Disabled-access case costing San Francisco millions 

A four-year-old ongoing class-action lawsuit against San Francisco over accessibility is burning through millions of taxpayer dollars in litigation costs.

While officials say The City is a national model for making public areas accessible for those with disabilities, a lawsuit filed in federal court in July 2007 says San Francisco has failed to adequately eliminate access barriers.

The lawsuit is racking up hefty legal fees. The most recent City Attorney bill of $2.2 million was approved Wednesday by the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee.

“Our office over the last four-plus years has spent over 15,000 hours in preparing for trial and conducting the pre-trial work, depositions, working with experts, etcetera,” said Deputy City Attorney Cheryl Adams. “We’ve also spent over $500,000 on experts to date and that doesn’t include what’s been incurred at trial.”
The City Attorney’s Office would not say how much has been spent total to date.  The trial wrapped up last week and post-trial work continues. A decision by the judge is expected any time after June 16. And an appeal from the losing side is expected.

The class-action suit includes plaintiff Ivana Kirola, who uses a powered wheelchair to get around San Francisco. Plaintiffs’ attorney Mark Johnson said, “All we’re trying to do is get the city to do what they should have done.”

Susan Mizner, Director of the Mayor’s Office on Disability, said The City has prioritized what the disability community has requested of “limited dollars.”

“These litigants would have us spend hundreds of millions more to do things like pave parks and natural areas, which is not even required under the ADA,” Mizner said. “The lawsuit is counterproductive and a diversion of city resources.”

The full board is expected to vote on the legal costs Tuesday.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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