This is an interesting story about the challenges we face even when there is universal agreement that the present system needs to change to better protect our rights.
OUGHTA BE A LAW:
Mitch and Donna Pomerantz, with guide dog “Scotch”, are calling for new taxi regulations
By Joe Piasecki
or Mitch and Donna Pomerantz, it was a painful irony: On the evening that Donna was to receive a proclamation from the Pasadena, California City Council marking the 15th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the sight-impaired couple claims to have been discriminated against when a taxi driver refused to allow them in the car with Mitch’s guide dog, a golden retriever named Scotch.
But perhaps worst of all, the couple found, is that in Pasadena there was little they could do about it short of the cumbersome process of taking the cab company to court — which they have done, a procedure that so far has taken more than a year. If the incident had occurred in Los Angeles, where Mitch works as an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance officer, a complaint could have been filed with the city’s Taxi Commission and investigators might have resolved the matter in a few weeks. But in Pasadena, where Donna serves as vice chair of the Accessibility and Disability Commission, there is no one to hear such complaints. It’s a reality, not just for the disabled but also for seniors and others who feel they are being mistreated, that the two have been trying to change since the Jan. 31, 2005, incident.
“What I’m asking Pasadena to do is to pass an ordinance that will actually regulate and set down in city statute that cab drivers and cab companies cannot discriminate against people and to stipulate the penalties for violations,” said Mitch Pomerantz, who also serves as vice president of the American Council for the Blind and the California Council for the Blind. “All I want is for there to be a responsible party once this ordinance is in place to follow up on these complaints,” said the 56-year-old, who lost his sight at age 11.
On Dec. 15, attorneys with the Los Angeles-based Disability Rights Legal Center filed a complaint in LA Superior Court against City Cab Co., which along with People’s Taxi has a franchise in Pasadena, alleging their driver’s refusal to accept the couple and their service animal was an act of negligence and a violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act and
another state law. Pomerantz would receive at least $5,000 in punitive damages if City Cab, which in January ultimately sent another driver to take the couple to the council meeting, is found to have broken the law. He initially filed complaints with the federal Department of Justice and state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, but those agencies can take as long as 5 years to handle complaints.
But getting Pasadena, a nationally recognized leader on disabilities issues, to change its ways has also been tedious process — one that’s taken longer than anyone involved had imagined. While the city Accessibility and Disabilities Commission first recommended new taxi regulations in July 2005 based on that incident, Commission Chair Terrie Allen says she has yet to hear about much progress being made at City Hall. “We cannot afford to have a toothless ordinance when it comes to out cab companies,” said Allen. “While we have to bear in mind things realistically do delay it, it is incumbent on this city to assure that the drivers who are licensed and doing business in our city are trained in ADA.”
Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard said he isn’t aware what city staff will ultimately recommend, but is favorable to the idea of the city playing a greater enforcement role in cases of taxi discrimination, and soon. “In 2004, Pasadena was recognized on a national level as the most accessible city. I hope that we can continue leadership in that regard and require the full cooperation of cab companies with the needs of persons who work with a guide dog,” said Bogaard. “There shouldn’t be a moment’s hesitation in making our regulations conform with federal or state requirements.”
Several years ago, Pomerantz filed a successful complaint with the Los Angeles Taxi Commission on a driver who refused to take him and Scotch to fundraiser for the California Council of the Blind. Pasadena’s lack of an enforcement mechanism all too common among mid-sized cities, said Los Angeles Taxi Administrator Tom Drischler. Perhaps that’s because some fear the bureaucracy and cost potentially involved.
“I support 100 percent Mr. Pomerantz’s efforts to enforce his rights, and any way the city could be supportive, of course I’d support that,” said Councilman Victor Gordo. But, he said, “I don’t know that the answer is to grow the bureaucracy at City Hall. … We don’t do everything like LA, and that often serves us well.” While Pasadena should take action, said Gordo, “The only question is what is the most effective and efficient way to make sure those rights are enforced.”
For Allen, who has also served on the Human Relations Commission, it might be enough to assign enforcement to an existing city department, and a volunteer Taxi Commission could be established with little cost and bolster Pasadena’s reputation as a tourism destination, she said. “If visitors don’t feel that coming to Pasadena they are protected from abuse, that alone will cost the city far more than it would to set a good taxi ordinance in place to protect patrons,” she said.
Said Mitch Pomerantz, “I just want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anybody else.”