In the wake of a newly announced police crackdown on vehicles blocking sidewalks in the city, Mayor Tom Butt released a report Monday on the poor state of the city’s sidewalks and proposed a number of strategies to ensure they are better maintained.
The mayor’s proposals, however, likely won’t please property owners who are required, per both state and city law, to maintain sidewalks that abut their property. With the city unable to afford the “staggering cost” to repair the many sore spots in Richmond’s 420 miles of sidewalks, the mayor suggests imposing a fee on each parcel to fund city-wide sidewalk inspections.
The fee “would probably be wildly unpopular,” according to the mayor, whose report recommends softening the impact via a number of steps and strategies (see the list at the end of this report).
The city currently has “no program for inspecting and repairing sidewalks other than a ‘hit-or-miss’ complaint-driven process,” according to the mayor. The lack of attention to sidewalks by both property owners and the city has created a dangerous, unsightly situation, he says. Sidewalks throughout Richmond are damaged or trash-strewn to the point that they are unsafe, particularly for seniors and people with disabilities, and also a liability, according to the report.
“Even damaged sidewalks that resulted in the City or property owners paying claims for injuries are not getting repaired,” Butt said.
The city already pays $345,000 annually to repair sidewalks damaged by street trees — a fraction of the repairs needed. Meanwhile, the cost of legal settlements for sidewalk trip-and-fall injury claims is trending upward, the report said.
Instead of new laws or polices that are already in place, the mayor said, “What we need is a combination of enforcement, education, peer pressure and community motivation to make Richmond a safer and healthier place.”
To soften the impact of a parcel fee, the mayor makes these suggestions:
- Provide a waiver for low income homeowners where the City pays the cost from a revolving fund that is replenished on sale of the property.
- Instead of the City paying the entire cost of street tree damaged sidewalks, split the cost with the property owner.
- SB-1 funds can be used for sidewalks. This is a new revenue source that will not take money from existing programs.
- Require inspection and repair of sidewalks on sale of any property, similar to the requirement for inspection and repair of a sewer lateral.
- Require inspection and repair of sidewalks abutting a rental property any time there is a change in tenants. If the property is subject to rent control, presumably the owner can recover and amortize the costs through increased rent.
- Set up a City web page dedicated to all things related to sidewalks, parking strips and curbs.
- Provide a list of local contractors who can make sidewalk repairs. They can also handle any permits.
- Provide free permits for owner-initiated sidewalk repairs.
- Provide an alternative to owner-initiated sidewalk repairs whereby the City will aggregate requests by owners for repairs and engage a contractor to make multiple repairs, thus taking advantage of economies of scale.
- Prepare a comprehensive guide describing in detail the City’s sidewalk maintenance program.
- Prepare a guide for repairing sidewalks with damage caused by tree roots so that the repair will not endanger the tree.
- Implement a public information program to be disseminated by KCRT, social media, newsletters and brochures informing property owners about the value of sidewalks and street trees and the City’s maintenance program.