Will City Hall Ramp Really Cost 'Just' $450K?

Categories: Government
Thumbnail image for rsz_april142009_006.jpg
Joe Eskenazi
This is the actual file for the proposed construction of the so-called 'million-dollar ramp.' The hefty cost incurred in amassing this file is not included in the ramp's price tag.
Sunk costs of $230,000 not included in ramp's estimated price

Perhaps it's indicative of how things roll in San Francisco that a ramp to atop the Board of Supervisors' dais deemed outlandishly expensive at a purported $1.1 million is now seen as a bargain at "only" $450,000.

The Board of Supervisors yesterday approved the yet-unfunded construction of the ramp. But, according to a city source intimately involved in the ramp's planning process, the $230,000 already spent on myriad plans is not included in the latest estimate.

The ramp in recent years became a major source of contention between Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier -- a wheelchair-user -- and former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin.

While Alioto-Pier last year told us the ramp would only cost $150,000, Peskin said the cost would be many times higher as its construction would mandate the uprooting of electronic cables and the reconstruction of antique furniture.

Last year, our city source yanked out a nine-inch-thick file relating to the work already pored into the proposed construction of the ramp -- that stack of papers has grown thicker still. And our source confirmed that building a ramp would cost a hell of a lot of money. To wit:

The purpose of building a ramp to the top of the dais is to make it handicapped accessible. And, unless that ramp took up one entire side of the room, its construction entailed the lowering of a second, lower podium -- "and that's where the cost came in," says the city official. "Once you took out the stairs from the [lower] podium and lowered it and moved the clerk's desk forward, you're definitely touching a lot of historic fabric and creating a very pricey product."

How pricey? Well, consider that the historic dais is constructed out of Manchurian oak -- a tree that is now extinct. Correspondingly, making the dais accessible would cost in the neighborhood of $600,000. Two different professional cost-estimators were recently called in to assess this job -- and both came up with this figure -- "within pennies," said the official.

In order to shave $150,000 or more off the ramp's cost, at least two things need to be done: The work has to be staggered over several sessions -- which should make for interesting supervisors meetings -- so city workers can simply be paid their regular salaries and not earn overtime. Also, one has to buy into the argument that replacing the electric and AV cables -- which represents one-third of the project's cost -- is something that needs to be done anyway, so this is not an exorbitant use of funds.

Peskin is unconvinced: "It's pretty absurd, given nobody uses [the dais] and future generations of board presidents won't use it," he said. "We can't afford curb ramps throughout the city. Rec centers are closing. This is the mayor's going away present to the people of San Francisco -- and his appointee."

In case you missed it, that's Alioto-Pier he's jabbing at. Since City Attorney Dennis Herrera won his crusade to keep her from serving another term as District 2 Supervisor, she, too, will never ascend the dais as board president.

Maybe she'll do it as mayor.

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