Swallows Day Parade organizers have taken the “non-motorized” element of the event too literally by not allowing people in electric wheelchairs to participate unless loaded onto a cart, and that’s got to change, the San Juan Capistrano City Council said Tuesday night.
For decades, the Swallows Day Parade has been advertised as one of the larger non-motorized parades in the world. And the ban on motors applied to wheelchairs as well as vehicles. Organizers have said they don’t want to spook the many horses that walk the route.
But this year, “I believe the parade should come into the 21st century,” resident Heidi Langefeld told the City Council. She spoke on behalf of her brother Herb, who is confined to a wheelchair and wants to participate in the 2012 parade.
The Fiesta Association hosts and pays for the parade as part of its monthlong celebration of the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano. As in years past, members went before the City Council to ask for a parade permit and license and to approve the street closures for the day. The parade is scheduled for March 24.
The council agreed but with a string attached: Change the wheelchair policy.
Surely the intent of being a non-motorized parade wasn’t designed to keep people from participating, said Councilman John Taylor, adding that motorized wheelchairs shouldn’t detract from the event’s attempt to take the public back to a simpler time.
“Thank you!” yelled Herb from his wheelchair.
Derek Reeve, who is in a wheelchair himself, said he didn’t “walk” the parade last year. So when a constituent told him of the motorized wheelchair ban, “I thought they were kidding. I just brushed it off,” he said.
“To not [allow] an electric wheelchair effectively bans people who medically need an electric wheelchair from participating in the parade,” Reeve said.
Several representatives of the Fiesta Association also spoke at the council meeting. Larry Thomas said he personally isn’t opposed to the ban, but “there’s an issue for public safety with the horses.”
Councilwoman Laura Freese said the horses are more likely to get spooked from the spectators than other parade participants.
Councilman Sam Allevato agreed.
“It can be done," he said. "Parade organizers need to do just what they always do and separate the groups."
The council's contingent approval passed 5-0 to applause from those in attendance.