Oakland News: Mayor Quan’s Woodminster Wheelchair Problem In “White v. Oakland”

mayor-quan In this Oakland News, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan doesn’t know this until now, but as of this writing she’s about to be deposed in a lawsuit where the person who filed it, a Donna White, claims that Woodminster Amphitheater in Oakland’s Joaquin Miller Park is not meeting accessibility requirements for disabled visitors as per American Disabilities Act, or “ADA.”

But embeded in Donna White’s lawsuit in Federal Court in Oakland that slams Woodminster Amphitheater for failure to comply with ADA law, is the assertion that an “entourage” representing Oakland Mayor Jean Quan blocked Ms. White from sitting in an area that’s normally designated for the disabled.

According to my conversation with long-time Oakland ADA lawyer and friend Paul Rein, who is representing Donna White in the lawsuit, the overall legal issue is two years old, and the problem with Mayor Quan happened on October 9th of 2011, at a jazz concert. (And as a note, no one from the Law Offices Of Paul Rein contacted me for this blog post; I was told about it via a source and called Paul to talk about it. He agreed to go on the record with me.)

A check of Mayor Quan’s posted schedule reveals that she was planning to attend the show “Sundays In The Redwoods” and between 2:00 PM-6:00 PM at Woodminster Amphitheater on that very day.

What happened, says Paul Rein, is that Donna White, who is on crutches, took a golf cart ride to get up to Woodminster Amphitheater and then to the area of seating she was told was for the disabled. But someone who claimed to represent Mayor Quan told her she could not sit in the area because it was marked for Mayor Quan.

The representative did not offer to make space for Ms. White, who was obviously not kidding about her condition. You’d think someone representing Mayor Quan would have a clue that Donna White should be accommodated for, but that did not happen. At the time, according to Paul Rein, Quan herself was not present and was in some kind of event tent. But the damage was done.

Another attendee saw what was happening and did what Mayor Quan’s representative should have done: offered White a seat next to that person.

I asked Rein if the “representative” of Mayor Quan was a Woodminister volunteer, and not actually someone with Mayor Quan’s entorage, and he said, flatly, no. Then Paul went on to explain that White’s not asserting that the Mayor herself knew anything about the issue, or was seeking to block the disabled – but what Paul did say is there’s no excuse for Woodminister to treat the disabled as second-class citizens “who have to sit at the back of the bus.”

“Ask Mayor Quan,” Paul said,”why Woodminister has made two upgrades of seats in 1976 and 1986, but failed to meet ADA requirements?” Then Paul Rein went on to compare the lack of spending to make Woodminster ADA compliant with spending on pepper spray to use against Occupy Oakland members saying “How much was spent for pepper spray after Occupy Oakland? We can spend money on that, but not for seating for the disabled at Woodminster.”

The Woodminster Amphitheater is part of Joaquin Miller Park which is owned by the City of Oakland and Woodminster itself is operated via a partnership between the Oakland Office Of Parks and Recreation and a non-profit called Producers Association. The 2,500 seat theater is listed as one of the rental properties offered for use by the public via the Oakland Office Of Parks and Recreation.

Woodminister, like Joaquin Miller itself, has been the focus of round-after-round of budget cuts that dates back to the passage of Proposition 13, when Oakland’s property tax rate was reduced from various ones between 10 percent and 16 percent to the more uniform 1 percent-plus (voter-approved increases) rate of today. But with that, you would think a total Oakland Parks and Rec Budget of $16 million could find some room to make Woodminister’s ADA problem go away, right?

Well, it seems the city of Oakland has planned to work with local firm Muller and Caulfield on a plan to do just that, but according to the firm’s website, the $614,000 project that will include “re-paving parking areas, and the path from parking to the theater entrance, access to concession stands, replacement of wheelchair decks in the seating bowl, and accessibility upgrades to the theater bathrooms,” is “budgeting.” In other words, it hasn’t started.

And in case you’re wondering if the Mayor’s Office is aware of the lawsuit, the documented answer is yes, at least according to the minutes of the February 20th, 2013 meeting of the Mayor’s Commission On Persons With Disabilities. Listed as one of the ADA Program Fiscal Year 2011-2013 Accomplishments was “4. Lead negotiator and expert for White v. Oakland (Woodminster Amphitheater) ADA lawsuit; implemented programmatic remedies.”

Further down the page is also the stated objective of settling White v. Oakland before 2015.

And while this story never made it to the view of the vaunted local main-stream media, the minutes of the November 13th 2013 meeting of the same Mayor’s Commission On Persons With Disabilities reports that the staff to the commission has spent, and I quote, a “huge amount of staff time” on the lawsuit. So Mayor Quan herself must be aware of White v. Oakland, and Donna White’s complaint about “Mayor Quan’s entourage.”

But one comment that should not have found its way into the minutes is that the resolution of the White v. Oakland lawsuit will not provide (my emphasis) Oakland with a way to “create a model program.” I could not get over how that reads.

