Game Changer: Disabled Angelenos Win Major Concessions from City

Thanks to an ADA lawsuit settlement, crossings such as this one may become a thing of the past in L.A. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/ubrayj02/3255529322/##Ubrayj02/Flickr##

Crumbling sidewalks and intersections without curb cuts are a common problem in L.A., but they’re a lot more noticeable when you’re moving with wheels.  Whether it’s pushing a baby stroller, or doing some sidewalk bicycle riding, the lack of curb cuts is suddenly a major issue.  While its a minor inconvenience to someone who is healthy and pushing wheels by choice, people who suffer from some physical ailment can find the lack of a curb cut to be as daunting a barrier as a moat filled with crocodiles.

The state of Los Angeles’ sidewalks is in terrible shape, especially when it comes to following the American with Disabilities Act which requires cuts to make sidewalks accessible to those in wheelchairs.  But thanks to a proposed legal settlement between a group of disabled Angelenos and the City of Los Angeles things might finally be changing.

Rather than battle the plaintiffs in court, the City decided to settle out of court.  But just because the plaintiff’s are settling doesn’t mean that the City is getting off easy.  Assuming the court approves the settlement the city will have to:

  • Place curb cuts or access ramps to intersections on 1,000 intersections in less than a year.
  • The city will spend up to $4 million each year to improve pedestrian crossings and safety in high-risk areas that have more pedestrian traffic, such as the areas around schools, government buildings and parks.
  • Over the next twenty five years, the city will bring all areas to compliance with the American with Disability Act
  • The city will complete a survey to see what the needs and cost are to bring the city into compliance with the ADA.
  • The City will create an advisory committee to monitor progress in complying with the new settlement
  • The Superior Court will have final say, not the City, to decide whether or not the City is holding up its end of the agreement.

The city is playing things close to the vest, they very politely refused comment for this story, but Los Angeles’ advocacy community was effusive.  “They’ve had plenty of time to fix this ongoing issue, it’s sad that a lawsuit is needed to get justice for pedestrians,” commented Deborah Murphy, the founder of L.A. Walks and Chair of the City’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee (although here she is speaking as the former and not the latter.)

Photo:##http://www.flickr.com/photos/whenigodeaf/2992108102/lightbox/##QsySye/Flickr##

By “plenty of time,” Murphy is referring to the decades of neglect that Los Angeles’ sidewalks have undergone, especially when it comes to the ADA.  Murphy and other advocates believed the city had turned a corner more than a decade ago with the City Council unanimously made a commitment in 1999 to use funds from a settlement with the tobacco industry to repair sidewalks and parks.  However, that commitment ended after the first year of a twenty-five year settlement and the sidewalks continued to crumble and fall more out-of-date with modern standards.

Another warning for the City of Los Angeles was the landmark decision in Barden v Sacramento.   Joan Barden and other plaintiffs sucessfully argued that the State Capital violated the ADA by allowing sidewalks to fall into disrepair.  The Ninth Circuit Court agreed , ruling that the ADA convers anything “a public entity does,” which includes the construction and maintenance of sidewalks.

“This is a great example that class action lawsuits can have a great benefit to the public,” commented Howard Krepack, a Partner with Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Fulton & Goldstein LLP.  “This is a great thing for disabled or injured pedestrians, or anyone that regularly uses sidewalks.”  Krepack is not a class action lawyer.

Because the settlement impacts so many people, it literally impacts every disabled person that lives within or visits Los Angeles there will be a chance for the public to comment on the settlement before it is finalized by the court.  Krepack explained the process to me over the phone.

The court is going to want to hear from as many people as possible to make sure the agreement between the two parties is fair.  While the agreement does a lot for the state of the city’s sidewalks and pedestrian crossings, it also protects the city somewhat from future lawsuits.  There is a “no opt-out” clause in the settlement, meaning that “…members of the Settlement Class will not be able to opt out of the Settlement Class if the Court grants final approval of the proposed settlement.”  But, there is a an opportunity for people to either protest (or support) the settlement.

If you are a member of the Settlement Class, you can object to any part of the settlement. You can give the reasons why you think that the Court should not approve it. To object, you must send a letter or other document stating that you object to the settlement. Please be sure to include your name, address,
telephone number, your signature, a reference to the pending actions, the portions of the settlement to which you object, and the reasons that you object.

You must mail your objection (first class mail, postage paid), postmarked no later than September 7, 2011, to all of the following:

Clerk of the Court
Los Angeles Superior Court
600 South Commonwealth Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90005

David Raizman, Esq.
Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP
1800 Century Park East, 14th Floor
Los Angeles, California 9006

Mike Arias, Esq.
Arias Ozzello & Gignac LLP
6701 Center Drive West, 14th Floor
Los Angeles, California 90045

Morse Mehrban, Esq.
Law Offices of Morse Meharban
12100 Wilshire Boulevard, 8th Floor
Los Angeles, California 90025

From there, the Court will hold a Final Approval Hearing at 10:00 a.m. on October 20, 2011, at the Los Angeles Superior Court, 600 South Commonwealth Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90005 in Department 324. At this hearing, the Court will consider whether the settlement is fair, reasonable, and adequate.

