City landscaping obstructs disabled child's access to school bus, local homeowner says

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A local homeowner has complained to the City of Winters over a landscaped area she says obstructs access to the street for her family—including a disabled foster child.

Brooke Villanueva, who lives on the western side of West Main Street just past the Public Safety Center, told the Express her claims have gone unanswered by the city for nearly a year, ever since she and her husband took to carrying their elementary-school-aged foster child over the median to the school bus last winter.

Villanueva and her neighbors, who live on West Main between Aster and Kennedy streets, have access to an alleyway behind their homes, but must cross what she has described as an overgrown landscaped median to access the street directly. The only other option is to walk to the corner of W. Main Street and Kennedy Street where a wheelchair accessible ramp is installed.

Attempts to contact the city went unanswered, save one, when a representative of the city told Villanueva nothing could be done.

“Once we spoke with someone and was told that nothing could be done,” Villanueva said. “Since we have taken in a foster child who is unable to access the street due to the lack in ADA accessibility. He uses a wheelchair or walker and because the front of our home is covered in bushes and overgrown weeds he is unable to walk as his walker gets stuck or he trips and falls or we have to carry him. Last year the school bus was unable to get to him because the lack of sidewalks to the car so she now picks him up in the alley. This is not an ideal situation for us. Not to mention parking is not permitted.”

In November, she contacted the Express in the hopes a story about the problem would spur action from the city.

After the Express contacted City Manager John W. Donlevy, Jr., he confirmed that Villanueva’s concerns were valid, but that the city-owned property between her home and the street did not violate ADA requirements.

You are correct, it is a challenge,” Donlevy said.

 “The 8-foot sidewalk and the landscaped areas were installed for the benefit of pedestrians and to increase both the attractiveness of the area and safety. From an ADA standpoint and safety, you actually have the best pedestrian area in the city. It appears that residents in the neighborhood have installed stepping stones through the landscaping for access to parked vehicles which is their prerogative. Not ideal, but functional.”

Since her attempts to remedy the situation with the city failed to yield the results she desired earlier this year, Villanueva worked out a situation with the Winters Joint Unified School District Transportation office to meet the foster child at the alley in the back—something Lead Bus Driver Saundra McKinney said she was happy to do.

McKinney said the current arrangement takes her a few more minutes, but due to the risk of injury to the child navigating over the landscaped area, it has been a suitable fix to the problem. McKinney told the Express she didn’t know Villanueva wanted the city to pave over the area.

Currently, the city has no plans to modify the area given the alternatives in place.

“As far as the access to the bus for your foster child, both the alley and the corner seem to be the best options from a pedestrian safety standpoint for access to the bus,” Donlevy said. “The idea of installing a walkway from the sidewalk to the street (in front of your home) would require establishing a bus stop/no parking zone (to establish the bus stop)  and a curb cut/ramp into the street which is simply not practical when both the alley and the corner (three houses down from your home) have the appropriate ADA access and path of travel to get to the bus. Unfortunately, modifying the streetscape and curb in front of your home is not practical where there are viable alternatives within a reasonable proximity to your home.”

While Villanueva has been appreciative of the accommodations made by Winters JUSD, she maintains the landscaped area is a problem she and her neighbors shouldn’t have to deal with. Especially when disabled children are involved. Villanueva said there is no need for a cut ramp or bus stop to accommodate her child, just concrete pavement over the landscaped area. Weeds and other overgrown plants are the real problem, and the city has threatened to fine her neighbors for removing the obstructions.

“We aren’t asking for a bus stop or a cut ramp. We are asking for concrete to be installed so that it is easier for us to get to and from our vehicles and for our child to be able to walk to the car. The bus can stop in the street like it does for all kids. It has a stop sign that goes out. If we had concrete he could walk himself out there. He can handle a curb. The problem is the amount of weeds that grow. The city did not take into consideration the plants that were planted,” Villanueva said.


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