If you live in Salt Lake City, you’ve got 24 hours after a snowstorm to clear the sidewalk in front of your house or you could find yourself with a $50 ticket.
And we’re not talking a quick shovel push down the walk. According to the city ordinance, it’s got to be clean as a whistle.
It might sound harsh, but the City Council increased the fine in 2010 to ensure residents confined to wheelchairs, as well as children and others, had access to clear sidewalks.
The reality, however, is that a resident could go years without shoveling the sidewalk and never get a ticket, because the system is based on complaints, rather than regular inspections.
But last week, after two council members received warnings and many of their neighbors were cited, the council took up the matter again. And although the council did not act, it doesn’t appear as though it is done with the topic.
“I’ve been getting calls on both sides of the issue,” said Council Chairman Kyle LaMalfa. “On the one side, are people from the disability community who are stuck because they can’t navigate the sidewalks. And on the other side by people who said they made a good-faith effort and got cited anyway.”
The council may consider changing the ordinance to give enforcement officers more discretion, LaMalfa said. It may also create a graduated citation system that would begin with a warning and lead to increased fines with each subsequent ticket.
Councilwoman Jill Remington Love did not get a citation during the snowstorm two weeks ago or the ensuing cold snap that exacerbated it. But her neighbors did.
“My neighbors who were ticketed are diligent, community-minded people,” Love said. “But despite their efforts, there was still snow on their sidewalks.”
Although Love concedes the complaint-based system is imperfect, she isn’t sure it can be improved.
“I don’t think a whole lot will change,” she said. “Our enforcement people are doing their best.”
Councilman Charlie Luke received a written warning and some of his neighbors got citations.
“The neighbors to the west of me were cited, and I had shoveled their sidewalk,” he said. “Some with a skiff of snow were cited and others that weren’t shoveled were not.”
Luke said he hopes the enforcement officers can use better judgement in the future. But rather than changing the language in the ordinance, he wants the Becker administration to adopt a procedural stance that would be more reasonable.
“If someone has made a good-faith effort, they shouldn’t be penalized,” he said. “The purpose is not to penalize the people who try.”
It’s a quandary, said Councilman Soren Simonsen. And he agrees that the system should be more fair.
“But I don’t know how you get there,” he said. “You have to make the sidewalks so people can use them.”