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Three Screens At Rheem Theatre Go Dark

Update: Moraga theatre needs to replace staircase elevator to comply with Americans With Disabilities Act code; upstairs screens dormant as of Jan. 18.

Updated, 3:15pm Wed.

The three upstairs screens at the New Rheem Theatre in Moraga are closing as of Friday, Jan. 18.

The theatre has received complaints from residents about lack of compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act due to an old, out-of-repair elevator that can lift one wheelchair at a time up the sweeping curve of the theatre's staircase.

The elevator will cost $30,000 to replace and could take three months to complete, the Contra Costa Times reported. A fourth screen on the ground level remains operational.

"I think it is very important to have a local theater," wrote Lafayette resident Claire Phillips. "I always make the effort to see any film at either Rheem or Orinda or the CineArts theater in Pleasant Hill if given the chance. I think the Rheem Theatre has been very creative in trying new things, such as film festival movies, different types of seating, etc. I hope this issue can be resolved to keep them open, or everyone loses."

Jeff Raleigh January 14, 2013 at 09:54 PM
Will The Rheem go the way of the Moraga bowling alley?
Chris Nicholson January 14, 2013 at 10:26 PM
It is a joke. No reasonable person (disabled or not) would conclude that EXISTING (not new) structures should be retrofit at significant expense by small business owners with limited means to do so. And for what benefit? Inclusiveness and accessibility are great, but the cost/benefit of retrofits is just nutty. How many people in wheelchairs watch movies in the downstairs theater at Rheem per year? Maybe 100? What is the profit from each of these tickets? Maybe $1? I would be surprised. If the smaller upper theaters do double again that business, lets say that would be an extra 200 tickets, or $200/year profit. Versus $30K of cost. Suppose my numbers are off by a factor of 10. Call it $2000/year. If we choose to impose the burden of accessibility on ourselves, then we should do so honestly: we should raise taxes and provide a free taxi ride to the nearest accessible theater. The status quo laws are completely and totally insane... Find me one (non plaintiff lawyer) disabled person who prefers to put a small business out of business if they can't afford to retrofit a ramp/lift/whatever. Again, I am talking about retrofits, not new construction.
CJ January 14, 2013 at 10:36 PM
So on the chance this vet is going to see a film this theatre owner is supposed to spend tens of thousands of dollars they don't have to correct a shortcoming in the building that has existed for the entire age of the building? This theatre was built almost 100 years ago and from the looks of it has seen very little changes in it's life. The rules allow for minimal accomodations until a building permit for improvements is taken out and then up to 20% of the total budget can be used to upgrade ADA accomodations. The key is a permit has to be secured as the trigger. But the drive by atorneys use harrassment as their sledgehammer and the costs of hiring adequate legal services to fight it just result in a shakedown of the business who is just trying to keep their doors open. No disrepect or negligence toward the HC customer just the reality of the costs or compiance in these issues.
Steve Cohn January 15, 2013 at 02:08 AM
I can't believe there is a single disabled person who is really part of the community who would say "If I can't go upstairs at the Rheem Theater, no one is!" Everyone knows that the Rheem and the Orinda struggle to stay alive. Some of us "subscribe" to provide extra funds so these gems can keep operating. If the Town of Moraga and the City of Orinda do not contribute; they should. These theaters are for the common good and should not be lost like Rheem Bowl was. A volunteer force who can carry the disabled person to the second floor (and back down) of the Rheem should be organized. What are Scouts for? Or donations should be obtained to repair the stairway lift. This is ridiculous.
Dive Turn Work January 15, 2013 at 03:13 AM
No, Scott. But, I don't think the guy deserves to sue the business owner and collect $20K for minor violations that the business owner would gladly correct once it's brought to his attention. Oh, and this vet is very clever because he'll demand that the $20K be a certain type of damages because those damages escape federal taxation. Nice get rich scheme for the vet and the lawyer who represents him.
Dive Turn Work January 15, 2013 at 03:17 AM
And, Scott, I would also add that many business owners don't have the $20K - $30K that it can take to bring the business into compliance on top of the $20K - $30K in damages that the lawyer and the disabled seek. Oh, and my "disabled" guy NEVER came back after I made all the repairs AND he only came in that one time - when he just happened to bring his camera, ruler, and notebook. How convenient. I also consider it highly questionable that this vet you're quoting has visited every business on a given block. Nevertheless, they'll sue every one of them. Hence, drive by lawsuits.
Dive Turn Work January 15, 2013 at 03:18 AM
I do. I've been victimized by it.
Dive Turn Work January 15, 2013 at 03:27 AM
And, yes, you're correct it's an industry. There are several lawyers living high on the hog in Tiburon based solely on their earnings from ADA lawsuits.
Chris Nicholson January 15, 2013 at 03:30 AM
