It is estimated that approximately 40% of sidewalks in Los Angeles need repair.
Photo: Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
On a sunny spring morning in 2017, days before his landmark election to a second term, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti stood on a rare unbroken stretch of sidewalk in Sherman Oaks. For years, navigating this stretch of sidewalk connecting a block of apartment buildings to Trader Joe’s and the bus stop around the corner had been grim – “before” photos printed on a foam core and Displayed on display easels showed fragmented rectangles of concrete undulating across the grass — but now it represented, with its smooth, unblemished surface, the 33 miles of sidewalks the city had repaired in just three months. “When we fix our sidewalks, we improve safety and quality of life in our communities, increase property values and strengthen our sense of neighborhood pride,” said Garcetti, flanked by a dozen transportation and public health advocates. People with Disabilities. (Many of the repaired sidewalks had been specifically tagged by people with reduced mobility.) The campaign, dubbed Safe Sidewalks LA, was simple, easy to understand and even easier to follow — the smiles seemed genuine as an assembly of government officials the city posed for photos with an oversized certificate of approval signed by the Bureau of Engineering. Nothing a Los Angeles mayor could do would be simpler, or more essential, than fixing the city’s notoriously crooked and broken sidewalks. It was a good day.
Flash-forward five and a half years, as Garcetti prepares to leave office after nearly a decade as mayor, and the city’s sidewalks are still a mess. His grand plan succeeded in fixing just 1% of the sidewalk plots in Los Angeles, which means that only a fraction of the 640,000 properties that line the right-of-way have received these certificates of approval. This failure could more or less describe Garcetti’s tenure. If you want to know what kind of mayor he’s been for our city – botching the groundwork locally while chasing national influence – just look down.
In 2015, the city attorney finalized the $1.4 billion settlement for Willits v. City of Los Angeles, which the mayor’s office said was the largest disability access class action lawsuit in U.S. history. Filed on behalf of the 280,000 Angelenos with disabilities, the lawsuit claimed that the city’s broken sidewalks and dangerous crosswalks violated their right to move freely in the city under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The $1.4 billion was the estimated cost needed to bring the city’s pedestrian infrastructure into ADA compliance. LA hadn’t had a sidewalk program since the 1970s and, like many cities, fixing them had simply not been a priority for the chosen ones. LA’s plan to pay to fix the right-of-way, a key part of the deal, was announced at the end of 2016: Broken or uneven pavement would be replaced, curb ramps would be installed or repaired, and endemic damage to tree roots would finally be corrected. The city has set up an online portal, allowing everyone to request repairs near their home, with priority given to requests from people with disabilities. “Now people with reduced mobility will be able to go where they need to go, and also where they want to go,” said Lillibeth Navarro, executive director of Communities Actively Living Independent & Free and one of the complainants. Garcetti took a victory lap, calling the plan a sign that it was “changing the way we do business at city hall.”
His promise to fix Los Angeles sidewalks had two timely benefits: In 2016, voters approved Measure M, a county transit tax that could be used to improve pedestrians around bus stops and train stations, and in 2017 California Gasoline Tax was increased which made extra money. available for local sidewalk repairs. Additionally, Garcetti was making waves nationally as a co-founder and president of Climate Mayors, a consortium of mayors promoting ambitious emissions reduction commitments for their cities. One of the pillars of Los Angeles’ own climate plan was a commitment to make it easier to get around without a car. Everything seemed ready to go. Even I was cautiously optimistic – I used the example of LA to anchor an article on the nationwide sidewalk reform opportunities.
The cracks soon began to appear. Unlike other city departments, requesting sidewalk repairs did not result in public works crews arriving within weeks or even months. Claims under the rebate program, meant to reimburse homeowners who did their own repairs, took more than a year, and about half of claims ended up being canceled, city data will later reveal. . There was little transparency about what fixes were made first, and as sidewalk advocates noted in a strongly worded letterno strategy to incorporate these fixes into the city’s long-term transportation plan: “For the most effective and efficient use of expenditures, the sidewalk repair program should be viewed as part of the larger transportation network that is currently experiencing a ‘revolution’ in Los Angeles.”
