ADA struggle at my workplace

It has been at a year now since I first started asking the office building where I work to add disabled parking spots. They continue to refuse, and as I continue reporting them to the city, they continue coming to my managers at work to complain about me. I consider that to be very wrong. It is retaliatory action for my asking for accomodations and reporting them to Code Enforcement when they did not respond.

I spoke several times over email and in person with the building manager last year. I spoke with city code enforcement. I continue having to speak about it with people at my workplace, because of the repeated harassment from the building manager. Last year I also contacted a clinic manager at Palo Alto Medical Foundation, another tenant of the building, who I believe should be actively involved in protecting its patients and who I would still like to invite to a part of the solution.

I am a blogger. That means that some of the time, I’m a citizen journalist. When I get stuck, I can always go public. That’s what I’m doing. Private conversations on this issue have not gone well for me. People lie and stonewall, and I get put on the spot, I end up being the one under scrutiny. That is wrong. I am not the issue, and I am not the problem. I have been polite and helpful over the course of a year, in pointing out ways the building owners could deal with the issue, I made specific requests, sent links, explained tax breaks available that would help pay for the modifications.

The initial contact with the building managers last May resulted in this:

The building is able to offer much needed medical space to the community without opposition from the city; “currently”. We are not a medical building. As you know, the building is required to have a specified number of handicapped parking space in order to meet the standard set forth by the ADA. We have the required number of spaces and no plans currently for adding more.
(from Lauren from Harvard Investment)

Then a lot of messed up things happened. Frank from Harvard Investments came to speak to me in my office. He made many claims about his boss’s political friendships with city government, the good that he does for the community in being a landlord of medical office space. He said that if I kept it up, he would make sure nothing happened, he’d drag his feet and “nothing would happen for 10 years and it would just cause trouble for me in the meantime.” In a whirl of alternating threats and pleas for sympathy, Frank then made increasing claims of empathy because his grandmother “was in a wheelchair” and he was too during his teenage years. He went into quite an emotional story about his life as a teenager in a wheelchair, wistfully watching the other kids play ball and have fun; the emotional pain he suffered from as a result making him uniquely able to understand “my pain”. I did not believe him, and questioned the relevance of his stories and claims. My personal emotions are not the issue. The law, and what it does to help our city’s community, and — for me personally — my solidarity with other disabled people: those are the issues.

I refused to speak with Frank after that conversation. But I described it in full in an email to my co-worker.

Here is my first letter from last year, after some phone calls that didn’t seem to go anywhere. I sent it on May 15, 2008, to the Redwood City Code Enforcement head, Fereydoun Shehabi.

I am a wheelchair user, and I work in an office at 805 Veterans Blvd. in Redwood City. The building has quite a lot of traffic from people with disabilities and elderly, frail people in general, as it hosts large offices from Palo Alto Medical Foundation and other doctors. It has over 280 parking spaces that I counted, but only 3 of those spaces are marked blue as parking for disabled people.

Those spaces fill up quite often. They are not wide enough to allow me to park in the space next to another car and still get my car door open wide enough to pull my wheelchair out of the car, out of the side door, and pop the wheels onto it. The 60 inch between spots with striping, that should be there, is not there.

The building has a central lobby with two large and accessible entrances with automatic doors, one facing the east parking lot and one facing the west lot.

According to the ADA as I understand it, there should be at least 7 spots, evenly distributed around the accessible entrances, and one of those 7 spots should be van-accessible with a 90 inch wide area.

The three existing spots are on the east side of the building, the back entrance bordering on Main Street. Some of the spaces near this entrance are painted red and marked “reserved, private “. The red paint is fairly fresh and appears to be painted over blue paint, though it is somewhat difficult to tell. There is a very nice wide curb cut here.

At the front entrance on the west side of the building that faces Veterans, there is another excellent, wide, curb cut. But, all the spaces nearby are painted red (this time, obviously painted over blue) or gray, also clearly cracked and with blue paint underneath.

I have asked the property manager, Frank Ramirez, twice in writing and once in person to restripe the lot.

He refused to do so and said that the owner is friendly with the Redwood City planning commision. He claimed that it would be too expensive, and that he and the owner would fight any such restriping and delay it for “10 years”. I am asking him merely to add some extra spots by the west entrance. I see that the owner is afraid that he will have to tear up landscaping, sprinkler systems, trees, etc. in order to make a wide walkway in front of the spots. I hope that is not necessary and there is some middle ground between that complexity and expense, and doing nothing at all.

At first, Frank Ramirez stated that the building was in total compliance with the ADA. Later, in person, he admitted that he knew it was not, but that they had a special exception in a permit from the city.

I doubt this is true. It looks to me like the building owners had the minimal amount of disabled parking spaces in the past. And at some point, they painted them over for “private use” or as regular spaces.

Frank Ramirez also offered me a “private parking space” if I would stop asking them to comply with the ADA and if I would drop the issue.

I did not feel that is what is best for the community.

Frank also said that the medical clinic is good for the city and community. Yes – but not if someone in a walker gets run over in the parking lot because the owners and the city did not follow the ADA.

Attached is the permit for the building from 2005. The city planner on duty emailed it to me.

