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College of Marin disabled students face parking conundrum

Marin Independent Journal - 5/10/2024

May 10—Kelly Smith requires a cane to walk and needs a parking space that's close to the aquatic center at the College of Marin's Indian Valley Campus.

She is among 30 students taking an aquatic exercise class for older and disabled students. The Miwok Aquatic and Fitness Center has an eight-space parking lot for drivers with disabilities.

Smith said that she and a few other classmates were ticketed last month for parking in unmarked spots because they could not find available spaces in the Miwok center lot that's reserved for Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant parking.

Their vehicles have disabled parking placards, and they did not park in red zones or other spaces that had signage that did not allow parking, she said. That did not stop an officer from giving them $45 citations.

"Basically, it's that anybody who parks in a non-marked stall will continue to be ticketed regardless of whether or not you show you're handicapped," Smith said.

She received a second ticket last month when she had the same parking problem, she said.

Disabled drivers must take a long back road to access the Miwok center's ADA parking lot. Otherwise, they have to find ADA parking spaces in the larger lots that are farther away from the facility.

Smith said campus police told her to find a disabled parking space in another lot on campus and walk to class. She said she's not able to do that and feels the instruction showed insensitivity toward people with disabilities.

She's hoping the college will consider shuttle services or a grace period where officers do not cite her disabled classmates during their classes.

"They're discriminating against people with disabilities while offering classes to people with disabilities and having built a facility for people with disabilities with our tax money," Smith said. "The college is not responding correctly. They say in a couple of months they'll come up with a solution. But honestly, the solution is simply don't ticket handicapped cars."

Nicole Cruz, a College of Marin spokesperson, said vehicles are required to be parked in marked stalls only for safety and accessibility purposes. She added that vehicles displaying a disabled parking placard or license plate can be parked in a marked staff or student parking space without a college parking permit.

"Parking outside of a marked stall, such as on a walkway, sidewalk, roadway or landscaping is prohibited, even with a valid disabled parking placard or license plate displayed," Cruz said.

Samantha Tuttle, a classmate of Smith, said she underwent knee and foot surgeries. After being ticketed for parking in an unmarked spot, she recalled, the campus police also told her to drive to another lot that's farther away from the aquatic center.

"I just have to simply turn around and not take class, which is frustrating, but that's where we are," she said. "It's always a delicate dance. You want to be respectful to folks who are doing their jobs, and you simply need more spaces to accommodate the needs of specifically older adults and a high percentage of folks with disabilities who have blue placards."

Classmate Stephen Gibson said that he was unable to find a space at the Miwok center's disabled lot when he was ticketed. He saw several vehicles with disabled placards parked off the road near the facility.

"Certainly an official investigator would not assume these were just coincidental scofflaws, but indeed persons who were trying to deal with the situation the best way they knew," Gibson said.

He said officers are citing people who are elderly, disabled and likely on a fixed income.

"What a bunch of needless crap for all affected," Gibson said.

Cruz said that the college's student accessibility services director, Stormy Miller Sabia, worked with campus police to explore solutions. The ideas included having students arrive at class during different times and alternative class options at the college's Kentfield campus if there is no ADA parking available at the Miwok center.

"However, those options were not feasible for the students," she said.

Cruz said that the college staff is reaching out to students at the Indian Valley Campus to assess parking needs and different modes of transportation such as Marin Access paratransit.

"The intent is to look at this through the broader lens of student accessibility and think beyond ADA compliance to ensure students have ease in access to the learning environment," she said.

Ted Davis, a public policy adviser for the Marin Center for Independent Living, which advocates for people with disabilities, said that having a disabled parking placard doesn't allow drivers to park anywhere and said they can only go to legal parking spots.

There are generally not enough parking spaces for disabled drivers, he said. Davis noted that 33% of Marin County is over age 65 and that number is projected to rise to 40% in 10 years.

"The number of placards is just going to grow and we have an insufficient number of spaces in this county," he said.

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(c)2024 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)

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