By Melissa Caen

SAN RAFAEL (KPIX) — Seeking to soften the blow of a law that requires homeowners to maintain sidewalks that abut their property, the City of San Rafael is undertaking an effort to share the cost of sidewalk maintenance.

In 1935, California lawmakers passed a new statute mandating that, when it comes to sidewalks abutting their property, homeowners “shall maintain any sidewalk in such condition that the sidewalk will not endanger persons or property and maintain it in a condition which will not interfere with the public convenience…” (California Streets and Highways Code Section 5610.)

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Local governments have jurisdiction to enforce that provision and some have done so, while others have ignored it and paid to repair the sidewalks out of public coffers; still others have assumed responsibility for certain elements of the sidewalk and not others.

San Rafael passed an ordinance in October 2017, declaring, “The Property Owner of lots or portions of lots adjacent to or fronting on any portion of a Sidewalk shall repair and maintain the Sidewalk in a safe and non-dangerous condition at the owner’s cost and expense.” That ordinance is currently being challenged in a lawsuit but the judge has allowed the ordinance to take effect.

To ease the burden of sidewalk maintenance, the San Rafael is using money from last year’s Proposition 6, (the “Gas Tax”) to share the cost of repair.

“The additional revenue that San Rafael gets for that is about a million dollars a year and part of that, about $350,000 is now being used to help fund the sidewalk,” said Thomas Wong, the city’s engineer who runs the project.

According to the city’s website, under the program, the city will:

    Split the cost of sidewalk replacement 50-50 with property owners (up to a maximum of $1,000 in city contribution)

    Fully incur the cost of sidewalk offset “shaving” such as when a sidewalk displacement is less than 1 1/2 in. and does not require full replacement

    Fully incur the cost of curb and gutter replacement (up to a maximum of $4,000 city contribution)

    Fully incur the cost of street tree work removal and replacement (including root trimming, stump grinding, removal and replacement)

The city does more than just absorb the cost of these repairs, it takes care of the details.

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According to Wong, any homeowner can request an inspection and if a city inspector determines that repairs are needed, they will contact a contractor (with whom the city has negotiated low rates with as part of a bulk contract), schedule a date for service and pay the contractor’s bill, then send the homeowner a separate bill for half of the sidewalk repair.

Steve Summers got the sidewalk in front of his house repaired earlier this year. Unfortunately, two large trees on the outside of the sidewalk, close to the road, had to be removed.

For one tree, “the root was actually underneath the sidewalk and lifting [the concrete] into the yard, so they couldn’t save this tree.” And while he’s sad to lose the trees, the city paid for an arborist inspection and tree removal. In fact, the city is paying to put in new trees that are better suited to being near a sidewalk.

“We are gonna get new trees. The city has a program, they have about thirty trees on the list,” Summers said.

While San Rafael homeowners would like the city to pay for all the maintenance, Summers says the new program seems reasonable.

“For now, it’s fair but the rules always change; you never know,” he said. “But I can’t complain with what they’ve done.”

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The City of San Rafael is taking applications for the sidewalk repair program until May 17, 2019.