South Lake resident pleas for access |

South Lake resident pleas for access

There are 75 South Shore buildings Trevor Snowdin can’t get into.

Snowdin, who uses a wheelchair, spent more than eight hours conducting his own personal inspection of South Shore businesses.

“I’m like the Grinch, pointing out who is naughty and who is nice,” said Snowdin, a professional snowboarder who was paralyzed from the waist down in 1997 during a big air competition. “Out of 295 places, 220 were good and 75 were bad. I basically went to every building from Meyers to Stateline, businesses, grocery stores, motels. Motels are the worst. Most of them aren’t accessible. If a building is not independently accessible then it’s an issue.”

Snowdin said his goal is to promote awareness and inspire businesses to do what they can to accommodate disabled people.

“Generally I don’t go hunt these things out, but I guess I’m the new inspector,” he said. “And until you say something, no one’s going to do anything about it. People are trying to cut corners and it seems like it’s never addressed until someone brings it up.”

Who is paid to conduct inspections and who enforces Americans with Disabilities Act codes are also issues of concern, Snowdin said.

“It’s like there’s no enforcement at all,” he said. “There are only lawsuits and if you don’t bring it up, it never gets changed. That’s the way it is. The city might have an ADA inspector, but they’re not doing their job. Obviously, they’re not, because I’m coming across what they’re missing. I mean, they may as well just give me a job.”

Despite his frustrations, Snowdin said there are many places in town that have made efforts to accommodate disabled people.

“All of the churches are good,” he said. “I want to give people credit who have put in that effort. Tahoe Furs, for example, they don’t have ADA code ramps but they took a piece of plywood and nailed it to their stairs, so at least I can roll in. I’m proud of the people who are compliant. Those businesses deserve respect.”

But businesses aren’t the only areas in question, according to Snowdin, who said many city sidewalks are not accessible.

“I also have a complaint for the city,” Snowdin said. “There are a lot of places where there’s no down slope on the curbs at crosswalks. Or some intersections have a down slope on only one side. So you can cross the street, but you can’t get up the curb on the other side. So then the light turns green and I’m in the middle of the street.”

n Code confusion

The ADA, a federal civil rights law, was passed in 1990 and is aimed at ensuring equal access to all public goods and services. Under the law, any new facility constructed or structurally remodeled in the past 10 years must meet certain accessibility standards.

“Buildings should be up to whatever code was in effect at the time that building was constructed or remodeled,” said Mike Paravangna, chief of the California ADA implementation section. “The codes change as time goes on.”

According to city officials, there is some confusion as to what ADA rules and guidelines actually are.

“From the business owners’ perspective, they’re in some funny spots,” said Duane Wallace, executive director of the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce. “They want to comply, but they’re not sure what the law is. Also, when they go to remodel, it triggers a whole lot of other things. Our buildings here are so old, it triggers a lot of things through (the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency) that would be very expensive. So, in some cases, there’s kind of the head in the sand approach.

“The laws are confusing and scary, but that shouldn’t keep us from trying. (The issue) is not going to go away. It needs to become a part of doing business and a part of our planning. We need to accommodate every citizen.”

Mayor Tom Davis addressed the confusion surrounding the laws, as well as Snowdin’s concerns about city streets.

“I think it’s important you notify the owners what the problems are first,” Davis said. “Every business owner I know wants to be compliant. They need to know what the compliancy laws are. The chamber and (South Lake Tahoe) lodging association are taking leadership with that, through seminars. As far as handicap accessibility on (U.S.) Highway 50, we have plans that I have been advocating for 10 years. All the new curbs and sidewalks will be ADA compliant. That will be started in 2003 and Caltrans is implementing that project. This is a serious issue and I think we, as a council, will continue to look into the issue and see what solutions we can find.”

n A business owner’s viewpoint

Many business owners agreed the laws lack clarity.

Rockwater Tavern Steakhouse on Emerald Bay Road opened over the summer, replacing El Sol.

Like its predecessors, the new tavern is not ADA accessible. However, the owner is not violating ADA codes, since the building was constructed more than 10 years ago and the remodel was strictly cosmetic.

“We didn’t change the structure, we just cleaned it up,” said owner Bob Richards, whose restaurant is the seventh in that location. “We did a facelift. Basically, all we had to pull a permit for in this whole construction process was some plumbing work. This building was built in the ’40s and because we did cosmetic work and not structural work we’re not in violation. We kept the structure exactly the same. So this is what we have to work with. This is what we inherited. If I went and bought a brand new building, would it be accessible? Yes it would. But we’re using what we have to work with and trying to accommodate people with disabilities.”

Richards said his carpenter built a temporary ramp which provides access to the restaurant.

“The last thing I want to do is turn away business and you can get into the building via the temporary ramp,” he said. “This is one of the oldest buildings in Tahoe, but I want people to understand we are accessible. With as much effort as it takes to get up a ramp, you can get into my building.”

n Clearing confusion and evolving

Makeshift ramps are not ADA compliant because they may not meet size guidelines, according to Paravagna, who elaborated on private sector code laws.

“We need to break it down between public sectors and private sectors,” he said. “Private sectors are privately owned public accommodations. Those business owners are responsible for doing what we call Readily Achievable Barrier Removal. That means, they should look at their operation and look at their resources and remove those barriers that are affordable to them.”

But only doing what is affordable means a number of businesses at South Shore are only partially up to code, Snowdin said.

“Why paint a parking placard when you can’t even get into the building?” he asked. “And a lot of times I can’t even get a parking spot because some guy gets issued a spot and then I see him jump out of his car and run into the store. I’m not too sure who deserves to be in a disabled parking space because it seems like everyone is crippled these days. It seems like there are a million different excuses why a spot can be issued. I think elderly people and wheelchair people deserve those spots, not just some guy who had surgery or something.”

Paravagna said making affordable improvements is a good place to start.

“Hopefully people are evolving toward a place where not only do they paint their parking lot, but they also have facilities that are accessible to people with disabilities.”

ADA codes are enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice. For information about laws, call 1-800-514-0301.

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