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SJ Valley called ‘prime pickings’

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Tom Scott, executive director of California Against Lawsuit Abuse, speaks at the Ripon workshop.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED June 12, 2014 1:19 a.m.

Livelihoods and countless jobs are on the line.

That’s why a workshop designed to help ward off American with Disability Act law suits in the Ripon community was hosted by the Ripon Chamber of Commerce Wednesday evening. Some 50 business men and women from Manteca and Ripon were in attendance.

Chamber spokeswoman Tamra Spade said her office was holding the meeting with a host of experts on the subject probably three weeks early after hearing more than three dozen businesses in Manteca had been served with ADA lawsuits compared to just two to date in Ripon.

The popular Barnwood Restaurant is one of the victims. It will be closing its doors this coming Sunday.  The other is the Main Street Inn located in the 100 block of East Main Street. The Barnwood owners, Don Lee and Ken Hildebrand, said the unexpected suit was the final nail in the coffin of their eatery.

Jeri Heath, owner of the Main Street Inn, said two of the ADA attorney’s staffers were in her store this week for a second time checking her parking area and bathrooms.  She said one secreted a camera at her side attempting to conceal her efforts at taking pictures of the layout of her store.

Tom Scott, California Against Lawsuit Abuse director, told the audience there are 20 to 30 attorneys up and down the state filing similar suits where many business men and women are asked to pay thousands of dollars to keep the ADA compliance out of court.  The only problem with that, he added, is that once the proprietor complies other attorneys could come out of the shadows and start the action all over again.

He noted that the Sacramento attorney Scott Johnson who has levied the ADA suits has pretty much dried up the Sacramento area and has headed down the Central Valley where he is finding prime picking.  He said Johnson went to Truckee at Christmas where he filed suit against some 50 businesses for not being ADA compliant.  Several of those are already out of business, he noted.

“Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen has been huge in trying to stabilize things at the state level,” he said.  “People are pretty much left on their own to figure things out as planning departments are overwhelmed.”

Tom Scott continued saying he thinks a lot of the trial lawyers involved just go on vacation and find businesses that are non-ADA compliant that they can file against. Calling the attorneys “shake down artists” he suggested everyone pay attention to the compromise bill SB 1186 that is being proposed that will modify the current law for the better.

Other experts advisors in the council chambers included George Sharp, Systems Change Advocate, Disability Resource Agency for Independent Living; Mike Brinkman, Certified Access Specialist; Bob Rucker, Office of Congressman Jeff Denham, Frank Demrell, Office of Senator Galgiani and Paul Zeek representing Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen.

Brinkman, an access specialist, said his office is overwhelmed with requests for business ADA checks.  Scott agreed that the $500 cost of the inspections is money well spent and will put a certification notice on the front of the businesses that will keep attorneys at bay, indicating that owners have already taken action.

Scott added that with 3.7 million small business in the state it will take many years for attorneys to contact all these proprietors including 700,000 restaurants.  

“We are literally suing ourselves out of business,” he said.

Ripon CPA Tom Vermeulen shared details on available tax credits and deductions associated with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.  

“An eligible small business may elect to apply a credit against income tax of 50 percent of the amount of eligible access expenditures for the tax year over $250 and not more than $10,250,” Vermeulen explained. 

Gross receipts cannot exceed $1 million or have more than 30 full-time employees during the preceding year and chooses to claim the disabled access credit for the tax year. 

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