Vasona Lake boating accessibility initiative gains traction

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The timing of the first meeting by the Santa Clara County Parks & Recreation Dept. to begin its community outreach in support of the planned construction of a fully accessible boating center at Vasona Lake & Park in Los Gatos couldn’t have been any better. It was exactly a year ago when NorCal SCI co-founders, Nick and Franklin, met with Janet Hawks, then interim director of the Dept. in an attempt to address and advocate for a complete access for persons with physical disabilities to the beautiful facility’s boating center. And so, it was great to finally see the wheels of progress moving when at the Fri., Sept. 20th meeting, the Dept. unveiled its approach to the work that will be involved in constructing the new facility.

Representing the disability community were Franklin and Ashley Lyn Olson, a paraplegic and founder of wheelchairtraveling.com. The meeting was led by Yu-Wen Huang, the Capital Projects Manager for the County Parks as well as several other individuals from the Dept., the Los Gatos Recreation Center and Sandis, the engineering consulting company hired to develop a road map for completing this $600,000 project the County Board of Supervisors approved in Dec. of 2018 following lobbying by NorCal SCI and two Supervisors, Mike Wasserman and Ken Yeager.

The 90-minute meeting focused on the timeline of the project, the various entities that need to be involved with the permitting and construction work, identify concerns and goals provided by LGRC (which helps run the Boating Center at Vasona Lake), and last, but not the least, solicit critical feedback from the disability community. Ashley was great speaking about her background and passion for the outdoors and shared various ideas about how to make the facility accessible, particularly for wheelchair users while Franklin pushed for providing assisted access to the facility, meaning that for persons who require physical assistance to enjoy the amenities of the boating center, staff at the boating center must be trained and available to assist.

There were legitimate concerns about training, liability and not knowing how each person with a physical disability requiring assistance needs to be accommodated and a lively discussion took place on this critical subject as the main hope was that this would be a self-service facility, meaning that individuals with a physical disability would either have to get into the boats on their own or with the assistance of their companions. Franklin, a quadriplegic, used himself as an example by saying “I’d like to come to the lake by myself and get assistance from the staff to safely and comfortably be fitted into a kayak and go out on the lake.”

The Director of Engineering at Sandis, Chad Browning, was attentive to our concerns while seeking further input and assistance from Ashley and Franklin. Though there was some nervousness from various attendees, there seemed to be a better understanding of the disability community’s needs and expectations from this project and everyone was committed to developing solutions.

This project is likely to take 2-3 years to complete as there is a lot of burdensome permitting that needs to take place while more input is sought. There will be two more community meetings that will take place in the months ahead and Ashley and Franklin offered to provide additional resources and experts Sandis and the County can consult with. NorCal SCI is committed to stay on top of this project’s progress as well as notifying the community of future discussions and work.