Very small adventures

This morning I had a Very Small Adventure, which is a little like a Very Small Epiphany. I’ve looked for Very Small Adventures for ages but only just now named this practice – it deserves a name! A VSA takes anywhere from 15 minutes to a few hours and is simply a departure from habitual patterns. I started doing this long ago to ensure that I was on time for things and didn’t get bored. To have a Very Small Adventure, leave early for something you need to do, and on the way, take a detour to explore. That could mean driving a different way to work, going down a new road, taking a bus to the end of the line and back, or going into a different corner store than usual to buy a soda and see what it’s like in there. It is crucial to sit and stare at something new and very helpful to have a map to look at.

The Very Small Adventure of the day today came about because I dropped off Moomin at school at 8:20am and then needed to go to work, but don’t have any meetings till 9:30. Normally I might stop to pick up non-refrigerated groceries on the way to my office, or get gas, or do some other tiny errand. Today I wanted to have a VSA instead. Instead of turning left on the road that goes to my office, past the marsh and the county’s main dump and recycling facilities kind of over by Oracle, I went straight on down one of the main roads into Redwood Shores to see if I could see any of the shoreline in back of the San Carlos Airport.

voyage to corkscrew slough

I ended up in a lot of back parking lots behind hotels and shopping centers looking at Steinberger Slough and its resident ducks through chain link fences. I came across some people passionately making out in the cab of a big truck so it must be a good romantic make-out spot even at 8:45am.

There’s a nice non-fenced view at the northeast end of the shopping center, in back of Nob Hill Grocery. I sat in the car and wrote a few lines and felt very peaceful there. Though, I did neurotically imagine what explanation I would give to the bread truck delivery guys or the police if they came to ask me what the hell I was doing there and they would believe that I was poeting and watching the morning rather than shooting up or working on my suburban bomb plot. I ended up hoping the police would investigate the hot and heavy passion in the truck cab before they would bother the tiny car with the FMINIST license plate. After 15 minutes of driving around through those back parking lots and subdivision cul-de-sacs and doing some free associating in my notebook in my lap, I found a trail access point next to a road, at the intersection of Teredo and Spar.

I would like to note that “Teredo” is a terrible street name! Everything in that neighborhood has a fake maritime name that has nothing to do with anything – they could name the streets things like “marsh” or “pickleweed” or “cordgrass” or “liquefaction zone” or even “goose poop” if they were going for local accuracy. But no. “Teredo”. Which, if you don’t know, is a sort of marine worm, really a clam, that’s notorious for boring into the hulls of ships and into piers and pilings and eating them into skeletons no matter how the wood is treated. It’s like naming something “Termite Lane”.

The access trail was up a short gravelly slope, about 10 feet and manageable for me on crutches especially in my energetic morning. I hauled myself up the path and stood there to look at the morning light on the water of the slough. It is the sort of trail people only go on to walk their dogs. But I bet you can see lots of seals from it in the early morning and evening. There is probably somewhere along it that’s good for guerrilla kayak access, too. In future adventures I’ll look for somewhere similar but with a bench. It was nice to see the Port of Redwood City, the gravel crushing factory in action, and my own harbor but from the other side of Bair Island.

I sat in my car for a bit there too thinking about the act of looking at familiar things from other perspectives and how important it is. Now while looking at the map of this place, I will have a mental image in which my maps in my head all hook up, which my friend Lisa explained was “stitching manifolds” in math or topology. I listened to Leadbelly singing “Good Morning Blues” on the radio from the awesome Monday morning KPOO blues show and it was the perfect sound track.

The other good thing about my Very Small Adventures is just making space in a day to think and to go outside routine. When I do this (which I do a lot oftener than I admit to, when alone) it helps me feel like a human being with free will and agency even if I’m just stealing 20 minutes out of my day going to work in my cube and shop and cook and pick up my kid. It also prevents me from doing what I really, really shouldn’t do which is write in my lap while driving.

I love my car especially I think because of disability. I feel hugely empowered driving around by myself and just making the simple decision to go one way or another and stop as often as I want without anyone being annoyed or inconvenienced.

