NorCal SCI meets Santa Clara County leaders to advance accessibility issues

NorCal SCI co-founders, Nick and Franklin, had a successful meeting last week with Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors Ken Yeager and his Policy Director, Brian Darrow as well as Don Rocha, Interim Director and Janet Hawks, Deputy Director of Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation, as part of their efforts to address accessibility issues at Santa Clara County’s parks and lakes.

The meeting was requested as a follow up to the accessibility issues encountered during the Day On The Lake event that was held at Vasona Park and Lake in Los Gatos last June. While nearly 100 persons with disabilities were able to take part in various water-based activities, the lack of accessibility at the dock made it a very challenging day for the scores of volunteers who were determined to make sure everyone got into the kayaks and boats safely and had an enjoyable time.

   Left to right: Nick, Franklin, Supervisor Yeager

Left to right: Nick, Franklin, Supervisor Yeager

Prior to the meeting, Nick and Franklin had met with Janet to better understand the County’s plans to deal with the many accessibility issues. As the Deputy Director, Janet is the point person overseeing the work the county is undertaking to make its parks and lakes comply with requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other statutes. Janet was great to meet with as she shared detailed work the county has been working on for over a year to study and identify all the accessibility issues existing at its vast collection of parks and lakes systems. In fact, she shared a copy of the comprehensive report that had identified all the work that needed to be done at each facility.

While the report was extremely revealing, what we didn’t see was timeframe and budget to accomplish all the work. A back-of-the-envelope calculation led us to believe that all the work would cost tens of millions of dollars and years to complete. However, she spared us the uncertainty by revealing that a budget of $1 million dollars was set aside for all the work with a completion timeframe of 10 years. At that point, we knew that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to draw attention to this issue because there was a clear disparity between the reality of the work involved and the budget/schedule that had been suggested.

Franklin had met Supervisor Yeager and Brian at the August 13th meeting of the Board of Supervisors which was awarding a commendation recognizing the Day On The Lake event. Brian was kind enough to schedule a meeting with all of us during which we addressed our concerns with all the parties in attendance. Another motivating factor for us was that we knew the Day On The Lake event in 2019 was very much going to be scheduled and some significant changes needed to be made to the dock that launched all the activities. So, that was a high priority for us to nail down.

The meeting was warm and collaborative. Following a presentation by Nick and Franklin, we all started discussing the details. Supervisor Yeager was curious how much all the upgrade work at Vasona would cost and Janet delivered the shocking news: estimate of $7 million just for Vasona to be brought up to all the codes and updates. That confirmed our suspicion that to do all the facilities, we’d be looking at tens of millions and perhaps in excess of $100 million in costs. Another pressing issue we learned about was the lack of qualified engineers to oversee all the projects. Thanks to several retirements, there will be some staffing challenges which would add to the length of time all these projects would require.

Clearly, there are a slew of challenges facing us to advance this issue within the County. Supervisor Yeager made the suggestion that we focus, for now, our efforts on Vasona and the dock and upgrading that entire staging area and facility. Don and Janet wholeheartedly agreed and committed to begin the process of developing a plan and cost estimates for the Board to take up separately from the rest of the work needed for the entire system. We’re grateful to everyone in attendance for their spirit of cooperation

While we’ve offered our complete cooperation and collaboration with Janet and Don, we will continue to work on addressing the rest of the work at all parks and lakes within the county. Our next steps are to meet with every supervisor and push to adequately fund and schedule for completion the work required. We will continue with this effort and look to galvanize others within the SCI communities throughout Northern California to do the same as this challenge is everywhere.