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Council considers bringing back sidewalk repair program
The City of Turlock is considering reinstating the sidewalk repair program (Journal file photo).

There are approximately 300 sidewalks that are considered to be out-of-repair in Turlock. And while city staff is hoping to reinstate a program that alerts property owners to their responsibilities to fix them in a timely manner, some residents and City Council members would like to see changes to the program that address damage caused by city-mandated street trees and the high cost of repairs.

The Turlock Municipal Code places the “duty of care on the property owner to maintain and repair sidewalks in a safe and non-dangerous condition and establishes liability if they don’t fulfill this obligation,” while also making the city legally responsible for notifying property owners when a dangerous sidewalk issue becomes known.

The way the program works is once the city is aware of an out-of-repair sidewalk, city staff posts a warning at the location and takes pictures and measurements of the hazard. City staff will then attempt to contact the property owner to alert them about the hazard. After that a city engineering staff member will inspect the sidewalk to write up a scope of work for the property owner.

A first notice letter will be mailed to the property owner letting them know they need to begin repairing the sidewalk within 10 days. If there is no response, the city will send two additional notices. If the property owner still takes no action, the city will take steps to repair the sidewalk and then place a lien on the property for the amount of the repair costs.

The city suspended the program in October 2021, due to a number of issues that arose because of the pandemic including not enough city staff to respond to complaints and send out notices, inability to find a contractor willing to take a sidewalk repair job and shortages of construction supplies.

“Due to the increase in the number of trip and fall incidents and claims we are seeing coming in, city staff would like to reinstate the sidewalk repair program procedures, which were paused in October 2021,” said Turlock’s risk management director Paul Loehr to the City Council on Tuesday.

Loehr suggested the city develop a list of licensed and bonded contractors who are available to property owners to repair sidewalk issues.

“It won’t be a recommended list, it will just be an approved list of contractors that are licensed and bonded to do the work. This approach avoids the prevailing wage requirement that if the city does the job we have to pay prevailing wage. It also allows the property owners to pull their resources, economies of scale if you will, to have the contractor do both or multiple sidewalks for one project and hopefully save money,” said Loehr.

A few community members took to the podium on Tuesday night to voice their opposition to the return of the sidewalk repair program as it currently is written.

“It’s my understanding the city owns the sidewalks…And it seems to be that a great deal of the trees that are planted are planted by the city. And so, if you have a city-owned sidewalk and you have a city-owned tree that lifts that sidewalk does it really seem fair to punish the property owner?,” commented community member Robert Puffer.

Council member Cassandra Abram asked Director Loehr to look into the possibility of a financial assistance program to help property owners pay for sidewalk repairs.

“Safe sidewalks are vitally important for the public good and keeping our city accessible. It’s unfortunate that it does cost several thousand dollars to replace two sections of sidewalk, whether that is being paid by the property owner or the city, it’s going to be substantial. To that end, I would like to see if the city can, in the short term as we’re rolling this project out if it’s the will of the council, to look at CDGB or ADA funds or other types of funding that we can offer up when we send out those notices and it’s not obtainable for someone to come up with to repair that,” said Abram.

Vice Mayor Pam Franco stated that she wanted the city’s tree program and its impact on sidewalks to be evaluated.

“Our tree ordinances have caused this,” said Franco, who as a developer, talked about all the different tree requirements the city has had for new houses over the years. “All the things we’ve done over the years, we’ve learned from our mistakes but the citizens are the ones who are paying for the repair.”

The Vice Mayor also noted that sidewalks next to city-owned parks and walkways are lifted and haven’t been repaired.

“We’re requesting the citizens to do something that we haven’t do ourselves.”

The City Council did not vote on reinstating the sidewalk repair program on Tuesday. The issue is expected to come back before the Council for a vote in the upcoming months.