Friday, May 27 , 2016, 1:05 pm | Fair 66º

New Business Fee Aimed at Improving Disability Access Issues, Building Code Certification

By Gina Potthoff, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @ginapotthoff |

Unknowingly or not, Santa Barbara’s business community is helping to offset the cost of city building inspectors obtaining a more comprehensive disability-access certification.

Santa Barbara business owners are required to pay an extra dollar this year to obtain or renew a municipal business license, and a portion of the new fee will go toward improving facility access for people with disabilities and compliance through training in the city’s Community Development Department.

In January, the City of Santa Barbara began charging a new $1 state fee on top of the typical business license cost under Senate Bill 1186, which was introduced by state Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, and designed to limit the number of frivolous disability-access lawsuits.

The law, which passed with overwhelming support and was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2012, also reduces potential damages for disability-access violations to as little as $1,000 if the defendant corrects violations quickly from a minimum of $4,000.

The legislation tacks on the extra business fee through Dec. 31, 2018.

About 70 percent of each extra dollar stays locally, with 30 percent sent back to the Division of the State Architect, said City Finance Supervisor Brenda Craig.

Funds are to be used to help facilitate compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the California Building Standards Code, both of which require that specified buildings, structures and facilities be accessible to, and usable by, persons with disabilities.

“This is a first,” said Craig, noting that this is the first time in her 15 years with the city that the state has asked local government to impose a fee.

She said there are 12,000 businesses based or conducting business in Santa Barbara that require a license. Current fees are determined by a number of factors, including gross annual receipts.

Chief city building official George Estrella told Noozhawk that local funds are helping to pay for five building inspectors to obtain CalCasp (California Certified Accessibility Specialist) certification, a lengthy process that trains inspectors on the latest law provisions and construction-related disability-access issues.

CalCasp clarifies and amends disability-access laws to reduce unnecessary lawsuits. This type of certification, which previously was voluntary, is mandated under the new law, Estrella said.

The four-day training and exam cost approximately $1,800 per person, he said.

“It’s a very extensive process,” he said. “Absolutely it’s a good thing. It’s looking at a particular building and finding out what kind of funds are going to be used, applying correct codes.”

Despite the additional fee, the business community is fully behind the bill for the most part, according to Brendan Huffman, executive director of the Chambers of Commerce Alliance of Ventura & Santa Barbara Counties.

The law prevents lawyers from issuing pre-litigation “demands for money,” meant to reduce the number of lawsuits because property owners would have time to fix violations before the suits proceed, Huffman said.

“One dollar is definitely worth the price of admission to be protected under SB 1186,” he said.

Although Huffman couldn’t cite any local examples, he said these types of lawsuits are common and guessed that several businesses along State Street could attest to being sued for something minor.

“The protections we get from these types of lawsuits is probably worth $1 a year, and hopefully that dollar would be spent where it says its will go,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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