A trail paralleling Petaluma’s Wiseman Park recently got a face lift, a project that was spurred along by a 2014 lawsuit alleging that the facility was not accessible for people with disabilities.
The more than $410,000 project included the reconstruction and paving of roughly .7 miles of trail between the facility and the parking lot, the addition of three ADA accessible parking spots and ramps leading to the trail. Work at the 21-acre city-owned public park at 2171 St. Augustine Ct. was completed in April, according to a city staff report.
Improvements at the facility, which features softball and baseball fields as well as a playground, have been long envisioned and were proposed to be funded by Measure X, a failed 2012 ballot measure for parks and recreational projects. The city in July 2014 completed a roughly $140,000 project to add restrooms and an ADA accessible path to the park, a project funded from developer impact fees and donations from youth sports organizations.
In December 2014, Veronika Noble sued the city, alleging that it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and other state and federal laws by failing to provide adequate access at the park for her wheelchair-bound daughter.
The complaint, filed in federal court, states that the lack of accessible parking stalls prompted a “difficult, inconvenient, scary and frustrating experience,” while ramps and pathways were difficult to navigate and “dangerous,” among other issues. Noble and her daughter, who is not named in the document, experienced those conditions on April 7, 2014 and in ensuing days.
The city settled the lawsuit for $19,990 in May 2015, and agreed to install handicapped parking stalls, ramp access and to improve the trail within 2½ years, according to the settlement document.
“I always take the view that it’s not an appropriate use of the public’s money to defend litigation when we should settle instead,” City Attorney Eric Danly said. “That’s particularly true, and maybe most of all, in response to access cases.”
Danly said the city tackled the design work in house, and was able to address issues as economically as possible.
“In my view and the council’s view, it’s the best way to get a permanent fix and a public property was made more safe and more accessible,” he said.
Noble, who lives in southern California, did not respond to requests for comment. Noble also sued Pacifica Solana Beach Holdings, LLC in 2015, alleging a lack of ADA access at a shopping center in Solana Beach. In 2014, she sued Scripps Health over a lack of handicapped parking at a San Diego office building where her daughter’s pediatrician worked, according to public documents.
Her attorney in the Petaluma case, Mark Potter, a managing partner of San Diego-based civil rights law firm Potter Handy, LLP., also did not return a call for comment.
Councilwoman Kathy Miller, who supported Measure X and is an advocate for recreation in the city, praised the renovations to the well-used Petaluma park.
“I’m thrilled,” she said. “It’s my neighborhood walking path — it’s been a mess for a long time,” she said.
The recently completed project was funded with a delayed reimbursement of Measure M funds from the Sonoma County Transit Authority. Though initial plans only accounted for the repair of a section of the trail, favorable conditions allowed the city to alter the design, saving money while expanding the project to span the entire park, said Larry Zimmer, the city’s deputy director of public works and utilities.