LOS ANGELES - The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed motions today in defense of tenant activists at Lincoln Place, a 795-unit affordable housing complex in Venice, who are being sued by the development companies that own their apartments. Tenants include seniors on fixed incomes, working families, and children. The tenants have been engaged since 1987 in a struggle to stop evictions and to preserve their homes from the owners' plans to demolish them and turn them into condominiums and townhouses. The owners claim that the tenants intentionally interfered with their economic advantage. The ACLU of Southern California maintains that tenants were engaged in Constitutionally protected activities, and that the landlords are seeking to chill their tenants' freedom of speech.

"Scrooge came early to Venice this year," said Dan Tokaji, ACLU staff attorney. "This lawsuit is a blatant attempt to intimidate tenants of limited means from exercising rights protected by the Constitution. We will not allow these tenants to be bullied or brow-beaten into silence through a frivolous, unfounded lawsuit."

"We have fought for more than a decade to keep our homes," said Sheila Bernard, president of the Lincoln Place Tenants' Association. "Our motto is 'Let's Own It,' because we feel that it's our responsibility not only to tell the owner what he can't do, but to do it ourselves. We want to own our future, our destiny, our neighborhood, our lives."

"We're organized and we're active," said Bernard, "and so far we've succeeded in insisting that our city value its irreplaceable, affordable housing. Our success using the tools of democracy is the very reason the developers now want to take those tools away from us."

Tokaji also announced that later this month the ACLU will file a special motion to strike the complaint under California's SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) law.

"The Lincoln Place tenants gather signatures," said Tokaji. "They picket. They attend City Council meetings. They educate their neighbors. That's why they've been slapped with this lawsuit, and those activities are all protected by the Constitution."