Best,

Liz

In the interim, Frank Ramirez in person told me that if I pursued the issue with the city or an ADA complaint, I would force the property owners to terminate their agreement with PAMF, and the City of Redwood City wants to have the PAMF medical clinic here to serve the community, and if I pushed things, I would drive out the clinic. Did I want, Frank asked, to be the person who took away health care for the disabled and elderly people of my community that I was trying to help? This argument by Frank hardened my resolve to continue to pursue the issue.

I wrote another round of letters in I think August or September but lost them in a hard drive crash.

A couple of months ago I opened the issue again with the city to ask why they hadn’t done anything and got this response:

I recall our last phone conversation regarding your complain. Following
your phone call I had our senior inspector Jerry Schnell to come to the
site and verify the location of disabled parking stalls. He reported to
me that there are several disabled stalls scattered on the site and he
noticed there were two stalls near the main entrance and one in the rear
near exit door. I also called the manager with the phone number that you
provided to me and left a long message requesting for a response but to
no avail.

So the city did not properly inspect or respond to the complaint. Jerry Schnell did not report or take action on the obvious code violations in the parking lot. Nor did he look at the rest of the building; for example, in the lobby the fountain’s overhang over the walkway without any indication for a cane is a hazard for people who are visually impaired. Why didn’t the city take proper action? Was I being stonewalled, as Frank Ramirez suggested, because the city has a private and friendly agreement with the building owners, basically a golf buddy arrangement? Was Jerry Schnell just unable to do his job correctly? Where is his written assement and report of his inspection? Why didn’t Fereydoun Shehabi pursue the property owner’s failure to respond to his voicemail?

Why doesn’t my city have a clear procedure for its citizens to file such complaints and receive proper consideration and follow up?

I love my city and yet I am now in the position of possibly needing to sue them as well as the building owners, under the ADA.

Why hasn’t PAMF management, or any of the doctors who work there, ever noticed and done something about the disgraceful situation that means its own clients and patients can’t park safely?

I am not the problem in this equation. No one should bring me into it. No one should call my workplace, my company founders, or my manager. My workplace should not engage in a battle with their landlord or with me over this issue. The issue is not ME. And the issue does not involve them. The issue is, very clearly, that we have a law, the Americans with Disabilities Act. And we have agencies to enforce that law. The building owners are in knowing and active violation of that law. The city failed to enforce the law as they should have.

The building owner needs to fix the problem correctly, and can file for a tax break of up to $15,000 to cover the removal of barriers. There is nothing that says they have to bring everything in the building up to code in a perfect way. But they are required by law to do barrier removal that is readily achievable.

As I look over one of the two documents I have in my hands for this case other than emails, the Feb. 14, 2005 letter from the Planning Commission to Jeffery Teel from PAMF, I can see that the building owners and the city agreed that it is the building owners’ responsibility to make many other modifications to the property, such as an accessible and safe path from the city sidewalk to the building entrance. In other words, if you take the bus here, or get here from CalTrain, you can’t get to the building entrance without being in the large parking lot and driveways that open onto an extremely busy street. As I know well from trying to go to lunch with my co-workers who simply walk through the parking lot and over the landscaped hill, while I at far below safe eye level for drivers go the long way around through the parking lot. I tried that a couple of times. I saw how unsafe and scary it is. Now I get in my car and drive if I am going to go across the street for lunch. My point is that the building owners know they are supposed to do many things to be in ADA compliance and they have deliberately avoided doing those things to avoid expense despite their contractual agreement to do it.

Here is the report from the City Inspector from Febrary 12, 2009, when one was finally filed in response to my repeated requests for action:

Inadequate disabled access parking stalls.

I haven’t seen any response or action from the sending of this letter. But I am very happy to have a copy of it, and grateful that Fereydoun Shehabi sent it to the building manager. I would like to point out that he missed a few problems though.

I am not gearing up for a civil rights battle to demand my personal right to a safe parking spot. I am asking for my community members sake too. And actually I am doing it to demand my right to ask for a reasonable accommodation without the property manager repeatedly harassing me at my workplace by complaining about me to my bosses and throwing the problem back into my lap. More than my rights under the law about parking, I want my rights under the law to protect my employment. That includes protecting me from harassment and retaliatory actions.

I will call PAMF again tomorrow to ask their management and their clinic doctors and patients to join me in an ADA complaint. I will also ask everyone at my workplace to send in the ADA form which I will print out and bring for them. I don’t know if I’m going to fill out the form correctly without help from a civil rights lawyer, but I’m going to try. Acting individually, and asking nicely for people to obey a very clear law, and explaining all my reasons for doing so, has not worked. I conclude that only organized political action brought to bear will have any effect in this situation.

If you are in a similar situation, I recommend that you organize political action rather than sending letters every couple of months and trusting that something would happen. Because unfortunately, other people can be greedy and corrupt even where the law in theory protects us.

And if you are a property owner, I recommend that you listen to people who ask for reasonable and readily achievable accommodations, and negotiate in good faith to improve your property.

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2 Responses to ADA struggle at my workplace

  1. Taru says:

    I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Joannah

    http://easypowerpaint.com

  2. Camille says:

    Curb cuts, adequate parking, safe routes are a no-brainer. You have pointed out that there are tax remedies available to supplant the cost. I applaud you for your efforts and your persistence. People are so, so selfish. Infuriating and frustrating.

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