City Council to consider sidewalk safety plan

A new sidewalk hazard mitigation initiative, designed to incrementally eliminate trip-and-fall hazards on the sidewalks of Sonoma – along with the accompanying liability – will be on the City Council agenda Monday night.

Kicked in gear by new City Public Works Director and Engineer Dan Takasugi, the proposed policy will roll out a new practice of proactively surveying city sidewalks for tripping hazards. Historically, the city has only acted to mitigate rough sidewalks after receiving a complaint, and has not actively looked for hazards.

The new policy is likely to shock property owners unaware that they’re responsible for the safety of the sidewalks abutting their property. The cost of repairing cracks and raised edges varies widely from one location to the next, but raised edges less than 1.75-inches in height can typically by cut for about $30 per-inch of linear foot. City staff are proposing to cover the cost of all repairs below the 1.75-inch height threshold. Beyond that height, raised sidewalks typically need to be removed and replaced, a cost the city will share 50-50 with adjacent property owners whose share of the cost would be capped at about $1,000, the proposal suggests.

Under current policy, according to a city staff report, “Once a complaint is received by the City, a code enforcement letter is sent to the abutting property owner, directing a timely repair in accordance with state and city codes. The enforcement action is typically not well received.”

But the city does not intend to rush out and survey every sidewalk in Sonoma and then issue repair orders for every hazard found.

On the one hand, a wave of reluctance to comply with the orders could overwhelm the city’s financial ability to make the repairs without property owner cooperation. Property owners refusing to comply would have tax liens placed on their properties, but collecting the money could take considerable time.

And if a contractor were to complete a citywide survey that was not acted upon for some time, greater city liability could ensue from a tripping accident at a site the city ostensibly knew about.

As an alternative, Takasugi has proposed dividing the city into 11 sectors, with one sector inspected and repaired each year at a projected annual cost of $35,000.

Also on the agenda for Monday’s council meeting will be a public hearing on an ordinance amending the municipal code allowing Sonoma to be designated a “Certified local government” for purposes of historic preservation efforts.

Consideration will also be given to a proposed amendment to the joint operating agreement for the Sonoma County Library; possible action will be taken on a request by Selma Blanusa to remove or modify an easement on her Seventh Street East property; an ordinance will be introduced modifying the municipal code to adopt new building codes; another ordinance will be introduced amending the appeals process; discussion will be held on a proposed amendment to the Municipal Services agreement to conduct a vocational rental review program

The City Council will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21, in the Community Meeting Room, 177 First St. W.

The public is invited.