Los Angeles settled a giant class action lawsuit Wednesday brought on behalf of a quarter-million disabled city residents. They contended that L.A.'s broken sidewalks impaired their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to move freely around the city.
Now, Los Angeles' cracked and crumbling sidewalks are on track to get $1.4 billion in repairs, over the next 30 years.
Quadriplegic resident Mark Willits sued the city in 2010, and his case was broadened to a class action.
Lillibeth Navarro, a plaintiff, praised the settlement at a news conference with city leaders.
"It's a major win for the disability community of Los Angeles," she said. "Those with disabilities risk their lives and safety traversing miles and miles of inaccessible L.A. sidewalks," she said, and spoke of the frustration of trying to navigate broken paths in her wheelchair.
In Chinatown, Andre Davidson uses a walker to help him stand. He said the city's broken sidewalks and slippery curb ramps need upgrades.
"They are quite unsafe, you have a lot of cracks and dents, especially at the ramps, they are kind of dangerous," he said.
How did we get here?
A 1911 state law made sidewalk repairs the financial responsibility of adjoining property owners in most of California. But in the mid-70s, Los Angeles accepted a multi-million dollar federal grant for sidewalk repairs. In exchange for the money, the city took over financial responsibility for sidewalks damaged by trees.
The money ran out within a few years, and the city fell behind in repairing sidewalks to the point that one city estimate said it would cost $1.5 billion to do the entire job.
Sidewalk repairs have been close to non-existent in recent years, partly because the city was holding back spending while it waited for settlement with this case. A shortage of workers, and the lack of a clear policy over which paths were greatest priority led to further delays.
City Attorney Mike Feuer said the settlement terms require the city to set aside $31 million a year (a base amount that would grow with inflation over time) and to spend at least $25 million annually on repairs.
The city has already been paying out about $6.5 million dollars a year in injury claims stemming from broken sidewalks, Feuer said. But over the past two years, it has managed to still put aside as much as $27 million in funds for repairs. The money that was placed in the sidewalk repair trust fund will be the first monies applied toward the settlement.
Mayor Eric Garcetti said the city's general fund, used to pay for many city services, will make up the the rest of the funds.
What will be repaired first
The first year's spending calls for $5 million for installing curb ramps, the rest on sidewalks, Feuer said.
Sidewalks adjacent to city land are the top priority for repairs, followed by sidewalks on the most used main streets. Over time, smaller residential streets will be fixed, but it could take years for some areas to see repair crews.
Setting priorities for which residential sidewalks to fix will be a district-by-district decision, Garcetti said.
The settlement must still be approved by a federal judge.
Correction: In a previous version of this article, City Attorney Mike Feuer misstated the amount the city of Los Angeles has paid out in legal claims for injuries due to broken sidewalks and tree roots. The amount is $6.5 million in payouts for sidewalk and tree root injuries since July 2011.