Many people around the United States see San Francisco as a place filled with a unique spirit and culture. What many do not realize is a major contributor to this spirit and culture, alongside the people, are the small, non-chain-like businesses all over San Francisco. These businesses add to the citys character and contribute to its hospitable charm. These small businesses are probably why many feel that San Francisco, although a large city, has the charm of a small town.
Many small businesses, especially in the Richmond and Mission Districts, are either facing the threat of, or being forced to, close down. Why you may ask? Many of these businesses have been sued for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Essentially, the ADA allows a person with a disability, who feels that a business has not accommodated for his or her disability, to sue. Further, Californias Unruh Civil Rights Act allows these individuals to demand at least $4,000 per impediment.
Since the average ADA lawsuit settles for tens of thousands of dollars, many small businesses cannot afford the litigation costs. Nor can these businesses afford the associated renovation costs required to accommodate ADA requirements. Many businesses are therefore finding that it makes more financial sense to settle, close down the business, and cut their losses. Very few are able to afford relocation into a different, ADA-friendly, San Francisco location.
Small business owners have expressed frustration because they feel that the city of San Francisco did not warn them of potential ADA issues when given a permit to conduct business. To this argument, there definitely are two distinct perspectives.
Proponents may argue that it is the city of San Franciscos responsibility to protect the citys character, which small businesses contribute to. Therefore, the city should at least warn business owners of potential ADA lawsuits if certain requirements are not adhered to.
Opponents, on the other hand, may argue that the ADA laws have been prevalent for over 20 years, and therefore a small business owner has a duty to educate him or herself, and ensure adherence to the laws. After all, part of running a successful business is performing the necessary due diligence.
A potential compromise may be for the city of San Francisco to implement educational workshops for small business owners. This will educate business owners on ADA requirements, create job opportunities, and cost the city a miniscule amount to implement. Another possible solution is for the city of San Francisco to provide financing to small businesses that want to stay in business, but cannot afford to make the necessary changes to comply with ADA regulations. The city can also choose to provide representation to small business owners litigating ADA allegations in court, in order to cut costs for business owners. This in turn may aid business owners in being able to afford the necessary renovations to adhere to ADA regulations, so that they can remain in business.
Overall, it is very important that businesses provide the required accommodations for people with disabilities. Just as others, they too deserve to enjoy easy accessibility into shops, restaurants, etc. However, suing any business that makes a mistake and forcing them to shut down is not the answer. Since many small San Francisco businesses are being affected, the city needs to step in and implement tactics that will preserve small businesses and allow those with disabilities to enjoy easy access into these business spaces. After all, when small businesses suffer, our citys economy suffers, and in turn, the people of San Francisco suffer.