Portland’s sidewalk repair policy is again under scrutiny.
The policy is complaint-based and the Portland Bureau of Transportation uses a half-inch "gap, dip or lip" to decide if a homeowner’s sidewalk is a code violation. If so, PBOT gives homeowners the option of fixing it, hiring a private contractor to repair it, or using city contractors to do the work, often at a much higher cost.
But as PBOT hands out violations to homeowners that cost thousands of dollars, it appears the commissioner and director of PBOT are violating the policy they require other Portlanders to follow.
KGW first brought you the story of Portlander Kyle Bell back in March. He said his sidewalks were fine. No half-inch gaps, dips or lips. But PBOT received a complaint about his neighbor’s sidewalks and looked at his, too.
PBOT determined they were a hazard, and billed him close to $5,000 to fix them. Kyle said he couldn’t believe it.
“They're not genuinely concerned about sidewalks. I think it’s more about getting the money," Bell said.
He said his sidewalks were old, but in good shape.
“Was it hazardous? Absolutely not!" Bell said.
Original investigation: Portland's sidewalk repair policy trips up homeowner with costly bill
Chapter one: Apparent violations by PBOT leaders go unfixed
Bell appealed his case to the Portland City Council. He lost. During his appeal the city commissioner who oversees PBOT, Chloe Eudaly, said it's vital that sidewalks in Portland remain safe.
“As the mother of a now almost 18-year-old child who uses a wheelchair, that sidewalk repair… maintaining that public asset and maintaining access and safety is important," she said.
But after she made that statement, we went to Commissioner Eudaly's home, where she is a renter, and the sidewalks were a lot worse than the "hazard" sidewalks outside Kyle's home. And despite her statement about safe sidewalks, to this day, she's made no effort to fix them.
In fact, they’re not only cracked and uneven, the sidewalks are now overgrown with grass, which makes them even more of a safety violation.
In addition, the sidewalks in front of PBOT Director Chris Warner's house, were also violating city code, and as described by his own bureau, a major safety hazard.
Months ago, Warner told KGW, “I pledge to fix my sidewalk quickly, so that my neighbors and others can get around easily and safely."
But he didn’t. Not yet. When we went back to check his sidewalks, nothing had been fixed. And as the Portland Bureau of Transportation continues to enforce the sidewalk policy against Portlanders, Warner continues to violate his own code.
Director Warner sent KGW an updated statement, reading, "As the Director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, I am committed to a transportation system that is safe and accessible for all Portlanders, and I am working with a contractor to find a good solution for my sidewalk. I am working with the contractor and the city's Urban Forester on the best solution forward."
Kyle Bell said he’s disappointed.
“I would've liked to believe that they would've taken care of it immediately. I don't think that necessarily admits guilt by taking care of it. It's just doing what every citizen is being told they're responsible for, and by what I've been told with a $5,000 bill that I'm responsible for," he said.
Chapter two: Mayor Wheeler follows through
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s sidewalks were also a code violation. And back in March, the mayor owned it.
“I'm as subject to the laws and ordinances as anybody else. It's on me. It's my responsibility and I need to get it done," he said.
And get it done, he did. Mayor Wheeler hired private contractor Four Seasons Landscape and Construction to repair his sidewalk.
KGW asked the mayor about the sidewalk repair during a recent interview. He jokingly told us he’s happy to have the work finally done.
“Fixing the sidewalks has been on my honey-do list for a long time and obviously, when you have news media trucks pull up, that moved it up the list a few notches," Wheeler said.
And in case you're wondering, as expected, the work on Mayor Wheeler’s sidewalk was paid for entirely by the mayor. It required two separate permits and he also hired an arborist to inspect an adjacent tree.
“We had a private sector crew come out and they billed me directly for the work. No city money involved at all," Wheeler said.
KGW will keep checking to see if Commissioner Eudaly and PBOT Director Warner eventually follow their own guidelines.
Chapter three: A new crack
Finally, we also went back to Kyle Bell’s sidewalk. Remember, it was repaired by city contractor Sidewalk Solutions at a cost of nearly $5,000.
Believe it or not, it’s already starting to crack. Kyle said he’s not surprised.
“Yeah, the concrete started cracking and I have no idea why it's cracking. They poured it in the middle of December so that could have something to do with it," he said.