Hill Property Owners Targeted for Sidewalk Repairs
By Keith Burbank
Last month the San Francisco Department of Public Works (DPW) sent letters to 282 Potrero Hill property owners notifying them that portions of the sidewalk in front of their property needed to be repaired. The notices were posted to owners on 19 blocks between 18th and 20th streets and San Bruno and Pennsylvania streets, according to Mindy Linetzky, DPW spokesperson. “DPW started the inspections for the area from San Bruno to Arkansas Streets [in September]. The scope for the repairs is yet to be determined,” Linetzky said.
“The City just marked up the 700 block of Vermont Street and more for mandatory sidewalk repair — after purchasing mandatory City permits,” said a homeowner on the block. “I now have 20-plus white dots in front of my home....”
An informal survey by the View of sidewalks marked for repair suggested a range of potential problems. Some of the dotted sidewalk squares exhibited no damage, at least that were visual to an untrained observer. Others were clearly cracked or elevated. DPW uses white dots to mark squares for which adjacent property owners are responsible. Colored dots signal that other parties — such as Pacific Gas and Electric Company or AT&T — are on the hook for maintenance.
“Unfortunately, the timing and character of the repair markings, many on minor cracks and not where the public would walk, seem to be as much or more about City fund-raising than public safety, but we're still on the hook!” said the Vermont Street resident.
According to Linetzky, DPW's main concern when determining if a sidewalk section needs to be repaired is safety. Defects in “Throughway Zones” — the area most traveled by pedestrians — are repair priorities. These zones are defined as 12 inches from any physical obstruction from the property line, to within 12 inches of the closest obstruction — tree basin; parking meter — to the curb. For areas that are less than 48 inches wide, zones are defined as 12 inches beyond any physical obstruction from the property line, extending 48 inches to the curb.
DPW fields three Sidewalk Inspection & Repair Program (SIRP) inspectors. Defects that need to be repaired include sections “where the sidewalk pavement, or curb, is displaced by one-half inch or more from the abutting pavement or curb,” and “voids, cracks, chips, holes, gaps — where sidewalk pavement, or curb, has eroded leaving a one-half inch or more void, in width and/or depth, from abutting pavement or curb…these measurements should account for existing grades, slopes and existing sidewalk patterns,” according to DPW. Typically a damaged square has to be replaced, but temporary repair methods, such as patching and grinding, can also be used.
Sidewalk squares can be displaced by tree roots, or when the earth shifts, thereby reducing accessibility and increasing the risks of “trip and fall” lawsuits. State Highway Code 5611 and Public Works Code Section 706 “require [property] owners to maintain the sidewalk adjacent to their property.” There are four instances when the City or another entity is responsible for repairs: when the damage is caused by “city-maintained street trees as listed on the city's street-tree database;” if the “damage is in the sidewalk corner;” if the damage is related to a utility, such as a wastewater treatment station; and if the sidewalk is composed of bricks or tiles, according to DPW Order Number 177,526.
Property owners have 30 days to initiate repairs from the date they receive a Notice to Repair Sidewalk. Otherwise, DPW can order the repairs to be completed as part of SIRP, with the owner responsible for all costs under the threat of a property lien. If repairs are done by a contractor, rather than the City, permits may be required. Repairing a three foot by three foot section of sidewalk doesn’t require a permit; 100 square feet or more does. “The price of our most current SIRP contract is $10.40 per square foot,” Linetzky said. “For the typical three foot by three foot sidewalk section, the cost for the City to repair the sidewalk works out to be $93.60.”
“Property owners who qualify under economic hardship can apply for a deferred payment plan of up to $5,000,” according to DPW. “This plan is designed to assist those on limited fixed incomes as well as household incomes below minimum levels as established by the Mayor’s Office of Housing.” If DPW does the work two billing options are available: full payment within thirty days of completion of the work; or payment rendered through the owner's next property tax bill. Under this option, an administrative fee of 12 percent is added.
Vermont Street resident Frank Bodnar, who has lived on Potrero Hill since 1974, wants the City to take responsibility to repair neighborhood sidewalks. “Our concern is that…they do the same for City-owned streets. A lot of our blocks need help desperately!” he said by email.
SIRP is “a proactive program implemented in 2007,” according to DPW. Its inspection “schedule is prioritized by a number of factors, including pedestrian usage as well as community elements that include: commercially-zoned districts, as defined by the Planning Department; MUNI routes; sidewalks within 500 feet of schools, public facilities, hospitals, or senior centers; and population density, as defined in the 2000 Census,” Linetzky wrote in an email. “Sidewalks identified with the greatest number of these community elements are inspected and repaired first. Proactive sidewalk inspections are constant citywide, and all City sidewalks are on a 25-year cycle to get repairs.” DPW inspected 18 corridors in fiscal year 2011/2012, including 24th Street and South-of-Market blocks.
Rather than repair broken sidewalks, Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF) encourages property owners to create gardens or plant trees. “Usually sidewalk inspectors are willing to give extensions if they know people are working with FUF,” said Karla Nagy, FUF’s sidewalk landscape program director. “Though it's not always realistic to get an extension.” FUF’s projects require “a majority of the people on the block to participate” and “the project's usually take a year or more,” Nagy said. Many of the Hill's sidewalks are wide enough to accommodate new garden space and pedestrians.
FUF subsidizes some of the costs associated with landscaping projects. “FUF will incur expenses and costs prior to planting day through [a resident's] participation ...These [fees] include permit processing, administrative expenses, underground utility identification, concrete cutting and removal; sourcing plants, materials and other supplies; coordination of volunteers, and planting logistics,” according to a FUF application form. Sidewalk gardens can raise property values, according to DPW, provide drainage for rainwater, and offer habitat for birds and butterflies.
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