Shortly before the holidays, Lucy Gonzalez made the case that South Coast Plaza management was The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, or at least The Grinch Who Stole Handicap Parking Spaces.
But representatives of Costa Mesa's tony retail "experience" counter they have plenty of parking places for those with disabilities and are in full compliance with state and federal laws.
First, you should know that Gonzalez is not disabled.
"My interest originates from the fact that my mother has disabilities," she writes in an email. "I also work with children who have disabilities. South Coast Plaza is a well known location that should be accessible to all, not just the elite. South Coast Plaza is discriminating [against] people who require handicap parking by forcing them to park farther away and not giving them equal and fair access into the mall."
That's not how South Coast Plaza spokeswoman Debra Gunn Downing spins it.
"South Coast Plaza always welcomes people with disabilities, is fully compliant with federal and state accessibility standards, and has convenient parking spaces designated for people with disabilities that are located very close to entrances of the shopping center, including spaces near Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Macy’s Men’s Store and Sears," Downing writes in an email of her own to the Weekly.
(She might have also noted the mall's valet service.)
What set Gonzalez off was handicap spaces being moved from the entrance near the mall's famous Carousel to an area around the corner and by Sears. Parking in the latter, Gonzalez maintains, creates quite the schlep for disabled folks headed for the Carousel area.
Her working theory is the mall made the change to free up more desirable parking for able-bodied shoppers, just in time for the busy holiday period and at the expense of a minority, the disabled.
Gonzalez does concede when she called South Coast Plaza to inquire about the parking changes, she was told it was a safety issue. That explanation does fold into something else Downing told the Weekly.
"As accessibility laws are periodically updated," Downing says, "South Coast Plaza modifies parking spaces in order to be in compliance."
Gonzalez remains unconvinced.
"Unfortunately, South Coast Plaza has chosen to ignore those who are vulnerable and used baseless pretexts to justify its action."