A Public Works inspector leaves his mark on a Mission sidewalk.

You may have noticed white dots popping up along the Mission’s sidewalks over the last few weeks. It’s not public art; it’s Public Works.

The department is cracking down on broken sidewalks in the Mission through its Sidewalk Improvement and Repair Program; marking up cracked, sunken or pock-marked concrete and leaving notices for property owners to take action.

At a time when good news is rare, the sidewalk program appears to be a success and the city now has fewer cracks, fewer lawsuits and a broader area of the city mended, according to officials and data from the Department of Public Works. Still, not all small businesses are happy with a program that increases operating costs.

Sidewalk art fish intermingle with dots left behind by the Department of Public Works, signaling where repairs are needed.

“I know the sidewalk is my responsibility and I want to cooperate as much as possible,” said Ron Martinez, who owns Target Auto on South Van Ness Avenue and uses a wheelchair. “But economically, it’s not the right time to be doing it. If a resident is under financial duress it could put a big burden on them.”

Nevertheless, city officials said they have to keep the sidewalks safe and accessible. “If not, they can present a tripping hazard and people can get hurt,” said Christine Falvey, a spokesperson for the department.

The program — started in 2007 to replace one in which residents’ complaints drove repairs — disperses inspectors to major pedestrian corridors throughout the year. The goal is to repair all of the city’s damaged sidewalks by 2032.

“It’s a way for us to be pro-active instead of reactive” in respect to repairs, said Falvey.

It’s meant that wider swaths of the city’s walkways see improvement. More than 6,200 sidewalk repair projects have been completed through the program including 4,139 in 2008.

The year before the new system began, only about 1,300 stretches of sidewalk were repaired citywide, according to numbers provided by public works.

It’s also saved the city money.

In 2008 the city paid the lowest amount in claim settlements for sidewalk falls in more than a decade. The total was about $73,000; nearly 75 percent less than the $293,570 it paid out the year before the program started.

But while most residents welcome smoother sidewalks in the Mission, not all property owners appreciate the price tag that follows the surprise inspections.

A public works inspector leaves his mark on a Mission sidewalk.

“It’s disgusting,” said Paula Tejeda, owner of Chile Lindo, a restaurant on 22nd Street. She’d just delivered the repair notice tacked to her rent-controlled building on San Carlos Street to her landlady earlier this month. “They say they want to boost the economy, but the city’s passing on the buck to the small business owners.”

Falvey said most repairs cost property owners between $1,000 and $2,000. Property owners can defer payments of up to $4,000. And the city offers a loan option for payments ranging between $250 and $5,000, but that credit comes with a 12 percent administrative fee.

The notices could also cost at least one unlucky property owner more than the price of the sidewalk repairs. A property insurance inspector was taking note of the repair notice posted on one building along 22nd Street during a routine field check for potential liabilities.

“I wouldn’t have considered this a problem,” he said, demonstrating the shuffle step he uses to determine if cracks along the sidewalk are tripping hazards without incident.

“But it would have been irresponsible to ignore the notice.”

For Maria and Sam Guillory, though, who’ve owned their auto shop on 17th and South Van Ness for three decades, the notice came as a surprise — but not necessarily an unwelcome one.

About a year ago they started getting notices from public works to paint over graffiti on their storefront. At first it resurfaced overnight, but after six or so months of consistent repainting, the Guillorys won — the taggers went elsewhere.

The sidewalk repair initiative seemed like it could only help the neighborhood, said Maria Guillory.

“It’s our responsibility to take care of the sidewalk,” said her husband, who’s doing the majority of the repairs to save money. “That’s all there is to it.”

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Alissa studied everything Latin America in college and later spent a couple years helping homeless folks maneuver New York City's social service bureaucracies. So it's fitting that she now covers city services in the Mission District. She loves community reporting and eating burritos, and is very happy to be doing both here.

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  1. Now my sidewalk has been tagged which seems totally disproportionate with cracked sidewalks all around that are in a much worse state. Not that this is the first time – it’s cyclical. How do they come up with these guidelines? Why are these ‘inspectors’ so random? Well it looks like this year there will have to be some creative solutions and some rolling up of sleeves from yours truly.