Oregon City apologizes for sending wrong sidewalk letters
Oregon City officials apologized April 21 for sending out incorrect letters to most of the residents of an entire subdivision after receiving an anonymous complaint about tree roots lifting and cracking sidewalks.
City Manager Tony Konkol said he received a voicemail from a citizen who complained about people getting injured on sidewalk trip hazards in the Trailview neighborhood. He said the city shouldn't have sent out letters threatening fines right away, but rather provided a brochure with various options for homeowners to get sidewalks in front of their homes back in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Konkol said the city will give property owners "leeway" before fines are levied for noncompliance, potentially hundreds of dollars a day after 90 days to complete repairs, but extensions will be given as long as citizens are working with the city on plans. Oregon City might again group together permitting costs to reduce the financial burden on homeowners who are responsible for fixing city-owned sidewalks in front of their houses.
"The city is not proactively driving around targeting neighborhoods," Konkol said. "We encourage folks to reach out, and we can start to work together, identify what exactly is needed."
City Commissioner Frank O'Donnell called for an investigation into who made tree recommendations and whether the city was responsible for the cracking sidewalk by mandating the installation of street tree species that are now known to destroy sidewalks.
"In the end, I believe if this investigation reveals that the city created this situation, then we need to stand tall and not just talk about giving them a couple of bucks for free permits," O'Donnell said.
Speaking after O'Donnell's worry about a class-action lawsuit against the city on the issue, Commission President Rocky Smith said that the city needs to be more careful.
"I don't know how many times in the last two years we've heard from some department, 'Sorry we sent out the wrong email,' or 'we sent out the wrong letter.' I could probably count a few times just in the last year. We have to figure that out," Smith said.
Scott Thompson, whose house is on Smithfield Drive, acknowledged that the sidewalk crack in front of his home is dangerous and needs to be fixed. However, Thompson was suspicious about the timing of the city's letters being sent right after most citizens got their $1,400 American Rescue Plan stimulus checks from the federal government. Most of the required sidewalk repairs will cost Oregon City homeowners roughly between $1,000 and $5,000.
"Sidewalks belong to the city, but it's the property owner's responsibility to repair them, so that's the fine line," he said.
Mayor Rachel Lyles Smith agreed that the timing of the letter was "ironic," but she saw irony not in the stimulus checks, but in the city's recent conversation about encouraging street trees in the wake of a destructive ice storm in February. Some homeowners responded to the letters by cutting down many of the hundreds of trees in Trailview causing the sidewalk cracks.
City officials encouraged property owners not to be rash in simply cutting down the trees, as sidewalk grinding is often a cheaper option than sidewalk replacement.
This online story has been updated to correct this newspaper's incorrect interpretation of City Commissioner Frank O'Donnell's comment seeking the source of the complaint. He was referring to who recommended tree species, not who made the complaint of cracking sidewalks. We regret the error.
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