City Council Passes ‘Incentives’ for San Diego Property Owners to Hurry Up and Fix Their Damn Sidewalks

by on November 15, 2023 · 18 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

Photo by Eric DuVall

Public Service Announcement

Pt Loma OB Monthly – City News Service / Nov. 14, 2023 

The San Diego City Council voted Nov. 13 to approve a permit fee waiver and expedited permit process for sidewalk repairs through June 2026 in an effort to encourage property owners to fix damaged sidewalks.

The city says it needs residents to help cover about $238 million in needed repairs and help reduce city payouts to people injured by crumbling sidewalks.

State law contains a special designation for sidewalks that makes adjacent property owners responsible for repairs.

San Diego plans to begin sending notices to thousands of property owners this winter alerting them that they are responsible for fixing damaged sidewalks near their properties that could lead to injury lawsuits. No enforcement actions are planned so far.

The City Council’s 5-3 decision followed a vote last month by its Active Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to support waiving the $2,100 permit fee and streamlining the approval process.

Instead of the current procedure, which requires property owners to submit a repair plan that faces multiple reviews by city officials before and after the repairs, they now will be able to simply hire a contractor to do the work and send in before-and-after photos.

The city also has set aside $300,000 to pay the full cost of repairs when notices of responsibility are issued in lower-income locations, including those “deemed eligible for Community Development Block Grant funds, in a ‘promise zone’ or in a community of concern identified per the Climate Equity Index,” according to a city statement.

Council President Sean Elo-Rivera joined members Monica Montgomery Steppe and Vivian Moreno in dissenting in the Nov. 13 vote, expressing concerns about how equitably the program would work. Councilman Raul Campillo was absent.

San Diego has more than 4,550 miles of sidewalks, many of which were poured by private developers from the start of World War II through the 1970s. The average life span of a sidewalk is 50-70 years, and much of the city’s pavement is much older.

“Over the past decade, legal claims related to sidewalk disrepair have cost the city an average of at least $46,000 per closed sidewalk-related claim, compared to an estimated cost of $6,600 to replace the average sidewalk location via a capital improvement project,” according to a city staff report. “Reducing the physical and legal hazards of damaged sidewalks is imperative.”

Damage to sidewalks is commonly caused by tree roots uplifting portions, plus heat expansion, underground utilities and vehicle accidents.

The San Diego Transportation Department says it has a list of more than 5,000 locations that are the responsibility of private property owners. The permit fee waiver is intended to shorten that list considerably.

The city says sidewalks can be repaired through permanent measures such as replacement and sidewalk slicing, which involves cutting sidewalk uplifts and creating a gradual ramp. Damage also can be temporarily mitigated through asphalt ramping, which involves applying a patch of asphalt to an uplifted sidewalk to create a gradual ramp.

The methods are intended to reduce the likelihood of trip-and-fall incidents.

In the 2022-23 fiscal year, 1,968 locations were ramped with asphalt. The average response time was seven days and the average backlog of locations was more than 50. City staff estimated the time for response will decrease to one day with the expedited permit process passed by the council.

City officials are delaying until at least 2026 more drastic measures that have been considered, such as a city law making property owners liable for sidewalk-related injuries and requiring that adjacent sidewalks be in good condition before properties can be sold.

The San Diego Union-Tribune and Point Loma-OB Monthly staff contributed to this report.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

chris schultz November 15, 2023 at 11:10 am

The city says sidewalks can be repaired through permanent measures such as replacement and sidewalk slicing, which involves cutting sidewalk uplifts and creating a gradual ramp. Damage also can be temporarily mitigated through asphalt ramping, which involves applying a patch of asphalt to an uplifted sidewalk to create a gradual ramp.

LOL That’s like a crown on a tooth. Works for awhile. Wouldn’t want to be a corner house. Concrete’s $185 a yd now for ready mix. A finisher add a few hundred more. A side business opportunity for the right person. If that’s my sidewalk now, maybe I don’t want the liability of people walking on it, since it looks like the city is trying to get out from ownership and payouts. Just push the ADU’s right out to the street. Sarcasm


Vern November 15, 2023 at 4:18 pm

“… Damage also can be temporarily mitigated through asphalt ramping, which involves applying a patch of asphalt to an uplifted sidewalk to create a gradual ramp. LOL That’s like a crown on a tooth…”
Isn’t this is how the city currently fixes the streets?
Except using ToddSlurry (trademark pending)?


