As part of a settlement the City of Long Beach will have to fix thousands of curb ramps and sidewalks over the next few decades. Stock photo.
The City of Long Beach settled a class action lawsuit this week regarding failures in its infrastructure to accommodate persons with disabilities and will commence making fixes to those issues over the next 30 years at a price tag that could ultimately reach $250 million.
The suit, originally filed in 2014 and granted class status in 2015, listed five plaintiffs and those “similarly situated” as those suing the city for sidewalks, crosswalks and other pedestrian pathway safety issues that did not meet the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), a labor law enacted in 1990 that established guidelines for public spaces and protections from discrimination for persons with disabilities.
As a result of the settlement, the city will need to replace some 4,500 curb ramps (estimated $25 million) over the next five years, retrofit up to 16,000 existing curb ramps that are damaged or found to be non-compliant ($50 million), allocate funds for the continuation of an access request program ($5 million over 10 years) and repair inaccessible sidewalks, crosswalks and other pedestrian facilities, a task that could cost up to $125 million over the next 30 years.
Long Beach Director of Public Works Craig Beck said that the funding will come from a mixture of the gas tax, community development block grants, transportation and general fund dollars. However, he said that the amount of money could fluctuate based on what a sidewalk survey reveals—an independent party will carry out the survey as a provision of the settlement.
“I anticipate that amount may need to grow to address all the needs, but we aren’t sure how much it will be until we complete an evaluation of the 1,160 miles of sidewalks in the City,” Beck said. “That evaluation is underway now and should be completed in early 2018.”
Other provisions of the settlement include public meetings required to be held within one year of the evaluation being completed, plaintiffs’ abilities to weigh in on the outlined plans, quarterly and annual inspections being performed by the plaintiffs’ legal representation and the requirement for the city to maintain the employment of an ADA coordinator to help execute the fixes over the next few years.
The settlement was signed by all parties in early March and approved by Judge Dale Fischer of the United States District Court Central District Monday.
In a statement, Andrew Lee of Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho, the firm that helped represent the plaintiffs, said that the settlement would enhance access to jobs, schools and the community for disabled persons, and potentially even save lives.
“This agreement furthers the integration mandate of the ADA and other disability access laws, and ensures that people with mobility disabilities will no longer need to risk their lives traveling in the streets because a curb ramp is missing or a sidewalk is cracked,” Lee said.
Cynde Soto, a plaintiff listed in the suit and a longtime resident of the city said that the settlement would have a “huge” impact on daily life for her and others who travel through the city and have struggled to do so with the state of some non-compliant walkways and curbs.
Cathy Shimozono, also listed as a plaintiff, said that the changes are already starting to be seen in the city as well as the benefits that come along with better, safer access to streets and sidewalks.
“When I was traveling to the post office the other day I saw that the city had installed a beautiful new curb cut at the intersection of 3rd and Elm Street,” Shimozono said. “I’ve struggled to travel through this intersection for nearly 20 years, and this was by far the easiest trip I’d ever taken. I’m looking forward to seeing similar changes throughout our city, and can’t wait to travel our newly-accessible streets.”
The final cost of the settlement could be lower than anticipated if there is any overlap between planned street improvements and the issues identified in the survey expected to be completed next year. A provision in the settlement allows for the city to do this without having to pay out the dollar amount outlined in the settlement.
“The City has adopted a ‘complete streets’ approach to roadway repair. Essentially, that means if crews are working on a street they will also fix any sidewalk issues at the same time,” Beck said in an email. “So, when the work is complete there is both new roadway, and sidewalks, curb ramps, etc. necessary to meet path of travel needs. Measure A is identified to address road repair, so it will also help address some sidewalk issues as that work is done.”