The Board of Supervisors’ Tuesday vote on the so-called “$1.1 million wheelchair ramp for Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier” definitely exposed a bad situation. But not for the reasons stated by the supervisors who claimed the ramp expenditure was being shoved down their throats. And not for the reasons believed by the numerous Examiner letter writers who blasted this as the ultimate City Hall boondoggle, or the many anonymous callers who have been leaving Alioto-Pier messages saying she is a spoiled, selfish b-word.
The motion — which was defeated 6-5 — was only on a “certificate of appropriateness,” a required formality on any suggested changes to a historic site such as the supervisors’ meeting chamber. It would not have committed the board to spend a cent, since no bids for the project have even been solicited.
The ramp to the president’s raised podium was under study for three years and discussed at a number of public hearings before a gantlet of city preservationist and disability agencies, as well as the Planning Commission — all of which approved the final plan. No less than 18 designs for ramps and lifts were vetted by a special committee of disability and historic preservation experts. And funding for the project was already approved by the Board of Supervisors in this year’s capital budget.
And only about one-third of the $1.1 million — if indeed there is no lower bid — is specifically for the ramp. Costs on this combination project are mostly for updating the chamber’s audio-video system, which technicians have sought for two years. The a-v upgrade requires breaking through the concrete floor and replacing the outmoded wiring. Doing the ramp installation and podium lowering at the same time would save The City at least $150,000.
Alioto-Pier has been using a manual wheelchair since she became paraplegic in a ski accident at age 13. She sees convenient access to the president’s podium as necessary to her everyday duties. Normally at board meetings, supervisors move around to speed business by communicating in whispers with the president and each other. Alioto-Pier has also been effectually prevented from taking her turn as meeting chairwoman when the president is away from the podium.
To her, denial of the ramp is a civil rights issue that breaks a 1990s city promise to the disabled community during the $300 million City Hall renovation, and also a blatant violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. She intends to seek enforcement in federal court if the supervisors do not move forward to resolve the dispute.
Of course the costs for the ramp/a-v project should be kept as low as possible, especially when The City is entering into a major deficit year. But shutting down the project before any real spending was at stake just seems like the wrong thing to do.