BERKELEY'S NEWS • OCTOBER 01, 2022

Berkeley resident with disabilities faces health risks due to construction

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ALEXANDRE BUI | STAFF

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AUGUST 03, 2016

Six feet from Pamela Dahl’s apartment window, the Center Street Parking Garage is being demolished. The construction causes Dahl’s floor to shake and has blocked the sidewalk below, but Dahl’s worries lie with something that poses a much greater concern to her well-being: dust.

Dahl has quadriplegic cerebral palsy as well as an autoimmune disease. Complications of her disabilities have led to her hospitalization for aspiration pneumonia at least three times. According to Monique Bonilla, her community support facilitator, the debris from the demolition puts her at risk for developing pneumonia yet again.

Bonilla began requesting more than a year ago that the city pay to relocate Dahl for the duration of the construction project in order to protect her health, but her requests have been declined. Now, Dahl faces a difficult choice: max out her credit cards to be able to afford a new apartment or continue to live in an environment that may jeopardize her health.

“If she weren’t quadriplegic, she could raise more hell,” Bonilla said.I mean, it sort of feels like the city has that to their advantage, that she has (these disabilities).”

According to Bonilla, Dahl’s risk of developing pneumonia became so serious that she made the decision to receive her nutrition through a gastrostomy tube, a feeding tube that delivers food straight to her stomach to mitigate her risk of inhaling food particles that could lead to infection.

In 1987, Dahl first moved to Berkeley and has been living in her current apartment for 14 years. She said one reason she chose to move to Berkeley was because of its prominence in the disability rights movement.

Dahl currently rents a below-market-rate apartment that she is reluctant to leave for fear of not finding another place that she can afford. At the same time, she is retired and cannot simultaneously pay the rent for two apartments for the duration of the demolition, which is expected to last about two months.

The Center Street Garage Replacement Project was developed in order to provide 300 more parking spaces in the Downtown area and meet seismic safety standards.

Lorin Jensen, the project manager overseeing the demolition at the time, initially told Bonilla in an email in April that “the concept of covering the costs for apartment and utilities during the demolition period for Ms. Dahl (was) acceptable to the city.”

When city officials began to look at rent for short-term leases, the rates ranged from $4,000 to $11,000 per month. In June, Jensen contacted Bonilla via email again telling her that the city would not be able to pay for Dahl’s relocation.

Jensen has since retired from his position as a senior engineer.

According to Matthai Chakko, the city’s public information officer, the city made no agreements with Dahl to pay for her relocation.

“I can’t speak to what somebody who is not here anymore may have said,” Chakko said.

Bonilla said the new project manager told them the city has no obligation to accommodate Dahl.

Dahl later requested that the city tape off her windows, which are not windproof and may allow particles to seep into her apartment. Demolition of the garage began July 25, but city officials did not confirm they would provide coverings for her windows until the situation was brought to their attention through press inquiries from The Daily Californian on Wednesday, according to Chakko.

Chakko added that the city has made sure to have workers hosing down the sidewalk “almost full time” in order to mitigate the amount of debris present around the project. Bonilla, however, alleges that since the demolition started, she has yet to see anyone hose down the sidewalk below.

Additionally, the city has installed filters on some local buildings to lessen the effects of dust but has not placed them on Dahl’s apartment complex.

According to Frederick Collignon, campus professor emeritus of city planning and regional planning, the city may have to regulate air pollution, noise and odor in the name of public health but is not necessarily obligated to take any additional action for residents with disabilities — beyond making sure that the areas around the site are ADA accessible.

“The law mandates ‘reasonable accommodation’ (for individuals with disabilities), and the issue is always what is reasonable and what is not,” Collignon said in an email.

For Dahl, the city’s lack of cooperation in this situation is part of a larger picture of the non-inclusion she faces on a day-to-day basis.

Bonilla noted that Berkeley Apartments, the management in charge of her apartment complex, often has not made adequate efforts to accommodate her needs. Management typically does not do renovations on Dahl’s apartment because of her inability to leave for extended periods of time and the elevator, her only way out of the complex, has been nonfunctional for up to two weeks in the past, according to Bonilla.

“(It makes me feel) like no one really cares,” Dahl said.

Contact Jessica Lynn at 

LAST UPDATED

AUGUST 04, 2016


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