San Jose has begun the intense work of updating tens of thousands of sidewalk curbs citywide to comply with accessibility laws after the city was sued in 2014 over its curbs.
In Lashbrook vs. City of San Jose, San Jose resident Artie Lashbrook sued the city after being thrown from his wheelchair at least three times while using city sidewalks to access public transportation, according to the lawsuit. The case was settled in September 2020 and requires the city to make about $145 million in total curb repairs and construction through 2038.
Lashbrook died in November and will not see the full outcome of his case as the city makes repairs over the next two decades. The settlement will upgrade approximately 28,000 curb ramps, representing more than 90% of the city’s existing ramps.
The class-action suit alleged that San Jose violated federal and state disability access laws by failing to ensure pedestrian right of ways had appropriate curb ramps to accommodate individuals with mobility disabilities. The city maintains that it did not violate any of these laws, though it started repairs in 2018. According to the city’s latest maintenance and infrastructure report, it’s built or fixed about 2,000 ramps per year for the past three years.
“Curb ramps for people in wheelchairs are essential for everyday things,” said Andrew Lee, an attorney who represented Lashbrook on the case. “They’re necessary for people with disabilities to hold a steady job, do grocery shopping and engage in civic life. It’s just critical, and I don’t think a lot of folks realize that.”
A district court in September finalized the agreement and laid out stringent requirements for the city.
The settlement requires the city to fix nearly 2,000 curb ramps per year between now and 2030, and 800 ramps per year after that, until 2038. The city has spent about $13 million so far on curb repair.
According to the city, continued work will require about $13 million per year for the first ten years. The settlement then requires the city to appropriate 10% of its pavement budget toward remediating its curbs until every curb is fixed. The city is also required to make sure newly constructed sidewalk in the city include accessible ramps.
“We are on track to meet all goals outlined in the settlement agreement,” a city spokesperson said. The city confirmed it also doesn’t expect any further litigation over the issue.
Lashbrook was a double amputee who was born and raised in San Jose. Lee said Lashbrook experienced homelessness and serious health problems throughout the six-year legal battle.
“His close family members were similarly disabled at different points in their lives,” Lee said. “Even when he was not himself disabled, he was very attuned to the impacts of having a disability and having limited mobility.”
According to the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, there are approximately 157,000 people with mobility disabilities in San Jose.
“Once the curb ramps are constructed, the city doesn’t have to do much more,” Lee said. “It’s sort of a one-time fix. It’s infrastructure that lasts a long time. The impacts can be felt for generations. I think it will be great for the city of San Jose. It’s a benefit for everyone and even visitors.”
The city is required to submit an annual report to the plaintiff’s counsel that shows progress toward the requirements of the settlement and doesn’t require court monitoring. The settlement also requires the city to accept requests for curb improvements and fix them within 120 days of the request, with few exceptions.
By September 2022, the city must draft a transition plan that lays out a detailed schedule for constructing missing curbs and remediating existing ones.
“We are in the process of updating the transition plan to meet this goal,” the city spokesperson said.
Lee said Lashbrook played a major role in convincing the city to work cooperatively and proactively on an issue that affects thousands of people every day.
“When we met with the city folks in person, before the pandemic, he was able to speak from the heart,” Lee said. “That really had a big impact on the case, it put a human face on the problem and changed the city’s thinking.”