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Golden Gate National Recreation Area sued over accessibility issues

A class action lawsuit claims that San Francisco-area GGNRA and National Park Service are discriminating against persons with disabilities by denying them access to parks and trails.

From public records (2008)

photo of person with sign

Along the San Francisco Bay Trail in Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a non-profit law center in Berkeley California, filed a class action complaint February 7, 2008 in federal court. DRA was also a party to Tucker v. California Department of Parks and Recreation, which resulted in a 2005 settlement of class action lawsuits alleging a denial of access to California State Parks due to access barriers.

Summary of the Federal Class Action

Case name: Gray, et al. v. Golden Gate National Recreation Area, et al.

Case number: CV 08 0722

Court: United States District Court in the Northern District of California

Judge: Magistrate Judge Laporte

Date Filed: January 31, 2008

Named Plaintiffs: Lori Gray, Ann Sieck, Peter Mendoza

Lori Gray: Lori Gray has a vision disability and accesses written material using either audio technology or brail text. Ms. Gray also has a mobility disability which requires her to use a wheelchair. Ms. Gray is also a life long lover of the outdoors. She organizes and leads outdoors trips for groups of people with various types of disabilities in order to facilitate people with disabilities ability to enjoy the natural wonders in and around the bay area. Ms. Gray has not been able to access most of GGNRA educational exhibits, trails, and has often been subject to embarrassing and even dangerous conditions due to GGNRA's failure to make reasonable accommodations that would allow her to fully enjoy the activities and programs in GGNRA parks.

Ann Sieck: Ann Sieck has a mobility disability that requires her to use a wheelchair. Like Ms. Gray and many bay area residents, Ms. Sieck has a long lasting love of the outdoors. Ms. Sieck has tried to access many GGNRA including the Marin Headlands. Unfortunately, due to the access barriers in GGNRA parks, Ms. Sieck has not been able to access and fully enjoy park facilities.

Peter Mendoza: Peter Mendoza has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair as a result of suffering with cancer that required his leg to be amputated below the knee. Mr. Mendoza greatly enjoys the outdoors and has tried to access many GGNRA parks including Fort Mason and the Marin Headlands. Mr. Mendoza has repeatedly encountered access barriers during his visits to these parks including inaccessible paths of travel from parking areas to side walks as well as uneven sidewalk surfacing. These physical access barriers make it extremely difficult for Mr. Mendoza to navigate around GGNRA parks and, as a result, he has been unable to fully use and enjoy these facilities. Mr. Mendoza has also encountered severe access problems due to GGNRA's failure to provide accessible restrooms. GGNRA's failure to provide accessible restrooms has not only impeded his ability to use and enjoy GGNRA facilities, but also has caused Mr. Mendoza extreme frustration and public embarrassment.

Plaintiffs' Counsel: Disability Rights Advocates ("DRA"). DRA is a nonprofit public interest law center that specializes in high-impact civil rights litigation on behalf of persons with disabilities throughout California and the United States. Based in Berkeley, California, DRA strives to protect the civil and human rights of people with disabilities in the United States and worldwide. DRA works to end discrimination in areas such as access to employment, transportation, education, housing and public accommodations and services.

Defendants: Golden Gate National Recreational Area, Brian O'Neill in his official capacity as the General Superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, the National Parks Service, and Mary Bomar in her official capacity as the Director of the National Park Service.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area: GGNRA is the largest national park unit in an urban area in the United States. Over 13 million people visit GGNRA parks each year which GGNRA one of the National Parks Service's most frequently visited sites in the country. GGNRA contains approximately 75,000 acres of land and water, which is the equivalent to two-and-a-half times the size of the consolidated city and county of San Francisco. The park is not one continuous locale, but rather a collection of areas that stretch from northern San Mateo County to southern Marin County including several parts of San Francisco city. The park is as diverse as it is expansive and it contains some of San Francisco's and California State's most important historical attractions including, but not limited to: Muir Woods, Marin Headlands, Alcatraz, Stinson Beach, and the Cliff House. GGNRA is also home to 1,273 plant and animal species, encompasses 59 miles of bay and ocean shoreline, and has military fortifications that span centuries of California history from the Spanish conquistadors to Cold War-era Nike missile sites.

Summary of Legal Claims and Access Barriers in GGNRA Parks and Facilities:

a) Failure to Create or Implement an Accessibility Plan. For many decades, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974 has required agencies like GGNRA to identify and remedy access barriers in their parks and facilities. GGNRA has failed to develop or implement such a plan despite their longstanding legal obligation to do so. As a result of GGNRA's failure to develop and/or implement an accessibility plan, people with physical disabilities have been systematically and pervasively denied access to key GGNRA parks, programs, and facilities.

b) Access Barriers in Violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act: Throughout GGNRA parks plaintiffs experience access barriers. Plaintiff's complaint attempts to find a legal remedy for the following persistent problems in GGNRA parks:

(1) Trail and Outdoor Program Access

GGNRA has failed to provide a means for people with physical disabilities to access services and facilities that are integral to any person's enjoyment of GGNRA parks. Persistent access barriers exist in a myriad of locations in GGNRA parks including: park entrances, parking areas, paths of travel, restrooms, telephones, drinking fountains, signage, historic facilities, hiking, bicycling, boating, fishing, horseback riding, and picnicking. Trails are a particularly integral part of access to GGNRA. Trails provide a wide variety of experiences to the visitor, from vistas to significant natural, cultural, and educational experiences. Many trails currently are so steep and uneven that they are dangerous paths of travel for people who use wheelchairs. Because GGNRA has failed to remove unnecessary access barriers on trails and in the above noted programs and services, many people with disabilities have been unable to access and enjoy GGNRA parks.

(2) Maps and Signs

GGNRA does not provide detailed summaries of accessible features at each park unit. Thus, even when a park does have features that allow people with disabilities access to the park, this accessibility information is not communicated to the public in such a way that effectively allows people to plan trips, or navigate around parks. GGNRA does not provide maps or trail signs that are accessible to people with vision impairments. These class members commonly find themselves at a park with no means of orienting themselves, understanding where they are in the park facility, or being able to guide themselves to the available educational exhibits, accessible trails. Even worse, these plaintiffs are also commonly unable to even locate basic GGNRA park facilities like bathrooms, emergency telephones, and water fountains.

(3) Educational Displays

Educational displays at visitors' centers and museums are an integral part of the programs offered throughout GGNRA facilities. These educational programs are basic services provided to enhance all GGNRA park visitors' enjoyment of the outdoors and also enhance all park visitors understanding of United States history through the historical sites located in GGNRA parks. Plaintiffs with physical disabilities have been systematically prevented from accessing this basic information that enables visitors to understand the historical significance of GGNRA facilities and to learn about and enjoy the natural environment in GGNRA parks.

For more information on Accessibility Sites at Golden Gate National Recreation Area:

For more information on Disability Rights Advocates, 2001 Center Street, Fourth Floor, Berkeley, California 94704-1204 - 510-665-8644 - -

See current news, legislation, and more resources for accessible trails

Related articles:

CA State Parks: Opening the Door to Nature for People with Disabilities

A Wheelchair Hiker Gets Back on the Trail by Ann Sieck

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