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City to Match Donations for New Playground

Up to $110,000 will be given to Courtney's SandCastle, which is accessible to disabled children.

If you donate money to help build the second half of Courtney's SandCastle all-access playground, the city will match it up to $110,000.

The San Clemente City Council approved the matching money Tuesday amid broad support from speakers. The matching funds bring the city's total expenditure on the playground accessible to disabled children to about $962,000; phase one is open and operating at the Vista Hermosa Sports Park.

Parks and recreation volunteers, autism experts, parents of children with autism and San Clemente teen Courtney Faye Smith, the inspiration and chief promoter of the playground project, all spoke in favor of the funding.

All mentioned the planned "sensory garden," which involves scented and edible plants, as well as tactile, visual and water elements. A replica tide pool and fountain are planned.

"My son is severely affected by autism," said resident Nancy Brady. "His biggest complaint is how hard it is to organize his body. He asked his doctor, 'what can I do better to control my body?'"

According to the experts, a trip to a spot like the planned sensory garden is one way. Integrating sensory activities helps soothe and calibrate the nervous system of people with developmental disabilities. Brady, for instance, said she has to regularly take her son to visit the fountains at shopping centers in Newport Beach, where he'll sit for hours.

"I'd like to be able to do that here," she said, and then quoted her son. "'Peace seems to be a simple thing to find, but if you have autism, it doesn't come easy.'"

Sharla Pitzen, the director of special education for the Capistrano Unified School District, spoke in favor of the project, as did a specialist from Saddleback College and a woman who runs Beach Kids Family Center that serves 200 families of children with disabilities in San Clemente.

The San Clemente City Council approved the funding unanimously; Councilman Tim Brown suggested the dollar-for-dollar mechanism rather than allocating the money outright.

"I like the idea of filling the bucket together," Brown said.

The Courtney's SandCastle Foundation to date, and expects the final phase of the project to cost about $450,000. The San Clemente City Council had previously rejected all bids for the playground's phase II because they were too expensive.

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