Looking to replicate the success of the past, Santa Clara County’s Board of Supervisors is considering setting aside $10 million to help local jurisdictions build more all-inclusive playgrounds.
The referral, which passed in a 5-0 vote at the Sept. 19 board meeting, seeks to revive the county’s All-Inclusive Playground Grant (AIPG) program.
Inspired by the Rotary PlayGround in San Jose and Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto, the AIPG program started as a one-time grant opportunity in 2017. The county allocated $10 million in matched funding to communities, with up to $2 million for each supervisorial district, to expand access to playgrounds for children with disabilities.
The program was so successful that the county approved a second round of funding in 2018. It's now looking to add a third round that would support all-inclusive tracks, arenas and courts too.
“There are now 24 projects that are underway, some of them actually completed and being enjoyed today,” said Supervisor Joe Simitian. “And the clear indication is that if we had one more round of these grants, at the same level, there would be takers.”
But while the board unanimously approved the referral, President Susan Ellenberg expressed concerns about the program’s source of funding. The county already gave out $20 million in two funding cycles. It would be difficult to justify another $10 million, she said, adding that the board likely will be having “very tough budget discussions” next month.
Simitian said that the previous iterations of the grant program had tangible and intangible benefits, and leveraged tens of millions more from cities, school districts and non-profit organizations that shared in the construction costs. As a one-time grant, it also did not have ongoing annual budget considerations, he said.
Supervisor Sylvia Arenas, who initially expressed strong support for the proposal, said that she would take Ellenberg’s budgetary worries into consideration when staff returned with a report about potential funding options for the program. She also requested that the report include an equity analysis, stating that the playgrounds needed to benefit all communities.
Speakers at the Tuesday meeting urged the board to build more playgrounds, with several supporting Arenas’ request to include an equity analysis. They also advocated for a committee, comprised of people with disabilities and their families, to help oversee the grant process to ensure the playground designs were inclusive and served their intended demographic.
“Performativity is an ongoing problem because the disability community needs are not adequately understood, and people with disabilities are still seen through a medical model,” said Michele Mashburn, a Santa Clara County resident and disability advocate, who spoke at the meeting and submitted an emailed statement. “The county must do better and start to learn more about the gaps that exist and how inadequately they have been addressed over time,” she added.
As part of its commitment to expand access to services for people with disabilities, the county recently established an Office of Disability Affairs. The initiative to create more all-inclusive playgrounds is one step towards reaching this goal, according to the board’s report.