Garcetti has led international climate coalitions but failed to deliver basic infrastructural improvements at home.
Photo: Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Meanwhile, Garcetti wasn’t around much. For a period of 12 months, he was out of town for 112 daystesting the waters for a presidential race that never materializedthen builds an international profile under the impetus of its advisers it may or may not help him land his next gig. In 2017, Garcetti was named infrastructure chair of the United States Conference of Mayors, where he cited the importance of improving streets because “the path to economic prosperity is through our investments in America’s infrastructure. “. Back home, sidewalk defenders spent that year put pressure on the city prioritizing repair requests along the city’s high-risk injury network, the streets where the most traffic fatalities were occurring – and increasing as part of Garcetti’s own Vision Zero plan. As his platform grew larger, the sidewalk progression lessened. In 2019, while still chair of the Climate Mayors, Garcetti was simultaneously named chair of C40, a global version of the Climate Mayors Consortium, where he spoke about how mayors wield outsized power to take climate action. bold. “We control transportation networks, water and power lines, and building codes,” he said, “all of which are critical to this fight.” Back home, sidewalk defenders were demand accountability for a program unfolding at a pace which, according to their calculations, would take 200 years to achieve a truly accessible and climate-friendly transport network.
In 2021, the verdict was in: the municipal comptroller’s office published a scathing report basically declare the repair plan a failure. “The program has failed to meet the needs of Angelenos who use our sidewalks day in and day out,” Comptroller Ron Galperin said at a news conference in front of City Hall, where ficus roots snaked out shafts of trees like coils of rope. In addition to certifying only 1% of packages citywide, Galperin said, the rate of repairs was essentially flat against the number of requests made, and there were now more than 50,000 segments of sidewalk to be repaired that remained in a backlog. Perhaps most troubling, over the past five years, a total of $35 million has been paid out by the city in sidewalk-related injury settlements — roughly the same amount the city supposedly had. saying allocated annually to repair sidewalks.
The audit confirmed what advocates feared: with no strategy for which segments, streets, or even neighborhoods should be prioritized, sidewalks in front of city facilities were prioritized, repairs the city should have made in the under its own ADA requirements, outside of settlement money. According to the report, the patches themselves were unnecessary: Crews would often tear up an entire package instead of focusing on the most serious accessibility issue, making repairs more complex and expensive. Of the half-dozen agencies involved, the city’s Bureau of Engineering led the process – rather than transportation-focused departments – and ended up installing sidewalk ramps that were actually worse from the point of view walking and who will now have to do it again. Sidewalks weren’t the only problem. Garcetti’s LA, supposedly an international model of climate-friendly innovation, let residents wander deserted and treeless streetsbake in the sun at bus stops and die in dangerous pedestrian crossings. City pedestrians never became a priority on the scale promised. (Compare the average 41 days it took to temporarily fix sidewalks, according to city data, to the three days it took to fix a pothole.)
The failure to keep such a simple promise to his city as he traveled the world making grandiose claims on the conference circuit – his name was even floated as a candidate for Joe Biden’s job as transportation secretary – was shocking. The transformative change he spoke of never reached the blocks of most Angelenos. There were challenges Garcetti faced, such as ending the city’s burgeoning homelessness crisis, which he could not have repaired on its own. But what Garcetti said when he became president of C40 was absolutely correct: there are many aspects of running a city that can have a huge impact both as part of a global of action for the climate and to improve everyday life that mayors have full control. more. Sidewalks are one of them.
A few months before the sidewalk audit was released, the city council amended an ordinance, 41.18, which effectively criminalizes homelessness by prohibiting sitting, lying or sleeping on sidewalks. On the day the amendment went into effect, Garcetti issued a statement specifically noting that the city could forcibly remove people from the sidewalk without doing any homeless awareness at all – awareness that also has a success rate of about 1% when it comes to getting people into permanent housing – if it is determined that they create “barriers to the Americans with Disabilities Act and other barriers to accessibility”. Earlier this year, I saw city workers near me drag people’s tents down the roadway, throwing their belongings indiscriminately into the back of sanitation trucks, all in the name of accessibility. of the right-of-way. Across the street, the sidewalk had been raised in a way that made it completely impassable, warped from years of neglect.