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Encinitas addresses disabled access to municipal facilities, programs

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(Courtesy)

A half-dozen residents appeared at the start of a public meeting held by Encinitas officials Tuesday night, Oct. 2.

Yet, the dearth of participants illuminated the point of the City Hall session, some attendees said.

Resident Peter Stern noted to city officials conducting the meeting that no wheelchair-bound residents were present. Fellow resident Paul Murray elaborated.

“With regard to the individuals in wheelchairs that aren’t here — they can’t get here,” said Murray, an attorney who advocates for disabled individuals. “It is impossible to get around western Encinitas, specifically southwestern Encinitas, without putting your life at risk.”

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Tuesday’s forum aimed to collect public comment on the city’s plan to improve access for impaired individuals to municipal property, such as sidewalks, streets, parks and buildings, as well as services and programs.

Such plans are mandated by Section 504 of the American Disabilities Act enacted in 1973.

The section prohibits public agencies from excluding or denying individuals with disabilities to public facilities and activities, and requires that the agencies make reasonable efforts to comply.

In accordance with the federal act, the city and its companion agency, the San Dieguito Water District, performed a self-evaluation of their compliance.

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Based on the review’s findings, officials created a transition plan listing 37 projects Encinitas and the water district will pursue to achieve required accessibility at parks, beaches, trails, sidewalks and in other facilities and programs.

“It’s an aggressive transition plan that’s action-oriented, in my estimation,” said Tim Gibson, a city-hired consultant on ADA issues who moderated the public-comment portion of the meeting.

Major projects that are programmed for the future or are now in progress include:

 Pedestrian and bicycle crossing underneath the coastal railroad at El Portal Street (estimated completion: end of 2021; $10.2 million)

 Sidewalk, mobility and street improvements on Highway 101 from Basil Street to Jupiter Street (design process and approvals underway; $9.7 million)

 Pedestrian and bike undercrossing at Verdi Avenue (design underway, construction pending funding; $8.9 million)

 Sidewalks, pedestrian ramps and underground utilities on Birmingham Drive from San Elijo Avenue to Mackinnon Avenue (project pending funding over next 10 years; $8.7 million)

 Sidewalks, mobility and street improvements on Highway 101 from A Street to Basil Street (design and approvals underway; $7.8 million)

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Other projects include accessible trail connections in Olivenhain and the development of a new 3.1-acre park at Olympus and Piraeus streets.

Like many communities with infrastructure dating from the early and mid-20th century before the ADA’s passage, Encinitas, since becoming a city in 1986, has struggled with attaining compliance.

Participants in Tuesday’s session expressed frustration that the city has not made more progress in improving wheelchair and pedestrian access.

“We’re putting more effort and energy into the weekend bicycler than we are to the citizen with a disability and I find it misaligned and inappropriate,” Stern said.

Michael Murphy said the city’s improvement plans on the northwest side of town — the Leucadia Highway 101 streetscape project, for example — are primarily oriented to northerly and southerly movements.

“There’s a few things being done, but we need a lot more east-east, because that is what we’re worrying about (as) we’re doing a lot north-south,” Murphy said.

By the end of the two-hour dialogue, the audience had grown to a dozen residents, approximating the number of city employees and hired consultants present.

One of the late arrivals was resident Joel Gomez, who said he is legally blind and a competitive runner in the Paralympics.

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He suggested the city look into providing more audible signals at intersections and placing center lines on walking paths to help pedestrians avoid blocking the paths of the visually impaired.

“When our cities are easily navigable for the blind, we will have created places that are safe and navigable for everyone,” Gomez said.

Wrapping up the meeting, Jace Schwarm, the city’s ADA coordinator and risk manager, said the staff would analyze the public comments and submit them to the City Council. The council is scheduled to review and reprioritize projects on the transition plan in early 2020.

“It is a living, breathing document,” she said.


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