New LA law will bring city’s ‘withdrawn’ streets back to life

LOS ANGELES >> The City Council voted Wednesday, Feb. 27, to address a bureaucratic oddity that has left hundreds of Los Angeles streets unpaved for up to eight decades, including streets in the San Fernando Valley.

Many of the streets were officially “withdrawn” from public use as far back as the 1930s, amid a lack of funds, because they were deemed unsafe or not up to code. But they were mostly left open to the public for driving or walking as they crumbled and deteriorated over decades.

The council, on a 13-0 vote, approved an ordinance that reverses all the old ordinances and other rules that have withdrawn the streets from use, while also agreeing to address in the future appropriate measures for the “expected small number of streets” that may not be appropriate for public use.

“Today, the city of Los Angeles righted a foolish wrong,” Councilman David Ryu said. “By repealing 11 ordinances, some dating back to the 1930s, the city is bringing so-called ‘withdrawn’ streets back into the city’s purview, allowing for maintenance and restoration that is long overdue.”
Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who represents neighborhoods in the west San Fernando Valley, led the push to address the issue. He estimated that the cost of fixing and repaving all the withdrawn streets could be $15 million to $35 million, noting the annual budget for all street resurfacing and reconstruction in the entire city is about $200 million.

“It is a good chunk of money, and we’re going to have to figure out how to do it,” he said at a City Council committee meeting earlier this month.

When discussing the issue last year, Blumenfield said he initially found it hard to believe some streets in his district had been left unpaved for decades.

“This has been a very big issue for me in my district since I took office. There are so many streets out there, throughout the city, but particularly in my district, where you have no clue you are driving or walking on a street that is technically not in public use,” Blumenfield said in October. “Constituents contact me and say, ‘How come my street hasn’t been paved in 80 years?’ And we say, ‘That can’t be the case,’ and we look into it and they are right — their street was taken out of public use in the 1930s.”

A city report requested by Blumenfield found that Los Angeles has 374 streets that have been withdrawn from use.

The report found that multiple ordinances and other City Council actions as far back as the 1930s have withdrawn streets from public use, and that in general, those ordinances authorize and direct the Board of Public Works to return streets to public use when they are found to be safe and passable.

But the Board of Public Works adopted a policy years ago that required streets to be built out to city standards in determining safety and passability, which led to them not being reinstated for paving, even though other nearby streets might also not meet current city standards but haven’t been withdrawn and still receive regular maintenance. The report found the practice went mostly unnoticed for decades and many of the withdrawn streets were still in use by the public “even though they are technically withdrawn from public use.”

The decision to withdraw streets was caused by a state statute that has since been repealed, according to the Los Angeles Times, and was intended in part to prevent liability claims against the city for damage from defective streets. But Ryu said in October he was not buying that legal argument.

“While these streets have been withdrawn, the city still has a liability on them, which makes absolutely no sense,” Ryu said.