Disabled San Diegans struggle to access Children's Pool in La Jolla

Children's Pool ramp in shambles

SAN DIEGO - A battle is brewing at the Children's Pool in La Jolla that has nothing to do with the seals.

Disabled and wheelchair-bound San Diegans tell 10News they are struggling to get down to the beach on steep stairs and the ramp that helped them get down safely for decades is in shambles. The city tells 10News there are no plans to repair it.

It's difficult to watch amputee Rich Sillanpa trying to scale steep stairs with his prosthetic leg. It's all in an effort to get down to the Children's Pool in La Jolla. He's one of many disabled San Diegans who are trying to use the pool for hydrotherapy and who say they are left without a ramp to get down to the beach.

"I've always loved the ocean," said Sillanpa. "I try to look at this leg as just a new chapter in my life. But yeah, it was pretty terrible. The day after Thanksgiving in 2007 I had my leg amputated. And without a ramp it's impossible for me to utilize the Children's Pool."

Other video given to 10News shows a wheelchair-bound man having to be carried in his chair down the steep stairs in order to get to the water. To get back to the road, he must be carried up a dangerously steep ramp over potholes, laid flat on the ground and dragged underneath a gate.

Cheri Jacobs Aspenleiter, who is disabled herself, is among those fighting to get the original ramp that leads to the beach restored. She explained to 10News reporter Natasha Zouves that the Children's Pool is one of the only safe places for children or the disabled to go into the water as it is sheltered from the pounding surf. She also believes that Ellen Browning Scripps, the original benefactress of the pool, intended for it to be used by children and the disabled.

"I think she's turned over in her grave and I think she's very disappointed in the city of San Diego for not honoring her trust," said Jacobs Aspenleiter.

10News obtained photos of what the ramp looked like in decades past. It was a main artery to the beach, a smooth and large entryway, easy for children to walk down. To see it now is to hardly recognize it. The right side of the ramp has completely collapsed, ending in a steep ledge. What remains of the ramp is chewed-up asphalt and large holes. It's too steep and too dangerous for the disabled and it's been completely gated off by the city.

To add insult to injury, Jacobs Aspenleiter says construction is currently underway on the top of the ramp to build a structure, including a disabled shower.

"Which is a pretty cruel for a paraplegic swimmer: to give him a shower, but no means to the beach to need that shower," said Jacobs Aspenleiter.

10News confirmed the ramp is not compliant with standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but there is no policing agency for these laws. 10News reached out to city leaders and were forwarded an exchange of letters that essentially explains that restoration of the ramp is impossible.

Although La Jolla Parks and Beaches, Inc., named the restoration of the Children's Pool ramp as one of three top recommended projects, Andrew Field, interim Parks and Recreation director, penned a letter in response.

The letter reads, in part: "The existing ramp is for emergency and maintenance access to the beach and is not intended to provide an ADA accessible pedestrian path to the beach. An ADA accessible ramp will be difficult to achieve and will require extensive engineering and construction ... While we strive to provide ADA accessibility to our park and beach facilities, sometimes the natural environment makes it difficult to achieve."

Jacobs Aspenleiter tells 10News litigation is underway.

Rich Sillanpa says, despite the danger, he will do whatever it takes to get down to the pool. Wading into the water is the only time he feels whole again.

"It's like I'm an astronaut, you're totally weightless, you have total freedom of motion and control," said Sillanpa. "It's effortless."

Jacobs Aspenleiter added, "He's not disabled anymore, he's supported. And it's better than Christmas to see him like that."

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