  • This is great news. Thanks for your coverage, LA Streetsblog!

  • I think this is great news, with a caveats:  The city of LA shouldn’t waste funds installing curb cuts on streets with sidewalks that are narrower then a wheel-chair, or have obstacles literally FEET from the corner which make the side-walk in-navigable to a wheelchair.  I’ve seen this done in several places, but the most egregious example was on the NE corner of Las Palmas and Lexington in Hollywood.

    I’m all for ADA compliance, but let’s not waste time and money installing something totally useless.

  • Anonymous
  • Joe B

    I don’t see that as a waste. I see it as the first step in making the sidewalk accessible (and more useful for the able-bodied as well). The second step involves cutting back that bush and widening the sidewalk.

    As to your broader point about not installing useless infrastructure, I agree. But the infrastructure you point out is far from useless.

  • Joe, I thought about that too–but at a time when funds are so tight, it seems ridiculous to install something that may not be functional for 10-30 years (maybe longer, knowing how long it takes LA to do things).  In order to make that sidewalk ADA compliant, it appears that they’d have to either narrow the road (unlikely) or use eminent domain to take a few feet of that property and demolish the wall/hedge, in addition to removing a street lamp and setting it further back.  A huge expense which you and I both know isn’t going to happen for decades.

    But I agree, whenever possible it’s best to plan for the future, but when you’re broke as we are, you have to have a few small priorities.

  • The precedent here is fantastic for other cities to wake up.

    Next lawsuit: Cities that install medians and turn midblock (legal unmarked) crosswalks into walls.

  • Jakewegmann

    Fantastic. 

    I’ve often wondered how so many cities with such dangerous walking/wheelchair access conditions can NOT be getting sued more frequently.Cobb County, Georgia, anyone?

  • Maybe the city should close the sidewalks that are in poor repair or too narrow. This way the ADA enforcers has no completes as to accessibility. If it is not a public sidewalk it does not need to meet ADA requirements.  The same goes for public buildings that would require major reworks to make them ADA compliant. Close the buildings and move the services to buildings that do meet ADA requirements. This may make it more difficult for everyone but it will meet the new imposed ADA requirements and it will save us all a lot of money which we do not have in meeting the newly imposed rules.

  • Mark Elliot

    I wonder if there’s not an inspiration here for cyclists – in more ways than one. For the differentially-abled, it’s a matter of equal access; that’s at the heart of ADA. Prior to ADA-compliance, they were too-long required to navigate inhospitable terrain without curb cuts, ramps and most importantly standards of accommodation. They organized and won those standards and avenues for recourse, and over time almost literally wrested the accommodations to which they were entitled under the law accommodation-by-accommodation.
    Cyclists fall back on the settled right to access the public right-of-way, but that’s not the end of what should be required accommodation but instead the beginning. Cyclists are a class of road user who too must navigate inhospitable terrain – roads that were and are designed exclusively for motoring – and we are still in the early stage or organizing to demand the federal, state, and local governments to accommodate us. 
    With federal complete streets policy guidance we can point to a baseline. With legislation like California’s complete streets, we will secure improvements in General Plans and circulation/mobility elements. 
    What’s left to secure is the legal recourse to compel electeds and officials to make the required accommodations. In a region like LA and Orange County, that should include bike lanes, bike boxes, and for key intersections, dedicated signaling. Otherwise, cyclists are left to fend for ourselves, crossing four lanes to make a left turn, for example, or battling with motorists at every right-turn lane if we want to continue without turning.   
    CA Complete Streets mandates updating General Plans only every five years, so in a city like Beverly Hills (which adopted the most recent plan in 2010) change will come slowly. With the proper legal tools we can secure a settlement like this one, rather than fight every battle in ad-hoc fashion – without any broader gains or compensation to fund our campaign. 

  • El Barto

    Pathetic. The city of Los Angeles is broke as a joke, and the country is broke as a fuckin joke. Wow. what a bunch of losers we are. Talking about making side walks ADA compliant in 25 years?!?! Wow. Do you all realize how much of a joke our county is? There are cities in Communist China is dropping 140 billion dollars onto complete subway systems that will provide entire cities with cheap convenient transport in 5 years time. Meanwhile… our city is projected to fix some curbs in twenty five fuckin years. THIS COUNTRY IS A JOKE!

  • Here is a discussion of the Americans with Disabilities Act and sidewalks, including the Barden v. Sacramento court case that determined that sidewalks are indeed covered by the ADA.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksqfGz6Y0v0 

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