The first weekend of a truce between the Democratic Party and the Northridge Fashion Center went off without a hitch, with Democrats reporting Monday that they registered 102 prospective voters at the mall.
"We did extremely well," said Sol Garber, spokesman for the Democratic Party of San Fernando Valley, which last month filed suit against the shopping center alleging that "burdensome" mall rules made it impossible to register voters for the November election.
"We would love to be there every weekend," Garber said.
The Democrats will get another chance next week. Under a temporary agreement with the mall, they can again set up a registration booth from Aug. 22 to 24 on the lower level of the shopping center, an area with heavy pedestrian traffic.
Donald Z. Lieberman, operations director for the mall, said that for most of the weekend the Democrats had a registration table and two workers on the lower level, near the entrance to Sears Roebuck. "Cooperation on both ends made for a very smooth operation," he said.
Matter Not Settled
Despite the encouraging words from both sides, the issue of establishing permanent rules for groups petitioning shoppers at the mall is far from settled. A hearing on the Democrats' lawsuit is scheduled Aug. 28 before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jack M. Newman.
Meanwhile, attorneys for the center and the Democrats are privately negotiating "to come up with something they can live with and something we can live with," Lieberman said.
But Garber said he is pushing for a court order rather than a settlement drawn up by lawyers because it would send a strong message to other shopping centers.
Some other Valley malls limit soliciting by organizations to three days a year, or force the groups to set up in remote locations, Garber said. "We're just interested in fair play," he said.
Order Eased Mall's Rules
The weekend's registration drive was made possible when the mall, in an unusual move, on July 31 obtained a temporary restraining order against itself, easing its own rules governing soliciting of shoppers. The relaxed rules, which will be used until permanent restrictions can be worked out, went into effect the past weekend.
In its most significant change of policy, the mall agreed to have the Democrats pay a $50 refundable security deposit instead of a $100 deposit, and waived a previous requirement that Democrats--like other groups wanting to solicit there--purchase $1 million in insurance.
Democrats complained that they could not afford such an insurance policy and that the requirement therefore interfered with their right of free speech.
Lieberman said the mall is not attempting to deny groups their rights, but that a delicate balance must be struck with solicitors "so we do not have a conflict with what the center is for, which is basically a shopping center."
Garber said the mall proved to be a good location for Democrats.
He said the number of people who registered was "amazing" because such registration drives by the party usually sign up 25 new voters a day in the Northridge area, which is generally considered a conservative stronghold.
Republicans officials have said they also plan to register voters at the mall.
Phyllis Schmitz, in charge of voter registration for the Republican Party of Los Angeles, said the 102 registrations were "probably good for the Democrats," but that "if we were in there, we would have gotten much more."