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As the sidewalks crumble…Don’t tread on City Hall

Here’s why my mantra for so long has been: I love L.A., phonetically that comes out I luuuuuv L.A.

greig.jpgThis is a city of light and dark, yin and yang, Hellywood where the lost souls of the world come to work out their karma, a city of temptations where there’s no middle ground. You either get well, get dead or get out.

Which brings me to L.A. City Hall which has done none of those things. It continues to operate much like the Kremlin undemocratically and indifferent to the needs of the people.

Perhaps that’s why the sidewalks have been left to crumble for decades without City Hall even being able to decide on a policy of whether the city or property owners are liable for repairs and for injuries that occur because of broken cement. The result is the city has paid out tens of millions of dollars in damage claims and there’s an 83 year backlog of needed sidewalk fixes, even worse than the 75 year backlog for street paving. Some 4,600 miles of sidwalks need repairs, nearly half of the city’s sidewalks.

Enter the do-littles of the City Council with a brilliant scheme to shift the responsibility to property owners who would have to pay for sidewalk repairs to be able to sell their homes or businesses. Homeowners could be hit with as much as a $7,000 repair bill which could wipe out a lot of people’s equity given the 25 percent drop in home prices which is certainly going to get worse before it gets better.

With its typical cynicism the council named its most conservative, pro-business member, Greig Smith, to be the point man for this trick, a man with nothing to lose since he’s leaving office next year after two terms and 25 years or so serving the whims of his illustrious predecessor, the unforgettable Hal Bernson.

Trouble is Smith has run into a firestorm of opposition from the Realtors and the newly-formed 80,000 member Los Angeles County Business Federation. They think the proposal won’t fix the sidewalks, will hurt a lot of people and slow down property sales. They want the current 50/50 split program between the city and property owners to be expanded instead of elminated.

None of that matters to the council, having given away the treasury to city unions, developers and contractors — not to mention all the money they put into their own pockets as the nation’s highest paid elected city officials. The council now faces a monumental budget deficit that they want to solve by taking more money away from the people’s pockets and providing less services to them.

The sidewalks point-of-sale policy fits in perfectly. It achieves nothing to make the city better and it saves the $9 million the city now pays annually for repairs plus it makes property owners the liable party, saving millions more in damage claims. That will go a long way toward keeping them and their vast staffs with all those city cars and blackberrys and other perks happy and keep the unions supportiing them.

The last point is the most telling. The pressure to adopt this policy comes from the SEIU, the largest city union whose members are the lowest paid — which isn’t saying much since city workers salaries and benefits far exceed those available in the private sectors or in big cities across the country for that matter.

The union wants to make sure its members get the 5 percent a year raises they were just promised and keep their jobs until they can retire at any early age with 75 percent of their salary and health benefits for life.

Who can blame them.

All that’s standing in the way of this deal going through is the entire business community of Los Angeles which has harbored long-standing feelings that City Hall’s brand of municipal socialism is somehow anti-business.

So they’ve mounted a letter-writing and lobbying campaign to derail the plan, much to the chagrin of Councilman Smith.

He is mad as hell about their resistance and in an email now circulating throughout the business community made it perfectly clear he’s not going to take it anymore.

Smith asserts he is the “lone voice’ that even wanted the business community to have be involved in the process. He accuses Realtors in particular of the “lie” that city wants to “shift” the responsibility for sidewalks to property owners, noting a 1911 state law making property owners responsible.

“The fact that the city began fixing sidewalks under Mayor Riordan has given the false imprression, and promulgated by the representatives of the Board of Realtors and the Daily News, that it is a city responsibility. IT IS NOT.”

Then Smith throws his best punch, he’ll turn against the business community if they persist.

“So, if the Board continues to tell its members and the public, as your spokesman did on television not long ago, that the “City is trying to shift its responsibility onto the taxpayer, and they have plenty of money to fix it themselves (the city), then I shall cease being your major supporter.”

I know Greig is hard to read and understand and there’s various grammatical issues but i’m just repeating what he wrote.

But you get the gist: He’s not going to be their friend anymore unless they play nice the way he likes it.

Far be it for me to throw around accusations about lying but Smith either is deliberately obscuring the truth or he doesn’t know his L.A. history despite more than three decades in city government.

The facts are these: One of the first things that the Tom Bradley revolution did in 1973 was to formally take responsibility to get the crumbling sidewalks fixed across the city. And Bradley did that for a decade or so until federal money ran out and the economy softened and the city stopped making the repairs.

And there the issue has sat for more than 20 years except for a brief period when Richard Riordan was trying to fix city government to actually fulfill its mission of serving the people.

Can you imagine how a city government can even pretend to be a government when it can’t even decide who has to fix the sidewalks. 

Is it any wonder that they can’t fix the public transportation system, or get rid of gangs, or attract companies with good-paying jobs, or create healthy neighborhoods?

When the secession movement in the Valley was in full sway, the Daily News did stories with photographs showing how the streets and sidewalks in L.A were broken and crumbled and how across the street in Burbank, San Fernando and other cities they were in good repair.

Cops talk about the broken window theory of crime, how broken windows are a symbol of the breakdown in law and order. Well, broken sidewalks belong in the same category, a symbol of the failure of government to do its fundamental job of making life better for the people. 


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4 Responses to As the sidewalks crumble…Don’t tread on City Hall

  1. Anonymous says:

    I suggest the councilman take a remedial English course before looking for his next job.

  2. VG says:

    my favorite line here – “Can you imagine how a city government can even pretend to be a government when it can’t even decide who has to fix the sidewalks”, sums up the whole damn controversy.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Guess Smith didn’t give his memo to Councilman Tom LaBonge, that the city has never been responsible for fixing sidewalks: On Ch. 35 tonight, the “Aging in L A” episode, LaBonge was interviewed as head of the Committee that oversees the Dept. of Aging, and he said that while he’s proud of efforts around the city to create gathering places for the elderly, he sure hopes they don’t trip and fall on one of the cracked sidewalks while walking around! He said it’s one of his priorities to fix them before any elderly get hurt.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Cindy Montanez for keeping the streets and sidewalks nice in San Fernando. You deserve a lot of credit.

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