Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | July 24, 2007

Political will is necessary to solve chronic problems

Last week I had my first experiences behind a wheelchair. My mother had foot surgery and needed a wheelchair to maneuver around her apartment and to and from my car for post-op appointments.

Unlike strollers, the last non-motorized wheeled transport I wrangled, wheelchairs are heavy. After repeatedly hoisting the wheelchair in and out of my trunk on Friday, my back hurt like Hades.

In addition to renewing my appreciation for Advil, the experience left me with a new appreciation for smooth, even sidewalks.

Trying – and failing – to push an occupied wheelchair over a slightly uneven section of sidewalk was a real eye opener. I had to give up and go around the uneven section to get my mother to her destination.

But going around isn’t always an option. Coming across a section of buckled or crumbling sidewalk can be as insurmountable a barrier as a brick wall for someone in a wheelchair.

The experience gave me an idea, one I’m sure that Gilroy’s leaders won’t appreciate: Because trip-and-fall lawsuits – lots of them – haven’t spurred them to find a solution to the decades-long problem of crumbling sidewalks, maybe a lawsuit based on federal ADA statutes might.

As a general rule, I’m not one to advocate litigation, but our courts do exist for a purpose, and forcing compliance with laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act is a legitimate one.

The city of Sacramento was the subject of an ADA-and-sidewalk-related lawsuit that was settled in 2004. According to Disability Rights Advocates, the nonprofit legal group that filed Barden v. Sacramento, “The settlement provides that … Sacramento will allocate 20 percent of its annual Transportation Fund to make the City’s Pedestrian Rights of Way accessible to individuals with vision and/or mobility disabilities. This will include installation of compliant curb ramps at intersections, removal of barriers that obstruct the sidewalk, including narrow pathways, abrupt changes in level, excessive cross slopes, and overhanging obstructions, and improvements in crosswalk access.”

The settlement came after a 2002 ruling by the 9th District U.S. Court of Appeals that “public sidewalks in the state’s capital are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act and must be accessible to the disabled.” (Law.com)

While crumbling sidewalks aren’t mentioned specifically, they seem to be in the spirit of the appeals court’s ruling, at least to my non-legally trained mind.

Crumbling sidewalks have plagued Gilroy for years, but it seems that city leaders lack the political will to find a real solution. An ADA-based lawsuit might just inspire officials to find that will.

It reminds me of a chronic problem in Morgan Hill that no one seems to have the political will to fix: underfunded and unfair landscape assessment districts.

Morgan Hill currently administers 20 small districts, called subareas, to pay for maintenance at 20 city parks. These districts’ costs are covered by a small number of homeowners in each district, but the parks are open to everyone.

It’s frustrating, I know, because I live in one of those subareas. Twenty-six homeowners in my subdivision pay to maintain a park with playground equipment, half basketball courts, horseshoe courts, covered picnic tables and charcoal grills, and a large lawn.

It’s understandably difficult to convince subarea homeowners to raise their taxes for the parks that they alone pay to maintain but that everyone can use. In 2005, of 16 underfunded subareas, only five agreed to increase their assessments. Another election for underfunded subareas is about to take place.

A park in one of those subareas, Conte Gardens, is surrounded by private, homeowners-association-maintained parks that the 11 Conte Gardens homeowners can’t use. They’ve refused to increase their landscape assessment and now Conte Gardens Park is such an eyesore that HOA neighbors are offering to mow the grass if the city would just plant some.

It’s not an ADA lawsuit, but perhaps the perfect illustration that Conte Gardens Park provides of the inequities and flaws in the current system will finally give Morgan Hill City Council the political will to enact the only real solution: Creating a citywide landscape assessment district so that all city residents pay for parks open to all city residents. It’s a solution I advocated two years ago.

Sometimes it takes a strong shove – whether it’s from an expensive lawsuit or an embarrassment like Conte Gardens Park – for leaders to find their political will. I hope that leaders in Gilroy and Morgan Hill can finally solve these chronic problems to eliminate inequities and improve quality of life for all residents in both communities.

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Responses

  1. I discuss the Barden case on this week’s episode of “Perils For Pedestrians’. Here’s the info:

    Tuesday, November 27, The Universityhouse Channel will show Episode 138 of “Perils For Pedestrians” — “The ADA and Sidewalks”.

    Contents of Episode 138 (2007):
    –The Coordinator of Research at the US Access Board explains how the Americans With Disabilities Act applies to sidewalks.
    –A lawyer in Barden v. Sacramento discusses the lawsuit, which determined that sidewalks are a government program covered by the ADA.
    –A plaintiff in Barden v. Sacramento describes the negotiations that led to the settlement.

    DISH Network Channel 9411 — The Universityhouse Channel
    Tuesday — 9:30 PM Eastern, 6:30 Pacific

    Episode 138 is also available on Google Video:
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6783218059010695745

    Note: Public access cable channels are showing different episodes than DISH Network.

    Thank you.

  2. “Perils For Pedestrians” is moving to blip.tv

    Episode 138, on The ADA and Sidewalks, is now at http://blip.tv/file/2764867

    Other episodes are at http://pedestrians.blip.tv


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