Despite disturbing reports of elderly women in walkers and small children stumbling on cracked sidewalks, Los Angeles City Council members Friday said they could not immediately afford to repave 31 miles of sidewalks.
But at Councilwoman Janice Hahn's request, council members put off a proposal to eliminate funding for sidewalk repair this year, and instead see if they could cobble together the $2.9 million needed to do the work.
Hahn made an impassioned argument that smooth sidewalks are a public safety issue. To prove her point, she held up a picture of a 103-year-old woman, who came out of a beauty salon in Wilmington earlier this year, tripped on a cracked sidewalk and fell on her head.
Hahn said the photos kept her up at night "thinking about the kind of city we were ... if we can't provide safe sidewalks for our residents."
The cuts to sidewalk repairs were proposed as part of a package of adjustments to the city's budget that was approved Friday. Many changes included moving funds from one account to another within the city. Officials also told the city attorney's office to reduce expenses.
Even after months of hiring freezes and slashing services, Los Angeles still faces a $250-million shortfall in the next fiscal year. Mayor James K. Hahn plans to present his budget plan for 2004-05 on April 20.
Officials have warned that cuts may be steep, and some are sure to cause controversy. Already, residents have decried a Hahn administration proposal, later rescinded, to eliminate the city's Cultural Affairs Department. Council members on Friday also unanimously approved a resolution calling on state officials to adopt a plan for reducing workers' compensation costs, in part by requiring doctors to provide clearer restrictions for injured workers and giving city officials funding to probe fraud.
Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who pushed for the resolution, estimates that Los Angeles could save $10 million a year if reforms were passed.
"The system is broken, and we need action now," Greuel said, adding that the high costs of workers' comp are a huge obstacle to economic development.
Julie Butcher, president of the city's largest municipal employees union, agreed. Escalating workers' compensation costs are preventing the city from hiring police officers and other municipal workers, Butcher said in a statement. "This is an opportunity for labor, business and government to come together."