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December 07, 2005 | Read comments | Post a comment

California creamin'

Back in the 1970s and 1980s California was considered well ahead of the nation in disability rights. But they seem to be simply wrongheaded on disability stuff a lot of the time nowadays. The backlash against access -- with crips who sue painted as evil lawsuit-hungry terrors -- is just one area in which the anti-disability rights crowd seems to have the upper hand. San Francisco, that alleged bastion of enlightened citizenry, is also spending over half a million dollars to create a new institution for its gimps.

Today seems to be "cream the cripples" day at Voice of San Diego, an alternative nonprofit news site that appears to be rather establishment-driven. Two pieces posted today bash the Americans with Disabilities Act and castigate activists seeking access.

The first Voice story today was sent to me by a reader. Stairway to Trouble is about attorney Ted Pinnock ("Theodore," in the story) who's filing ADA access suits in the small California town of Julian. Wait -- no; he's just "threatening to sue."

The attorney, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, recently sent 67 businesses in Julian a letter threatening to sue for their non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The act required businesses to offer adequate access to people with disabilities by 1992.

Uh, yeah. 1992. That's coming up on 14 years now, right? You'd think that would be enough time, right?

I love this added bit of information reporter Will Carless gives us: "Pinnock researched each business and wrote all the letters himself."

Does that last sound to you just a teensy weensy bit, uh, paternalistic?

Carless's entire story is about the townspeople's assessment of Pinnock's action:

The San Diego attorney who has become the talk of this small town of apple pies and mom-and-pop stores is referred to by the townspeople at once as a crook, a fraud and other monikers too rude for publication.

Read the rest of the story to learn all the excuses Julian bigwigs give Carless to explain why they're upset: seems they've done a lot already and it's going to cost a lot and two fires around the town have already hurt it so much and ....

In California, "access" has been turned on its head by the likes of Clint Eastwood and cronies, so that it means not access at all. They can't imagine that people who sue for access actually want access. Or, surely it must be an afterthought, after all that money they're going to make:

Pinnock's letters suggest that the businesses contact an attorney and that they start mediation proceedings with his firm, Pinnock & Wakefield APC. The letter offers business owners another option: bring their buildings up to compliance and compensate Pinnock.

See that last? Read the story.

The Voice went the extra mile today, with not one but two anti-ADA pices. The second is an opinion column by "IT consultant and dog lover" David Lynn, who writes about a community group who wants to create a park for dogs to have a place to run.

Of course it was too good to be true. We promptly hit our first roadblock: the city's parks and recreation department returned all of our donation checks informing us that some legislation had come down requiring that any upgrades to city property include compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA.

That means wheelchair accessible sidewalks and handicapped parking. We weren't the only group to get hit with this dilemma, as museums had had similar problems.

It's yet another law created with good intentions yet distorted and misapplied...

Earlier in the piece, Lynn notes that the city requires lighting and fencing for the park, but all that evidently makes sense. Access doesn't. Read the full story here.

San Diego's alternative paper isn't the only source of crip creamin' this week in California. This past weekend MSNBC's website posted a piece by San Francisco Business Times reporter Chris Rauber about San Francisco's bizarre (to me, anyhow) push to rebuild its city-run nursing home, Laguna Honda. This time the creaming isn't coming from the reporter, but the SF establishment. Rather than spend money letting Laguna Honda "patients" live on their own, they're rebuilding them a nice new institution. .

Why, one might ask. Rauber offers up a nice quote from an unnamed source -- wonder why they're unnamed? -- that puts it quite succinctly:

"Other cities aren't building nursing homes, they're closing them," said a health-care consultant familiar with the niche, who contends the Laguna Honda rebuild is primarily motivated by a desire to preserve relatively high-paying union positions. "It's not about care. It's about jobs."
Read the whole story: The $600M question: Will S.F. waste its money on Laguna Honda?

Posted by mjohnson on December 7, 2005 04:07 PM


"Pinnock researched each business and wrote all the letters himself."

Oh, how precious. And then someone patted him on the head and gave him a lollipop for the effort? A gold star on his behavior chart? Yikes. He's a LAWYER, it's his JOB to research cases and write letters, isn't it? Completely gratuitous mention of the man's ordinary everyday work activities.

Yeah, California, my adopted state, always something dodgy going on someplace around here--remember, it's a big state.

