21 Aug 2014
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Swallows Day Parade May Not Go On

The City Council has demanded parade organizers change their policy of banning electric wheelchairs. They say they'll handle requests on a case-by-case basis. One councilman says that's not good enough.

Swallows Day Parade May Not Go On

The Swallows Day Parade may be cancelled unless the organizers behind it carry out a City Council mandate to allow participants in electric wheelchairs into the parade, said one San Juan Capistrano councilman.

“As of now, there will be no parade,” Councilman Derek Reeve said Friday.

The has for its first 53 years prohibited motorized vehicles of any kind, including electric wheelchairs. Organizers pride themselves on hosting one of the larger non-motorized parades in the country.

But , license and associated street closures unless the parade’s organizers, the Fiesta Association, changed its policy regarding electric wheelchairs.

Association members met Wednesday, said Jeff Schroeder, association publicity chairman, and decided to grant permission to one parade applicant, a man who appeared at the council meeting Tuesday, and, through his sister, Heidi Langefeld, asked to march in the parade as part of the Canine Companions for Independence drill team.

“The Fiesta board of directors and especially the parade chair (Ben Dixon), after having several verbal and email conversations with the sister of Herb, has determined that he does need his specialized chair to be mobile,” Schroeder said.

“We did offer several alternative suggestions, none of which was viable or acceptable," he added. "The board voted to accept this entrant and allow him to use his motorized wheelchair.”

But the decision is not in keeping with the letter or the spirit of the City Council’s decision, Reeve said.

“They are openly defying our elected City Council and placing us in an awkward position,” Reeve said. “While I remain optimistic the Fiesta Association will recognize they're fighting a losing battle and change this abhorrent policy, as of now, there will be no parade because of [their] inaction.”

Other City Council members and city personnel could not be reached for comment.

On Tuesday, Councilman Sam Allevato said: "By right, people with disabilities should be included in the parade." And Councilman John Taylor said, "I think the intent is that everybody should be able to participate."

The exact wording of the motion passed Tuesday was that the city would grant the parade permit, license and street closures “with the contingence that the Fiesta Association would remove their policy and allow the use of an electric  [wheelchair] if it is medically required."

Reeve, who himself is in an electric wheelchair, said he has tried to contact the Fiesta Association to correct the situation, but he has not received a response. He said he now plans to boycott all Fiesta Association events. The next event is this Sunday, the annual .

“Can you imagine if there was a ban on African-Americans for historical reasons, but they would give case-by-case exceptions?” Reeve said.

At the City Council meeting Tuesday, Fiesta Association representatives said one of the reasons for the wheelchair ban was the risk of scaring the horses in the parade. But Schroeder said that’s not actually the case.

“It was purely about the Swallows Parade 54-year tradition of being a non-motorized parade,” he said, “and, by the way, the city motto, which is ‘preserving the past, to enhance the future.’ ”

Schroeder said parade organizers are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act because alternatives are sought for the wheelchair-bound.

“According to ADA regulations, one must offer different alternatives to the person for his or her mobility,” Schroeder said. “This is nothing new for us. We have had similar requests in the past, but have always had an alternative that was viable and acceptable for the person,” he said, adding that the portable toilets found along the parade route and at the Mercado fair after the parade are handicapped accessible.     

A representative of the ADA section of the Department of Justice declined to comment.

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