Bonair entrance at La Jolla’s Riford Center stirs up neighborhood again



Staff Writer

Controversy has reemerged over where to provide Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) access at La Jolla’s Riford Center.

The community center’s board remains insistent it must be relocated to Bonair Street, and neighbors are just as adamant it should remain in front of the center at 6811 La Jolla Blvd.

At the end of March, The Riford Center, an adult community center managed by the nonprofit Friends of the Riford Center, announced it had abandoned preliminary plans to relocate disabled access from the building’s front to the side.

“The benefits of keeping the main entrance on the front outweigh the detriment to the neighbors of putting it on the side,” said Glen Rasmussen, board chair at that time.

But six months later, after carefully reevaluating all possible ADA design alternatives, the center’s board has reconsidered its position.

In a recent explanation published in the Light, they explained: “While it would be desirable to use the main entrance as the single entrance/exit for elderly and disabled we found no feasible solution to make this possible. … The single-door entrance on Bonair is the only feasible alternative that falls within the budget, meets legal requirements, satisfies safety concerns and respects the dignity of elderly and disabled persons.”

Neighbors maintain the center’s about-face on where to provide ADA access is unnecessary and unjustifiable.

“We’re strongly in favor of keeping the ADA option in the front of the building,” said Riford neighbor Grace Zimmerman. “There should be common access for everybody, not having disabled people using a side entrance.”

Noting Riford’s plans for its remodel stem from a $207,000 federal Community Development Block Grant, Zimmerman said, “What is of concern to the neighborhood is how is it possible that they can’t fit the option of a $38,000 lift within that budget?”

Another Riford neighbor, Liana Bowdler, shared similar concerns about Riford’s motivation in reversing its decision.

“We feel we’ve really been duped,” she said, adding neighbors believe natural ingress and egress into that building is from La Jolla Boulevard in front. She also fears the change — to the quiet, residential Bonair Street on the side — will culminate in that entrance becoming the building’s “de facto” main entrance.

Bowdler added more than 100 people signed a petition favoring front rather than side access for in July.

Michael Morton AIA of Marengo Morton Architects Inc., who has been working on Riford’s ADA design, said three or four different alternative alignments were thoroughly studied and none of them proved feasible. He also disputed the contention that disabled access needs to be at the one entrance in front.

“This is an existing building built in 1948 and existing buildings are allowed to be retrofitted with an ADA-accessible path of entrance no more than 200 feet from the main entrance,” he said.

Rasmussen said the Riford Center has acted in good faith with neighbors and done due diligence in exploring ADA design alternatives.

“In the front, the only alternative for wheelchair entry is a lift which is really expensive and a heavy maintenance item,” he said, adding, “We’re going to keep it as inconspicuous as possible.”

The Riford board determined construction of a front ramp intruding over the sidewalk and public space would require approval from the city and La Jolla Planned District Ordinance committee, the success of which was questionable and could take years.

Riford volunteer and Bonair neighbor Tricia Kay said last week that the Riford’s decision was done “behind closed doors” without involving neighbors.

“We haven’t had a chance to review the plan,” she said. “How could they (Riford) have incorporated our (neighbor’s) views if we haven’t even seen a copy of their plan? We would have preferred to put forward our views in a consolidated manner. We haven’t had that opportunity.”