEIR SIDEWALKS.

BUT THAT CHANGED IN 1974, WHEN CITY LEADERS ACCEPTED FEDERAL MONEY TO REPAIR SIDEWALKS DAMAGED BY TREE ROOTS. THIS MADE SENSE BECAUSE THE CITY USUALLY PLANTED THE TREES IN THE FIRST PLACE.

IN 1976 , HOWEVER, THOSE FEDERAL FUNDS DRIED UP, BUT THE LAW WAS NEVER CHANGED BACK. AND OVER THE YEAR'S LA'S LEADERS, AND ITS CITIZENS ALL CAME TO BELIEVE THE CITY HAD TAKEN OVER RESPONSIBILITY FOR ALL SIDEWALK PROBLEMS.

LA City Councilmember Bernard Parks: "This has been an odyssey in the city of failure to really look at our infrastructure."

VG: L-A COUNCILMAN BERNARD PARKS IS ONE OF THE MOST OUTSPOKEN VOICES ON THE SIDEWALK POLICY.

Bernard Parks: "Over time people just assumed all sidewalks belonged to the city and we even began to pay liability when people tripped on sidewalks that were not damaged by trees."

VG: AND BY SETTLING PERSONAL INJURY CASES, THE CITY BECAME POTENTIALLY LIABLE FOR ALL SIDEWALK ACCIDENTS . THOSE LAWSUITS NOW COST LOS ANGELES UP TO 5 MILLION DOLLARS A YEAR. SOME CITY OFFICIALS SAY IT'S JUST CHEAPER TO PAY THAT THAN SPEND THE BILLION OF DOLLARS IT WOULD TAKE TO FIX THE SIDEWALKS.

THAT COLD-HEARTED COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS ANGERS THESE THREE WOMEN. NONE OF THEM SUED THE CITY, BUT ALL SAY THEY SUFFERED SERIOUS INJURIES THANKS TO POORLY MAINTAINED SIDEWALKS IN THEIR WESTCHESTER NEIGHBORHOOD.

SHERYL PARROTT BROKE HER ARM...

Sheryl Parrott: " I caught my foot underneath the sidewalk and went sprawling across, and shattered the elbow"

VG: NAN SCHNEIDER HAS FALLEN THREE TIMES, ONCE BREAKING HER NOSE

Nan Schneider: "Three years ago I fell over this and last week they fixed it."

VG: LUANNE SHATTERED HER JAW WHEN SHE TRIPPED ON THIS CRACK...

Luanne: "It actually had collapsed the roof of my mouth so they just had to reconstruct that whole part of the jaw."

LA City Councilmember Paul Koretz: "And while it is a little cheaper to pay out slip and falls every year, intuitively you don't want your residents to be injuring themselves all the time. None of this is going in a way that you would think is very logical."

VG: AT A JULY MEETING OF LA'S PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE, PAUL KORETZ AND OTHER COUNCIL MEMBERS COULDN'T AGREE ON WHO SHOULD PAY FOR REPAIRS AND ACCEPT LIABILITY FOR ACCIDENTS - THE CITY OR THE HOMEOWNERS.

(audio of the meeting)

Paul Koretz: "All of these options seem pretty screwy to me, frankly"

Bernard Parks: "I dont' think we have a real option in this situation other than fix the sidewalks."

Bill Rosendahl: " I am for option 10 whichi is to do nothing at this point. I think it's an undue burden on a homeowner."

Bernard Parks: "There are all kinds of rationale as to inactivity. But i would think if you were elected by 250 thousand people in your district you would be looking for ways to bring them a solution."

VG: HIS SOLUTION? GO BACK TO A SYSTEM WHERE HOMEOWNERS PAY FOR REPAIRS. PARKS SAYS OTHER SERVICES LIKE POLICE AND FIRE ARE MORE CRITICAL THAN SIDEWALKS AND THAT'S WHERE CITY DOLLARS NEED TO GO. BUT HIS PLAN IS NOT POPULAR WITH THE CITY COUNCIL OR SOME HOMEOWNERS...