I got into work at 9:05. Go, me!

Well! I have many adventures from the last month and from NYC and Boston to relate, but I’ve been busy and sick and then even more busy and sick again. There’s a lot to catch up on. Rather than go back in time I thought it best to blog about my morning and jump back in the saddle that way. Peace, out!

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Morning trash from Redwood Creek

Here’s the kayak full of trash I picked up early this morning at low tide in Redwood Creek. It was a short, leisurely voyage in a glassy calm that made it easy to spot floating plastic bags and bottles.

Trash picked up from Redwood Creek

The big glass bottle looks old to me, so I’m going to wash it out and keep it.

During unusually high tides there’s usually a lot of fast food containers, plastic bottlecaps, and styrofoam packing peanuts as well as a lemon or two.

Most of the time I forget to take a photo, but here’s another day’s worth of trash:

voyage to buoy 20

The most fertile grounds for trash are right up Redwood Creek past Highway 101. It’s only good to go there during a high tide at slack water.

On Valentine’s Day this year the Peninsula Yacht Club at Docktown led a big effort to pull trash from the creekside. In one day, they hauled out almost 2 tons of junk!

Peninsula Yacht Club

I think in the summer, Beth from Fake Plastic Fish might come do a trash collection voyage with me. Her blog is pretty cool – take a look. She lived for a year without consuming more than 5 pounds of plastic and she’s basically an activist against unnecessary plastic. After collecting trash from the creek, and during moments like watching seagulls fight over a coke bottle screw top and then one of them eating it, I can sure see where she’s coming from. The plastic bags in the marsh look like jellyfish floating.

In the Maldives there is an island made entirely of trash, Thilafushi Island. It’s built out of garbage and looks like an interesting place despite surely leaching out pollutants and hosting some industrial processing plants.

The island has grown to such proportions that it now has a café, a restaurant, two mosques, a barbershop, a clinic, a police station and rather unexpectedly, a makeshift zoo.

If we had a floating trash island in the San Francisco Bay, its growth would need to be limited, but it could be a very interesting place for eco-tourism or trash management tourism. I picture this floating trash island as a step further than Forbes Island or Spiral Island II, but smaller than Thilafushi. It could be a colony where people come stay and camp for a month and do volunteer Bay cleanup work with Trash Island as their base. There should also be a coffee cart and a nature center. It would be way more exciting to visit than Yet Another Bike Trail with Dogwalkers And Joggers In A Landfill. The price of admission would be that you take away a bag of trash. Okay, this is a half-baked idea… While I like the vision of seasteading as places for independent states, I tend to come up with slightly less ambitious ideas for cooperatively owned marinas or coastal cities with floating platforms that share some common purpose or radical politics — ecological cleanup and monitoring, public coastal access, and maybe some really cool art. In fact, I think that seasteading colonies will need to foster marinas with progressive politics in order to be viable. Seasteading needs a sort of marine-stuff-ecosystem in order to be viable. That might mean developing a close relationship with a working port city, or buying up and running its own port.

Speaking of public access! You should go to the Alviso Public Boat Ramp re-opening! Free kayak rides for kids and I’m sure a great party in a place with a long, interesting history.

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Photoessay of the 805 Veterans disabled parking problem

Here is a visual explanation of part of the problem with disabled parking at this building.

1:48 pm Tuesday March 31st. I drove into the front parking lot. I could see the front 2 spots were full. I drove to the back. (I didn’t take a photo.)

1:50 pm Tuesday March 31st. All three spots in the back are full.

All 3 spots in back full, 1:50pm Tuesday

As I paused to take this photo, a grey haired man in a suit and a dark SUV pulled into the reserved red zone, the spot next to the curb cut, where I was intending to park. I drove around to the front lot again to check the spaces there and to avoid having to interact with the man who was surely someone who works with the property manager.

A reserved spot

A couple of minutes later in the front lot, the two spaces there were still full. They are both inadequately marked as disabled spots. Frequently, people without placards park in the badly marked spot on the right-hand side.

the front 2 spots full, 1:50pm Tuesday

As I paused to take the picture above, the man in the suit who had been driving the SUV came out of the front doors and yelled something at me. I drove away, because I did not want to have any kind of confrontation with him.

