For 3½ years, San Francisco has been embroiled in a lawsuit brought by a wheelchair-bound woman who alleges that The City does not do enough to make its sidewalks, parks, libraries and pools accessible to the disabled.
The class-action lawsuit is set to go to trial next month in a federal court in Oakland. The case does not seek monetary damages, but rather seeks to force The City to spend far more than it currently does on accessibility in its public right-of-ways and public parks. The suit could also cost The City millions in attorney fees, on top of the money already spent defending the case.
The plaintiffs — disabled San Francisco residents Ivana Kirola and Elizabeth Elftman — claim The City is not doing enough to make its sidewalks, curbs and crosswalks traversable by people with disabilities. They also point out that many neighborhood parks and public pools aren’t fully accessible for wheelchairs. Also, they claim that despite the millions of dollars spent on renovating each neighborhood library in the past decade, many still have barriers.
But The City tells a different story. Susan Mizner, director of the Mayor’s Office on Disability, said San Francisco is considered a “model city” in terms of how much it spends on making public space accessible. As it stands, San Franciscans annually spend $9 per capita adding ramps on curbs and improving sidewalks and crosswalks — between $6 million and $7 million a year, total.
“Per capita, we spend more on the public right-of-way than any other city I’ve talked to,” Mizner said.
As for parks, a trial brief by the City Attorney’s Office states that of San Francisco’s 200 or so Recreation and Parks facilities, The City has renovated 89 of them in the past 10 years, “creating a network of accessible RecPark facilities equally distributed throughout San Francisco.”
The federal Americans with Disabilities Act does not require every single park to be accessible, but simply provide “meaningful access” to them, which “by any measure,” San Francisco currently does, the brief states.
But the plaintiffs’ attorney, Mark Johnson, pointed out that neighborhood parks are unique, and should be accessible to everyone in a neighborhood.
“If a parent with a disabled child or a disabled parent with a child wants to go to a park because the child’s friends play there, they can’t do that if the park’s not accessible,” he said.
Deputy City Attorney Jim Emery said that despite having limited resources, San Francisco has made it a priority to go above and beyond ADA requirements.
“Look at what we’re doing today — we’re doing more than any other city or county in the country,” he said.
But Johnson said the thousands of cracked sidewalks and curbs without ramps in The City prove otherwise.
“They’ve had decades to do this,” he said. “This case is about the standards to which a public entity should be held to provide services and facilities to its constituency on an equal basis.”