Recently, Ocean Beach Planning Board voted 13-1 to deny support for the City’s proposed new ramp replacement. OBPB countered by recommending instead the City consider building the ramp elsewhere, on the path crowning the berm leading to the guard tower between Dog Beach and the regular beach.
Describing the project’s $1.1 million price tag as a “boondoggle,” OBPB planner Bo Willsey, speaking for himself, said, “While I support ADA access vigorously, I and many others have witnessed the current location of the ramp to nowhere is atrocious and never used by those with mobility limitations.”
Willsey pointed out wheelchair users exit the parking lot up to the bike trail grade, then proceed to roll out on the flat path to the end at lifeguard station No. 5, where the view and access can be enjoyed.
Further complicating the situation is a lawsuit, Scott Schutza v. City of San Diego, which was filed in May 2016 by the Center for Disability Access, a large San Diego law firm that is one of the top filers of ADA lawsuits in California.
That suit was recently settled out of court for a $50,000 payment. The wheelchair-bound plaintiff, Scott Schutza, alleged he was discriminated against because of his disability, in violation of federal and state anti-discrimination statutes. Schutza contended the City had failed and refused to ensure the accessibility of public facilities at OB Dog Beach including the River Trail.
“As a result of [the City’s] failure to ensure the accessibility of the beach’s and trail’s facilities, plaintiff has suffered, and will continue to be denied, full and equal access to the programs, services and activities defendants offer to members of the public at and through the beach and trail,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff seeks to compel the City to comply with its obligations, and also seeks damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees, and the costs and litigation expenses incurred for enforcing his civil rights.”
Schutza, his wife, and dogs visited Dog Beach and the San Diego River Trail weekly from June 2015 to July 16, 2015. During his last visit, Schutza alleges he encountered “an architectural barrier and highly unsafe condition on the public path of travel leading to the beach that caused him to experience difficulty, discomfort, inconvenience, embarrassment, fear, and injury, and denied him full and equal access to the beach’s public facilities.”
“Due to the condition of the ramp, plaintiff fell to the ground and injured his ribs, right shoulder, and right arm,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff was treated in the emergency room for his injuries, and still experiences pain.”
Reacting to the lawsuit settlement, Willsey said: "It's a shame to see the City make a large 'pay to go away' settlement to a plaintiff, who supposedly wanted to force the City to increase access for all to Dog Beach. But in reality the settlement didn't do that at all. It didn't find the City was at fault, nor require the City to do anything.
“So on its own accord, the City decides it needs to proceed to spend an egregious $1.1 million to rebuild ramps that continue to segregate mobility-challenged people to an isolated piece of concrete slab far from others and far from any true sense of enjoying Dog Beach … without first offering the public other more user-friendly, integrated and smarter solutions at a much more effective cost to taxpayers."
“The board felt the $1.1 million price tag for this project was money wasted when better amenities for persons with disabilities could be created nearby,” said Ocean Beach Planning Group chair Andrea Schlageter. “Now having seen the lawsuit settlement, the board was right in its assessment. The lawsuit has complaints listed for signage, appropriate parking for disabled persons, and too steep an incline to connect the parking lot to the curb that connects to the ramp that leads to the beach. But there is no mention in the settlement of rebuilding the ramp.”
Willsey warned against the City's “throwing good money after bad.”
“While compelled to act due to the lawsuit, the City is not compelled to repeat the same errors it made in constructing the ramp the first time in a poor location where it becomes awash in sand and useless,” he said. “Basically it was, 'Here's the plan and it's going to cost $1.1 million because someone sued us.’ Better ADA can be accomplished for less money, and be a truly welcome and added addition to Dog Beach.”
“Funding for the project would come from the Mission Bay Improvement Fund and the Regional Park Improvement Fund,” said City spokesman Tim Graham. “No projects will be delayed as a result of this project.”
In Schutza’s lawsuit, his attorney, Mark D. Potter, requested that the court issue an injunction ordering the City to bring Dog Beach ADA ramp and the River Trail into compliance with federal and state accessibility standards.