Jessica Prior:" Well he lives in Baldwin Hills and Windsor Hills looks beautiful. He is going to make sure his sidewalk stays perfect. I know exactly where he lives. It's really really nice but of course he wants to make everyone else do that. His neighborhood is beautiful. I wonder why??

VG: DURING THAT JULY MEETING, PARKS ADMITTED NOT ALL SIDEWALKS ARE EQUAL. BUT SAID THEY"LL STAY THAT WAY IF NOTHING IS DONE.

Parks: " We can all leave this room today and 'well my sidewalk is fixed" the problem is the other several million people that call us and the 90 year old woman who asks us when are you going to fix my sidewalk?' The answer is 'we are never going to fix your sidewalk!"

VG: "Right now the city admits they've taken responsibility for the sidewalks and they want out of it. They are saying this is really the homeowners' responsibility, it is under state law, LA is an anomaly. We should make it the homeowners' responsibility again."

Cary Brazeman: "It's too much responsibility to shift at the same time to homeowners particularly in the middle of a recession."

VG: COMMUNITY ACTIVIST CARY BRAZEMAN IS FIGHTING TO KEEP THE CITY ON THE HOOK FOR THE REPAIRS.

Cary Brazeman: "The city has given away 640 million dollars in tax breaks to downtown hotel developers. That's 640 million dollars in forgiven taxes over 30 years. Talk about misplaced priorities. That 640 million dollars would pay for half of our sidewalk problem to fix half of our sidewalks. So don't' tell me, don't tell the residents of Los Angeles that there isn't' enough money. Our leaders have misspent the money. "

VG: BUT SIDEWALK MONEY ISN'T A PROBLEM FOR SOME CITIES. WE FOUND COMMUNITIES - BIG AND SMALL- THAT GOT MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN RECENT FEDERAL STIMULUS OR "A-R-R-A" MONEY TO FIX SIDEWALKS. BUT LA IS A DIFFERENT STORY.

(audio of the Public Works Committee hearing, 7-20-2011:)

LA Councilmember Mitch Englander; " I guess my question is have we actually applied for any federal funds to fix sidewalks since 1976?"

Nazario Sacueda, Interim Director, Bureau of Street Services: " Not to the best of my knowledge, No. "

VG: THAT'S RIGHT. LA'S BUREAU OF STREET SERVICES- THE AGENCY RESPONSIBLE FOR SIDEWALK REPAIRS - HASN'T APPLIED FOR FEDERAL SIDEWALK DOLLARS IN OVER THIRTY YEARS.

Mitch Englander, LA City Councilmember: "I was shocked particularly since the federal government and the White House have the ARRA funding progarm and under that they were looking for shovel-ready projects. I think sidewalks are shovel ready (laughs)."

Cary Brazeman: "I think sidewalks are shovel ready. People know where they are they need to be repaired. There's nothing more shovel ready than 1 point 2 billion dollars worth of sidewalks we've known about for 10 or 15 years. "

VG: MEANWHILE IN OCTOBER THE CITY WILL REPORTEDLY PAY NEARLY 85 MILLION DOLLARS TO SETTLE AN AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES LAWSUIT OVER A LACK OF CURB RAMPS. AND A SECOND A-D-A LAWSUIT HAS BEEN FILED, THIS ONE SUING OVER THE CITY'S BROKEN SIDEWALKS.

ATTORNEY SHAWNA PARKS WITH THE DISABILITY RIGHTS LEGAL CENTER FILED THE SUIT, CLAIMING THE CITY IS SENDING THE WRONG MESSAGE TO DISABLED RESIDENTS.

Shawna Parks "They are essentially saying you're secnd class citizens and we don't really care. ...and that's just not a message the city should send."

VG: THE PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE WILL MEET AGAIN LATER THIS YEAR TO DECIDE ON A PLAN OF ACTION. OR ONCE AGAIN - THEY COULD DO NOTHING. EITHER WAY, JESSICA PRIORA MESSAGE FOR THEM.

Jessica: "Let your children and grandchildren walk these streets and fall. Once those rich council people have their familiies hurt or put in a sidewalk like this in front of their home and see how fast it gets fixed."

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