The take away is that the lawsuit really isn’t that important because Oakland can’t wave a large poster and brag about its work. That shows a complete misplacement of priorities on the part of the Mayor’s Commission On Persons With Disabilities.

Here we have Donna White who has suffered disrespect from the Woodminister in the form of not setting aside space for persons who are disabled for shows, the member of “Mayor Quan’s Entourage” who shooed Ms. White away, when all she needed was a seat, and now the Mayor’s Commission On Persons With Disabilities, which seems to think that even though they’ve spent a “huge amount” of staff time on White v. Oakland that it’s not going to allow them to “create a model program.”

Well, how about this “model program”: showing respect for those, like Ms. White, who are disabled and feel that they were disrespected by the powerful?

That’s a good start.

Mayor Quan, The Poor And Disabled, And Image

As I write this, I can’t get over what I saw in the last minutes regarding “create a model program” and Donna White. It’s made me angry. And it’s made me rethink something I wasn’t even going to touch, but now am going to do so just because I’m pissed.

On Tuesday, I received a media advisory from the Mayor’s Office that went this way:

This morning, Mayor Jean Quan will be at the historic Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland giving about 100 tickets to the final performance by the Oakland Ballet Company of Graham Lustig’s “The Nutcracker.” Through her own personal donation, the tickets will be given to Oakland children and their families who would otherwise not be able to attend the ballet and experience the magic of this unforgettable Christmas tradition….The ticket give-away is also a way to support the Oakland Ballet. For nearly 50 years, the Oakland Ballet Company has passionately served the East Bay community, maintaining a commitment to inspire local audiences and keep the tradition of ballet exciting, vibrant, and accessible. Oakland native Ronn Guidi founded the company in 1965 with the mission of providing an artistic and cultural landmark to the residents of Oakland.

At first, I thought: oh, that’s really nice, but…

And the “but” that gave me pause was this image in my head of Mayor Quan creating a media scene out of her giving free Nutcracker tickets to “Oakland children and their families who would otherwise not be able to attend” – in other words, mostly Oakland’s young black and Latino children (and you know that’s what would happen).

I could not get out of my head the perception that Quan, who’s running for reelection, would use the media to show herself as being a friend to the poor. So, I thought maybe I was being too sensitive, and so tried to forget it. But I could not.

So, later on Christmas Eve, and for about all of five minutes, I checked my email to see if Quan sent a media advisory or press release that she did the same thing in 2012; didn’t see one. Still, I elected to try and not think about it. After all, everyone should be able to see The Oakland Nutcracker at least once, right?

And Mayor Quan’s quick to note that she paid for it out of her own pocket, and not city funds. Well, er, the Mayor is paid by the City of Oakland.

But the way Donna White was handled and that her issue has been largely placed under the rug has me taking a different look at that media advisory I got from the City of Oakland for Quan. From what I can see, only one organization wrote about it: The Tri-Valley Herald / Oakland Tribune (I can’t tell these days).

Ok, but what’s weird, to me is that Quan didn’t do this at the start of the Oakland Ballet’s season, but waited until this week, after she’s started the process of running for re-election! And the last mention of the Oakland Nutcraker by Quan was in 2012 in her newsletter, but it wasn’t to give free tickets to poor kids, but to just encourage Oaklanders to see it.

That’s great, but Quan has to stop issuing the appearance that she cares about those who have less, all the while leaving examples where she does not in the background. What Mayor Quan should do is just send a letter of apology to Donna White and speed up the implementation of ADA improvements at Woodminster, and just avoid these media advisories to ignite a photo-op of Quan being nice to poor kids of color while she’s running for re-election.

Really, Quan doesn’t need to pad herself in this shameful way. What I do dearly like about Mayor Quan is that she has a great track record of showing up at Oakland community events and causes.

I will never forget that she came to the rally against child trafficking in Oakland at 40th and International Blvd. that was held by MISSEY.org in 2011. There are a number of examples such that Quan doesn’t need to have a press release to remind people of them. That’s one habit many praise Quan for.

(I must also add for new readers, that, as a media publisher, I have been a supporter of the campaigns of Bryan Parker, Libby Schaaf, and Joe Tuman for Mayor of Oakland. That doens’t mean I would shy away from any news that may be negative about someone I support, nor does it mean I personally dislike Mayor Quan because the opposite is true – but you should know where everyone stands. The difference between me and those in the mainsteam media is they represent a publication they don’t own; I own mine. But, what set me about this path was that, in the 2010 Mayor’s Race, a reporter with the SF Chronicle on the Oakland beat made little secret of his bias against Joe Tuman. My retort was that he should blog about his issues, not hide them in a supposedly objective article. I think the very idea of media objectivity is bullshit. Just the very choice of subject matter for an article indicates a bias – it’s important you know what mine are. Happy Holidays.)

Stay tuned.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *