LOS ANGELES, CALIF. - The Calabasas City Council passed a resolution that prohibits grant funding to those who sue city officials or employees, which according to the ACLU of Southern California is a violation of First Amendment rights. In a letter, the ACLU/SC informed the City Council that if they do not repeal the resolution they will likely face a lawsuit.
The resolution, passed in April, prohibits city officials from considering community service grants for any organizations whose principals have ever sued or now are suing the City of Calabasas, any current or past member of the City Council, or any current or past city employee. The letter urges the council to repeal the rule or face litigation and a possible federal court injunction.
'This ordinance strikes at the heart of a core function of the First Amendment: to allow people to petition their government for redress of grievances, and access to the courts is part of the right to petition,' said Peter Eliasberg, managing attorney at the ACLU/SC, who sent the letter to the city. 'By discriminating in this way, the city punishes organizations for engaging in First Amendment protected activity just because the city disagrees with that activity.'
The City Council of Calabasas approved the policy as an amendment to an earlier ordinance that sought to formalize the procedures for awarding community service grants. Over the past few years the grants have grown in popularity, from more than $28,000 distributed to 16 organizations in 2005 to $70,000 budgeted for this fiscal year.
But a questionnaire that the city uses to determine eligibility for the money crosses a constitutional line when it asks organizations if they, their board members or their administrators have ever been or are now in litigation with the city, Eliasberg said. Materials considered by the Council make clear that if the organization's answer to that question is yes, it cannot receive funding.
'There is no reason to bar a group from obtaining city funding based on past or pending litigation,' said Eliasberg, who is also the ACLU/SC's Manheim Family Attorney for First Amendment Rights. 'That comes dangerously close to a loyalty test.'