The City of Turlock is instituting a new Local Option for real estate transactions that aims to increase awareness of property owners' responsibilities when it comes to sidewalk and street tree maintenance.
The new ordinances require that with every sale or transfer of property, the seller is required to provide notice of the property owner's maintenance obligations related to street trees and sidewalk areas. 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.
The Local Option Disclosure Agreement is the same process Realtors use to inform buyers of the Right to Farm ordinance in Stanislaus County, however, the Turlock sidewalk and street tree ordinances will be the first of their kind in the area.
"This could serve as a model for other municipalities," said Council member Bill DeHart, co-chair of the Street Tree and Sidewalk Ad Hoc Committee which was tasked with finding a solution to the many cracked and broken sidewalks, often the result of older trees' expansive root structures, found around Turlock.
In June, Mayor Gary Soiseth had proposed making sidewalk inspections be performed with other tasks during the 30-day point of sale period for a property. Soiseth's recommendation was met with contention as local Realtors said that the point of sale period is not only a critical time for the buyer and seller, but involves a multitude of people.
The Ad Hoc Committee was formed to come up with possible solutions to the city's sidewalk issues. The disclosure agreement puts information in the hands of property buyers, without requiring another inspection to be performed at the point of sale. However, the disclosure is just the tip of the iceberg in getting the many broken sidewalks around town repaired.
"We have 15,000 houses in the city of Turlock, the Realtors only touch about 2,000 homes a year, so it's still going to be on the City — as far as I'm concerned — to get the education out there," said Larry Rumbeck, founding partner and Realtor at Turlock Realty Group.
A citywide education campaign is already in the works, according to Director of Parks, Recreation, and Public Facilities Allison Van Guilder.
Van Guilder outlined a plan to use a range of media sources, including the City's website, utility bills and creating informational pamphlets to be distributed to Realtor groups and other community organizations, about property owners' responsibilities to maintain sidewalks and street trees.
She also explained that the City has a financial assistance program through the Housing Department to help homeowners be able to afford needed repairs.
"What we really strive to achieve is voluntary compliance; we try to avoid the punitive," said Van Guilder.
The new ordinances will go into effect on July 1, 2016, however, the City plans to continue looking into ways to increase compliance on sidewalk repairs.
"I appreciate everybody who got involved. This is just the beginning of the process…additional things need to be taken into consideration, it's not solving [the issue] it's a Band-Aid, and we'll work towards making the city more comfortable for everyone who is residing here," said Vice Mayor Amy Bublak.