LL resident seeks, finds answers to handicapped parking questions

........................................................................................................................................................................................

Los Lunas resident Frank Cummings, a veteran of the Korean War, has reluctantly become an advocate for handicap parking.

His ailing health precludes a lot of activities, but unauthorized vehicles parked in handicap spots has forced him to get involved.

His health issues impair his mobility, and he relies heavily on handicap parking, but he often has trouble finding accessible parking in the village, especially at the Valencia Y shopping center where he frequently shops.

Cummings met with a delegate from the Governor's Commission on Disabilities on April 16 to get assistance.

"It's hard to find people who can do something about it," Cummings said.

It's frustrating enough to find unauthorized vehicles parked in handicap spaces when you can barely walk, but when the handicap parking demarcations are so worn and faded that law enforcement can't enforce the law, it exacerbates the problem.

"If it doesn't meet the requirements, we obviously can't enforce it, because we can't prove it in front of a municipal court," said Los Lunas Police Chief Roy Melnick.

Cummings was directed by Adolph Lopez, the village code enforcer to seek assistance from Hope Reed, the access specialist from the Governor's Commission on Disabilities.

"I called all around Los Lunas trying to find somebody who had some teeth to do something about these parking spaces that aren't posted properly, and I finally lucked out — somebody gave me the number of Hope Reed in Santa Fe," Cummings said.

It's against the law to violate designated handicap parking spaces, and it is state law that businesses have designated parking properly marked, said Reed.

"The way it is, when you find someone who understands, they have a grandmother or they have a brother or sister that has a disability, they know how hard it is to get around," Reed said. "Those are the people who really help us get things done. Otherwise it's just, 'Oh, yeah, that's them, we're not a part of that."

According to state statute and the Americans With Disabilities Act, handicap parking should be clearly marked on the pavement with the international wheelchair symbol of accessibility, and blue stripes painted diagonally on the aisle pavement with "No Parking" written in large lettering within them.

These spaces must be the closest to the entrance, at least eight-feet wide, with an aisle five- to eight-feet wide, preferably on the passenger side, and have a five-foot vertical sign centered at the head of each space with the language, "Violators are subject to a fine and/or towing."

But the police department doesn't cite state statutes for violations, Melnick said.

"We cite village ordinances, because we have a municipal court here," he said.

According to the village ordinance, on any nonresidential premise 2 percent of the spaces, or at least one space, shall be set aside for the handicapped or physically disabled, and shall consist of an area of not less than 12-feet in width by 20-feet in length, appropriately and prominently marked for use with the international symbol of accessibility.

During construction of new businesses and organizations the owners are instructed to follow minimum village regulations for handicap parking, but after construction is completed the village does not enforce the maintenance of those parking spaces, said the village code enforcer.

"And there is no permitting process and no enforcement process on those who repaint their handicap parking," Adolph Lopez said. "On private property, they have to have it properly marked, and they're required to do that by state, village and federal regulations, but on private property we don't do the property maintenance for handicap parking."

The police department doesn't have authority to enforce proper handicap parking demarcations either, but the state does.

"We'll contact the owner of the business, and let them know," Reed said.

The Los Lunas Police Department has just begun a new program to build mutually beneficial partnerships with local businesses.

"I have two community policing officers that actually go out and meet with the businesses, and then try to bring things like this to their attention," Melnick said.

Cards have also been printed up with comment space for all patrol officers to leave suggestions or messages for business owners when something is found that might invite criminal activity.

The officers can also leave suggestions when the handicap parking spaces do not meet state statutes, he said.

Reed said she will look into providing the police department some of the handicap parking stickers from the Governor's Commission of Disabilities.

"I think this is a good program that they started here," Reed said. "We'll work with the Los Lunas police in enforcing handicap parking."


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.