After years of accessing La Jolla’s Children’s Pool beach by sliding down a steep ramp — or being carried by friends or helpers — paraplegic swimmer Jack Robertson sued the City of San Diego in June 2013 with the hopes of getting an ADA-compliant access ramp installed there.
Now, two years later, a federal judge ruled on Sept. 30 that a civil trial should proceed to address Robertson’s claims that the city is illegally inhibiting access to Children’s Pool for disabled people by not providing such a ramp.
“I had made a request through the City of San Diego for a beach access ramp to be incorporated into the current major remodel at Children’s Pool (lifeguard tower). My request was denied,” Robertson told La Jolla Light. That denial prompted his legal action.
“I had hoped that since the City of San Diego was completely rebuilding the lifeguard tower and surrounding area at Children’s Pool, they would also install a ramp to the beach at the same time,” he said.
The current lifeguard tower reconstruction project includes a ramp to the mid- level, where there are restroom facilities, but not to the beach level. This is in accordance with 2010 ADA standards that state when altering paths of travel, “Restrooms, telephones and drinking fountains serving the altered area (must be) readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs.”
“but the city plans to leave in place approximately 10 more steps (to the beach), which are steep and very old,” Robertson pointed out. “With these final steps ramped, the beach would become accessible to the elderly, those in wheelchairs and walkers, baby strollers and many others.”
In the Sept. 30 ruling, the city claims “installation of an accessible path of travel, including and accessible ramp for a mobility- impaired person, would threaten or destroy the historical significance of children’s Pool beach” and that an access ramp “would cause direct and indirect adverse effect and significant impact to the character-defining features and historic integrity of children’s Pool.” The children’s Pool seawall was gifted to residents by La Jolla benefactress ellen browning Scripps and built in 1931.
Using the historicity argument, the city attempted to end the litigation without a trial, and moved for a summary judgment. As reported in The San Diego Union-Tribune, U.S. District Judge Thomas Whelan ruled the city needed to have a State Historic Preservation Officer endorse its position. The city relied instead on two experts it hired. As such, the court denied the city’s motion for summary judgment.
“I’m very pleased that Judge Whelan determined that the city of San Diego should take another look at the project and that building a ramp at the bottom of the steps is very possible,” Robertson said. A spokesperson for city Attorney Jan Goldsmith said the city plans to continue fighting the lawsuit and is ready to go to trial, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
Previously, Robertson said he used a slope too steep to be considered ADA-compliant and locked by a gate, to access the beach. He would often ask the ranger at children’s Pool to unlock the gate to the slope so he could reach the water. When refused, he would have to be carried down the stairs.
“I don’t like to ask my same friends to help me down the steps because they’ve gotten as old as I have and their backs are out,” Robertson previously told La Jolla Light. “My son is (now 25) and he’s helped me since he was 14 or 15, and I don’t want to see him do damage to his back.”
Should a ramp be installed that grants those with disabilities access all the way to the sand and water, Robertson contends the city could boast that the children’s Pool is completely ADA-accessible, further boosting its tourist appeal.
Having a natural slope to the high-tide mark is the easiest and safest way for someone in Robertson’s situation to reach the ocean because at the high-tide mark at children’s Pool, the sand is harder, more flat and easier to maneuver in a wheelchair, he explained.
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