Apparently the wheelchair crowd doesn't want scouts to help them out so as to show solidarity with Ryan Andresen..... Seriously, you are spot-on. Again it is a case of the do-gooders not wanting to be honest. It is easy to pass a law if the cost of compliance and enforcement are not quantified. Easier to leave that to "Private Attorney General" (Plaintiff atty bait) provisions that don't show up on gov't budgets, but cost society MUCH more than an honest and transparent approach. As I noted above, if we want to fund accessibility, lets raise taxes and provide direct assistance to those who need it. While they are at it, lets get rid of all the handicapped spaces in parking lots who are willing to have a dude in a golf cart during business hours who can get paged (trivial with GPS cell phone) to shuttle the disabled right to the front door and back.
Dive Turn Work January 15, 2013 at 03:35 AM
The folks who bring these lawsuits aren't interested in using the theater. It's a get rich quick scheme for a select few disabled people who've been recruited by a select few ADA lawyers. It's a business. One that preys on people.
HCDS January 15, 2013 at 03:10 PM
How to kill a small business. So, when the Rheem Theater goes bankrupt and can't stay open bc it's having to install an elevator and raise money for 3D projectors to compete with the corporate giants, we will all look at an empty building and be forced to pay $16 in WC. "We have met the enemy and they are us."
Orindan January 15, 2013 at 04:28 PM
Ok, enough squabbling. The situation stinks. but now is the time for us to put our heads together and DO something to raise money! Let hear about some ideas for fund raising! I KNOW we can do it - we do it every year for the schools. Dont let the Rheem Theatre face the same death as Rheem Bowl!
Forrest January 15, 2013 at 04:30 PM
Some excerpts from an article in Sacramento. - A A A + George Warren FILED UNDER News Local News Disabled attorney Scott Johnson has filed more than 1,000 ADA lawsuits SACRAMENTO, CA - A quadriplegic attorney who has filed more than 1,000 federal lawsuits claiming violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act says he's an agent of change. But his critics choose different words. Scott Johnson, 47, was disabled by a hit and run drunk driver in 1981. For the past six years, Johnson has been on an ADA enforcement crusade that has potentially earned him millions of dollars. He operates out of his home in Carmichael with a team of legal assistants. A News10 analysis of federal court records in the Eastern District of California indicated Johnson has been the plaintiff in at least 1,079 ADA lawsuits since 2003. Johnson said he hadn't kept count, but did not dispute the number. He said his average settlement with business owners has been between $4,000 and $6,000. Johnson offered no apology for making a handsome living suing businesses both large and small, even if it makes people hate him. "I bring change. People resist change," he said. by George Warren, GWarren@news10.net News10/KXTV
Chris F. January 15, 2013 at 06:46 PM
@CJ, Not quite 100 years old, The theater was built in the early 50's, My grandparents house use to be located on that site, they sold to their 250+ acres to Donald Rheem in 1948 (Big Mistake in my book) and my Grandma became the first post master of Rheem Valley. Which i still think should be Williams Valley ;-) As it is only 62 years old It would have made some type of historical land mark satus to get away from these obscure building codes that close business. Most ADA designees do not play the ADA card it would be nice to see a way around the law perhaps by designating a private screening program.
Chris F. January 15, 2013 at 07:00 PM
Why can't the existing elevator be fixed rather than replaced
newswatch January 15, 2013 at 08:23 PM
I wonder how many disabled people actually complained. My boyfriend and I are both are from Orinda and he was recently in an accident and lost his leg and in a wheelchair. We certainly wouldn't make a public nuisance out of ourselves about complaining. Most disabled people are proud and figure out a way to do stuff. Leave the Rheem Theatre alone!!
David Smith January 15, 2013 at 08:39 PM
Between the new projectors required and the ADA suit, seems like it time to start planning other uses for the Rheem Theater.
CJ January 15, 2013 at 10:31 PM
Newswatch- None of the discussion would ever be to disparage the HC individual and those of us adamantly against the ADA Act as it is written and enforced today agree with the legislation's original intent. But other parties have inserted themselves into the day to day management of the issue and it has snowballed into an industry driven by harassment lawsuits. These attorneys use the HC person as a defendant and the object is to file as many claims as they can. WHich is why you see these suits occur in clusters. They just drive in and hit as many businesses as they can every day and then begin the process. This process then kicks in the retainage of the self labeled "ADA Expert" and "Compliance Expert" which are parasitic parties who work for both sides if you can believe that, at $100's/hour. Then the attorneys bill out tens of thousands to review and respond to the suit. Conference calls and meetings happen. Before it is all over the business sees the impact of all the parasitic parties, in billings that will shock anyone. The business just caves in or decides to close as some of these cases will cost much more than some of them can generate or are forced to move to different locations as many older building cannot ever comply in any way that would be contained in a reasonable budget. The business dies and so does a little bit of America at the same time.
CJ January 15, 2013 at 10:36 PM
Believe it or not Texas handles this in a most unexpected way. I build projects in Texas frequently so I have some experience with them. Texas has a dedicated agency to enforce this statute. They come and inspect after the construction of a new facility or remodel(major) is complete. You therefore cannot file a lawsuit in Texas as these ADA Parasites in California do. There is no industry doing this there. They do have to create the dreaded larger gov't entity to enforce it , but on balance the tradeoff is fair and probably a significant gain for the economy of that state vs. the alternative. The result is fair application of the statute but maybe not the blanket compliance the professional ADA/HC lobbyists demand. God bless Texas.
