Janesville sidewalk program passes

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October 25, 2011
— Monday's outburst by a group of angry residents rarely, if ever, occurs in Janesville City Council chambers.

After the 4-3 vote to approve the 2012 sidewalk program, people started peppering council members with questions and comments, some louder than others. One man just stood and stared.

Exiting the chambers, residents turned their ire on seated staff members, as well.

The behavior of those present was unusual because residents don't often angrily address council members out of turn and as a group.

"Russ, where is your sidewalk?" one resident asked Councilman Russ Steeber.

"What about our trees?" asked another.

"It's a sham," said one, saying the council wasn't listening to residents, anyway.

"They don't remember who they work for, that's what they forget," yelled another on his way out.

"That's why we vote those people out," shouted one resident.

One man in the hall later accused several council members of having an "obsession" about sidewalks.

"It's a real dog and pony show," he said.

Afterward, residents hung around outside the closed chamber doors, talking angrily and loudly enough to bring out the police officer stationed inside. They stayed for almost 15 minutes.

Several council members appeared rattled after the confrontation.

"It's been a unique meeting," President George Brunner said later after having lost his concentration on another matter.

The council did make a change in the sidewalk program when members voted to lower the interest rate the city charges residents from 6 percent over five years to 3 percent over five years. That also will apply to people who built sidewalks in the program this year.

Only Councilman Yuri Rashkin voted against that change.

The council had delayed the sidewalk vote from Sept. 24 so all council members would be seated. Rashkin was absent for that meeting.

On Monday, Rashkin voted in favor of the sidewalk plan. New council members Sam Liebert and Deb Dongarra-Adams voted against the program, as did Tom McDonald. Joining Rashkin in voting for the measure were Steeber, Brunner and Kathy Voskuil.

The council in 2008 voted to complete the city's sidewalk program by closing gaps in the network and by building them along busy streets and to schools and parks. Council members then decided at least some sidewalks were needed for safety, especially for use by handicapped people.

The council opted to complete the plan over seven years to give residents ample time to plan financially.

Some speakers Monday disagreed with the safety argument, saying people often walk in streets anyway.

Sidewalks are controversial in Janesville because some residents are forced to have them and others aren't.

Before 1950, everyone was required to have sidewalks. Exceptions were later made when some subdivisions were platted. But other subdivisions had planned sidewalks that were never built because residents complained, and past councils didn't force the issue.

In 2006, the council voted to require sidewalks on both sides of the street in new subdivisions. The council approved the existing sidewalk plan in 2008 in hopes the city could eventually put the controversy behind it.

City staff has said it chooses sidewalks that will be built based on priority, with criteria including density, whether it is a collector or arterial street, zoned commercial, on a bus route or near schools.

The cost in 2012 to build a sidewalk in front of the average home of 80 feet wide is about $1,800, using the city charge of $28.50 a foot. Residents also can choose to have private contractors do the job, but the work must meet city standards.


The Janesville City Council on Monday deleted half of the funding for a skatepark that had been initially included in $14 million of borrowing.

Those who voted against the borrowing said they support the skatepark but times are tough. Residents must step forward and help make it a reality, they said. The council will borrow another $50,000 to demolish a building and clear the Jackson Street site.

Council members Yuri Rashkin and Sam Liebert voted to borrow the full $100,000.

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