Friday, December 14, 2007

All I want for Christmas ...

Months ago, right outside my home, a three-foot section of curbing was vandalized and destroyed. The break is located at the primary access point, where the path crossing the parkway extends from the sidewalk to the street. Every visitor, friend, and member of the family has to navigate the impediment whenever entering or leaving the property. The mess of exposed dirt, rocks and missing concrete is ugly, unsafe, and frankly embarrassing.

Let’s face it; no one’s home has much curb appeal when the curb itself is in a state of disrepair.
I called the Public Works Department to let them know about the damage and requested it be fixed. I was told it would be “some time” before that could happen. Apparently “some time” means a lot longer in city-speak than it does to me. And as I look around the neighborhood, and purposefully examine the alarming number of missing chunks, huge painted-over cracks, long-neglected, dinged and damaged, worn-and-torn concrete where it meets the street, I realize that there must be a very long list of curbs slated for repair before anyone gets to mine.
The thought has crossed my mind that if the particular curb damage in front of my house had occurred somewhere else—let’s say just a few blocks away on State Street—it likely would have been neatly restored long ago. But far from the prettied-up pathways where tourists tread, and tucked away in the neighborhood where only residents walk, my request to fixing things up just isn’t Public Works Job One.
Nevertheless, in the spirit of the holiday season, I’m working very hard to be patient, philosophical, and even gracious about the long wait for this repair. As a mother who often speaks to her children about the difference between wants and needs, I’m trying to shift how I think about this damaged curb; I’m struggling to convince myself that holding the notion of a repair is a want, not a need. Blocking out concerns about the safety of my family and guests, I’m starting to think about the possibility of a repair as a treat, a nice little extra that may just come along when I least expect it. Just because I want something, I remind myself at this giving time of the year, doesn’t mean I will automatically receive it.
I understand the city is very busy with so many projects; its million-dollar traffic calming project, for example, that’s pouring lots of concrete we don’t want instead of concrete we need. And then there are its important plans to revamp De La Guerra Plaza, and create new neighborhoods at the Greyhound bus station, virtually every single block of downtown and much of Upper State Street—even atop the long-discussed Whole Foods Market.
With all that lofty work going on, people in existing neighborhoods just have to wait their turn. And right now, I remind myself, repairing crumbling infrastructure isn’t nearly as exciting as building a whole new city that hardly resembles the old one.
I’m counting my blessings that I’m lucky enough to have a house and lots of curb that isn’t broken. And I’ve even found inspiration from citizens in other communities.
There’s the guy in Malibu, for example, Matt Haines, who realized some time ago that if a wildfire came close to his home, the city might not respond in time. So he ponied up $6,000, bought his own fire engine and a tanker truck at an auction held by the Merced County Fire Department and parked it on his property just in case. His investment paid off in the recent Corral Canyon fire, when he and his neighbors used the equipment to protect their homes from the oncoming inferno. Their heroic citizens’ fire brigade saved their neighborhood and uncounted millions of dollars in the process—and set a high standard for others to follow.
Now I’m no libertarian, but this idea of proactive self-reliance does have some merit—especially when the city that’s supposed to take care of such matters, for whatever reasons, just can’t seem to get it done.
This brings up a whole new range of options for activists to protect their neighborhood interests. If the city is just too busy, why not just hire the work done and present them with the bill? Or, embracing the notion of entrepreneurialism combined with enlightened self-interest, maybe I’ll just put a shiny new cement mixer on my Christmas list and start repairing curbs on my own. I hear there’s quite a demand.

Cheri Rae’s column appears every Thursday in the Daily Sound. E-mail her at

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