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Lawsuits and Sidewalks ... Seriously!

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THE CITY - So who'd a thunk that the City of LA is more interested in paying off lawsuits from broken sidewalks than just fixing the sidewalks? (link) And who'd a thunk that the City would avoid fixing them and wait until the next pedestrian falls down with a "thunk" after inevitably tripping over our hopelessly-cracked walkways?

And who'd a thunk that the next "thunk" you hear is the sound of the bill for fixing our sidewalks landing in your mailbox?
Yes, you heard right.  After dithering and dithering for years (decades, arguably), the broken sidewalks and the ficus trees that are obliterating them are as out of control as the structural budget deficits, pension obligations and misplaced budgetary priorities that have become the hallmark of LA City fiscal policy.  

So I suppose that when the City Council comes up with the roughly $1.5 billion plan to repair the sidewalks and allow people to walk freely again (particularly for those disabled and unable to walk, but walking should be something we all have the right to do), it'll be up to US to pay  for it.

In theory, we've already been paying for it from our taxes, but I guess we just weren't paying enough taxes all these years.  Again, who'd a thunk?

And, of course, I suppose that we're to blame for voting in these fiscal geniuses Downtown for all these years and playing into the hands of developers who wanted a free ticket to build without sufficient mitigation, and into the hands of public unions who've been dominated by those fighting to pluck funds from the public in order to retire nicely at an earlier age than the rest of us and with a pension that we'll never get.

So now the bill is coming due, and we've got this problem that has landed with a "thunk" in our laps.  Seriously, folks ... sidewalks!

I've often wondered whether ours would be a different sort of "greatest generation", and whether we would, could or even should be that sort of "greatest generation" of the 21st century to pay for the excesses of the latter half of the 20th century while paying for our children and grandchildren of the 21st century.  

In other words, I think it's a thunking shame and outrage that we have to pay for sidewalks that could have been maintained by the City of LA for decades, had it devoted sufficient funds (like other cities do) to take care of sidewalks, alleys, roads, etc.  But what I personally refuse to do is have my children (I've got a son and daughter who I cherish more than anything) pay for the stupid votes of my and previous generations.

So can someone else rescue us?  

Will the state rescue us?  Hardly ... Governor Brown has already helped us by smashing the Community Redevelopment Agencies (which could have paid for this instead of throwing tens of billions of dollars to developers and campaign contributors for unsustainable and environmentally-unfriendly overdevelopment), but he still has to work with a Democratic Party-dominated Legislature that has thwarted the will of their own constituents by promising too much to fund inappropriate and unsustainable pensions. (Link

Maybe ex-Governor Schwarzeneggar WAS a jerk and a clown, but he was sure right on pensions, and Sacramento's efforts to raise taxes "for schools, and the children" will fail with a "thunk" unless the state Democratic Party will bring its public union puppeteers to bear.  And don't expect "the rich" to be so amply able to help because they're leaving the state, and even upper middle class folks are making less and it's destroying Sacramento's efforts to balance the budget. (Link)

I wish Sacramento well, but other than the end to Community Redevelopment Agency graft and a rededication to some minimal form of infrastructure development, they can't help us.

Washington?  Yeah, right--$16 trillion in debt and counting.  Might as well ask the United Nations to lend us a hand.

So howza 'bout slamming those filthy-rich homeowners who are living off the fat of the land?  Well, with home prices (and the ability to pay for them) dropping like a stone (link), I'm not so sure that homeowners (who already presume that their property taxes go towards paying the sidewalks) want to either financially or legally be held accountable for what should have been a publicly-funded endeavor.  

Furthermore, do we really want to promote another Tea Party/Proposition 13-like revolt that could hurt our ability to raise taxes for worthy endeavors by holding one group accountable to funding a fiscal priority that benefits everyone?

No, we've relied on too few to pay for too many for too long, and what ends up happening is that both political parties end up having to give "sweetheart deals to the rich", either because they're the collective goose that lays the golden egg (requiring special catering and pandering) or because the rich throw more money at political candidates while the middle class and even the poor have no skin in the game.

And when we jam too many taxes down the throats of those playing by the rules, we end up with an ever-larger cash-under-the-table economy that has employers, unions and just about everyone trying to escape paying their fair share of taxes. (Link)

So who should pay for the sidewalks?  The alleys?  Replacing the ficus trees that are continuously and repeatedly tearing up our sidewalks, plumbing and streets?

And here's my thunking answer:  You.  Me.  That neighbor being paid under the table.  The "undocumented immigrants" who are welcomed into this city and who claim they want to pay taxes and support our country like the rest of us.  The developers who've been viciously underpaying their infrastructure mitigation fees for decades at 1950's levels.  The homeowners and property owners who would be smart to avoid having the fiscal and legal responsibility to maintain their sidewalks.

But not my children, or your children, or our grandchildren, or our great-grandchildren.  And a City-wide hiring, pay-raise and pension FREEZE for all City employees and City Councilmembers (heck, let's give 'em all a 10% pay cut!) until the sidewalk/tree replacement/alley/whatever cost is paid for, done and completed.

The cost?  It's been estimated that over $1.5 billion would be needed, so it's probably $2 billion or even $2.5 billion when push comes to shove.

It'll be a combination of property taxes (most of that money goes to the County, and NOT the City, of LA), DWP fees and utility fees (think of all the infrastructure and trees that need to be replaced while we clean up this mess), developer infrastructure/mitigation fees, parking fees, sales taxes, hotel taxes and fees aplenty to do the job.

And perhaps we can get ex-City Councilmember/Assemblymember Mike Feuer and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky to do the job of making a transparent budget to show exactly what needs to be done for what is one of the most important and overdue public works/infrastructure projects of the early 21st Century in LA.

And that's the thunkin' truth.  Seriously!

(Ken Alpern is a former Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Vice Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is also co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.) –cw

Tags: Ken Alpern, Los Angeles, sidewalks, safe sidewalks, sidewalk repair, paying for sidewalks, home owners, City Council, infrastructure








CityWatch
Vol 10 Issue 10
Pub: Feb 3, 2012

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