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Are Philadelphia's Sidewalk Cafes Overstepping Their Bounds?

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The city controller says many of Philadelphia's sidewalk cafes are flouting the law, creating obstacles for pedestrians. He suggests stiffer fines for violations.

Controller Alan Butkovitz says his office visited nearly 400 places that have, or had, permits to operate on the sidewalk and found nearly a third of them with some kind of violation; expired permits, furniture placed over ventilation grates, at curbside, or occupying more than half the sidewalk.

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"The city of Philadelphia has spent millions of dollars cutting out sidewalk corners so that people in wheelchairs, people with baby carriages, people with disabilities can cross at intersections," Butkovitz said. And now, those same people can't get down the block."

Butkovitz says most of the offenders had been cited but the fines are too low to discourage the violations. He suggests tougher measures, as some other cities have taken, like Sarasota, which hauls away the furniture of offenders.

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Pat O'Donnell, of the Philadelphia Streets Department Right-of-Way Unit, which enforces sidewalk cafe laws, says increasing the fines and the cost of a license to operate might help but he's not sure about removing tables and chairs.

He says when the department has a problem with repeat offenders, they work with Licenses and Inspections to issue a "cease" order on the cafe owner and, he says, that's been effective.

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