Bleak news was the order of the day Wednesday in a Los Angeles City Council panel discussion on broken sidewalks.
Bureau of Street Services chief Bill Robertson spelled out the problem to the council's public works committee in vivid terms:
It would take the city 83 years to fix the backlog of broken sidewalks, the price of concrete has gone through the roof, and residents don't have much chance of seeing their sidewalks fixed unless they're willing to foot half the repair bill.
"It's highly likely there aren't enough contractors out there to repair 400 miles of sidewalks" that are in bad shape, Robertson said.
Like many municipal problems, this one is rooted in history Robertson said, because the culprits in many broken-sidewalk cases are tree roots.
The story, he said, began in 1911 when a state law went on the books allowing the city to tell property owners to fix troublesome sidewalks in front of their homes. If they didn't comply, the city could then fix the sidewalk and bill the owner for the cost.
In 1973, the federal government supplied funds for the city to begin picking up the tab for repairs. That lasted three years.
So, Robertson said, from 1976 through 1999, the city made no permanent repairs and instead patched problems with a temporary layer of asphalt.
Then the city began a permanent sidewalk-repair program, but, because of budget vagaries, it can typically fix only a fraction of the city's 10,000-plus miles of sidewalk each year.
In the meantime, Los Angeles began another program in which the city picks up half the tab of repair and the property owner the other.