Round two in a battle over replacing a ramp at Ocean Beach’s Dog Beach that is incompliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is set for Nov. 19 at 2 p.m. in City Council chambers.
The council hearing stems from controversy surrounding a lawsuit recently settled out of court for $50,000 to a wheelchair-bound plaintiff, Scott Schutza. Schutza contended disability discrimination, alleging violation of federal and state anti-discrimination statutes. He argued the city had failed, and refused, to ensure the accessibility of public facilities at OB Dog Beach including the River Trail.
That settled lawsuit has since led to the city to propose creating a new estimated $1.1 million ADA-compliant ramp at Dog Beach, which some Obecians are labeling “the ramp to nowhere.”
“The city attorney office’s involvement with this matter ended when the lawsuit was settled,” said San Diego city attorney spokesperson Leslie Wolf Branscomb.
Of the ramp, District 2 Council member Dr. Jennifer Campbell said, “This week I’m meeting with both city staff and Ocean Beach stakeholders about the ADA ramp at Dog Beach. I look forward to hearing from all parties involved.”
In August, Ocean Beach Planning Board voted 13-1 to deny support for the city’s proposed new ADA-ramp replacement. OBPB recommended instead that the city consider building the ramp elsewhere, on the path crowning the berm leading to the guard tower between Dog Beach and the regular beach.
At issue is whether the city is obligated by the lawsuit settlement to construct a new ADA-compliant ramp at Dog Beach.
“OBPB filed an official appeal of the project,” said planning group chair Andrea Schlageter. “Since this is a CIP Process 2 project, the appeal is heard by the City Council.”
Noted Schlageter, “We would like the city to do daily sand mitigation so people can actually use the ramp effectively, and extend it out to the beach and slightly down the jetty so people with mobility devices have real access to the beach.”
Speaking on their own behalf, two other OBPB board members, Kevin Hastings and Bo Willsey, believe the city is on the wrong track with its new proposed ramp.
“The location the plaintiff fell wasn't even at the ADA ramp,” said Hastings. “He fell while trying to access the west end of the bike path, which is not ADA-compliant and is not part of the repair scope.”
Added Hastings, “The city says they must fix the ramp because of the lawsuit. This is not true. There was no such stipulation in the lawsuit. It was a $50,000 settlement with no strings attached. The city is certainly vulnerable to a new lawsuit here. But if they are so concerned about liability, why are they still failing to get out there to sweep the ramp?”
Willsey is concerned about another aspect of the ADA ramp project.
“The planning board has confirmed the $1.1 million they plan to spend is coming out of the critically important OB Capital Improvement Project (CIP) funds — not what we were told at first,” he said. “So, all the long-overdue capital improvement projects, including the beach stair projects and library renovation, will have funds stripped away to pay for this needless project.”
Willsey encouraged residents, especially those mobility challenged, to write District 2 Council person Dr. Jennifer Campbell ahead of the Nov. 19 City Council hearing.
“They should speak up to say they want access where it makes sense, not be relegated to a dismal ramp far back from the water and segregated from other beachgoers,” Willsey said. “It's not too late to stop this egregious waste of taxpayer funds. But it's an uphill battle.”