Seven years after Santa Rosa agreed to make its buildings, parks and sidewalks easier to navigate for people with disabilities, the city is still chipping away at the multimillion-dollar problem.
Many of the upgrades the city has made — from lowering hand dryers in public bathrooms for people in wheelchairs to adding yellow tactile warning strips at intersections for the visually impaired — have been installed with little fanfare.
But some of the bigger projects, pushed off because of their high cost, are now underway, some in highly visible locations that significantly raise the projects’ profiles.
The work in and around the 152-acre Howarth Park, the city’s busiest, is one such example.
The city recently ripped out and replaced a long stretch of buckled sidewalk along Summerfield Road next to the park’s lower parking lot. As part of the project, the city cut down several large mature trees, whose roots had forced several concrete slabs upward.
“It’s pretty noticeable,” said Claude Taeuffer, a crew supervisor for the Transportation and Public Works Department performing the work. “If you drive along Summerfield Road and for years you’ve seen these large trees there and all of a sudden they’re gone, it’s like day and night.”
Over the years, the city did what it could to reduce the risk of someone tripping over the lifted sidewalk sections, including smoothing the joints or patching over them. But the ongoing damage from the roots was severe, and the city decided it was better to remove 15 liquidambar trees and grind down the stumps before installing the new sidewalks, Taeuffer said.
The project is just one of hundreds the city has completed over the past several years at a total cost of $7.5 million.
In 2008, investigators from the U.S. Attorney General’s Office conducted an audit of 40 city facilities in 2008, identifying nearly 200 violations of the federal Americans With Disabilities Act.
The following year the city entered into a settlement with the DOJ, agreeing to fix the problems over five years at what was a then-estimated cost of $2.9 million.
The settlement also required the city to assess another 50 sites across the city, eventually identifying a total of 1,347 modifications needed.
The vast majority of the projects originally identified by the DOJ are now complete.
One that remains is the replacement of 1,140 feet of pathways at Skyhawk Park, most of which had cross-slopes exceeding ADA guidelines. The city is spending about $330,000 on those upgrades, which are expected to be finished next month.
The city has been spending about $1.2 million per year to address the issues, and expects to continue for the foreseeable future.
“There’s never going to be an end to it,” said Rebecca West, a risk management analyst with the city, because the city will always need to ensure existing and new buildings, parks, sidewalks and other facilities are compliant with what is an ever-changing area of law.
Taeuffer said his crew isn’t done with the Howarth Park work. Soon the only vehicle entrance to the park will have to be closed for a few days to allow his workers to install the new curb cuts, he said. They hope a temporary entrance will make it manageable.