CJ January 15, 2013 at 10:44 PM
I don't understand this idea that a theatre showing frivolous entertainment (that can be obtained in a myriad of different methods) is somehow cause for public cries for voluntary funding. Isn't there a thousands of more worthy things to worry about and contribute to in this immediate area? Let the theatre deal with realities of the business he owns and if the public supports the product it will remain viable, otherwise there are probably better uses for that real estate.
Lindsay Pirkle January 16, 2013 at 02:00 AM
Hi Chris. I am the general manager for Lamorinda Theatres. In response to why we can't fix the existing lift, unfortunately the current lift contains an old circuit board. No company makes this part at all, and it is impossible to find. We have had three different elevator repair companies come out and look at the lift. All three have informed us there is nothing else that can be done to fix it. Even if there was a part to fix the lift, the ADA has noted that the current lift is completely out of code.
Chris F. January 16, 2013 at 05:02 AM
Lindsay, I am not a rocket scientist and I do not know all ADA laws, I do know that the updating ADA compliances should not require installing "New Systems" when you install a system you ar e grandfathered to that system, I makes me sad that your business is being hit hard as where the Rheem Theater sits was once my grandparents back yard. Unfortunately I do not know alot about your ADA lift/system as provide temporary ADA ramps on a regular basis and today (shameless plug)I just got the call for another season events for the SF Giant's BUT, I do know a few things and a few people. I would be happy to meet with you and see if I can help. It doesn't hurt to talk! What are your hours?
Lindsay Pirkle January 16, 2013 at 09:34 PM
The theatre hours are Monday-Thursday 3-9, and Friday/Saturday 12-11, Sunday 12-9. It definitely doesn't hurt to talk!
John Onoda January 16, 2013 at 10:32 PM
While it isn't legally required, it would be great if the plaintiff, attorney and other parties to brought about this sad turn of events offered up their suggestions on how to remedy the situation, beyond an unrealistic "pay to fix it" response when it's clear there is no money. Since they started this chain of events, don't they have some responsibility to offer up workable solutions? Or do they just get to kick the bucket over and eveyone else has to deal with the consequences?
CJ January 16, 2013 at 10:37 PM
John-You clearly miss their point. These cases are not brought to "fix" anything since in most of these the fix can be as little as moving a box or removing a rug in a doorway. The object is to get the attorney and staff and their HC plaintiff PAID.
Lafayette Raised January 16, 2013 at 11:28 PM
I hope those who operate the Rheem Theater are aware of SB 1186: http://www.calrest.org/newsroom/articles/legislative-update-sb-1186-brings-major-changes-to-construction-related-accessibility-claims/
CJ January 16, 2013 at 11:47 PM
SB1186 doen't stop the owner from getting the shaft it spells out how long and thick it will be before inserting said shaft.
Orindan January 17, 2013 at 04:25 PM
CJ, the Rheem Theatre is a historical entity, just like like the Orinda Theatre, which was "saved" many years ago. I conclude from your comments that you have not paid a visit to the Rheem in a long time. The Rheem offers the typical current movies, but more importantly, also holds classic movie nights, green/environmental movie nights, dances and a Haunted House during Halloween. This "frivolous entertainment" is enjoyed by many in Lamorinda at prices below the big chain theatres. The current owners objectinve of a community theatre is wonderful! Who else does this these days? Fundraising to keep the Rheem from closing would be an admirable quest.
CJ January 17, 2013 at 10:44 PM
You can call it a Historical entity but that does not make it so. The only historic designation worthy structures in the area are at Saint Mary's.. I tried to avoid my personal opinion about the theatre , but your snarky remark demands a reply of equal tone. I have been to the theatre last year and found the experience to be less than pleasant and will not be coming back. My feelings are the same for the Orinda theatre. I go to WC and sit in comfortable seating, with digital screens and the latest Dolby or THX sound that is clean and the space is relatively well conditioned by HVAC systems that actually work. Apparently the vast majority of the movie going public agrees with me. Every theatre hosts other events because they have seating during off hours available, nothing special with that. Didn't they cancel all the dances due to the inappropriate behavior of the punks promoting it? Haunted House? Really? There are many of those all over. Movies are frivolous entertainment. What else would you call them? But if sitting in a dilapidated rundown old relic of a theatre gets you excited. More power to ya. It takes all kinds. FWIW- I do feel bad for the them due to the ADA issue. Nobody needs that hurdle to jump given their marketing position. Such as it is.
sherry January 18, 2013 at 05:48 AM
Mark your calendar! February 24th 2013 for the Oscar Party at the Rheem Theatre! Watch the Oscars on the Big Screen! The evening includes red carpet arrival with photo op, dinner (provided by Shelby’s), wine, champagne, gift bag, souvenir wine glass and door prizes!

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