Sidewalk Responsibility

cracked sidewalkUnder the current City Code, property owners are responsible for maintaining any sections of public sidewalk, curb, and gutter that runs adjacent to their property. This typically includes sidewalk sections adjacent to the front yard and those extending through the driveway connection. It may also include sidewalk sections running along both the side and back yards. This situation is common on corner lots or on parcels that back on to a public street.

Maintenance often involves both repair and replacement activities to ensure that the sidewalk remains in a condition that is not dangerous to the property owner or members of the general public that use the sidewalk in a reasonable manner. Replacement and repair activities typically include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Removal and replacement of raised, cracked, sunken or uneven sidewalk sections and associated curb and gutter sections
  • Saw cutting existing uneven sidewalk sections
  • Addressing the source of sidewalk damage such as leaking utility services or shallow tree roots

Requirements and Permitting Process

Public sidewalks are typically located in areas designated as public right-of-way, which is used for the purpose of providing the general public access through roadways and sidewalks. Any construction activities that propose improvements in the public right-of-way are required to obtain an encroachment permit. Applying for and obtaining an encroachment permit involves the following steps.

1. Engage and Select a Contractor

In most situations, the homeowner will likely elect to acquire a contractor to perform the necessary repairs to any existing sidewalk sections. At a minimum, the following questions should be addressed when selecting a contractor:

Does the contractor have the appropriate license?

Contractors working in the right-of-way must obtain a contractor's license issued by the Contractors State License Board. Concrete work within the public right-of-way can be performed by a contractor who has obtained a General Engineering Contractor (A) or a specialty license such as a Concrete Contractor (C-8). In some situations a contractor with a General Building (B) license may be able to perform the work and must follow the guidelines specified by the Contractors State License Board. The following links can be used to verify a contractor’s license or to obtain additional information regarding license classifications. Other specialty license types may be able to perform the concrete work when the sidewalk or driveway replacement is incidental to their main specialty. An example of this is the removal and replacement of a section of sidewalk in order to perform a sewer line repair or replacement. The contractor licensed to perform the sewer repair may also perform the incidental sidewalk restoration if the sidewalk was removed as part of the repair

Contractor State License Board - License Classifications

Contractor State License Board - License Check

Does the contractor have the appropriate liability and worker’s compensation insurance?

Before any permits are issued, the contractor must provide a policy of broad form commercial general liability insurance that names the City as an additional insured with the corresponding additional insured endorsement attached. Workers’ Compensation, if required, must also be maintained to meet minimum state requirements. A sample certificate listing the appropriate coverages can be obtained here.

What if I want to replace the sidewalk myself?

An owner/builder who owns and lives on the property adjacent to the proposed sidewalk can perform work in the sidewalk area. Construction activities within the public right-of-way can present a series of challenges and create homeowner’s insurance liability issues. By choosing to perform the work themselves, the owner is agreeing to physically perform all activities including the saw cutting, removal, off haul of materials, pouring of concrete, and finishing of the new concrete themselves. None of these activities may be contracted out to a third party. If the proposed work includes replacement of curb and gutter, the permit must be issued to a licensed contractor due to the requirements associated with the removal and restoration of the asphalt located at the edge of the gutter.

Property owners are not permitted to perform restoration activities on the asphalt section of a public roadway. It is recommended that an owner/builder avoid this option unless they’ve been able to obtain the adequate training and experience.

2. Prepare a Plan

A plan must be prepared showing the location and extent of the proposed work. It is recommended that the selected contractor be consulted regarding the preparation of the plan. On most sidewalk replacement permit applications, the contractor prepares the plan. This is not a requirement under the program and the owner may prepare the site plan if desired.

Plans can be hand drawn and, at a minimum, must show the following:

  • Approximate property lines, width of the property boundaries adjacent to, and sidewalk included in the proposal
  • Existing utilities and any associated utility boxes. Existing utilities can be identified by contacting 811, Underground Service Alert
  • All existing trees
  • Width of existing sidewalk
  • Width of proposed sidewalk
  • If applicable, width of the existing driveway approach and distance to closest shared property line
  • If applicable, location of all existing curb and gutter and proposed replacement sections

3. Submit the Permit

All encroachment permits and associated documentation must be submittal electronically through the City’s Encroachment Permit Submittal Process. If the applicant is unable to submit permits digitally, accommodations to accept paper submittals at the Planning and Economic Department counter can be made on a case-by-case basis. The property owner may elect to complete the submittal process or have the hired contractor apply for the permit. All documents submitted with the application, including insurance certificates, will be checked for completeness. Once all documents have been verified as being complete, the City will formally accept the application and begin the plan check process. Overall review timelines depend on the scope of the project. Most encroachment permits are issued within 2-4 weeks.