Eric DuVall November 15, 2023 at 12:09 pm

Nice sidewalk pic!


Frank Gormlie November 15, 2023 at 12:54 pm

Whoops! Sorry, should have credited you Eric with it.


GML November 15, 2023 at 12:22 pm

“Normal sidewalk wear and tear, damage caused by private trees, or age damage is the responsibility of the homeowner…”

I completely understand the damage from private trees or anything else the homeowner could’ve prevented. However, normal wear & tear / age damage is a different story.


Eric DuVall November 15, 2023 at 7:12 pm

Ha. Not a problem. I just recognized that from an old Sidewalk Sunday post.


Jon November 15, 2023 at 2:35 pm

Permit fee waivers are hardly an incentive for the City/State abdicating their responsibility for maintaining and repairing infrastructure to residents. A real incentive would be the ability to use that as a tax write off. Landlords will just pass the cost on to renters via more rate increases and good luck tracking down the hundreds of scofflaw vacation rental owners. The city council never fails to disappoint.


Glenn G. Millar November 15, 2023 at 6:56 pm

Let me see if I understand this.

The city recognizes that I own the land, but they have a right of way through my land. I am responsible for maintaining the sidewalk. My sidewalk is buckling, probably from roots from the palms on the parkway, which the City, by their own admission, is responsible for maintaining. Hmmm.


chris schultz November 16, 2023 at 6:41 am

Homeowners may have to charge a transportation tax to all walkers using their sidewalk to mitigate the wear and tear. That’s how Sacramento would do it.


Geoff Page November 16, 2023 at 11:29 am

Actually, what is weird about this is that you don’t own the land the sidewalk is on. As an average, it is public property ten feet back from the face of curb. It makes no sense to have individuals responsible for repairs to public property, that is the job of city government. And, less sense to make a private citizen pay for repairing sidewalk damaged by publicly owned trees.


Vern November 16, 2023 at 8:18 am

So can we replace the sidewalks by setting them up against the curb (in the parkway) and “re-claim” the square footage as our property?


chris schultz November 16, 2023 at 8:37 am

And cut down more trees?!


vern November 16, 2023 at 8:57 am

Nah, plant more!


Paul Webb November 16, 2023 at 10:25 am

I look at the sidewalks in my neighborhood. Date stamps show that many of the sidewalks are 80 to 100 years old, and most are still in pretty good condition. Contrast that with sidewalks, ADA ramps, trench caps, etc., installed by the city’s contractors that are breaking down in just a few years.

Some years ago, the city’s street trees in the parking strip (i.e., city right-of-way) were buckling the sidewalk and damaging my street frontage garden wall. I attempted to remove/replace the trees and fix the sidewalk at my own expense, but the city threw up so many roadblocks (along with personal insults and invective from city employees) that I gave up trying to do it myself. I can’t imagine that it is going to be any easier going forward.


Ron May November 16, 2023 at 11:15 am

Until reading this article, I had never heard there allegedly is a State law requiring adjacent property owners the responsibility of repairing public sidewalks. But back when my privately owned condo complex was created, the City of San Diego wrote a condition into the 1976 Tentative Map that the sidewalk along Coast Boulevard and an easement along the North boundary and 30-feet of sea wall be deeded to the City of San Diego so they could build walkways and staircase access to the beach. The developer dutifully transferred title to those sidewalks and sea wall to the City of San Diego. During my 24-years of civil service to the County of San Diego, that is how all the rural County sidewalks were built by developers and then government assumed title. Title holders of sidewalks pay for upkeep, not the nearest neighbor. I would like the OB Rag to publish that alleged State law to understand why Todd Gloria feels property owners are mandated to repair public sidewalks.


