Peggy Lee Kennedy and the Venice Justice Committee advocate for the rights of homeless people on the Venice Boardwalk. The LAPD has regularly threatened Kennedy with arrest for illegal vending in violation of the ordinance regulating such activities on the Boardwalk, that is to say, LAMC §42.15. Thus in February 2016 Carol Sobel filed suit in federal court on behalf of the activists. The suit survived a motion to dismiss after an August 2016 hearing in which not only did the City’s oral arguments seem pathetically pro forma but the judge, Dean Pregerson, seemed openly skeptical of the City’s position.
A couple weeks ago the City of Los Angeles phoned in a motion to dismiss Carol Sobel’s lawsuit on behalf of Peggy Kennedy and the Venice Justice Committee. I went out to the Spring Street Federal Courthouse this morning to hear arguments, and it was not a waste of time, although the City still doesn’t seem to be making a serious effort in defending this case. The Deputy City Attorney, Sara Ugaz, didn’t argue so much as read selections from the City’s reply in support of its motion to dismiss. The reply is weak, and so were the selections, even more so for being read verbatim.
You may recall that the City is claiming that linking speech restrictions on the Boardwalk to the time the sun sets is accomplishing some rational purpose. First amendment jurisprudence allows such restrictions, but the purpose must be accomplished by the least restrictive means necessary. Thus it doesn’t portend well for the City, or at least for the fate of the motion to dismiss, that Pregerson repeatedly questioned Ugaz on how using the time of sunset could possibly be the least restrictive means. He mentioned that it occurs at different times during different seasons, for instance. This prompted Ugaz to claim that the City wants to clear the view of the ocean at sunset and that “people are coming home then.”1 The judge noted again that the sun sets at widely varying times, so how does anyone know when people are coming home. This prompted Ugaz to admit that “perhaps that wasn’t the best reason.” Continue reading Further Indication of Lack of Seriousness: City of Los Angeles Sends Attorney to Read Aloud Rather Than Argue its Motion to Dismiss in Venice Justice Committee Case; Judge Pregerson Seems Skeptical→
Late last night the plaintiffs filed a searing opposition to last month’s defendants motion to dismiss. Part of the plaintiffs’ argument relies on the fact that the Boardwalk is actually a public sidewalk, and in support of that argument they also filed a request for judicial notice that included a certified copy of the deed by means of which Abbott Kinney gave the boardwalk to the City (of Ocean Park; Los Angeles didn’t get it until 1926). To understand the issues it may be useful to look at the text of LAMC §42.15.
The issue is whether or not the Boardwalk is a public forum. If it is, the First Amendment places a very, very high barrier before the City’s attempt to regulate speech there at all. Sidewalks, as opposed to City-sponsored Disneylandesque bullshit tourist-trap money magnets, are quintessential public forums,1 and this is the heart of the argument:2
The Venice Boardwalk is a traditional public forum long recognized by the City as perhaps the most prominent free speech area in the City. Although called a “boardwalk,” this pedestrian passageway is a public sidewalk, deeded to the City as a sidewalk in perpetuity in 1906. See Plaintiffs’ Request for Judicial Notice and Exhibit 1.
Public sidewalks “occupy a ‘special position in terms of First Amendment protection’ because of their historic role as sites for discussion and debate[.]” They are the locations where people encounter speech they “might otherwise tune out.” “From time immemorial,” public sidewalks have been locations where “normal conversation and leafleting” have occurred as part of the First Amendment’s guarantee of “sharing ideas.” Indeed, public sidewalks are, perhaps, the most important traditional public forum because of their availability at any time at no cost.
I didn’t mention it at the time, but in February of this year, the heroic Carol Sobel filed suit on behalf of American heroine Peggy Lee Kennedy and the Venice Justice Committee against the City of Los Angeles for yet another set of bullshit shenanigans at the beach, this time to do with the LAPD arresting people for handing out pamplets while seated at a table after sunset in a “Designated space.”1 At that time I started collecting the documents from PACER and putting them in a directory here but I didn’t write a post or even put a page in the menu structure for it (although I have done so now), because it’s a little off-topic. Anyway, today the City of Los Angeles filed a motion to dismiss and it made me so mad I thought I’d initiate some coverage here. I’m still too mad to explain why I’m mad, but at some point in the future I’ll actually discuss the substance of the case. No mainstream media seems to be covering this matter, and even the Beachhead doesn’t have much, so I guess it must be up to me. More reasons after the break. Continue reading Venice Justice Committee v. City of Los Angeles→