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Committee addresses city's broken sidewalks
Sidewalk Pic
Uneven Sidewalk signs on Kensington Court denote hazardous sidewalks, something the property owner is charged with financing. - photo by Journal file photo

A public discussion of Turlock's many cracked and broken sidewalks, often the result of older trees' expansive root structures, continues as the Street Tree and Sidewalk Ad Hoc Committee held its first meeting on Sept. 2.

The committee was formed at the request of Mayor Gary Soiseth in order to gain public input on possibly making sidewalk inspections part of the 30-day point of sale process for a property.

The first committee meeting, which included approximately 30 members of the community and was facilitated by Council member Bill DeHart, focused mainly on what the current City ordinances and State mandates say on sidewalks and street trees.

"The reality is there's a huge need to educate the public on what the ordinances actually are," said DeHart.

In 2002, the United States Court of Appeals ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to sidewalks, meaning that sidewalks must be accessible to people of all abilities.

The California Streets and Highway Code establishes that it is the property owner's responsibility to maintain the sidewalk adjacent to their property in a safe condition.

The City of Turlock Municipal Code requires every property owner and every person occupying property within the city to maintain street trees in the parkway or planting easement on or adjacent to his or her property.

Under the Municipal Code, liens may be established on homes where the property owners have not made the necessary repairs.

Although City crews do not drive around town looking for broken sidewalks, according to Turlock Director of Parks, Recreation, and Public Facilities Allison Van Guilder, when issues are brought to the attention of the City, they are addressed. The City of Turlock has done over 450 projects to mitigate sidewalk trip hazards in 2014/2015.

"It's a legal issue," said DeHart during a presentation about the Ad Hoc Committee at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

Many local real estate professionals have been following the issue and the Mayor's proposed policy change, including Realtors Lloyd Blackman and Larry Rumbeck of Turlock Realty Group.

"When you're talking about point of sale, you are involving the repair, inspection and the whole process into a 30-day period that is very stressful for both the seller and for the buyer, for the title officers, for the people who are instituting other repairs that are indicated in inspections, etc," said Blackman at a public workshop in June. "I don't believe that the City of Turlock has the staff to handle the paperwork, the repairs or issue the clearances in that timeframe."

After attending the Sept. 2 sidewalk committee meeting, Blackman said he is much more informed on all the State and City laws regarding sidewalk maintenance and repair. But to him, the issue goes back to staffing.

"If you make it a point of sale mandate, where are you going to find the staff to inspect, re-inspect and clear [the property]? The City already has the ordinances and tools of enforcement on their belt. Why this push for point of sale?" said Blackman.

The Street Tree and Sidewalk Ad Hoc Committee is expected to meet once more before bringing recommendations before the City Council in October.