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EDITORIAL: Give ADA help

The City Council is doing the right thing by forming a subcommittee charged with examining ways to attack the dire economic issues facing local retailers. Yet the city apparently has no plans to help businesses with one onerous issue many are now facing: lawsuits over Americans with Disability Act accessibility requirements.

The ADA lawsuits have hit hard: One prominent local businessman who spent $70,000 on ADA retrofitting is the current target of a federal lawsuit despite the efforts made and money expended.

The Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce is asking the city to do what it can to help; the Visitors and Conference Bureau should also lend its voice to a united effort. After all, many of the businesses targeted are the hotels and restaurants that the bureau represents, including many older businesses that are considered the lifeblood of the city.

We are not saying that businesses should ignore ADA requirements. Indeed, even if they wanted to, they could not. It’s been 20 years since the ADA was approved and newer businesses and almost all government buildings and offices are accessible. Great strides have been made in assuring that the disabled are part of the mainstream of society. We don’t want to stop this effort, but it is clear smaller and older businesses need help to comply.

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The older businesses, however, have been given an apparent reprieve by requirements that call for “feasible" modifications for existing structures. But that reprieve is not a pass on accessibility "” and “feasibility" is subjective and depends upon the individual business.

As reported in this newspaper, city building officials believe it is up to the courts to determine what is and is not required of older businesses. This has left the door wide open for activist lawyers to initiate legal action against thousands of businesses in the state; indeed, the only way the court can act is if a lawsuit is filed.

A new state law is aimed at curtailing the legal onslaught by getting local government involved in the ADA issue by certifying structures as compliant. It is clear the law is meant to buffer businesses from ADA advocates with local government as a mediator. Yet apparently local government doesn’t think it has that responsibility. But if not local government, then who?

The City Council is highly cognizant of the economic issues facing businesses in this historic economic downturn, but city government has not yet gotten the message. Some timely assistance and pro-active help could make the difference between the survival of some businesses and whether they are forced to close their doors. It is time for the city to step up to the plate and go to bat for local businesses on the ADA issue.

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