Wheelchair ramp in San Francisco supervisors' chamber finally moves forward 

For years, Michela Alioto-Pier, who uses a wheelchair, fought for a ramp in the historic Board of Supervisors chamber in City Hall. Now, after much arguing, officials are finally talking about the details of installing the $529,000 ramp, and work could begin in August.  

The rub is that Alito-Pier is no longer on the board. She was termed out in January. And no current supervisor uses a wheelchair.

But Susan Mizner, the director of the Mayor’s Office on Disability, said making the board president’s podium wheelchair-accessible is still needed even without Alioto-Pier.

“It’s not just a matter of whether there would be a Board of Supervisors member who uses a wheelchair and is the president,” Mizner said. “To have the second-most powerful seat in city government be inaccessible is a strong and bad message that we don’t want to send to the [disabled] community.”

Plans to install a wheelchair ramp carried political overtones in 2008, and controversy intensified when the work was estimated to cost about $1 million.

Alioto-Pier was the only supervisor on the board who used a wheelchair and her moderate politics clashed with the progressive bloc. The board rejected the proposal two years ago, drawing sharp criticism from then-Mayor Gavin Newsom and Alioto-Pier, who threatened to sue The City.

But two years later, with a promise of a cheaper project, the board approved the design in September.
However, during the board’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting Wednesday, the debate continued about whether to borrow the $528,774 to pay for the project. Supervisor Jane Kim questioned whether constructing the ramp needed to be done right away.

“I’m still not convinced that this is a highly prioritized project,” Kim said. “I would prioritize facilities that serve the larger public.”

The project would lower the president’s podium and install a ramp, making it accessible.

The largest portion of the project cost is labor, at $201,678, which includes $119,279 for carpenters. The ramp’s bronze handrail costs $49,000. Included in the total cost is up to $51,042 to pay for about six off-site meetings of the Board of Supervisors while the work is being done.

The committee postponed a decision until next week.


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