Tuesday, April 26, 2005 • Beautifying Uptown Susanville may bring liability issues

Publisher’s note: This story originally appeared in the Tuesday, April 26, 2005, edition of the Lassen County Times.

One of the goals of the Historic Uptown Susanville Association is to add the beauty of flowers and trees to the sidewalks in front of businesses.

It sounds like a simple plan — place some planters near the curbs overflowing with summer flowers and trees.

However, because Main Street is Highway 36 and maintained by Caltrans, businesses must get encroachment permits to use the Caltrans right-of-way.

Initially, Caltrans did not charge for the permits that expired at the end of 2004. Now, it wants $82 per business for a two-year-permit and additional insurance coverage at a minimum of $10,000.

In March, HUSA Executive Director Bill Noonberg approached the City Council asking it to consider applying for a blanket encroachment permit from Caltrans.

According to Noonberg, if the city of Susanville applied for the encroachment permit, the businesses would not have to pay the fee or provide the certificate for extra insurance.

Interim City Administrator Luann Rainey said at the council’s April 12 meeting, the situation becomes more complicated because the city council must consider the implications of a blanket encroachment permit for all of Main Street.

“The largest concern that is raised by this request is the sidewalk liability,” Rainey wrote in her staff report. “By sponsoring the blanket encroachment permit for the placement of planters on the sidewalks within the Caltrans right-of-way, the city would be assuming liability for the proper placement and maintenance of the pants and any associated injuries that may occur due to those planters being placed within the sidewalk right-of-way.”

Noonberg, who has since resigned at HUSA director, told the council, “We live in a litigious society and if someone slips and falls they are going to sue everyone. They will pierce that veil and try to sue everyone. There are more ridiculous lawsuits in our local courts now.”

Noonberg’s last day as director is May 15.

Councilmember Lino Callegari said the city has to be involved in the beautification process of Uptown Susanville.

The encroachment permit would only be for planter boxes because Caltrans does not allow for anything else, said Rainey.

According to Public Works Director Craig Platt, the encroachment permit has to designate where the planters will be placed and how many planters will be used.

The council directed the staff and City Attorney Kathleen Lazard to look into the pros and cons further.