San Francisco residents on hook to pay for missing handrail replacement

Every day, 67-year-old Gabriel Lampert climbs the concrete stairs at 48th Avenue and Balboa Street to walk his dog in the Balboa Natural Area near Lands End.

There is a problem, though: The steep portion at the bottom of those stairs is missing a handrail on the west side of the street. This creates a potential safety hazard for Lampert and the dozens of elderly residents living on 48th Avenue in the Richmond district who need to use the stairs to go about their daily lives.

Lampert, who noticed that the handrail had been removed when he moved to the neighborhood two years ago, said he watches with bated breath as senior citizens try to maneuver the stairs.

“I’ve almost fallen. I worry for the day someone does,” Lampert said.

He and others would like to see the handrail replaced. The question is, who is responsible for fixing it?

Many sidewalks and staircases throughout San Francisco, such as the one at 48th and Balboa, are private property and thus are considered the responsibility of the property owner, not The City.  

According to Gloria Chan, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works, the stairs are part of the property at 4706 Balboa Ave. The owner of the property could not be reached for comment.

The stairs were probably built by private developers or neighborhood associations years ago, Chan said. If The City was not the one to create the stairs, Chan said, it is not The City’s responsibility to maintain them.

“This is a problem all over The City,” Myrna Melgar, an aide to Supervisor Eric Mar, said about the issue of who should maintain private stairwells used by the public. Mar’s office has been working with Lampert to find a way to fix the handrail. The supervisor represents the Richmond.

The stairs themselves run against the wall of the multiunit building. It is not known how or why the handrail was removed.

For now, Lampert and others will need to find a way to raise the money to do it themselves. The cost can be $5,000 or more for the work and another $150 for a permit.

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