Government versus private business — and the dictatorship of one

In several posts over the last few days, I’ve commented about Disney efficiency.  Thousands of people are fairly painlessly shuffled from place to place; Fast Passes are a think of beauty, especially if individuals handle them well; everything is immaculately clean, including the overused bathrooms; the equipment functions superbly well considering the demands made upon it; and the people who work there are pleasant and handle their jobs with competence.  The whole place is a testament to corporate efficiency.  Many, however, think corporations are bad things (Obama, anyone?) and, if elected, assure us that they will see to it that the government will manage more and more aspects of our lives (healthcare, anyone?).

For those of you who think this liberal vision is a good thing, I’d like to give you a little example of how the government handles things, along with the added bonus of some insight into how disability advocates view society’s obligations to them:

Where else but San Francisco City Hall could a 10-foot-long wheelchair ramp wind up costing $1 million?

Thanks to a maze of bureaucratic indecision and historic restrictions, taxpayers may shell out $100,000 per foot to make the Board of Supervisors president’s perch in the historic chambers accessible to the disabled.

What’s more, the little remodel job that planners first thought would take three months has stretched into more than four years – and will probably mean the supervisors will have to move out of their hallowed hall for five months while the work is done.

“It’s crazy,” admits Susan Mizner, director of the mayor’s Office on Disability. “But this is just the price of doing business in a historic building.”

Supervisor Jake McGoldrick said Tuesday that the issue went to the heart of liberal guilt that often drives the city’s decision making. He also choked on the price tag, and asked that the board take some more time to come up with an alternative, like maybe just getting rid of the president’s elevated seat.

The root of the problem dates back to when City Hall got a $300 million makeover in the 1990s that made just about every hallway, bathroom and office accessible to the disabled. The exception was the board president’s podium, which is reachable only for someone who can climb the five steps from the chamber floor.

The understanding was that the room would eventually be made fully accessible. But no one worried about the podium until 2004 when Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, who uses a wheelchair, joined the board.

City architect Tony Irons and representatives of the state Office of Historic Preservation – which had to be consulted to make sure the city was sensitive to the building’s designation as a state landmark – were called in to take measurements.

Then preservation architects from the San Francisco firm Page and Turnbill worked up no fewer than 18 design options – at a cost of $98,000 – with ideas ranging from an electric lift to abandoning the president’s lordly podium altogether.

No one could decide which design to use, so after a year of arguing, the Department of Public Works was ordered to make 3-D computer models of all the options.

The ramp won, which means lowering the president’s desk, which means eliminating three of the “historic” stairs and tearing out Manchurian oak panels that are no longer available, which in turn will mean finding a historically correct replacement.

And because the ramp was going to encroach on the room’s sound equipment, officials decided they might as well use the opportunity to upgrade the board chamber’s entire audio-visual system, to the tune of $300,000.

Here’s what else is going into the million-dollar ramp:

– $77,000 for the city’s Bureau of Architecture project manager, design and construction fees.

– $455,000 for the actual construction, plus asbestos removal.

– $28,000 for a construction scheduling consultant.

– $3,500 for an electrical consultant.

– $68,000 for the Bureau of Construction Management to oversee the construction and various consultants.

– $12,000 for Department of Technology and Information Services oversight.

– $16,500 for permits and fees. (Yes, believe it or not, the city charges itself.)

– And as much as $65,000 for bid overruns.

All for a total of: $1,123,000.

And counting.

The supervisors considered signing off on the work Tuesday but put it over for another week. Even if the board gives its final blessing, however, construction of the ramp won’t be completed before the end of the year – midway through Alioto-Pier’s second and final term.

“I deserve equal access to every part of the chamber,” Alioto-Pier told her colleagues, adding that ending discrimination is worth the $1 million.  [Emphasis added plus this point:  One million in taxpayer money, that is.]

Incidentally, I am not unsympathetic to the hurdles the handicapped face in this world.  It’s also true that many handicapped access ramps and bathroom stalls extend an unexpected benefit to moms with strollers.  However, as I’ve blogged before, there has to be some cost/benefit analysis before we give over huge sums of public money, not to benefit all or most of the handicapped, but to benefit one person (as in Alioto-Pier, the only wheelchair bound supervisor ever) or, as is often the case with relentless bureaucratic initiatives, no persons at all.

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Comments

  1. Oldflyer says

    I wish my son-in-law would comment. He has been quadraplegic his entire adult life. Although he is a serious advocate and activist for programs to help the disabled function independently, as he has always done; he is also adamant that common sense must prevail. Without putting words in his mouth, my understanding is that he thinks that nonsense such as this works against meaningful programs that actually assist the disabled.

    Or should I say physically challenged? I think he says disabled, actually.

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