1:55pm Tuesday. I drove to the back of the building again. The three spots were full, this time with the van gone and a different car in the space closest to the curb.

The back three spots are full, with a different car in the van spot. 1:55pm Tuesday

In retrospect, I think the man in the suit might have been yelling at me that there was a disabled spot open. I am led to think that he noticed me in the back lot, and knew specifically who I was.

It is a sign of the high demand for disabled parking spots at this building that by the time I drove to the back from the front, an open blue-placard spot had filled up. As I parked in the red zone in a “reserved” spot next to the man in the suit’s SUV, I noted another person with a blue placard driving past me and the full spots that were marked for disabled parking. I did not get their photo however. My camera was in my pocket and I was pulling my wheelchair parts out of the front passenger seat over the steering wheel and assembling the chair on the ground next to my car.

I parked in a red "reserved" spot.

As I came into work from the parking lot I snapped this photo to illustrate that the “van accessible” spot is not properly marked or configured. The landscaping and the concrete bollard both potentially interfere with a van lift or ramp. The space is not wide enough and not properly striped.

The "van accessible" spot, which isn't.

The elevator doors in the building opened for me and I backed up to let out an elderly lady in a chair and her companion who was pushing her chair. We smiled at each other and I wished we could stop and have a good conversation. I admired the brilliant whiteness of her hair and she looked at my sparkly wheels; I wondered what she thought of them. Frankly, I enjoy getting to see the high number of other wheelchair users who come to this building to go to the PAMF clinic. We always have a friendly smile of acknowledgement or a nice word for each other.

That entire sequence (minus the guy in the van) happens nearly every day at this building no matter what time I arrive at work. By the time I leave late in the day, most of the spots are empty.

I hope that explains things a little bit better for the “able-bodied”. The good thing about this experience today is that it wasn’t raining.

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ADA struggle at my workplace

It has been at a year now since I first started asking the office building where I work to add disabled parking spots. They continue to refuse, and as I continue reporting them to the city, they continue coming to my managers at work to complain about me. I consider that to be very wrong. It is retaliatory action for my asking for accomodations and reporting them to Code Enforcement when they did not respond.

I spoke several times over email and in person with the building manager last year. I spoke with city code enforcement. I continue having to speak about it with people at my workplace, because of the repeated harassment from the building manager. Last year I also contacted a clinic manager at Palo Alto Medical Foundation, another tenant of the building, who I believe should be actively involved in protecting its patients and who I would still like to invite to a part of the solution.

I am a blogger. That means that some of the time, I’m a citizen journalist. When I get stuck, I can always go public. That’s what I’m doing. Private conversations on this issue have not gone well for me. People lie and stonewall, and I get put on the spot, I end up being the one under scrutiny. That is wrong. I am not the issue, and I am not the problem. I have been polite and helpful over the course of a year, in pointing out ways the building owners could deal with the issue, I made specific requests, sent links, explained tax breaks available that would help pay for the modifications.

The initial contact with the building managers last May resulted in this:

The building is able to offer much needed medical space to the community without opposition from the city; “currently”. We are not a medical building. As you know, the building is required to have a specified number of handicapped parking space in order to meet the standard set forth by the ADA. We have the required number of spaces and no plans currently for adding more.
(from Lauren from Harvard Investment)

Then a lot of messed up things happened. Frank from Harvard Investments came to speak to me in my office. He made many claims about his boss’s political friendships with city government, the good that he does for the community in being a landlord of medical office space. He said that if I kept it up, he would make sure nothing happened, he’d drag his feet and “nothing would happen for 10 years and it would just cause trouble for me in the meantime.” In a whirl of alternating threats and pleas for sympathy, Frank then made increasing claims of empathy because his grandmother “was in a wheelchair” and he was too during his teenage years. He went into quite an emotional story about his life as a teenager in a wheelchair, wistfully watching the other kids play ball and have fun; the emotional pain he suffered from as a result making him uniquely able to understand “my pain”. I did not believe him, and questioned the relevance of his stories and claims. My personal emotions are not the issue. The law, and what it does to help our city’s community, and — for me personally — my solidarity with other disabled people: those are the issues.