Work covered under the permit will be performed according to the City’s Design and Construction Standards and Specifications

The City may require corrections to the plan prior to issuance of the permit or attach separate reasonable conditions. The following types of conditions are commonly imposed to provide legal and financial protection to the City from loss or liability that may arise from the work authorized by the permit:

  • Protection of Street
    The permittee shall be responsible for replacing all components of the public street in a manner that results in a condition that is similar to or better than the condition that existed prior to the encroachment. If the proposal involves the replacement of the existing driveway and any curb and gutter sections, the applicant may be required to replace a 2’ section of the asphalt roadway to ensure a proper joint between the concrete and the asphalt. This determination is typically made in the field by the assigned inspector and is based on the condition of the existing street.
  • Traffic, Bicycle and Pedestrian Controls
    Proper controls will be required to minimize the impacts of the work on vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
  • Noise Control and Work Hours
    The City has the ability to impose noise and work hour conditions on a case-by-case basis. Work on the weekends in residential neighborhoods is typically prohibited.

4. Permit Issuance and Construction

Once the application review is complete and the plan approved, the permittee will be provided with instructions to pay applicable permit fees and perform the final signature on the permit. All encroachment permits include an application fee of $128.00 and a plan check and inspection fee that equals 12% of the improvement costs, as described on the application.

Once the encroachment permit is issued, the contractor may commence construction and schedule inspections as described on the issued permit.

Frequently Asked Questions

An asphalt patch has been placed on a section of the sidewalk in front of my house. What does that mean? Is it a permanent fix?

An asphalt patch is typically the result of the City performing a temporary fix in an attempt to address an identified trip hazard. This does not constitute a permanent fix and the abutting property owner is notified during this process of their responsibility to perform the permanent remedy under the current City Code.

Can I avoid replacing sections of sidewalk by grinding uneven sections to remove the trip hazards?

Leveling the sidewalk through horizontal saw cutting may be permitted on a case by case basis. The ultimate determination will be made based on the final thickness of the affected sidewalk sections after leveling. Under no circumstance shall the saw cutting activities reduce the concrete thickness to less than 50% of its original dimension.

Trees in the planter strip are lifting my sidewalk. How do I address this? Can I reduce the width of the sidewalk to provide more room for the trees?

In most situations, the roots will need to be removed or sections of roots will need to be cut out in order to reinstall the sidewalk at the appropriate elevation. Small roots of 4 inches or less can often be removed without negatively impacting an established mature tree. An arborist should be consulted in order to determine any potential impacts that may be created due to root removal. In situations where extensive damage has occurred due to the presence of a tree and the roots cannot be removed without impacting the health of the tree, it is likely that the tree will need to be removed. Contract the Planning Division of the Planning and Economic Development Department at (707) 543-3200 or [email protected] to discuss the tree removal process.

If the tree roots are only impacting the edge of the sidewalk, it may be possible to reduce the width of the sidewalk to no less than 4’ to resolve the conflict. Under no circumstances can the sidewalk be reduced to less than 4’ and any reduction of the width shall only occur around the obstruction. The original width must be maintained outside of the conflict area.

I live in an older area and the driveways, sidewalks, and planter strips do not meet the City’s current standards. How do I ensure that my future replacement meets the proper requirements under the City Standards and the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

Applying current codes and policies to repair and restoration activities in older areas of the City can be challenging, especially when the project involves the replacement of an older driveway approach (ramp). Older driveway connections are often not as deep as current installations and do not provide enough room to direct the sidewalk behind the ramp. In this situation, pedestrians are required to walk through the ramp as they travel down the sidewalk and the ramp often exceeds the maximum cross slope requirements associated with public sidewalks.

The Planning and Economic Development Department will make every attempt to assist the property owner with the development of a design that matches the existing conditions while attempting to meet any applicable current State and Federal requirements to the maximum extent practical. Inquiries associated with non-standard sidewalk or driveway approach designs can be directed to [email protected] or (707) 543-4611.

I am working with my Homeowner’s Association or neighborhood group to fix sidewalk sections throughout our neighborhood. Can we hire one contractor to work at multiple properties? If so, how does the permitting process work?

Yes, while not very common, an encroachment permit can be issued to a single contractor to work on multiple locations within the public right-of-way. No more than 10 separate locations can be included on a single application.

Can I remove the landscaping adjacent to the curb and replace it with concrete, brick or some other hard walkable surface?

In most situations, the landscaping strip and any tree wells must remain and cannot be replaced with concrete or a walkable hard surface. Landscaping along the street frontage provides an aesthetic value to the neighborhood and the planter strip was likely a requirement of the original home construction. Any removal of these features is also not consistent with the City’s Current Design Standards associated with the majority of residential streets.

In addition, landscaped planter strips are viewed as a non-walkable surfaces and can act as an additional safety buffer between pedestrians and adjacent vehicular traffic. The buffer becomes more critical when sidewalk sections and adjacent travel lanes are not separated by bike lanes or street parking.