Kensington Court is known for its leafy Sycamore trees, but recently there has been something else lining the picturesque street: bright yellow signs that read “Uneven Sidewalk.”
Roughly a dozen of these large diamond shaped signs are posted along Kensington Court, something City of Turlock Director of Parks, Recreation, and Public Facilities Allison Van Guilder admits is unique. These signs are posted around town whenever the City becomes aware of hazardous sidewalks, but it is not common for so many to be posted in succession.
“The unique thing about this circumstance is the number of properties in a single area,” said Van Guilder. “This case in particular affects multiple properties because all of the trees were planted at the same time in the development.”
The City’s attention was drawn to Kensington Court after its residential waste collector, Turlock Scavenger, notified the City that the low hanging canopies of trees was impeding the collectors’ access to garbage cans. The City sent staff to assess the problem and noticed that the trees were also uprooting the sidewalks proving hazardous for pedestrians.
“We don’t have anyone on City staff that proactively goes out and looks at sidewalks,” noted Van Guilder. “Issues are usually brought to our attention by the community either through community members or unfortunately if a fall takes place.”
In this case, Turlock Scavenger’s concerns with the tree tops inadvertently brought attention down to the roots and their impact on the sidewalks, many of which are swelling from the extensive root structure. According to Van Guilder, the issue was too obvious to ignore.
“When we identify a problem we have an obligation to respond to it,” said Van Guilder.
Well, technically it will be the property owner that responds to the issue as it is their obligation to not only prune the trees, but to also fix the sidewalk.
The issue of trees and their impact on sidewalks has long been a conversation between the City and local property owners as some residents feel it is unfair that they must maintain a tree that they did not plant and the sidewalk near it. While the City of Turlock’s Municipal Code Chapter 7 Section 2-601 states that it is the property owner’s responsibility to maintain the sidewalks near their home, some residents struggle to fund the repairs.
According to a public hearing item that was pulled from the July 14 Turlock City Council agenda, two liens may be established on homes where the property owners have not made the necessary repairs, jobs that range between $850 and nearly $1,100. The item is slated to appear before the Council at the July 28 meeting.
While it may appear that Turlock’s tree lined streets, a signature of the Valley’s aesthetic, has come at a cost, Van Guilder stated that the City does try and work with property owners and their unique situations. In the case of Kensington Court, property owners are permitted to plant trees of a different variety to circumvent the ongoing maintenance that the Sycamore trees require.
“We’ve gotten more flexible about it in the past five years in recognizing that property owners are looking for a longer term fix rather than continually doing root pruning and replacing sidewalk panels,” said Van Guilder. “So, when property owners approach us to change the tree we are very reasonable in allowing them to replace them with a different type of tree.”
In an attempt to remedy the complexities of the issues, in June Mayor Gary Soiseth also proposed that sidewalk issues be addressed during the point of sale of a property, a policy that had local realtors up in arms.
"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 Realtor Lloyd 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."
The complex concerns from the public coupled with the response from the realtors at the June workshop prompted the City to create a subcommittee to address sidewalk and tree maintenance concerns.
“There is a desire to have these conversations and to try and clarify what everyone’s roles are and what it would take to make any changes,” said Van Guilder, noting that the “Kensington conversation will play out in those meetings as well.”