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Broken Sidewalks: Public Works Commissioner Apologizes to Community

'I apologize for the harsh tone of those letters.'

ORMEWOOD PARK — Taxpayers received something they don't often hear from Atlanta City Hall: an apology.

In a meeting of the South Atlantans for Neighborhood Development, Thursday night, Richard Mendoza, commissioner of the the Atlanta Department of Public Works, apologized to Ormewood Park residents who received letters in the last few weeks regarding the condition of the sidewalks on Delaware Avenue and other streets.

The letters, which he admitted are harsh in tone, told residents they were responsible for fixing their cracked or dilapidated sidewalks and driveway curb cuts.

But they caused a row in Ormewood Park, the first community to be hit with them, part of what public works officials say will be citywide crackdown on broken sidewalks.

While he apologized for the letters' tone, Mendoza, the former assistant director of public works for San Antonio, Texas, reiterated that the city ordinance — Sec. 138-14. (d) — that deals with the maintenance of sidewalk area, places the responsibility of fixing them on homeowners.

If they don't fix them, the city will and then bill the homeowner.

Several homeowners questioned the legality of the ordinance and whether or not the language in it is explicit enough.

The code is worded: When the sidewalk abutting the right-of-way is damaged, it is the obligation of the abutting property owner to repair such sidewalk upon notice from the department of public works.

But when some residents pointed out their sidewalks were in the right-of-way, and not abutting it, Mendoza still said it was the responsibility of the property owner.

The issue has put into focus a longstanding problem in the city: The state of some sidewalks is deplorable.

Indeed, Mendoza said that roughly half of the Atlanta 2,500 miles of sidewalks are in need of some kind of repair.

"We don't want our sidewalks to be minefields," he said.

The push on Ormewood Park and the other parts of the city to follow, comes as the city seeks to shore itself from the kind of lawsuits taxpayers had to pay.

Last year, the city paid a blind East Lake man $3 million to settle a lawsuit he filed after he fell and injured himself so badly that he will need long-term care.

Even though the city ordinance says property owners are responsible for the maintenance of sidewalks, it was liable because he informed the city of the problem for years but officials failed to act.

So the crackdown now, Mendoza said, is "going to address the more glaring repairs that are needed to reduce the city's liabilty."

Several meeting attendees questioned how the city can ask Ormewood Park property owners to suddenly be subject to the enforcement of the ordinance, when other streets in the city such as Glenwood Avenue have had their sidewalks repaired by the taxpayers at large.

"So we're paying too improve the sidewalks on Glenwood and to improve our own sidewalks," asked Bob Titus, who is the chairman of Neighborhood Planning Unit-W's Transportation Committee.

"How can the city assume liabilty in some cases and deny it in others?"

What's more, they noted that major thoroughfares, Moreland Avenue, for one, are virtual obstacle courses for pedestrians, so why do they remain it terrible condition.

Mendoza, who had several members of his staff with him, said the city is ultimately liable for all sidewalks as was the case in the East Lake lawsuit and that all of Atlanta is being reviewed for repairs.

See also:

  • Broken Sidewalks: Public Works Officials to Meet with Ormewood Park Homeowners Feb. 14
  • Broken Sidewalks: Why Homeowners May Not Win Against City
  • Broken Sidewalks Build Pathways to Controversy
  • Task Force Forms to Fix Atlanta Sidewalks
Jeffrey Landers February 15, 2013 at 01:36 PM
This ordinance, although not enforced for many years, should not come as any surprise to the property owners of Atlanta. I believe the notification process could use some fine tuning, but please people, maintain your property!
BonkBonk February 15, 2013 at 06:30 PM
<blockquote>So the crackdown now, Mendoza said, is "going to address the more glaring repairs that are needed to reduce the city's liabilty."</blockquote> Is this statement not a plain spoken English admission by Mendoza that this is the CITY'S LIABILITY and therefore the CITY'S RESPONSIBILITY?
Mark Cohen February 15, 2013 at 06:33 PM
I'm a little confused by a contradiction in the reporting above: - "Mendoza... reiterated that the city ordinance.. places the responsibility of fixing them on homeowners." - "Mendoza... said the city is liable for all sidewalks" Which is it?
The Patch once again can't report well... Back to the AJC for me.
Péralte Paul (Editor) February 15, 2013 at 06:52 PM
It' It's both, Mark. Property owners are on the hook to fix problem sidewalks, as per the ordinance. The city has liability because if someone files a complaint with the DPW about a problem sidewalk, and it doesn't get fixed, the city is subject to a lawsuit as it is the entity designed to protect the public good. That's why the blind man in East Lake received a $3 million settlement last year. He complained and informed folks at city hall several times about the sidewalk route he used to catch the bus. They didn't act to enforce the law, so the city — you and me and everyone else who pays taxes — was financially responsible for failing to enforce the law that compels the property owner to fix.
Péralte Paul (Editor) February 15, 2013 at 06:59 PM
Hey, ihate perhaps you failed to read these two sentences: Last year, the city paid a blind East Lake man $3 million to settle a lawsuit he filed after he fell and injured himself so badly that he will need long-term care. Even though the city ordinance says property owners are responsible for the maintenance of sidewalks, it was liable because he informed the city of the problem for years but officials failed to act.
Scott_Grant_Park_East_Side February 16, 2013 at 02:35 AM
This seems ridiculous. Am I free to "fix" my sidewalk as I see fit? Pavers? Pea gravel base pathway? Stamp a pattern in it cement? Colored concrete? Where is the city planning and design continuity throughout neiborhoods?
Tim February 21, 2013 at 04:35 PM
Thanks for this article Peralte. Property owners should take care of their sidewalks as it is clearly their responsibility. It makes property values increase and walkability improve. If owners don't want to do it, then renting is an option.
Péralte Paul (Editor) February 21, 2013 at 06:16 PM
Thanks, Tim.

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