Sunday, October 01, 2006

"Yanks call up friends to skirt disability law" Metro New York, 9/28/6

Yanks call up friends to skirt disability law

by patrick arden / metro new york

SEP 28, 2006
MANHATTAN — A taxpayer-subsidized stadium for the New York Yankees had no bigger champion than Rudolph Giuliani. The former mayor was even willing to spend $800 million to go “halfsies” on a new ballpark for the team.
When the Yankees began planning its new stadium on 22 acres of parkland in the South Bronx, Yankees president Randy Levine — Giuliani’s former deputy — made sure his ex-boss got in on the action.

In an October 2005 letter to U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia, Levine prominently namedrops the hiring of Giuliani Security & Safety as a consultant while making a case for why the team should be let out of meeting the last of its obligations to provide wheelchair seating in the current stadium.

Rudy and the ADA

In 1999 the team settled a lawsuit brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act by crafting an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department and the city that allowed for the phase-in of facilities for the disabled.

“The Yankees made all of the concessions that we had requested,” said the lawsuit’s lead plaintiff, James Pascuiti.

These included modified bathrooms and the addition of more than 400 wheelchair and companion seats by the 2002 season.
Starting in 2003, the gradual addition of another 210 wheelchair and companion seats contained stipulations that gave the team a way out. But to get the pass, the Yankees had to show it had contractual guarantees of a new stadium to open within the next few seasons or that it had expended “substantial effort or resources” in securing a new ballpark.

In his 2005 letter to Garcia, Levine wanted to get the team out of providing the very last of these seats — just 28 wheelchair spots with 28 companions in the main reserve section — because he professed proof that a new stadium would open for the 2009 season.

“The Yankees would be willing to submit a declaration under penalty of perjury to satisfy [the requirement] for the grant of relief,” Levine wrote, claiming the team had already “retained ... numerous consultants and professionals” for the new stadium, including Giuliani Security & Safety and SafirRosetti, a firm owned by former police chief Howard Safir.

A year ‘moratorium’

In his response, Garcia granted the team a “one-year moratorium,” in recognition of the “significant steps” taken toward a new stadium.

But while calls to SafirRosetti were not returned, an official at Giuliani’s firm said it had not yet been retained by the team.
The Yankees did not return calls for comment.

The U.S. Attorney’s office could not say whether it would extend the Yankees’ “moratorium.”

“I tried to go to a ballgame once last year, but they weren’t accessible,” said Edith Prentiss of the group Disabled in Action. “I live in northern Manhattan, so Yankee Stadium is a hop, skip and a jump. Seven us were going, and I was the only wheelchair. But they had no place for six seats and a wheelchair. They told me I could sit by myself. Who goes to Yankee Stadium to sit by themselves? I figured why should I go where they don’t want me as a customer.”

ADA in the new park

• The United Spinal Association is consulting with both the Yankees and the Mets on their new ballparks.


When state Supreme Court Judge Herman Cahn denied Highbridge residents’ request for a temporary restraining order to stop the Yankees from chopping down 170 trees in Macombs Dam and John Mullaly parks, he paid special heed to the team’s contention that “the existing stadium is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

“The new stadium is needed by the 2009 season due to settlement agreements entered into as a result of litigation over the current stadium’s non-compliance with the ADA,” Cahn wrote.

“That’s bulls—t,” said Edward Kopelson, the attorney who represented the plaintiffs in the 1999 settlement. “The property was constructed before the passage of the ADA, so there was a phase-in the Yankees had to do over a period of years. They’re totally in compliance with the ADA as a result of complying with the settlement agreement. There was a lot they had to do — parking, bathrooms, the ticket booth. There’s no problem.”


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