If D.C. learned anything during last year’s epic Snowmageddon, it was that city businesses and residents aren’t held accountable when they shirk their shoveling duties. But today councilmembers Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) re-introduced a bill that would empower three city agencies to issue tickets to people who fail to clear the sidewalks in front of their homes and businesses.
Under current D.C. law, property owners are already required to clear snow from their sidewalks within eight daylight hours of the snowfall’s end. But when they fail to do so, the city must go ahead and clear the area for them, then try to recover costs by suing after the fact; the damages are capped at a modest $25.
"It's an extreme and ridiculous way to go about it," says Wells chief of staff Charles Allen, noting that he's never heard of the city recouping anything. "It's fairly onerous for the city to enforce."
Under the proposed law, the city would be able to simply ticket homeowners $25 and businesses $250 for not breaking the shovels out in the allotted time. The tickets could be written by officers with the public works, transportation, and police departments.
The problem, says Cheh chief of staff V. David Zvenyach, is that the current law has no teeth. “We’re trying to shift the thinking on this,” he says. “As it is now, people don’t even realize there’s an obligation.”
Though the language in the proposed bill is broad, Zvenyach says the responsibility for snow-clearing would fall to the typical parties – business owners, property managers and the like – and not, say, apartment renters. And though a similar bill failed to come to a vote earlier in 2010, this one will have a better chance of getting through now that co-sponsor Wells is chairing the Committee on Public Works and Transportation. It probably wouldn’t go into law this season, since that would require emergency fast-tracking, but their hope is to have something on the books by next winter.
“The councilmembers' feeling is that regardless of whether it’s winter or summer, people should be able to walk on the sidewalk safely,” says Zvenyach.