County establishes fund for inclusive playgrounds

Cities, nonprofits can apply for matching grants starting Aug. 1

Children enjoy the Magical Bridge Playground at Mitchell Park during a grand opening celebration on April 18, 2015. Santa Clara County has set aside $10 million to help match funds to build more all-inclusive playgrounds in the county's five districts. Photo by Veronica Weber.

What started as one groundbreaking model for inclusive playgrounds in Palo Alto could become the norm throughout Santa Clara County, which is calling on local cities, schools and nonprofits to apply for dollars to build more playgrounds accessible to children and adults of all abilities.

These playgrounds follow in the footsteps of the Magical Bridge Playground, which opened in Palo Alto in 2015. Earlier this year, Supervisor Joe Simitian introduced a plan, unanimously approved by the county Board of Supervisors, to set aside $10 million in matching funds for all-inclusive playgrounds to be built in each of the county's five districts. (Two million dollars is available in each district, and one or more grant projects may be awarded to each district.)

The county has also previously provided "modest funding" to cities and community groups in Palo Alto, San Jose and Morgan Hill to help build more inclusive playgrounds for both children and parents with physical or cognitive disabilities, according to a county press release.

In Palo Alto, the Board of Education also recently expressed support for a staff proposal to apply for a county grant to build an all-inclusive playground at Addison Elementary School.

More than 10,000 children in Santa Clara County have major disabilities, and more than 20,000 take advantage of special education in schools, the county said in its press release. But the Magical Bridge Playground and the Rotary PlayGarden in San Jose remain the only parks, city or school playgrounds that are fully accessible to them or other family members with disabilities, the release states.

The existing parks are also "becoming overcrowded," the county said, "as they are in high demand – both by families with children with disabilities, and families who haven't faced disability."

"To say that these parks have been a success would be an understatement," Simitian said in the release. "Families both with and without disabilities drive for miles to experience these parks. This will give them the same opportunities in the communities where they live."

The grant-funded playgrounds must have designed accessibility for wheelchair and non-wheelchair-bound individuals with disabilities, according to the county. The playgrounds should also include design elements that address the needs of people with autism spectrum disorder, sensory challenges, visual and auditory impairments, medically fragile individuals and those with cognitive, developmental and physical disabilities. 

"As individuals, we can't always effect the direction of national policies but we can impact our communities," said Magical Bridge CEO and Palo Alto resident Olenka Villarreal said in the release. "How magical would it be to celebrate our most vulnerable community members by creating new and wondrous places for them to play?"

The fund will draw $5 million from the county's 2012 Measure A sales tax reserve, with an additional $5 million coming from other general fund sources, according to the county. 

Grant applications are available starting Aug. 1, and are due on Oct. 18. The county will hold an informational workshop for prospective applicants on Aug. 17 at 10 a.m. in Los Gatos. For more information and to apply, go to


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4 people like this
Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 2, 2017 at 3:29 pm

When measure A was put before the voters, Santa Clara County Executive Jeffrey V. Smith said, "We have taken action and made the hard decisions needed to reduce costs. We wouldn’t be asking residents to consider a one-eighth cent sales tax if we had other choices'. There was mention of Law enforcement and public safety, Trauma and emergency room services, Health coverage for low-income children, Economic development and job creation, Housing for the homeless; and Programs to help students stay in school; - but no mention of parks. The list of needs is generic and non-specific and designed to gain everyone's approval - of course, who wouldn't be in favor of such important things, What it really meant was 'Give us more money for anything we can think of' - give us more money to spend on things that don't actually pay for vital services or maintenance.

People wonder governments in deep deficit with tons of unfunded liabilities and we got there. We got there because money is wasted and misspent. Even at a time of massive increases in property tax and fees as a result of record housing prices - and no where has it exploded like PA - and solid retail taxes, there is the county asking for more because they considered every other action, made the hard choices to reduce costs. This is doubtful.

This measure A grabs another half a billion and raises your sales tax to one of the highest in the nation. In return a few parks will get dressed up but most likely much of those funds will go to employees.

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Silverman
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 3, 2017 at 1:41 pm

From the article: "...calling on local cities, schools and nonprofits to apply for dollars to build more playgrounds accessible to children and adults of all abilities."

Playgrounds for kids is one thing. Why would an adult need one?

1 person likes this
Posted by @Mark Silverman
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 3, 2017 at 1:45 pm

Some children have parents dealing with accessibility issues and those parents should be able to access the playground to be with their kids. I think that's what they meant.

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