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Redondo Beach day laborer ordinance is ruled unconstitutional

U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling could affect other cities with similar laws. Redondo Beach considers whether to appeal.

September 20, 2011|By Paloma Esquivel, Los Angeles Times
  • Day laborers and their supporters march on Redondo Beach city hall to protest the city police department's harassment and arrest of day laborers in the city.
Day laborers and their supporters march on Redondo Beach city hall to protest… (Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles…)

In a decision that could have a wide-ranging effect on other cities with similar laws, a federal appeals court ruled that a Redondo Beach ordinance aimed at cracking down on day laborers is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech.

The anti-solicitation ordinance, which has been in place for more than two decades, drew attention in 2004 after police arrested nearly 60 day laborers over about four weeks. The National Day Laborer Organizing Network and the Comite de Jornaleros de Redondo Beach later sued the city.

The ordinance, which Redondo Beach officials said was needed to regulate traffic safety at two major intersections, barred standing on a street or highway and soliciting "employment, business or contributions from an occupant of any motor vehicle."

At last count, about 50 cities in California had similar anti-solicitation ordinances on the books, though they are rarely enforced, said Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which argued the case. A Costa Mesa ordinance has been on hold pending the appeals court decision.

In its ruling issued Friday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the ordinance "regulates significantly more speech than is necessary to achieve the city's purpose of improving traffic safety and traffic flow."

Siding with the plaintiffs, the nine-judge majority said the restrictions were so broad they could be applied to "children selling lemonade on the sidewalk in front of their home, as well as to Girl Scouts selling cookies on the sidewalk" and even "protesters imploring donations to a disaster relief fund."

But in a strongly worded dissent, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski called the decision "folly."

"The majority," Kozinski wrote, "is demonstrably, egregiously, recklessly wrong. If I could dissent twice, I would." He was joined in his dissent by Judge Carlos T. Bea.

Kozinski said the city appropriately tried to control a real problem that he said includes groups of men who "litter, vandalize, urinate, block the sidewalk, harass females and damage property."

"Nothing in the First Amendment prevents government from ensuring that sidewalks are reserved for walking rather than loitering; streets are used as thoroughfares rather than open air hiring halls; and bushes serve as adornment rather than latrines," he wrote.

Redondo Beach Mayor Mike Gin said officials were disappointed by the decision and would discuss whether to appeal during a closed session at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

Day laborers are "looking for work just like many of us are," Gin said. "The issue is … it really, in many instances, created a public safety hazard and traffic safety hazard."

Jose Francisco Freyre, a worker who was arrested and charged with violating the ordinance several years ago, said he felt that "justice was done."

"I feel happy," he said. "We come here to work."

Pablo Alvarado, of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said he hoped city officials would meet with day laborers to work out safety concerns.

"Now is the time, if the city of Redondo Beach desires, to sit down and have honest dialogue," he said, "to find constructive solutions to the issues that they mentioned during the lawsuit. We are very open to those possibilities."

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

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