Sidewalk Cracks Break the Bank

Broken sidewalks could end up breaking some Western cities.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that cities in California and eight other Western states must give disabled people equal access to sidewalks, which mean cracks, buckles and steep driveway cuts that might interfere with a wheelchair must be fixed.

That could cost nearly $3 billion in California alone.

"I don't know where cities are going to get the money but it's gonna have to come from somewhere," attorney Greg Hurley, a representative of 76 California cities, said.

Hurley said that most of the cities can't even afford to survey the sidewalks much less repair them.

Disability Rights Advocates say the sidewalks pose a danger to the handicapped, but they're not expecting them to be fixed overnight.

"What we're asking for is that every city and county start to make some efforts to allocate some money each year to identifying and removing some of these barriers," said Larry Paradis, executive director of Disability Rights Advocates.

But the court decision doesn't say that and has opened the door to a flurry of lawsuits. Defending those suits will cost the cities even more money, but they say they can't afford to give in.

"If they don't oppose the lawsuits, a court could order them to fix all of their sidewalks in a week or immediately," Hurley said.

Even disabled rights advocate and Santa Monica Mayor Michael Feinstein says the law could be troublesome.

"If the courts tell us to do something and the residents don't go ahead and say we'll allocate more money, than I think we're in a bind," Feinstein said.

Paradis said that money is not the problem.

"They say they don't have the money, but it's always a question of competing priorities," Paradis said.

Cities might very well end up taking money from other programs to repair sidewalks or they could always ask California taxpayers, but that might prove to be an even rockier road.