RCCD faces lawsuit due to ADA noncompliance

Posted: May 27, 2015 | Written by: Steven Smith

A lawsuit looms over the head of the Riverside Community College District as it tries to deal with the 23,165 points of non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act identified in its transition plan in 2010.

The transition plan document is required under the American’s with Disabilities Act to identify any barriers and provide a plan and timeframe for their removal.

The last plan was created by RCCD in 2010 identifying 23,165 barriers to be corrected in a 5 year timeframe at an estimated cost of $39,594,553. This was in contrast to the previous transition plan created in 1997 which only cited approximately 200 barriers.

As a part the creation of the 2010 plan, RCCD performed a survey with the help of contracting group Psomas and subcontractor BOA Architecture, and compiled a database of all the accessibility barriers found throughout all district facilities.

“We went through every building, every room, every walkway and we identified everything that wasn’t within the ADA codes,” Calvin Belcher, project manager for RCCD, said.

Barriers were prioritized based upon standards set by the Department of Justice, and designs for “Phase I” were drawn up to address 4,704 of the highest priority barriers with particular attention set on access to restrooms.

In September 2010, the Board of Trustees approved the plans for Phase I and allocated $6.4 million to the project. After the 4,704 items being addressed by Phase I, a total 10,711 other barriers were being addressed by other construction projects while the remaining 7,750 barriers awaited further funding.

Phase I was completed in 2014.

“Now the plan was, now that we have (the transition plan), that if we had more funding, we’d go back for Phase II,” Belcher said.

In 2009 RCCD held a public forum seeking public input on the transition plan; a requirement under ADA law. According to a Viewpoints news article, Salvador Gomez Jr., a disabled employee of the college, was present at the forum.

“I have seen a lot of changes,” Gomez said, being quoted in the article. “We have gone pretty far but we still need changes.”

In January 2013, Gomez filed a complaint against the District at the Riverside Superior Court requesting injunctive relief for disability discrimination under the American’s with Disabilities Act.

“(RCCD) has an obligation, but has failed to, remove these physical barriers to ensure that each of its programs, services and activities are readily accessible to and usable by person with mobility disabilities,” the complaint stated.

According to court records, Gomez was paralyzed from the waist down because of a motorcycle accident in 1985. Despite being restricted to a wheelchair, Gomez worked as a community service officer at RCC until his employment ended in 2011.

RCCD denied all initial charges and asserted that it remained compliant with the Americans with Disabilities, citing the ADA transition plan as a core document in its defense.

As a part of the litigation, two expert architects, one representing each side of the case, compiled their own analysis of ADA deficiencies at Riverside City College. The resulting litigation reports exceeded 200 pages, with approximately 533 items, including items on buildings constructed after 2010.

“From a lay person’s perspective, it becomes daunting to get a file that is literally an inch-and-a-half thick that says: you should look through this and see what needs to get done,” said RCCD Director of Risk Management Michael Simmons.

In response to the litigation the District created a Facilities ADA Correction Team, headed by Simmons.

The team consists of 19 people in key positions to respond to issues around ADA. They are currently working on a project charter that would address the remaining issues in the 2010 transition plan and litigation reports, according to Simmons.

The parties in the lawsuit are working on informal negotiations with many of the original items in the litigation report already being rectified. The next court appearance is scheduled for June 25.

The District denied a to provide an electronic copy of the transition plan when Viewpoints submitted a public records request in April. The response cited a “pending litigation” exception under the California public records act.

Much information about the lawsuit and negotiations will remain under wraps until the case is fully adjudicated.

“The District anticipates resolution of the Gomez case at some point in the 2015 calendar year,”  the response stated. At that point the records will become fully disclosed.