Lake Oswego evaluates plans to improve accessibility
To comply with federal requirements, the city of Lake Oswego recently conducted a study to identify deficiencies in its infrastructure that make navigating the town harder for people with disabilities.
The study identified accessibility barriers at the Lakewood Center for the Arts, the Lake Oswego Public Library, the Lake Oswego Municipal Golf Course and the South Shore Fire Station, among many other buildings in town.
Common examples of ADA deficiencies included insufficient pathways and sidewalks for people in wheelchairs to access facilities. The city also is looking at barriers in its programming and activities that could hinder access.
The city is required to create a transition plan toward correcting deficiencies and a timeline for when they would be implemented. The expectation is for the plan to be complete by the end of the year.
The city will prioritize projects that relate to accessing public facilities over bolstering commercial and residential access, Public Works Director Erica Rooney said.
"We will have a game plan, say a 15-20 year plan, on how to fix all the improvements in the right-of-way and publicly owned properties," she said.
How quickly the city completes improvement projects will depend on available funding and City Council prioritization. City Manager Martha Bennett noted that the city often has limited resources for capital improvement projects. She added that the litigation risk is another factor to consider in terms of the urgency with which to conduct improvements.
"This is a plan that cannot sit on the shelf if we do not want to get sued," Bennett said, adding that capital needs are allocated based on council priorities. "If we have a complaint or if someone does challenge us, they are going to look to see, 'Well you adopted this plan. Are you actually making the investments you said you were going to make? '"
A further complication could be the charter amendment voters passed in 2021, according to Rooney. That amendment limits the ability of the city to make improvements at certain local parks.
Lake Oswego City Councilor Aaron Rapf thought the city should prioritize improving accessibility over affordable housing initiatives and mentioned the city's demolition fee as a revenue source.
"This is so much bigger for me than ADA. This is civil rights. It's about protecting everyone who lives here so they all can enjoy the experience of Lake Oswego the same way," he said, adding: "This should be prioritized. We shouldn't be talking about affordable housing. We should be talking about roads, pathways, ADA access in Lake Oswego, taking care of people who live here in Lake Oswego, who have invested their time."
Mayor Joe Buck thought that the need for ADA investments dovetailed with affordable housing.
"Often people with disabilities are some of the most marginalized and struggle on multiple levels … I think it's important we keep in mind it's not about closing off, but opening up the city to as many folks as possible," Buck said.
Some improvements the city already has made, ADA coordinator Kelli Byrd said, included adding assisted listening devices and other mechanisms to improve sound for the hard of hearing at Lake Oswego City Hall and the Adult Community Center.
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