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[whitespace] Problems caused by a buckled sidewalk finally smoothed out

Saratoga--While the city tested new benches, planters and trash bins on Big Basin Way recently, as part of the Village Revitalization Project, farther up the street, Lea Anne Hernandez was quietly stewing about a perilous section of raised sidewalk sitting untouched, in the margins between state priorities and city jurisdiction.

Hernandez said that she had twisted her ankle several times on the 6-inch fault, located just outside her family's business, the Saratoga Oaks Lodge. But things got worse last spring and summer when two different guests of the lodge tripped on the sidewalk, one badly injuring her face in the fall, according to Hernandez.

City officials sent Hernandez to CalTrans after the first tumble, which occurred last spring. Sidewalks are legally CalTrans' territory; City Manager Dave Anderson said the city only repairs walkways when it can't rouse the state to do it. Despite the city's intervention, CalTrans put a construction barrier over the raised section, but didn't make the repair at that time.

Hernandez renewed her effort with the city this spring, calling on Anderson, who lives across the street from the fault, several weeks ago.

When the city pressed CalTrans about the crack, Oakland District Supervisor Steve Ross told Saratoga officials it would be fixed in late March or early April. But nobody from CalTrans ever materialized on upper Big Basin during that time.

Then on April 18, a day after the city's pilot Revitalization Project took shape, the city stirred CalTrans to action. Saratoga Public Works Director John Cherbone told CalTrans' Ross--in no uncertain terms--that the crack needed to be fixed.

Later that day workers filled in the crack temporarily with asphalt and the next week that portion of the sidewalk was completely gutted and repaired.

"It goes to show what the threat of exposure does," said Hernandez, who called the Saratoga News about the crack, just a day before CalTrans appeared.

Anderson said it's not the first time the state organization has failed to fix damaged sidewalks; in dire cases, Anderson said, the city will step in and make repairs, which it did in front of the village's New Amsterdam Café recently.

But he said he's reluctant to bring the city in on every case.

"If we start fixing more sidewalks then we'll end up doing all of them," said Anderson. "We're trying to let CalTrans do their thing."

Herman Ramirez, the Santa Clara County maintenance manager for CalTrans, said this is the first he had heard of the Big Basin problem. And he insisted that the agency generally acts quickly on complaints, even if it's not clear that CalTrans is responsible.

"If there is a conflict, we'll iron it out later," said Ramirez, who took his post in November.

CalTrans has called a May 25 hearing about a claim filed against it by Sacramento resident Dorothy Liston, who fell outside Saratoga Oaks in August. In March, CalTrans chose to reject Liston's initial personal injury claim. Any legal action brought by Liston would be served at the May hearing, according to a CalTrans official in Sacramento.

At the upper end of Big Basin Way, Hernandez thought the roots of a fruitless fig tree nearby might be causing the problem. Perhaps we haven't heard the last of the wrinkled sidewalk.

For now, she's happy.

"If the city wants to have business up past Fifth Street they need to have a navigable sidewalk," said Hernandez.
Oakley Brooks

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Web extra to the May 3-9, 2001 issue of Metro.

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