HESPERIA — A local Mexican eatery that has served the High Desert for over three decades is in danger of closing due to allegations it is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Casa Delicias owners Adrian and Margarita Olvera said they were served legal papers after a customer claimed to have “experienced distress” over a faded handicapped logo in the handicapped parking space at the restaurant on the corner of Hesperia Road and Yucca Street in Hesperia.
With tears streaming, Margarita Olvera told the Daily Press that she apologizes to the complainant and other customers for not being ADA compliant and the store is working to quickly rectify the problem.
“We can’t afford the court fees,” Margarita Olvera said. “If we have to pay thousands of dollars then we’re going to be forced to close the restaurant after 35 years.”
The plaintiff is Daniel Lopez, a paraplegic resident who cannot walk and uses a wheelchair for mobility, according to documents from the United States District Court, Central District of California.
Adrian Olvera said Lopez’s attorney is asking for $10,000 for legal fees and another $4,000 for the plaintiff. He added the case will be heard in December and will cost the family close to $30,000 when the legal dust settles.
Lopez is being represented by the Center for Disability Access, a division of Potter Handy, LLP, who has represented hundreds of people with disabilities who have been discriminated against on the basis of their disability.
Multiple calls to the law firm were not immediately returned.
“My parents opened the store in 1981 and we’ve kept the law since that time,” Margarita Olvera told the Daily Press on Tuesday during a busy afternoon at the eatery. “We’ve been so busy with the the store and taking care of our customers that we overlooked how faded the parking space got.”
Margarita Olvera said her parents, Florentino Sanchez, 83, and his wife, Cecilia, are named as defendants in the suit that states Lopez visited the eatery in April 2015 and found there was a handicap sign on a pole, but the parking space had either been “paved over or been allowed to fade to oblivion.”
According to the suit, the inaccessible space denied Lopez “full and equal access” to the store and “caused him difficulty and frustration.” Even though Lopez did not confront “the barrier,” the transaction counter is 40 inches in height and there is no lowered portion (36 inches) for persons in wheelchairs, according to the court document.
Lopez has been deterred from returning to the restaurant because of the “illegal barriers,” but will return to “assess ongoing compliance with the ADA” and will return to patronize the eatery once the barriers are removed, the court document said.
“Special needs people are close to our heart — we even have them in our family and only God knows how we’ll end up in the future,” Margarita Olvera said. “My father also has stage 4 prostate cancer and he’s not doing well.”
Margarita said she wishes the situation with Lopez had not escalated to the point of being sued, adding that she wished the customer would have come into the store and told the family about the ADA issue.
“We serve a lot of handicapped customers who can’t get out of their cars,” Margarita Olvera said. “They call us ahead of time and we take the food out to their cars.”
The Contra Costa Times reported in 2014 that one lawyer filed multiple suits in conjunction with San Diego's Center for Disability Access, which is a part of the Potter Handy law firm. From 2004 to 2012, 586 ADA lawsuits were filed in Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego state courts. More than two-thirds of the suits were filed in conjunction with the Center for Disability Access.
Outside the restaurant, Ray and Deborah Turriaga, along with Josephine Martinez, sat under a popup tent and sold cupcakes for $1 to help the family Tuesday.
“As soon as I found out the family was being sued, I made 200 cupcakes in order to help them keep their store opened,” Deborah Turriaga said. “Besides having the best Mexican food in the High Desert, this family has done so much to help the community.”
Several customers approached the Daily Press and shared their disappointment about the family being sued and pledged their full support to the restaurant and family.
“I plan to support Casa Delicias by coming by as many times as I can,” Alan Brechlin said. “This place is one of the last iconic places in Hesperia and we can’t lose it.”
The ADA was implemented in 1990 to protect people with disabilities from discrimination, as well as provide them with equal opportunities, access, and enjoyment of public accommodations.
A variety of different ADA regulations for commercial and public facilities include parking lots, ramps and the removal of barriers that may impede the access of people with disabilities.
“I want to thank all the High Desert, our customers, our family and our friends, from the bottom of our hearts for all their support,” Margarita Olvera said. “It’s very humbling to see how everyone is coming together to help us.”
Family and friends of the family have created a GoFundMe account to cover legal expenses. To view the site visit www.gofundme.com/savecasadelicias.
Rene Ray De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227, RDeLa Cruz@VVDailyPress.com or on Twitter @DP_ReneDeLaCruz.