People with disabilities and advocates for accessibility urged the Bend City Council on Wednesday night to continue building sidewalks, curb ramps and other infrastructure, despite a recent U.S. Department of Justice decision to stop monitoring the city’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Nancy Stevens, who is blind, said that without certain traffic devices, it is still dangerous to cross many streets in Bend.
“To tell you the truth, what I have to do is stand at the intersection, listen (for cars) and run like hell,” Stevens said.
Jordan Ohlde, who uses a wheelchair, said he is forced to drive through the streets in areas without sidewalks.
“I even had to come down tonight using the bus, and I’m going to leave here in my (wheelchair), going down the sidewalk,” Ohlde said. “I would just urge you all to keep doing what’s right for the city of Bend and the people with disabilities.”
Advocate Michael Funke said some of his friends with disabilities feel defeated by the DOJ decision to stop monitoring the city’s compliance with federal law.
“One person told me ‘no one cares what happens to us,’” Funke said. “Imagine what it must feel like to live in a town that continues to break civil rights law for 24 years. … We’ve heard it all before, for years and for decades.”
Funke said the city should use the proceeds from the planned $1.9 million sale of a 3-acre parcel at the northeast corner of Wall Street and Olney Avenue to pay for projects to make the city more accessible to people with disabilities. The city purchased the property for $4.78 million in 2005 from construction company CEO Todd Taylor and developer Jeff Pickhardt, with the intention of building a new City Hall.
City councilors responded to the comments later in the meeting. Mayor Pro Tem Jodie Barram said she appreciated Funke’s creative proposal, but the city must use the money from the land sale to pay off debt it still owes on the property. Barram said she has observed a change in the city’s approach to accessibility, which is now integrated into all Public Works Department projects.
“I do think I’ve seen a shift, particularly over the last three years,” Barram said.
City Councilor Sally Russell said she appreciated comments on the subject, but also said some of the problems mentioned happened awhile ago and the city is doing a better job of improving accessibility today. Russell cited as an example the full-time accessibility manager the city hired more than a year ago.
City Manager Eric King said the city is now focusing more on “complete streets” that include the infrastructure for several types of travel, including sidewalks and bike lanes.
The Justice Department announced last month that it had closed the case against the city for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, despite a backlog of uncompleted work the city had agreed to do under a 2004 federal settlement.
In other business Wednesday night, the City Council voted unanimously to approve up to approximately $1.3 million for sewer engineering designs to improve the system on the north end of the city. The project is one of three identified by a citizen advisory committee as short-term solutions to the city’s sewer woes, which include bottlenecks in some areas.
The project on the north edge of the city is supposed to prolong the life of other existing portions of the sewer system in the area and alleviate a capacity shortage, according to a city staff report.
Principal engineer Aaron Collett said city employees hope to complete the design for the first portion of the project by March and then begin construction.
“We’re well aware that there’s development pressure and this set of projects are schedule critical,” Collett said.
The City Council also voted unanimously to approve the creation of three advisory committees to help shape a new plan for the city’s growth boundary. There is a total of 57 people on the committees.
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