I refused to speak with Frank after that conversation. But I described it in full in an email to my co-worker.

Here is my first letter from last year, after some phone calls that didn’t seem to go anywhere. I sent it on May 15, 2008, to the Redwood City Code Enforcement head, Fereydoun Shehabi.

I am a wheelchair user, and I work in an office at 805 Veterans Blvd. in Redwood City. The building has quite a lot of traffic from people with disabilities and elderly, frail people in general, as it hosts large offices from Palo Alto Medical Foundation and other doctors. It has over 280 parking spaces that I counted, but only 3 of those spaces are marked blue as parking for disabled people.

Those spaces fill up quite often. They are not wide enough to allow me to park in the space next to another car and still get my car door open wide enough to pull my wheelchair out of the car, out of the side door, and pop the wheels onto it. The 60 inch between spots with striping, that should be there, is not there.

The building has a central lobby with two large and accessible entrances with automatic doors, one facing the east parking lot and one facing the west lot.

According to the ADA as I understand it, there should be at least 7 spots, evenly distributed around the accessible entrances, and one of those 7 spots should be van-accessible with a 90 inch wide area.

The three existing spots are on the east side of the building, the back entrance bordering on Main Street. Some of the spaces near this entrance are painted red and marked “reserved, private “. The red paint is fairly fresh and appears to be painted over blue paint, though it is somewhat difficult to tell. There is a very nice wide curb cut here.

At the front entrance on the west side of the building that faces Veterans, there is another excellent, wide, curb cut. But, all the spaces nearby are painted red (this time, obviously painted over blue) or gray, also clearly cracked and with blue paint underneath.

I have asked the property manager, Frank Ramirez, twice in writing and once in person to restripe the lot.

He refused to do so and said that the owner is friendly with the Redwood City planning commision. He claimed that it would be too expensive, and that he and the owner would fight any such restriping and delay it for “10 years”. I am asking him merely to add some extra spots by the west entrance. I see that the owner is afraid that he will have to tear up landscaping, sprinkler systems, trees, etc. in order to make a wide walkway in front of the spots. I hope that is not necessary and there is some middle ground between that complexity and expense, and doing nothing at all.

At first, Frank Ramirez stated that the building was in total compliance with the ADA. Later, in person, he admitted that he knew it was not, but that they had a special exception in a permit from the city.

I doubt this is true. It looks to me like the building owners had the minimal amount of disabled parking spaces in the past. And at some point, they painted them over for “private use” or as regular spaces.

Frank Ramirez also offered me a “private parking space” if I would stop asking them to comply with the ADA and if I would drop the issue.

I did not feel that is what is best for the community.

Frank also said that the medical clinic is good for the city and community. Yes – but not if someone in a walker gets run over in the parking lot because the owners and the city did not follow the ADA.

Attached is the permit for the building from 2005. The city planner on duty emailed it to me.

Best,

Liz

In the interim, Frank Ramirez in person told me that if I pursued the issue with the city or an ADA complaint, I would force the property owners to terminate their agreement with PAMF, and the City of Redwood City wants to have the PAMF medical clinic here to serve the community, and if I pushed things, I would drive out the clinic. Did I want, Frank asked, to be the person who took away health care for the disabled and elderly people of my community that I was trying to help? This argument by Frank hardened my resolve to continue to pursue the issue.

I wrote another round of letters in I think August or September but lost them in a hard drive crash.

A couple of months ago I opened the issue again with the city to ask why they hadn’t done anything and got this response:

I recall our last phone conversation regarding your complain. Following
your phone call I had our senior inspector Jerry Schnell to come to the
site and verify the location of disabled parking stalls. He reported to
me that there are several disabled stalls scattered on the site and he
noticed there were two stalls near the main entrance and one in the rear
near exit door. I also called the manager with the phone number that you
provided to me and left a long message requesting for a response but to
no avail.