Prologue November 16, 2023 at 12:22 pm

In my opinion, California Streets and Highways Code 5610 (the sidewalk law that describes maintenance and repair responsibilities ) raises serious constitutional questions surrounding First Amendment right issues, “equal protection of the laws” under the 14th Amendment, and CA Civil Code 54-55.2 which states that “individuals with disabilities or medical conditions have the same right as the general public to the full and free use of the streets, highways, sidewalks, walkways, public buildings, medical facilities, including hospitals, clinics, and physicians’ offices, public facilities, and other public places.” California Department of Rehabilitation (DOR).

Public places, such as parks, squares, streets, and sidewalks are also “traditional public forums“ where citizens have historically assembled and exercised their First Amendment rights by participating in political, religious, and artistic speech and debate.

So landowners whose property is adjacent to a public sidewalk are personally responsible for repairing and maintaining that sidewalk in a safe and usable condition under CA state law, so that people can exercise their First Amendment rights? Is it also true that landowners whose lots are adjacent to a public park, public square, or public street are NOT personally responsible for repairing and maintaining those public places in a reasonably safe and usable condition so that people can exercise their First Amendment rights?

Imagine the following story happening in the future: A small group of people want to peacefully protest on an upcoming particular day and on a particular sidewalk. It is critical to their cause that it be that particular sidewalk and on a particular day. The group decides to check out the sidewalk in advance for planning purposes. When they arrive at the sidewalk they discover that sidewalk is unsafe due to age and wear & tear caused by a high volume of public usage. They decide to contact the local government and ask them to fix the sidewalk so that they can exercise their First Amendment right to freedom of speech on that particular sidewalk. They also inform the government that a few people in their group are blind and a few are in wheelchairs so it’s especially important to fix the sidewalk properly (see CA Civil Code 54-55.2).

Well according to state law, the local bureaucracy informs the group that the landowner is responsible for repairing the public sidewalk. However, they say they will notify the landowner immediately and inform him that sidewalk needs to be repaired as soon as possible and remind him of potential liability issues. The bureaucracy also tells the group that they cannot guarantee that the sidewalk will be fixed by the time of their protest.

Unfortunately for this group, they learn shortly before their scheduled protest that the sidewalk has not been fixed because the owner does not have the money to fix it. They also learn that the landowner could not apply for public funds through “The Low Income Special Sidewalk Repair For Safety Grant” because the program ran out money due to high demand. This group had to cancel their peaceful protest.

While this small group was trying to make plans for their peaceful sidewalk protest, a large group of people had a successful and safe protest at four public forums all in one day. This group started their peaceful permitted protest by assembling at the town square. Then the group began their permitted march on a public street for a short distance. When they reached the public park they traversed the sidewalk in the park to reach their rally spot. They had a safe, peaceful, and successful protest and had no safety concerns or issues with the publicly funded infrastructure that supported the exercise of their First Amendment rights. This group was very proud of their protest because they felt it brought attention to their cause and that it would make a difference.


chris schultz November 16, 2023 at 2:03 pm

Or the owner says no trespassing on his/ her property if they are owners of the sidewalk being used for protest. And then the eminent domain for truncated domes that cuts a homeowners parking due to ADA access.


Prologue November 17, 2023 at 11:22 am

Is there ever a time when people using a public sidewalk are not exercising their First Amendment rights? I am talking about people who are using the sidewalk in 100% lawful manner. Meaning they are not impeding, blocking, harassing, littering, disturbing the peace etc.

Consider two people who are lawfully walking on a public sidewalk discussing politics or religion. The police can’t stop them and order them to stop talking.

People use public sidewalks to reach places of assembly. People walk or wheelchair to school, church, work, houses, hotels, libraries, community centers, parks, courts, stores, restaurants, events, etc. The police can’t stop people, who are using a public sidewalk in a lawful manner, and order them to stop using the sidewalk to reach a place of assembly.

I imagine that journalists across the country use public sidewalks on daily basis to report their stories. Police can’t order journalists to stop interviewing people or filming public spaces if the journalists are acting in a lawful manner.

Given all of the above, shouldn’t it be the government’s responsibility to ensure that public sidewalks are kept in a reasonably safe and usable condition so that people can exercise their First Amendment Rights on a daily basis? Why are certain private landowners responsible for the repair and maintenance of a public sidewalk (a public easement) so that people can exercise their First Amendment rights on a daily basis?


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