The City Utilities Committee began consideration this past Tuesday July 15th of a bill introduced by nine members that would place legal responsibility for sidewalk repairs and maintenance upon the city instead of adjoining property owners, as is currently the case.
The Department of Public Works asked that the legislation be held so that the Legal Department could complete a review of the effect of such legislation on any separate and disparate part of the code. A couple of members have concerns about raising citizen expectations of repairs, given that the topic is not addressed in the new budget adopted last month.
Other council members – including many of the sponsors – pointed out that the city has consistently been held liable in local courts for injuries on sidewalks, existing statutes notwithstanding. Mary Norwood reiterated her belief – and that of other council members – that only the city could manage this challenge on a large-scale basis, and that it was neither cost-effective nor practical for individual homeowners to meet the many legal and permitting burdens imposed by the city upon private contractors. This includes – among others – a very high bonding requirement for contractors and negotiating with the Parks Department about tree impacts in the adjacent sidewalk strips, for which the city is responsible.
Norwood further voiced her concern that the idea of using bond monies (should next year’s contemplated bond issue be adopted) to make sidewalk repairs in various places absent a city-wide plan and the city’s full acceptance of the responsibility would prove divisive and dilute support for the entire bond proposal.
A number of other council members voiced agreement for these specific and broad arguments, while also suggesting that a careful approach that considered any comments from the Legal Department was a good idea. After deliberation, the committee decided to hold an August work session on the topic and re-address the legislation at its scheduled meeting on August 29th.
VHCA intends to be at the work session, and we’ll report its date and other developments as they occur.