A grandfather’s desire to share a ride on the carousel with his grandson prompted the lawsuit behind a $108,000 settlement with the city and changes coming to The Pier. On Tuesday, the City Council voted to settle with resident Barry Atwood and make The Pier more accessible for handicap visitors.
Under the settlement, the City denies Atwood’s claims they were in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act but agreed to construct and install a portable ramp and wheelchair-accessible chariot on the carousel, replace deteriorated wooden planks on the deck, add signage and install guard rails.
The story behind the lawsuit stretches all the way back to 1986, when Atwood, a former commissioner, married his wife inside the Loof Hippodrome surrounded by friends and family. Polio took away Atwood’s ability to walk of stand, so in order to get married inside the 1916 building he purchased a portable wheelchair ramp and gave it to the City.
Fond memories of that day brought Atwood back with his family on Father’s Day nearly thirty years later, in 2015. Eager to share the experience with his grandson and explain the family history, Atwood headed to the Hippodrome, only to be told there was no way he could get on the merry-go-round. The portable ramp was nowhere to be found, according to a lawsuit Atwood later filed against the City.
“He was told he could not ride the Carousel with his grandson,” the lawsuit filed by attorney Patricia Barbosa with the Barbosa Group in Huntington Beach said. “Plaintiff left Loof’s Hippodrome angry and frustrated that his plans to ride with his grandson would not be possible due to the lack of wheelchair access.”
Atwood claims his frustration didn’t end there. Throughout the day he “encountered many physical barriers, obstacles and discriminatory policies that deterred, denied and excluded him,” according to court documents. The lawsuit also said the City failed as a landlord to make sure businesses on the Pier provided access to those with disabilities.
Barbosa told the Daily Press lawsuits by plaintiffs like Atwood are often the only way to improve accessibility for all handicap people to landmarks like the Pier and private businesses.
“This is not something minor,” Barbosa said. “The ADA is a public benefit. So now everyone coming in behind him will have the ability to go to the restroom without danger of falling, use the carousel and be able to walk safely on the boardwalk.”
Barbosa said Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Heal the Bay, and Mariasol also settled separate lawsuits and made changes because of Atwood’s claims. She says within the next year, it will be easier for those in wheelchairs to wait in line for food, use the restroom and even fish.
And, most importantly, she says Atwood will be able to take his grandson on the carousel.
“That was his nonnegotiable issue,” Barbosa said.
The settlement come as the City weighs three separate options to improve handicap accessibility to The Pier by building a new bridge from Ocean Avenue. The current bridge is too steep to be ADA compliant. Plans may include an elevator, stales or an escalator into the Heal the Bay aquarium for handicap visitors.