Luma Energy, PREPA, City of SJ sued over poles blocking sidewalks
The Broad Coalition for Functional Diversity for Equality (CADFI, in Spanish), a nonprofit that fights for the social equality of people with functional diversity, filed a lawsuit against Luma Energy, the Municipality of San Juan and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), for violations to the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Specifically, the suit filed at the US District Court for Puerto Rico raises concerns over nearly 60 utility poles that block access to sidewalks on at least 20 streets in San Juan.
CADFI is filing suit because the architectural system of the Municipality of San Juan’s sidewalks is being affected by the location of the utility poles, which Luma places with PREPA’s consent.
“This situation means that the sidewalks of the Municipality of San Juan are not accessible for people who are part of CADFI; that is, for people who have limited mobility due to their disabilities,” according to the civil suit.
The document filed July 27 explains the need to file the complaint against the Municipality of San Juan, “since it has a policy, practice and custom of not taking actions to eliminate the barriers on its sidewalks, such as the poles that it knows exist and still chooses not to intervene in.”
The lawsuit also highlights that “by locating utility poles in the middle of sidewalks, Luma is ignoring the ADA’s Accessible Design Standards, and omitting its duty to ensure access to the built environment for people with disabilities, as sufficient cleared space is required on the sidewalks so people with disabilities, including those using wheelchairs, can navigate them.”
“In other words, there must be a minimum width of clear area so that these people can pass through there without encountering obstacles, which the defendant does not allow,” the suit states.
In response to a call for comment, CADFI President, David Figueroa said he was limited in what he could discuss, as the case is now in court. Figueroa is a quadriplegic person, whose physical condition substantially limits his mobility and several of his daily activities, as he moves in a wheelchair.
“Figueroa is a person with substantial limitations in his ability to move, who has a specific and particular interest in the elimination of the architectural barriers located on the sidewalks of the Municipality of San Juan,” according to the lawsuit.
In the complaint, Figueroa, and co-plaintiff Wilfredo Torres, also a member of CADFI, are seeking a permanent injunction under Title II of the ADA requiring:
- The Municipality of San Juan to repair the sidewalks.
- Luma to reinstall or relocate the posts so they don’t interfere with free mobility of people with disabilities.
- PREPA to implement “policies to monitor and control the manner in which its energy transmission and distribution system is operated and managed, so that it is guaranteed that the posts that are installed do not interfere with the complete accessibility of the sidewalks of the Municipality of San Juan.”
The streets identified in the lawsuit where there are utility poles blocking the way for people with mobility issues are: Ashford Ave.; Delcasse St.; Magdalena Ave.; Santiago Iglesias St.; 9 Southeast St.; Cesar Luis Gonzalez Ave.; Luchetti St.; Cervantes St.; Condado Ave.; Caribe St.; Barranquitas St.; Marseilles St.; Labra St.; Ribot St.; Wilson Ave.; McLeary Ave.; Atlantic PI St.; Taft St.; and Del Carmen St.
CADFI’s lawsuit cites a precedent in its favor, a federal civil procedure of November 2020. In the case, US District Court Judge Gustavo Gelpí decided that “a public entity’s provision and maintenance of sidewalks is a covered ‘service, program, or activity’ under Title II of the ADA.”
“…the conclusion that maintaining public pedestrian thoroughfares for citizens to get around a city — and access the many public services and businesses located within — is the archetypal example of the most fundamental of public services,” he said at the time.