A&A: What recourse do individuals with disabilities have to access land use proposals during COVID-19?

SUBMITTED | APRIL 15, 2020

Q: Across California and in my backyard developers are putting in plans, and cities have been starting public comment time clocks without the public’s ability to assemble and easily read the documents. This is especially true for those whoa re disabled, without internet access or who don’t have the skill to load and read hundreds of pages of small print documents and drawings on the internet. Per the 2015 census, homeownership over age of 55 is more than the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s in total. The same for homeowners over 65. However many cities in California and across the nation are not placing moratoriums on critical public comment items. I have written and spoken to the city officials for three weeks with no action. Can you please help?

A: In March, Governor Newsom issued executive orders N-25-20 and N-29-20, which temporarily suspended any provision of state or local law preventing a local legislative body from holding public meetings by telephone or other electronic means. Order N-29-20 further requires local legislative bodies holding meetings electronically to “implement a procedure for receiving and swiftly resolving requests for reasonable modification or accommodation from individuals with disabilities, consistent with the Americans with Disabilities act and resolving any doubt whatsoever in favor of accessibility.”

These executive orders do not specifically mention the provisions in the Government Code related to public hearings for land use proposals, but they are worded so as to apply to public meetings generally.

As such, you may wish to reach out to your city officials to request an accommodation at the online public hearings pursuant to the ADA and Governor Newsom’s executive order N-29-20, or to demand to know how the city is complying with its requirement that it receive and “swiftly” resolve requests for accommodation.

Here is an example of how one California county deals with the issue you describe:

ASSISTANCE FOR THE DISABLED:
Agendas and records are available in alternative formats upon request. Contact the Planning & Development Services ADA coordinator at (858) 694-3003 (voice). Assistive Listening Devices (ALD’s) are available from the Planning Commission Secretary in the Chambers prior to the meeting and are to be returned at the end of the meeting. Individuals requiring sign language interpreters should contact the American with Disabilities Coordinator at (858) 505-6521, in advance of the meeting so that arrangements may be made. An area in the front of the chamber is designated for individuals requiring the use of wheelchair or other accessible devices.

San Diego County Department of Planning & Development

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.  No attorney-client relationship has been formed by way of this response.

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