City Hall's $700,000 Ramp Will Actually Cost $1.1 Million

Last week, the Chronicle ran a piece itemizing the costs of the $700,000, 10-foot ramp to the president's dais within the Board of Supervisors' chambers. While it's good to run a story periodically reminding San Franciscans that we are spending vast sums of money on a 10-foot ramp, it's not exactly breaking news.

The same alarming numbers cited in the Chron were laid out in a Budget and Legislative Analyst's report from early February. It's all in there: the $477,732 budgeted for parts and labor; the $170,641 already spent in planning costs; the $51,042 estimate for alternative housing for the Board of Supervisors meetings for six weeks. This is, again, to create a 10-foot-long ramp.

Leave it to San Francisco, however, to ensure that a $700,000 ramp actually costs far, far more. As anyone who's financed a home, car, or education knows, one easy way to do that is to buy now and pay later. That's right: The city is paying for its new ramp via debt financing.

The funds to plan and construct the ramp are part of $48 million in "certificates of participation" — which function similarly to general obligation bonds, but voters don't get to weigh in on them. Assuming an interest rate of 6.5 percent, Budget Analyst Harvey Rose calculates that interest and financing costs on the ramp will come out to $439,648. So, over the course of 20 years, that ramp should cost San Francisco around $1.1 million. To those wondering if the ramp will be worth its weight in gold: At the sky-high current rate of $1,800 per ounce, the ramp would have to weigh around 38 pounds. So, no, it won't.

Susan Mizner, head of the Mayor's Office of Disability, notes that the price of the ramp represents one-third of 1 percent of the money poured into revamping City Hall in the last 25 years. Others have noted that the cost of making the president's dais accessible via ramp could have been dwarfed by the cost of an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit — and if the city lost, the ramp would have to be built anyway.

In the end, San Francisco is damned if it does and damned if it doesn't. Either way, tons of public money will be spent. That, in this city, is a prerequisite.

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This is absurd, and to defend this action as appropriate because of a "potential" ADA lawsuit for something that is not needed only shows that everything is too far gone. There must be at least 100 places in the city that need ADA accessibility more than this ramp.

But as usual, the politicians have no problems spending our tax dollars no matter the cause. it is no wonder why we have such a huge budget fiasco...


This cost is unacceptable and deserves consideration of an SF resident filing a reimbursement claim with the City and County. I know the form exists. A few hundred forms demands this for this ramp is what I expect and hope happens.


I had no idea about certificates of appreciation, but here's the definition from

"Certificates of Participation (COPs). A form of lease revenue bond that permits the investor to participate in a stream of lease payments, installment payments or loan payments relating to the acquisition or construction of specific equipment, land or facilities. In theory the certificate holder could foreclose on the equipment or facility financed in the event of default, but so far no investor has ended up owning a piece of a school house or a storm drainage system. A very popular financing device in California since Proposition 13 because COP issuance does not require voter approval. COPs are not viewed legally as "debt" because payment is tied to an annual appropriation by the government body. As a result, COPs are seen by investors as providing weaker security and often carry ratings that are a notch or two below an agency's general obligation rating."

It appears that, at least technically, elected representatives can subject public properties to foreclosure in return for debt financing that does not require voter approval.

Ironic, then, that the Board of Supervisors would deem their chamber valuable enough to over-spend on a wheelchair ramp, but not so valuable that they would keep from pledging the chamber itself as collateral for the gilded ramp.


Good reporting on the ACTUAL costs.

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