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"Hands off our sidewalks!" writes San Diegan William Stothers. Read commentary.


List of over 260 cities who support Sacramento

Some cities changes sides, withdraw support for Sacramento appeal

SACRAMENTO, Jan. 11, 2003 -- Disability advocates in California are starting to turn the tide, as cities which had planned to support Sacramento in its fight against sidewalk access have decided to withdraw from signing a "friend of the court" brief on behalf of Sacramento in its quest to get the Supreme Court to take its case (see story below). The cities of San Anselmo, San Rafael, Corte Madera and Mill Valley (all in Marin County, near San Francisco) have all withdrawn support for the appeal (although another small Calif. city, Novato, has just voted to suport it -- see story in the Marin Independent Journal). San Rafael city manager Ron Gould told reporters the city withdrew its support for the suit when he learned "that this case is being seen as a major civil rights struggle.... it would affect how San Rafael is seen if we continued to support (the appeal)."

In late December, disability activists in San Diego got City Attorney Casey Gwinn to do an about-face as well. The city is withdrawing its support for the Sacramento lawsuit after activists held demonstrations and met with the city attorney. Advocates, he said, convinced him that "this is a civil rights issue."Read story in the San Diego Union Tribune.

Hundreds of other cities, though, have offered to sign onto a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Sacramento. In California alone, over 230 cities say they support Sacramento.

Disabled San Diegans had held protests weeks earlier, pressing Gwinn to reverse his position. "When you don't have passable sidewalks, that's like saying, 'We don't want you,' " Cyndi Jones told reporters.

Cities join Sacramento to take sidewalk access fight to Supreme Court

CHICO, CA Nov. 25, 2002 -- The Chico, Calif. Enterprise-Record reports that the Chico Town Council has voted not to join Sacramento in its bid to have the Supreme Court hear its case (see story below.) Sacramento " claims it already has the support of 75 cities, including Phoenix, Denver and New York City," reported the Enterprise-Record. Read story from Enterprise-Record.

SACRAMENTO, Nov. 1, 2002 -- The city of Sacramento, Calif. will petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case it lost in June, when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it was required under the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure its sidewalks were passable and usable by people in wheelchairs (see "Sidewalks Must Be Accessible, Says 9th Circuit"). The city has asked other cities to join it as "friends of the court" to "overturn the Ninth Circuit."

"The financial implications for cities, counties, telecommunications and utility companies if this decision is permitted to stand are enormous," writes Sacramento Public Works Director Mike Kashawagi in an Oct. 14 letter. He adds that the National League of Cities has already agreed to ask the Court to take the case.

"They want the Supreme Court to say that the ADA does NOT require sidewalks to be accessible to persons with disabilities," says Hollyn D'Lil, who is spearheading a campaign to convince Sacramento to drop the appeal. (See What you can do, below.)

In his letter, Kashawagi says the lawsuit claimed "that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a city's sidewalks must be made 'accessible' by the removal and replacement of displaced or broken concrete, by the removal of telephone poles and other 'obstructions' in the sidewalk; and by the removal and replacement of all sidewalks with 'excessive' cross slope." The cost for doing this, he says, is "enormous."

D'Lil points out, however, that Kashawagi is not being accurate; that the ADA itself already protects cities against undertaking renovations that would cause "undue hardship." She adds that the plaintiffs in the suit (of which she was one), "asked only for a plan to remove the barriers in the sidewalk." They have always been willing, she added, that it be done "incrementally" and "were willing to agree that the city could take up to 40 years to complete the project!" These facts were part of settlement negotiations with the city of Sacramento, she says, and are known to Kashawagi and to the Sacramento City Council members who must ultimately approve the petition to the Supreme Court.

"It is pretty obvious that cost is not the issue" with Sacramento, she says, and adds that the real issue is simply that Sacramento doesn't want to lose the lawsuit.

Kashawagi says Sacramento will handle the costs of the suit for the other cities. He asks that cities commit to joining the suit by Nov. 15.

The Ninth Circuit win for disability rights was the latest move in a battle that has been going on for years, as activists have tried to get Sacramento to obey the law and both install curb ramps and ensure that its sidewalks are usable by people in wheelchairs. Light poles, street fixtures and alleys and driveways that cause slopes in the sidewalk have all been problems. A lower court held that while the city did have to install curb ramps, it did not have to fix other sidewalk problems. On appeal, advocates won that battle at the 9th Circuit. (Read about the ruling at the Disability Rights Advocates website.)

But the city won't give up.

D'Lil, in a widely-distributed email message, reminds advocates that Sacramento disability activists have been pressing the city for sidewalk access ever since the 1970s when Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act required it. "After years of fruitless effort to get Sacramento to stop breaking the laws, a group of nine people enlisted the aid of Disability Rights Advocates to represent them in court," says D'Lil's email. In trying to settle the suit, "the plaintiffs agreed to allow the city 40 years to correct their mistakes."

Nonviolent direct action has not been ruled out for November, she says, if the Council won't listen to reason. "We have been more than reasonable, all along," says D'Lil, who was one of the original 9 who sued the city over sidewalk problems years ago.

Advocates question why the city would rather spend money fighting access than using it to make the city's sidewalks accessible. But City Attorney Sam Jackson told the Sacramento Bee that the city doesn't make litigation decisions based on cost.

D'Lil urges supporters to contact Sacramento's mayor and city council members and urge them to drop the appeal.

-- from activist HolLynn D'Lil and Disability Rights Advocates

1. Contact your own local city government and ask them not to join the City of Sacramento in their appeal of the Barden v. Sacramento decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Call your city attorney and ask specifically if they have agreed to sign onto the brief. If "yes," use this sample letter to send to your city officials asking them to withdraw from the brief.

Or follow the lead of San Diego advocates and organize protests and demonstrations. Advocates have until early 2003 to get cities to reverse their decisions.

2. Contact the Sacramento City Council officials (email links below.) Present them with the facts stated, and tell them to stop the senseless discrimination against people with disabilities and the destruction of their lives.
Mayor and Council Offices are located at: City Hall, 915 I Street, Room 205, 95814
Mayor/City Council (916)264-5407
FAX - all Councilmembers -- (916)264-7680
TDD - all Councilmembers -- (916)264-5819

Email addresses:

Heather Fargo , Mayor
Ray Tretheway, District 1
Sandy Sheedy , District 2
Steve Cohn, District 3
Jimmie Yee, District 4
Lauren Hammond, District 5
Dave Jones , District 6
Robbie Waters, District 7
Bonnie Jean Pannell, District 8

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