LOS ANGELES - The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California today sent a letter to the Beverly Hills City Council and Mayor asking that the City respect the rights of petition gatherers engaged in a campaign to bring a referendum on a luxury hotel project before the City's voters.

"We are concerned about reports that the City may be intimidating signature gatherers or at the least, making it very difficult for them to exercise their constitutional rights," said Peter Eliasberg, Managing Attorney and Manheim Family Attorney for First Amendment Rights with the ACLU of Southern California.

Beverly Hills residents and merchants opposed to a proposed $200 million luxury hotel have been engaged in a signature gathering campaign to place the issue before the voters in a special election. The hotel project was approved by the City, a joint developer in the project.

Petition gatherers have complained about some of the tactics used by the City to prevent them from gathering signatures.

In a letter to the Mayor and City Council the ACLU/SC cited an incident at the Beverly Hills Farmers Market, which is located on a public street, and is therefore considered a public forum, in which Beverly Hills police officers ejected petition gatherers by citing a Municipal Ordinance that does not apply to public forums. In a separate incident the Beverly Hills Courier quoted a Beverly Hills police Lieutenant as stating that residents who are approached by signature gatherers after 5PM could call the police about violations of the Beverly Hills Municipal Code Section 4-4 803 - the ACLU/SC has determined that the code section does not in fact apply to signature gatherers.

"These actions create, at a minimum, the appearance of partiality on behalf of the government with respect to this issue of public concern," said Peter Eliasberg in the letter. "That appearance is particularly harmful since Beverly Hills is a partner in the public-private venture that would be the subject of the referendum."