So the city did not properly inspect or respond to the complaint. Jerry Schnell did not report or take action on the obvious code violations in the parking lot. Nor did he look at the rest of the building; for example, in the lobby the fountain’s overhang over the walkway without any indication for a cane is a hazard for people who are visually impaired. Why didn’t the city take proper action? Was I being stonewalled, as Frank Ramirez suggested, because the city has a private and friendly agreement with the building owners, basically a golf buddy arrangement? Was Jerry Schnell just unable to do his job correctly? Where is his written assement and report of his inspection? Why didn’t Fereydoun Shehabi pursue the property owner’s failure to respond to his voicemail?

Why doesn’t my city have a clear procedure for its citizens to file such complaints and receive proper consideration and follow up?

I love my city and yet I am now in the position of possibly needing to sue them as well as the building owners, under the ADA.

Why hasn’t PAMF management, or any of the doctors who work there, ever noticed and done something about the disgraceful situation that means its own clients and patients can’t park safely?

I am not the problem in this equation. No one should bring me into it. No one should call my workplace, my company founders, or my manager. My workplace should not engage in a battle with their landlord or with me over this issue. The issue is not ME. And the issue does not involve them. The issue is, very clearly, that we have a law, the Americans with Disabilities Act. And we have agencies to enforce that law. The building owners are in knowing and active violation of that law. The city failed to enforce the law as they should have.

The building owner needs to fix the problem correctly, and can file for a tax break of up to $15,000 to cover the removal of barriers. There is nothing that says they have to bring everything in the building up to code in a perfect way. But they are required by law to do barrier removal that is readily achievable.

As I look over one of the two documents I have in my hands for this case other than emails, the Feb. 14, 2005 letter from the Planning Commission to Jeffery Teel from PAMF, I can see that the building owners and the city agreed that it is the building owners’ responsibility to make many other modifications to the property, such as an accessible and safe path from the city sidewalk to the building entrance. In other words, if you take the bus here, or get here from CalTrain, you can’t get to the building entrance without being in the large parking lot and driveways that open onto an extremely busy street. As I know well from trying to go to lunch with my co-workers who simply walk through the parking lot and over the landscaped hill, while I at far below safe eye level for drivers go the long way around through the parking lot. I tried that a couple of times. I saw how unsafe and scary it is. Now I get in my car and drive if I am going to go across the street for lunch. My point is that the building owners know they are supposed to do many things to be in ADA compliance and they have deliberately avoided doing those things to avoid expense despite their contractual agreement to do it.

Here is the report from the City Inspector from Febrary 12, 2009, when one was finally filed in response to my repeated requests for action:

Inadequate disabled access parking stalls.

I haven’t seen any response or action from the sending of this letter. But I am very happy to have a copy of it, and grateful that Fereydoun Shehabi sent it to the building manager. I would like to point out that he missed a few problems though.

I am not gearing up for a civil rights battle to demand my personal right to a safe parking spot. I am asking for my community members sake too. And actually I am doing it to demand my right to ask for a reasonable accommodation without the property manager repeatedly harassing me at my workplace by complaining about me to my bosses and throwing the problem back into my lap. More than my rights under the law about parking, I want my rights under the law to protect my employment. That includes protecting me from harassment and retaliatory actions.

I will call PAMF again tomorrow to ask their management and their clinic doctors and patients to join me in an ADA complaint. I will also ask everyone at my workplace to send in the ADA form which I will print out and bring for them. I don’t know if I’m going to fill out the form correctly without help from a civil rights lawyer, but I’m going to try. Acting individually, and asking nicely for people to obey a very clear law, and explaining all my reasons for doing so, has not worked. I conclude that only organized political action brought to bear will have any effect in this situation.

If you are in a similar situation, I recommend that you organize political action rather than sending letters every couple of months and trusting that something would happen. Because unfortunately, other people can be greedy and corrupt even where the law in theory protects us.

And if you are a property owner, I recommend that you listen to people who ask for reasonable and readily achievable accommodations, and negotiate in good faith to improve your property.

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