Costa Mesa bar sued in ADA compliance lawsuit

Daniel Scellato plays a round of pool at a local dive bar, The Helm, in Costa Mesa.
(Kevin Chang, Daily Pilot)

COSTA MESA — Robert “Zeb” Ziemer, owner of the famed Goat Hill Tavern and landlord of The Helm next door, says he’s not going down without a pint, er, fight.

The Helm, whose owner told the Daily Pilot he was shuttering the dive bar on Newport Boulevard at the end of August, is being sued by John F. Fackler under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Fackler’s lawsuit accuses The Helm of violating the act, enacted in 1990, and has named Ziemer, 80, and Helm owner Myron Miller as defendants.

In an interview Friday, Ziemer said he had to raise the rent on The Helm, after both he and Miller started facing rising legal fees associated with the lawsuit, which he called “extortion.”

The rent would have had to be raised eventually, but legal fees put more pressure on Ziemer, he said, which caused The Helm’s need to close.

[This clarifies an earlier version, which indicated Ziemer would continue to raise the rent.]

The civil complaint was filed June 9, 2010, and alleges that on Jan. 25, 2009, Fackler, a wheelchair-bound paraplegic, went to The Helm to play pool and couldn’t access its restroom.

The case is scheduled for a jury trial at 8:30 a.m. July 25 at Orange County Superior Court’s Central Justice Center in Santa Ana, but Ziemer said Fackler is trying to postpone it.

Fackler is being represented by the San Diego-based Center for Disability Access. Both the center and Fackler did not return calls seeking comment.

This isn’t the first time that Fackler has sued a Newport-Mesa-area bar.

Records show that Fackler has filed similar ADA-related complaints against four Newport Beach bars: the Beach Ball, Balboa Saloon, Stag Bar and Blackie’s By the Sea.

Complaints in all five of Fackler’s cases were filed within a four- to five-week window, between May 12 and June 15, 2010.

The Orange County Superior Court has a request from Fackler for dismissal with prejudice for his case against the Balboa Saloon. The Stag Bar — which has since been renamed The District Lounge — has a mandatory settlement conference on Aug. 12.

Blackie’s and the Beach Ball have a jury trial scheduled for Dec. 5.

Ziemer said he doesn’t believe that Fackler ever visited The Helm. He said anyone in the area would know that the adjacent Goat Hill Tavern has much larger restrooms that they could use.

Fackler is not suing the Goat Hill, which is ADA-compliant.

When The Helm closes, Ziemer plans to turn the property into an upscale martini bar that will meet ADA standards.

He also mentioned that ADA law says older buildings don’t have to be upgraded until renovations are made, which is why The Helm has not been improved yet.

Although Ziemer said he’s heard that the other bars may have settled with Fackler, he said he won’t.

Fackler’s complaint acknowledges that his injuries are “modest in scope and did not result in any loss of wages or economic damage or medical care or attention,” but contends the incident caused “unpleasant emotional distress.”

It also states that Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations says that existing barriers must be removed if “readily achievable,” such as in the case of the restroom.

In Ziemer’s response to the complaint, he denied every allegation and denied that the incident at The Helm damaged or injured the plaintiff.

As for the outcome, Ziemer said he doesn’t know what to expect.

“All I know is that I’m going to have some bum come along every day and sue me for something I didn’t do … so I’m fighting back,” he said.