Come with me back in time a decade ago and listen to the story of San Fernando Valley secession and what we learned about the rights of the people who pay the bills.
Quite siimply, we learned that all the streets and sidewalks, all the sewers, water lines, power poles and lines, all the the municipal buildings, all the parks, everything that a private individual or business doesn’t hold the deed to belongs to the legal fiction known as the City of Los Angeles, Inc.
None of it belongs in any sense to the people, the people who create the government to serve them — of, by and for them — and who pay the taxes, fees and rates that paid for the city and support it with their money. So when breakup was the issue, we were told the Valley as a city — the nation’s sixth largest, richest, safest and most intergrated big city — owned nothing.
Everything public would belong to the City of L.A. even though it was not in L.A. but in the wannabe City of the San Fernando Valley.
Now it’s 2008, and the city can’t afford to maintain its property except for coming up with $300 million to turn City Hall into a palace of gold and marble and $500 milion to build a new police station to beautify downtown for skyscraper developers.
The property issue of the moment is sidewalks. The city ended its policy of fixing sidewalks just about the time the official policy of City Hall became giving every dollar available to pad the salaries of city employees’ paychecks and grease the palms of developers and contractors.
The result is a 75-year backlog of broken and crumbling sidewalks that are hazardous to your health and lead to numerous claims and lawsuits.
Enter Assemblywoman Audra Strickland, a Republican from Westlake Village where the sidewalks and streets are in perfect condition She has proposed AB 1985 that would “hold the owner of the property on which the sidewalk is located liable for the repair and maintenance of the sidewalk.”
Those are the words of L.A.’s Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller and his assistant Roslyn Carter Phillips who last week sounded the alarm that City Hall’s right to ownership without responsibility was under siege.
As adviser to the City Council, the CLA urged the council to oppose
Strickland’s bill which would authorize the city’s lobbying team to
spend L.A.’s political capital fighting a measure that would make life
better and safer for the people — goals that are never part of L.A.’s
Under current law, owners of property fronting
on public sidwalks are legally responsible for their maintenance but
the city has to notify them of the need to make repairs and the repairs have to start within two
weeks. The caveat is that city also has to borrow the money to pay for the repairs and
then impose an assessment to recoup its costs.
Of course, City
Hall doesn’t do any of that because that would require the council to
actually make a decision and risk the wrath of the people. So without a
policy, there’s broken sidewalks.
What Strickland wants to do is
to make government responsible for maintaining its property, which
according to the CLA’s memo would be “extremely costly.”
Police Chief Bill Bratton believes in the “broken wiindow” theory of crime which holds that broken windows, abandoned buildings and other signs of deterioration create a climate in which criminal behavior flourishes.
So here’s the “broken sidewalk” theory: When government fails to live up to its basic responsibilities to the people and the people feel they have no ownership stake in their government, the result is what’s happened in L.A. The public is apathetic and alienated, the city deteriorates, the middle class flees or is chased out of town and you wind up with a city of rich living in privately-guarded enclaves of McMansions and the masses living in gang-infested slums.
Oh yeah, and the government itself merrily goes along with its huge salaries and amazing array of perks and benefits.