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Another Auburn business sued for ADA issues

Mayor says he thinks attorney is close to ‘domestic terrorist’
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Another Auburn business said it has recently been sued by a Carmichael-based attorney for disability access, and the city of Auburn is working to find out who else is being impacted by similar lawsuits. A new lawsuit Shawnie Machado, manager of Machado Orchards, said about four weeks ago Scott Johnson filed an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit against the business. Machado said the company received a letter last year saying they weren’t in compliance with the law, but the letter didn’t say what was wrong. “He just said, ‘You are not up to ADA compliance — bring your place up to ADA compliance,’ and really we are,” Machado said. “We couldn’t figure out what he meant.” Machado said a photograph submitted with the legal documents shows a picture of the front door, but there were no specific comments about it. “He stated architectural barriers,” Machado said. “We have bins that we put outside, but they are in no way, shape or form in his way of travel.” Johnson said the main issue with Machado Orchards is the disabled parking, which is “worn out, it’s not configured correctly and it has a slope problem.” When sending the initial letter of non-compliance, Johnson said he doesn’t like to point out exactly what is wrong with a business, because then it might only fix those things. It might also not consider changes that need to be made for the hearing and visually impaired, he said. Along with the letter, Johnson said he included information about the ADA website, a list of California certified access experts and the Department of Justice ADA small business guide. Customers have reacted to the lawsuit, Machado said. “We have many, many handicapped people that come in here and they are outraged,” she said. “They have given us their names. They want to write letters if we go to court. We are always helping people when they are handicapped or in a walker. We just help them, and this is how we know this guy never came in.” Johnson said he has visited Machado Orchards several times. Machado said the business hasn’t received a requested settlement amount yet, but it doesn’t plan to settle out of court. “We are going to go to court,” she said. “We are not going to settle. We have talked to several people who have fought him and won. One lady was without a lawyer, and she beat him.” Three businesses waiting on court conference Loomis attorney Cris Vaughan, with ADA Consultant Services, is the attorney for three businesses being sued by Scott Johnson in the Lou La Bonte’s complex on Lincoln Way in Auburn, including the restaurant, Pet Xing and Millenium Smoke Shop. “We have a settlement demand from Scott Johnson for $12,500 and the case will have a scheduling conference within the next two to three weeks,” Vaughan said. Vaughan said some changes have already been made in the complex and additional signage has been added in Pet Xing stating that any disabled customers who need help can ask for it. Vaughan said this is a recognized form of alternative compliance for older, smaller businesses that can’t strictly comply. The businesses are hoping not to go to court, Vaughan said. “I think that we plan to make the changes and then see if we can get it resolved without having to go to trial, because it’s such an expensive process,” he said. Although the owners want to make the changes necessary, they aren’t sure what those changes are, Vaughan said. “It’s the same story where business is not opposed to making the changes, they just don’t know what the changes are,” he said. “And as a result, they get caught up in the process of these lawsuits that generate money for the plaintiff.” Johnson said he donates to organizations that assist disabled residents, but he declined to comment about which ones. He also said he has a housing scholarship for disabled students, but declined to state how much money he puts toward the scholarship every year. For now the three businesses have to wait and see what the court schedule looks like and the rate at which they can make needed changes, Vaughan said. Larry Taylor, owner of Pet Xing, said he is trying not to worry about the lawsuit right now. “I have got other stuff to worry about right now,” Taylor said. The mayor’s thoughts Mayor Bill Kirby said Councilman Keith Nesbitt brought up the fact that more Auburn businesses are being sued for ADA non compliance Monday, and the City Council talked about getting a list of what businesses are involved in these lawsuits. Kirby said while businesses want to come into compliance, these types of lawsuits are a burden on them. While he has no problem with ADA rules, Kirby said he thinks the state needs to change the process of how these cases can be filed. “We really have almost no place to go with this,” he said. “There is nothing the city can do.” Kirby said he thinks Johnson borders on being a “domestic terrorist.” Johnson said he doesn’t understand why buildings are still out of compliance. “I would imagine the city could simply refuse to grant business licenses to businesses that are not compliant, which would bring about compliance a whole lot quicker,” Johnson said. “But you don’t see that happening, so if not me, if not now, when?” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com ------------------------------------------------------ An Auburn restaurant recently took steps to make its business friendlier to disabled customers. Sizzler on Lincoln Way installed a disabled access ramp and several new handicapped parking stalls in its lot. Debbie Curtis, Sizzler manager, could not confirm whether the company had ever received letters telling them they were out of compliance. “We had been wanting to (do the project) for quite some time anyway just to accommodate our guests,” Curtis said. “We have a lot of seniors.” The ribbon cutting for the new ramp took place Thursday afternoon, and Curtis said customers seem very happy with the result. “It had been in the process, being talked about for a couple years,” she said. “The cost was just very high. We are very happy and our guests are so happy now.”