In the past two months bright yellow signs have cropped up along West Main Street with two bold words: “Uneven Sidewalk.”
While it is no secret that many sidewalks are less than smooth in Turlock – especially in the town’s more historic districts where trees have uprooted pathways in front of homes – something that may surprise citizens is that they are responsible to fix those cracks. At least if they are the property owner where the fissure has sprung in the cement.
According to Chapter 7 Section 2-601 of the city’s Municipal Code, “The owners of lots or portions of lots adjacent to or fronting on any portion of a sidewalk area between the property line of the lots and the street line… shall repair and maintain such sidewalk areas and pay the costs and expenses therefore.”
Last year 84 property owners paid to fix crevices in the cement in front of their homes and this year it is Darrell Chase’s turn, just one of the West Main Street property owners that received a letter from the City of Turlock mandating he fix his sidewalk or face fines and a potential lien on his property.
“They said if you don’t do it, they will hire someone to do it and bill you,” said Chase.
While Chase is right, the measures are not so immediately drastic.
“Once a sign goes up the process is initiated to notify the owner,” explained Director of Parks, Recreation, and Public Facilities Allison Van Guilder.
That process begins with the City of Turlock sending property owners a letter stating that the cracks in front of their property are hazardous and need to be fixed. The recipient of the letter has ten days to respond by getting in contact with the City and taking steps to obtain an Encroachment Permit. If they do not contact the City, a “postal notice” is posted on the door of the property which includes an administrative warning and the property owner has an additional ten days to reach out. If action is still not taken the City of Turlock can in turn charge a $100 administrative citations fine and establish a lien on the property by hiring their own contractor to do the work and request payment from the property owner upon its completion.
However, according to Parks, Recreation & Public Facilities Superintendent Erik Schulze the City makes an effort to work with the property owners.
“We are not trying to strong-arm the community,” said Shulze. “Our goal is always to work with them to get the hazard repaired in any way we can.”
This can include granting extensions and ensuring the property owners know that financial assistance programs are available, something stated in the initial letter that is sent to the owners.
While the sidewalk can prove financially burdensome for some, for others it is just inconvenient. For many though it seems odd that it would not be the City of Turlock’s responsibility to fix the sidewalk.
“If I have to take care of it then I should be able to put up a fence around my property, all around my front yard, and I can’t do that,” said Chase.
And he can’t, at least not without getting another Encroachment Permit from the City.
The bright yellow signs have been sitting on West Main Street for several weeks now because even if property owners like Chase have been in contact with the City to repair what Shulze calls a “trip hazard,” it has been too wet to perform concrete work, something of which Chase is aware because he works in the construction industry. While he waits to repair the sidewalk he has noticed one thing:
“It is just a crack,” said Chase, noting much larger, dangerous breaks in the concrete down the road.
“It’s like this ‘I’m a pebble and that is a boulder,’ but I still have to fix the same thing,” he said shaking his head. “There are much worse conditions out there that need to be fixed.”