More on the ‘Million-Dollar Sidewalk to Nowhere’ at Dog Beach

by on August 20, 2019 · 3 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

This is a follow up story about a $1.1 million city project that was presented to the OB Planning Board on Wednesday August 7.  The City explained to the board and the audience that the accessible sidewalk at Dog Beach had to be replaced as a result of a lawsuit.  The distinct impression given was that rebuilding the existing sidewalk was a condition of the lawsuit and there was no choice at all.

The city was unable to tell the OBPB what was wrong with the sidewalk other than it had some cracks and was covered in sand.  Those were not great reasons for spending over a million dollars.  They had no information on the particulars of the lawsuit.  So, this reporter made a Public Records Request of the city attorney and they responded almost immediately with a copy of the complaint and the settlement.

Upon reading the complaint, it appeared the legal action was generated by a man falling in a wheelchair.  But, not on the existing ADA sidewalk.   Where he fell had nothing to do with the existing accessible facility.  He apparently accessed the top of the asphalt bike path and went across the big, circular concrete “paw.”  He tried to wheel down off the concrete slab onto the unfinished jetty top in order to wheel across the sandy, rocky berm top to be out by the guard tower.

There was a cheesy little piece of concrete or asphalt sort of tiny ramp to transition from the concrete down five or six inches to the dirt, probably intended for bikes.. This was not an ADA design and was not intended for wheel chair traffic, the picture attached to the lawsuit speaks for itself.  Since that time, the city has raised the grade so that there is a level transition from the concrete to the top of the jetty.  But, this accident location is thirty feet away from the ADA sidewalk there now.

That’s the first surprising take away from reading the complaint.  The second surprising take away was that there is no stipulation in the settlement about replacing the existing sidewalk in the same place as the old.  In fact, there is no stipulation about rebuilding anything.

The plaintiff clearly hired a highly charged law firm.  The complaint contains an incredible amount of detail about ADA violations of the existing sidewalk, the parking lot, the ramps out of the parking lot and access to the sidewalk itself.  They scoured the whole Dog Beach Parking lot and measured everything including slopes everywhere.  The amount of detail is mind boggling.  The city probably took one look at all of that and just decided it needed to rebuild.  But, they do not have to rebuild in the exact same place.

The OB planning board voted to not approve the project and recommended a new design that would allow the very same access the plaintiff attempted to have.  It now appears that the design can definitely be rethought because of the lawsuit’s silence on the matter of rebuilding.

A visit to the site revealed that the existing walkway is not in terrible shape.  There is some cracking.  One of the slabs has moved.  The original design appears to have been poorly done in that the curbs were not poured monolithically with the sidewalk. That means they were not one pour, the curbs are not connected to the sidewalk slabs.  In places the curbs have drifted away and the city has filled the resulting gaps with epoxy.  But, overall, it is not in bad shape.  Cracks can be fixed.

The lawsuit cited a number of problems with the sidewalk, the slopes being the biggest concern.  They cited what the slopes were, said they were out of compliance with current ADA standards, but never said by how much.  It would take an ADA expert to say if the slope problems were minor or significant.

The suit complained about the terminus of the sidewalk at the sand where there was a bench.  The complaint said a wheelchair could not access the bench because of the sand.  This was a legitimate complaint.  There is a bench to the right of the end of the sidewalk.  The bench sits on a concrete slab that is covered with several inches of sand. There are two more benches nearby, both on concrete slabs and both inundated with sand.  The other two bench slabs do not appear to be connected to the sidewalk by walkways.  But, this is purely a maintenance issue.

The settlement awarded $50,000 to the plaintiff and that appeared to be it.  It was not a personal injury suit, it was a civil rights suit. Here were the main points:

First point:

“Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the City has failed and refused to ensure the accessibility of the public facilities at Ocean Beach Dog Beach (“Beach”), which includes the San Diego River Trail (“Trail”).”

Second Point:

“As a result of Defendants’ failure to ensure the accessibility of the Beach’s and Trail’s facilities, Plaintiff has suffered, and will continue to suffer, damages, and has been, 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.”

Third point:

Plaintiff also seeks damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees, and the costs and litigation expenses incurred for enforcing his civil rights.

The important result of seeing the actual lawsuit is that the current city design does not have to happen – it can be changed as there is nothing legally preventing the city from doing something different.

What the city needs to do is provide the access along the top of the jetty, the path the plaintiff tried to follow.  The existing design leaves a wheelchair bound person stuck in the middle of the sand a hundred yards away from the ocean sitting on a bench.  Whoever designed this originally should have their head examined.  The city does not need to spend $1.1 million on a sidewalk to nowhere.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Geoff Page August 20, 2019 at 3:15 pm

A nod to Kevin Hastings for finding this Reader article: https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2015/jan/07/citylights2-disabled-pawns/

Schutza has filed a boatload of these suits. There are 31 listed on the Superior Court site from 2006 to date. He doesn’t live in OB.

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Avatar Mary Hanchett August 26, 2019 at 9:20 pm

I am responsible for the curb cut onto the jetty. Before the cement ‘Paw’, I would go onto the hard-packed jetty directly from the asphalt trail, accessed from the parking lot. When the ‘Paw’ was first installed, there was a curb blocking what had been an accessible jetty. I was there when Byron cut the ribbon. Back then, a person could call the city works dept. and things were fixed. No lawsuit. Bikes, wagons, baby carriages and wheelchairs all use that beach access point. It took a few years for the city to get the transition smooth. As long as the sand is swept regularly there is no problem with the area. The ramps are ADA. I don’t want to see a good thing ruined. A million dollars could be better spent.

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Avatar Geoff Page August 30, 2019 at 3:11 pm

Thank you Mary for that bit of history. I guess, in a way, you’re responsible for the problem. No, just kidding. But, it is interesting. The city made the curb cut but made no logical effort to build a smooth ramp onto the the jetty. Typical city work. If the curb cut was done to help people onto the jetty, why didn’t any one of those knuckleheads think that was only half of the job? So, the city really is responsible for this, had there been a smooth transition there, as there is now, the guy wouldn’t have fallen and maybe this suit would never have occurred.

Frankly, I’m surprised this article did not generate any outrage at all.

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