How I became aware of what happened was a visit to the Canyon Inn, a place my family and I went to for its affordability, family seating, friendly atmosphere, and of course, good food. We have been there so many times that we met the owner, Tim.
Once Tim came and sat down briefly at our table. He informed us of an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit that had been filed against him. I don’t remember who sued him. It could have been Scott Johnson mentioned in the article. However, I remember this: Tim ended up paying tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, fines, and construction costs. He shared that it was an extreme hardship, both emotionally and financially. It almost cost him his business.
After hearing Tim’s story, my mind immediately went to what might happen in San Carlos. I was aware that many of the San Carlos companies were operating in older buildings with limited parking and indoor space that were originally available for construction of the building, and I knew they could have several factors that did not meet ADA standards . San Carlos was obviously a ripe hunting ground for similar lawsuits.
Here’s an important point to note: Tim’s impression of the Americans with Disabilities Act before he was sued was that his business was exempt because he bought and remodeled his building 10 years before the ADA was passed. Apparently he was wrong, and I’ll bet many businesses in San Carlos operate under the same false impression. They were all seated ducks.
In response to the disaster, I went to City Manager Jeff Maltbie and spoke to him about the situation. He saw nothing the city could do as ADA was federal law. However, he advised me to check with Greg Rubens, the city attorney, to be on the safe side. When I asked Greg his answer was the same.
Regardless of what Jeff and Greg had told me, I decided to contact Jerry Hill, then Senator for the state, and MP Kevin Mullin. Jerry was the first to call back. He and I talked about what businesses across the peninsula could expect, and while he was sensitive, he too saw no action the state could take to mitigate the effects of federal law. When the adjutant from Mullin’s office called, I expected and received a similar response.
I can’t say that I was satisfied. Given what Gavin Newsom had done as Mayor of San Francisco when he defied the system and made same-sex marriage legal in San Francisco, the response seemed weak at best. Obviously, no one had the fight to save unsuspecting companies from what I call “drive-by ADA lawsuits”.
A few weeks ago I was in San Carlos and, as is my custom, stopped by “the plantation”. Young and Sue, the owners, told me how someone they did not know filed an ADA lawsuit against them (this was before the article appeared in the Daily Journal). Last week I was back in San Carlos with my wife and we decided to have dinner at “The Cask”. Our waiter announced that their business had been sued and Sue, who saw us next door, came over and showed us the ADA complaint article in the Daily Journal.
As I looked through the article, I was dismayed to read about the current Mayor of San Carlos, Laura Parmer-Lohan, who was ignorant of the lawsuits. How could she have had so little contact with the shops on Laurel Street?
As I read on, I was dismayed again, but not surprised by her reaction after I noticed it. It was written that she “shared the support to ensure as much access as possible for people with disabilities”. These are good sounding but empty words unless she intends to do something to make it happen. In the meantime, what would your plan be to take the goal off the backs of businesses?
Finally, Mayor Parmer-Lohan was quoted as saying, “Greater importance is to ensure that our community is friendly to all abilities. My interest is that everyone who lives or works here can enjoy what we have to offer. ”Easier said than done if it isn’t a second mortgage on your home that covers the fines, fees and rebuilding costs paid.
As a former member of the San Carlos City Council and Mayor, Matt Grocott has been involved in political politics on the peninsula for 17 years. He can be reached by email at [email protected].