The City of San Diego was ordered to pay over $100,000 in penalties and fees last week after a federal court found it had both violated two San Diego residents’ civil rights and shown itself unwilling to make the changes necessary to bring the Torrey Pines Gliderport into compliance with federal law.
Long-time San Diego county residents Scott Schutza and John Karczewski visited the Torrey Pines Gliderport on March 11, 2013 and March13, 2013 and again in September 2014 seeking to join other spectators in watching the sailplanes, hang gliders and paragliders, as well as participate in a certified paraglide.
The Gliderport is owned by the city of San Diego, and operated by a small corporation that leases the area from the City. It’s located on a coastal bluff in La Jolla which overlooks the Pacific Ocean, and is the home to hang gliding, paragliding, radio-controlled model sailplanes, and full-scale man-carrying sailplanes. The serene location offers activities and views unlike anywhere else, and it is listed as a national historic landmark of the National Soaring Museum and a Model Aviation Historical Landmark of the Academy of Model Aeronautics.
Both Mr. Schutza and Mr. Karczewski are paraplegic and use wheelchairs for mobility. During their visits they were disappointed to find the public, City-owned venue failed to provide accessible restrooms, accessible parking, pedestrian paths of travel, and accessible snack bars/concessions. They sought to have the violations fixed, first by filing a simple claim with the City, and then, after the City failed to act within the time required by law, by filing a lawsuit in December 2013.
Failure to act became the City’s litigation strategy. The case was delayed repeatedly and the inaccessible conditions lingered as the City promised to issue a Request for Proposal, the document that opens the bidding process for land management and improvement. The City promised the Request for Proposal would resolve all of Mr. Schutza and Mr. Karczewski’s concerns once a contractor was selected. After three years of litigation and unfulfilled promises, the plaintiffs filed a Motion for Summary Judgment in January 2016, which was granted in part on June 29, 2016. In that Order, the Court held the City must install a fully accessible portable restroom. It was another four months before that restroom was installed, and nearly another six months after that, on April 12, 2017, before the City officially agreed to make the rest of the changes the plaintiffs had sought in their motion.
“While Defendants claim they willingly made changes to alleviate the barriers long before the negotiation of the settlement, they were unwilling to make any concessions or remedy any of the barriers until after their summary judgment motion was denied in full,” the Honorable Cathy Ann Bencivengo, U.S. District Judge for the Southern District, wrote on July 24, 2017. “The Court is not convinced that any of the changes effectuated at the Gliderport would have occurred but for Plaintiffs’ pursuit of this lawsuit.”
The Court found that the City is obligated to provide and maintain two designated accessible parking stalls with access aisles, a fully compliant accessible restroom, an accessible transaction counter, and a picnic table that is accessible, properly designated and reserved, as a direct result of Mr. Schutza and Mr. Karczewski’s efforts. The Court awarded the men the full penalty they sought, as well as all of their costs and attorneys’ fees.
As for the promised Request for Proposal, the City finally issued it on July 20, 2016. It was closed without being awarded on November 21, 2016, and re-issued on February 22, 2017. The deadline for bids was April 10, 2017. No contract has been awarded. The small corporation operating the Gliderport for the City has remained on a month-to-month lease during the litigation.
Mr. Schutza and Mr. Karczewski were presented in this matter by Potter Handy, LLP. Potter Handy has handled civil rights cases for persons with disabilities in California under the name Center for Disability Access since 1996. Potter Handy is the leading law firm regarding disability access under the ADA. Its attorneys have litigated hundreds of trials and appeals in federal and state courts, including California courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. Potter Handy has obtained over 150 published opinions that have expanded the civil and consumer rights of persons in California and throughout the United States in over a thousand of cases such as personal injury cases, civil rights matters, employee claims, and consumer class actions.
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