Bee Investigator: Broken Modesto sidewalk repaired after some extra steps

snowicki@modbee.comJune 2, 2013 

EC Sidewalk01

ED CRISOSTOMO/ecrisostomo@modbee.com Dean Luis shows an area where he had a sidewalk which leads to his front door on Thursday afternoon (05-23-13) in Modesto, CA.

ED CRISOSTOMO — The Modesto Bee Buy Photo

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textSue Nowicki
    Title: Columnist, Faith & Family reporter
    Coverage areas: Weekly consumer column, plus features and news stories
    Bio: Sue Nowicki has worked at The Bee since 1982. She earned a Bachelor of Journalism degree from The University of Missouri, Columbia, and enjoys answering readers' questions and telling their stories.
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    E-mail: snowicki@modbee.com

— Some folks might think that all I like to do is complain. Au contraire. There's nothing I like better than reporting that a reader's complaint already has been resolved.

That's what happened with a problem reported by Dean Luis. On April 22, I wrote about some sidewalk issues, and a few days later, I received an email from Dean, who said city crews had been working on his Modesto street for nearly a month.

"On April 9, they started tearing out the sidewalk on the front of my house," he said. Then oops! The backhoe operator broke off a chunk of the walkway that leads to his front door. Dean asked the worker what would be done to rectify the problem.

The worker offered to patch it with brushed concrete, the same as the sidewalk, but it wouldn't match Dean's exposed aggregate walkway. Dean said he didn't care whether it was repaired with the exposed aggregate finish or if the entire walkway was replaced with the brushed concrete, but he didn't want an unsightly patch job. The worker then offered to tear out the entire walkway, leaving Dean with dirt. Right.

Then Dean was told to call the worker's boss, who called the worker, who told Dean to call Modesto's risk management department. (Sounds a little like the nursery rhyme, "The House That Jack Built," doesn't it?)

Dean was instructed to get an estimate for the repair because the city worker couldn't fix the damage because then "taxpayer money would be used." (Heaven forbid that this taxpayer-funded repair would be made while the workers were on site, rather than the taxpayer-funded repair that certainly would cost more later). And, the risk manager added, she'd have to check to see if there were any codes that would prohibit a walkway to be laid against the city sidewalk. (Really? It was against the sidewalk to begin with, which is why the city worker chewed it up.)

Dean sent in his claim form April 17. Five days later, he called to check on it, and the risk manager told him to get a second estimate.

"I told her that the city sidewalk was complete in front of my house now, and that I had a hole in my front yard that was a liability issue, and she told me to fill in the hole with dirt. I quoted your story that the city would 'mitigate any tripping hazard within 24 hours,' and she told me that only applies if it's on city property."

Dean said he got the second estimate — one was for $1,100 and the other for $1,000 — but as of April 29, hadn't heard back from the city.

"I may have to contact an attorney, and then there goes more 'taxpayer money,' " he said.

But first, he attended a May 4 town hall meeting held by Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh at Gregori High School. During the question period, Dean told the mayor what happened, and added that he had written to me about the problem.

"On Monday morning, there was a department head at my house wanting to know what we wanted to do," Dean said.

Please note, I'm not claiming any credit here; I realize that my name and a few bucks will buy you a latte at Starbucks. The important point: Dean's sidewalk was repaired May 25. The city paid for the part it had broken and Dean paid for an expansion of the walkway.

"My guess is if I hadn't talked to the mayor, I'd still be waiting," Dean said. "The experience I had was you can't fight city hall unless you talk to the mayor."

ANOTHER SIDEWALK comment after that initial column ran came from Debra Giretto.

"I have a funny story for you," she wrote. "When I was a kid growing up in San Leandro, our city tree out front was huge, at least 30 inches around. The roots kept causing the sidewalk to lift, and the city came out three times over a couple of years and used this huge cutter that would cut into the dirt and roots right through the lawn."

The resulting mess, Debra said, made her Italian-spitfire mom lose her temper.

Her dad, meanwhile, "had some friends from the Vietnam War who would come into Alameda Naval Air Station and would stay at our house. The booze would really flow."

On one visit, Debra's mom told her dad's buddies about the ongoing tree/root problem. The two "go out front with my dad's electric chain saw and fell this 80-foot tree right in the middle of the street and then took off. The cops, the fire department, the city and I don't know who else showed up. My mother is freaking and my dad is drunk and the guys who did it are heading back to their ship."

Her father gave officials the names of his friends, but "to this day, the city has never replaced the tree, and they never caught the guys. The tree blocked the street for three days, but the sidewalk has been fine ever since. I guess in those days, it was a lot easier to get things fixed."

For the record, I do not recommend this "fix" for all those folks — and there are many of you — who have complaints about the city tree in your yard.

I hate to end this on a sad note, but Debra said one of her dad's friends later was killed in Saigon and the other died while on duty in Honduras. Although Memorial Day has passed, it's never too late to remember and honor those who died while serving our country.

Send questions to Sue Nowicki at snowicki@modbee.com, fax to (209) 578-2207 or mail to P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352-5256.

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