Wheelchair Users Face Dangerous Barriers When Trying to Use Long Beach Sidewalks

Long Beach, CA  June 42014  A class action lawsuit filed today in the United States District Court for the Central District of California alleges that the City of Long Beach discriminates against residents and visitors who have mobility impairments. Read the complaint here. The sidewalks and pedestrian rights-of-way in Long Beach pose significant barriers to individuals who rely on wheelchairs, motorized scooters, or other mobility aides to get around.  Many intersections lack compliant curb cuts.   Many sidewalks and cross walks have unsafe and hazardous slopes.  Many sidewalks have uplifted and/or deteriorated sections. Many sidewalks are blocked by poles, trees and other obstructions making them too narrow for wheelchairs. 

The lawsuit seeks to compel the City of Long Beach to ensure that all individuals with mobility disabilities who need or want to travel through the City are able to do so safely, with the same ease as their non-disabled peers.  The suit was brought by five individuals with mobility disabilities who live in and around the Long Beach area, on behalf of a class of all residents and visitors with mobility disabilities in the City.  Plaintiffs are represented by Disability Rights Advocates (“DRA”), a non-profit legal center that specializes in high-impact class actions on behalf of the disabled, Disability Rights Legal Center (“DRLC”) a non-profit legal center that engages in litigation and direct advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities, and Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian, and Ho, a plaintiffs’ public interest class-action law firm specializing in civil rights litigation.

Individuals with mobility disabilities in Long Beach have encountered problems with the sidewalks for many years.  Access barriers, including missing or non-compliant curb ramps, sidewalks and cross walks with severe slopes and cross-slopes, and areas where tree roots or signage are blocking the path of travel.  As a result, people with a range of mobility disabilities are restricted in their ability to travel to work, restaurants, medical appointments, and to visit with family and friends.  Because Long Beach has refused to create accessible pedestrian rights-of-way, or to maintain public sidewalks, Long Beach residents with mobility disabilities are unfairly prevented from being independent and fully-functioning members of the City.

Plaintiff Hector Ochoa uses a motorized wheelchair and resides in Signal Hill, which borders on Long Beach.  Mr. Ochoa said, “It is frustrating not to be able to reliably travel around Long Beach in my chair. I often feel unsafe, and it upsets me that people like myself who need chairs or other devices to get around don’t have the same freedom to go where they need to when they need to.”

Larry Paradis, the Executive Director and Co-Director of Litigation at DRA, said, “It’s astounding that in 2014, more than two decades after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, people who are mobility impaired are still fighting for equal rights to something as basic as getting around the City where they live or are visiting. There is no excuse for denying this basic access and source of independence.”

To ensure that sidewalks and pedestrian rights-of-way are fully accessible, the City must conduct an evaluation of its entire sidewalk system, including curb ramps, cross-slopes, cross walks, and areas where tree roots or signage are blocking the path of travel.  After it has conducted a thorough evaluation, the City needs to begin addressing the many and substantial barriers that exist throughout its pedestrian areas, with priority going to the most dangerous and inaccessible locations.

Unless the City takes meaningful and immediate steps to repair its sidewalks and pedestrian rights-of-way, individuals with mobility impairments will continue to travel at their own risk; many may choose not to visit, or to move away from a City that they have called home for many decades.

Paula Pearlman, the Executive Director at Disability Rights Legal Center, states, “This litigation will require the City to make changes to its sidewalks that it should have made decades ago. It’s a shame that it’s going to take litigation to ensure that everyone has access to the fundamental civic right to travel freely and safely, but we’re confident that this case will bring about justice for the mobility disabled community in Long Beach.”

About Disability Rights Advocates

Disability Rights Advocates is one of the leading nonprofit disability rights legal centers in the nation.  With offices in Berkeley and New York City, DRA’s mission is to advance equal rights and opportunities for people with all types of disabilities nationwide.  DRA recently prevailed at trial in the class-action lawsuit challenging New York City’s failure to plan for the needs of persons with disabilities in large scale disasters such as Hurricane Sandy.  DRA is also currently challenging the County of Alameda’s failure to provide a private and independent vote for blind voters.

About Disability Rights Legal Center

DRLC, part of the Public Interest Law Center of Loyola Law School Los Angeles, with a satellite office in the Inland Empire of Southern California, specializes in civil rights cases on behalf of persons with disabilities to promote change and educate the disability, business, government, education, cancer and legal communities to avoid common issues that result in discrimination.  DRLC partners with other public interest law offices and private law firms to litigate systemic issues and advocate for legislative improvements.  Since its founding in 1975 by friends and colleagues of A. Milton Miller, the Center has reached well over a million individuals through its litigation, community outreach and training events.

The mission of DRLC is to champion the rights of people with disabilities through education, advocacy and litigation.

To read more about DRLC visit: https://disabilityrightslegalcenter.org/

About Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian and Ho

Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho (“GBDH”) is one of the oldest and most successful plaintiffs’ public interest class action law firms in the country.  GBDH represents individuals against large companies in complex, class and collective action lawsuits in the firm’s three primary practice areas: employment discrimination, wage and hour violations, and disability access, as well as in other public interest areas.  The firm is located in Oakland, California and has a national practice, litigating cases in federal and state courts throughout the country.  To read more about GBDH visit: http://gbdhlegal.com/

Press Contact Information

Larry Paradis, Executive Director, Disability Rights Advocates: 510-665-8644, lparadis@dralegal.org

Paula Pearlman, Executive Director, Disability Rights Legal Center: 213-760-1340, paula.pearlman@lls.edu

Linda Dardarian, Partner, Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian and Ho: 510-763-9800, ldardarian@gbdhlegal.com