SF lawmaker addresses disability neglect

March 5, 2008 11:47:28 PM PST
A San Francisco supervisor is threatening to sue the city over disability access. She says the board's refusal to add a wheelchair ramp to the board chamber violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, that project comes with a hefty price tag.

San Francisco Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier has been paralyzed since a skiing accident at age 13. She was sworn into office four years ago, forcing the city to address the issue of disability access, which became a national law in 1990.

San Francisco City Hall got a multi-million dollar makeover after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, but they put off making the supervisors' chambers accessible.

The problem lies behind the board president's podium. In the past, supervisors could walk up for private chats, but that's off limits to anyone who can't climb the stairs. One solution put forward after three and a half years of study, is a wheelchair ramp. That, along with audio visual upgrades, would cost nearly $1.2 million dollars.

"There's hundreds of thousands of dollars being actually used very wastefully to inflate the cost of this thing," says Supervisor Jake McGoldrick.

Supervisor McGoldrick voted down the design, along with a majority of the board. He says city contractors could do it cheaper.

His colleague, Alioto-Pier, says it's a civil rights issue and she is threatening to sue.

"Here we are in San Francisco, arguably the most liberal city in the nation, and the Board of Supervisors has voted down making the chambers accessible. What an outrage," says Supervisor Alioto-Pier.

The ramp design is tricky because City Hall is a state landmark and things like the Manchurian oak panels in the chamber must be preserved, but the head of the Mayor's Office on Disability says it's a must-do.

"This is not about Supervisor Alioto-Pier. This is about access to one of the most important seats in government, both literally and symbolically for the disability community," says Susan Mizner of the Mayor's Office on Disability.

She believes delaying the project will just increase costs.