Monday, May 26, 2008


Who wants to blog on a holiday weekend? Not many, I'm sure. I spent the morning planting a ton of bare root trees and am, literally, bushed. So, as I rest the weary bones for a few minutes, I thought I'd mention one of life's little oddities from around here. Speaking of trees.

During the past several months there has been ongoing controversy about who should pay for the repair of city sidewalks where tree roots have done damage. It's an issue that seems to be continuously under study. The problem being, the city planted the trees and put in the sidewalks yet expects the home owners to have the walks repaired. Many are in the older parts of town where the less than affluent live and can ill afford the expenditure. A discussion of ideas was printed in the City Streets column in the Coeur d'Alene Press a few weeks back. The issue is if the residents don't pay for the repair where would the money come from? Not an easy question to answer. Here is why.

In the same column, today, the headline reads Street tree planting project announced. The trees are free. They are provided by the Urban Forestry division of the Parks Department. Parks Department? Not the Street Department? They are paid for from a street tree fee that is collected as a part of the cost of residential building permits. If the builder plants the tree he can get his money refunded, otherwise it goes to the purchase of trees for the neighborhoods where the builder opted not to plant.

Is this clear yet? As mud! The article goes on to say the trees will be planted by a contract tree planting service. It doesn't make clear if the home owner who wants the tree has to pay for this service or if it's part of the fee the builder paid. However, the owner does have to feed, water and otherwise nurture this investment.

In time, the roots will grow, the sidewalks will heave and those very same homeowners will probably still be expected to pay for repairs.

The Street Department, the Parks Department, the builder or the homeowner. It seems like a shell game. Who's going to pay what? I'd make good and sure I knew if I were going to be around long enough to watch that old tree grow.

That shady old tree.


Word Tosser said...

Sandpoint has gotten into a sticky wicket with their sidewalks... something about a LID and telling the residents if they put their own in, there would be a break. But now, something has become of the LID, and the owners are asking for payment for the sidewalks that they put in, at the advice of the city. It is one of those clear as mud deals too...

Mike said...

Mari - I couldn't quite "leaf" here without commenting (ugh, I know).

One of the reasons that I voted to bring the sidewalk repair in-house to the city and manage the process through staff is because there is definite interaction between the street department and the urban forestry department needed when these sidewalk repairs are dealt with. Some citizens felt they were getting a run around by having to deal with both departments, and everyone agreed that trees are some of the main reasons for sidewalks deteriorating.

I don't think the homeowner in the case you cited about the contract planter for the street tree fee project will pay anything directly (except normal maintenance and watering).

The city is going to take over the repair of those sidewalks that are ADA hazardous, and the recommendations on which streets are the most affected will most likely come from the city's Pedestrian-Bike Committee, because they are up, running, and have the most background on traffic patterns for walkers and bikers.

Yea, this one, while seeming straightforward when we voted to do it the way we did it, wasn't at all. And I can freely say that the public contacts and questions were legitimate and made me change course (as well as the council).

So keep those cards and letters coming (and plant trees whose roots don't uproot tree limbs!)

Thanks for the post - great to see you last week. I learned a lot about you from your discussion, which was really first rate.

ThomG said...

DWM, I grew up in NYC and we had the same situation back there 50+/- years ago, the city planted the trees and the homeowners paid for sidewalk repairs. It seems to be a fairly common practice throughout the country and is definitely not unique to Coeur d'Alene. Glad to see the city being responsive to citizens' input, that is how our government should work.

Dogwalkmusings said...

Thanks for weighing in Mike. Yours is the most comprehensive explanation I've seen. Too bad it's on my blog where few will see it! Where is the press??

We had this conversation before didn't we.

Thanks too for the compliment regarding the forum on blogging. It was fun, especially since you, Dave and Dan were my fellow panelists!

Dogwalkmusings said...

Thom, as I said to Mike, it's too bad this is the forum that got the response. I feel like a mini mini HBO here! But it's a start.