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Auburn access consultant could make more than $35K

Plan will bring city into compliance
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn is seeking a consultant ? who could end making more than $35,000 ? to create a plan for better access for disabled people in the city. The consultant will identify areas owned by the city that are out of compliance with Americans With Disabilities Act requirements and create a plan for the city to follow as they transition toward making the improvements. City officials say the plan will help Auburn better serve its disable residents and visitors. Auburn Chamber of Commerce officials say creating more access will have benefits for all business owners, but higher levels of government should make more resources available to help make the process less costly for cities and other businesses working toward compliance. There is $27,000 in the city budget for 2012-2013 for the transition plan and $8,008 available in grant monies for the project, according to documents presented to the city council. Bernie Schroeder, public works director of the City of Auburn, said given the large scale of the project, a consultant could possibly be paid all of the $35,000 in the budget for this year and possibly even more. Earlier this year the city was sued for being out of compliance with the disabilities act in relation to its sidewalks. Several other Auburn businesses, and many more across the state, have been sued for being out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. One way to gain protection from being sued is to hire a Certified Access Specialist to access a building and create a reasonable plan for compliance. Schroeder said while the plan to transition the city was already in the works, the lawsuit did motivate it further. ?I think it?s fair to say that it certainly motivated the concern and allowed us an opportunity to put together the plan,? Schroeder said. ?The fundamental goal is to ensure equal access and meet the federal mandates.? The Request for Proposals was approved to be released July 11. Proposals are due on Aug. 8 and the staff anticipates having a consultant recommendation to bring before the council on Aug. 27. Schroeder said some of the challenges the city faces in becoming fully compliant with access laws are the age of the city and the condition of some of the sidewalks, with funding for the projects being the most pressing problem. Bruce Cosgrove, CEO of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, said the transition plan could motivate other businesses to create their own plan for compliance. ?I think it?s a smart decision on the part of the city to initiate this transition plan. I think it will help build greater awareness in the community of the importance of local business following their lead and working on their own transition plan,? Cosgrove said. He said while it is a good investment for businesses, something needs to be done beyond the city level to make the compliance process more streamlined and cost-effective. Since the legislature passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, it should also work to make compliance with owners more clear-cut. Currently, there are even variations between California access laws and the federal laws. Building inspectors do not check for adherence to federal Americans with Disabilities Act mandates. Cosgrove said most businesses only realize they are out of compliance when they are sued. ?There should be a streamlined approach that is more common-sense and common-knowledge that someone could sit down and read a pamphlet or at least 6, 8 or 10 pages and understand what the basic regulations are, so that you don?t need a trained professional and pay a premium price for it to address these issues.? That would allow people who are hiring a Certified Access Specialist to feel even more confident they need one, he added. When it comes to the city?s access plan, Cosgrove said an expert was probably needed given the scope of the work. Schroeder said while the consultation process could take six to eight months, she was looking forward to its completion. ?I am looking forward to the fact that we do have a plan and it gives us a roadmap for where we want to go,? Schroeder said. Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News.