Posted by: Penny on December 7, 2005 09:12 PM

I sent Mr. Lynn (San Diego dog park guy) a short, sweet email today:

I'm not quite following your objection to wheelchair access for dog parks in Voice of San Diego (http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c=euLTJbMUKvH&b=312470&ct=1705237). I'm a wheelchair user, and I have a dog, and I take her to the dog park (in Longmont, Colorado, not that that matters). It's a real struggle to negotiate the non-accessible route between the sidewalk and the dog park. Why are lights and fences good, but access is not?

Very sincerely,
Katja Stokley
the shortest distance between two points
is usually inaccessible

Posted by: Katja on December 10, 2005 05:28 PM

Hey Katya, thanks for your comment, and for sending Mr. Lynn that note! Be sure to let us know if he replies.

Posted by: mary Johnson on December 12, 2005 07:42 AM

As Marvin Wasserman of the 504 Democratic Club pointed out, Goldwater-Coler Hospital in NYC is bigger than Laguna Honda. It has 2000 beds. I guess when you see the difference in size between SF and NYC, it’s not surprising that NYC’s hospital would be bigger. But that does not make it acceptable!

It would be nice if community care were offered to all and these buildings became something else like apartments or a school or anything else!

Jean Ryan, Disabled in Action (of NYC)

Posted by: Jean Ryan on December 12, 2005 06:12 PM

All I can say is that I wrote the story. You guys seems to have some complaints with it.

Here's the simple e-mail I got From Mr. Pinnock after the story ran:


good article

ted pinnock

Here's a sample of some of the other letters I received:


Thanks for the informative story. I am wheelchair bound, and visited Julian about six years ago with my wife, and I haven't been back since, exactly for the reasons that Pinnock pointed out. The inconvience that sticks out in my memory is eating lunch at Julian resturant and then attempting to use the bathroom.I do remember the bathroom door had a wheelchair sign on it, but when I entered the bathroom and attemped to use the wheelchair stall, my wheelchair would not fit into the stall or anywhere near the toilet so that I could tranfer on to the toilet. I had to get my wife to help me transfer and to stand guard at the door so I could have some privecy, because I could not close the stall door because there was no room to close the door. I am apalled at the attitude of the merchants in Julian, they are glad to take our money, but have done nothing to make access for the disabled any easier. Let me see, they have had fourteen years to comply, fourteen years of taking money from the disabled, but in fourteen years they haven't made one attempt to comply. Now (Pinnock) has called their attention to the problem and he's the crook? Go figure.

R. Birch

Rancho San Diego

One of the problems with being one-sided is that no-one really listens to you.

Your only audience is the choir that sings alongside you. That's why journalists get paid to write stories that are accurate, unbiased and informative.

I would say my piece was all three.

When you get emails from both sides of the debate praising the piece, you know you have done a good job.

Will Carless

Posted by: Will Carless on December 12, 2005 06:41 PM

Mary -

I did reply through VoSD, and the text is below. Thank you for opening the debate on this issue.
For those people who think us dog lovers don't want to include wheelchairs in our upgrades to a public park, we did state that we believe the ADA is a good law, but has been misapplied. However, what is disappointing to us is that a complete project is put on hold, a project which includes important safety elements to help prevent more dogs from being killed in traffic, due to various officials not wanting to get sued under ADA.

Again, I support your position. But it is not my duty to pay personally for your requirements in public areas, aside from through my taxes. It is the government's responsibility to maintain public places appropriately. If I were developing a condo building or shopping center, that is an entirely different matter; but this is a public park. Our positions aren't really very far apart: we both want upgrades to public areas and there's no public money.

Posted by: David Lynn on December 12, 2005 07:14 PM

Pinnock and Wakefield has decided not to provide notice before filing an lawsuit. The reasons for this decision are as follows:
1. The ADA does not require notice
2. The state law does not require notice
3. Even if the state law required notice the ADA would still allow for a lawsuit to be brought in federal court
4. Due to the threats to Mr. Pinnock and his family
5. Due to the fact that Mr. Pinnock has been investigated for giving notices even though that the private sector requested notice be given
6. Due to the negative publicity
7. Due to the Julian businesses
8. Due to the conduct of Lawyers Against Lawsuit Abuse

From now on Pinnock and Wakefield will file lawsuits to enforce the ADA.
Pinnock and Wakefield believes that it requires the protection of the court system to guard against the hatred and the resistance of businesses towards individuals with disabilities and their advocates that demand to be free from hatred and oppression, to be compensated for access violations and that demand of accessibility.

Posted by: theodore Pinnock on January 4, 2006 10:19 PM

The news broadcast in BBC that the Retired Pay Restoration Act of 2005 will assist disabled veterans who, under current law, must choose to either receive their retirement pay or disability compensation.

Posted by: Andrew Spark on February 1, 2006 05:59 AM

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