September 23, 1998

Today plaintiffs in Valley VOTE vs City of Los Angeles announced settlement of the lawsuit filed against the City of Los Angeles for violation of the First Amendment rights of signature gatherers by city employees at the city-run Van Nuys Airport last June.

Speaking at the news conference ACLU attorney Peter Eliasberg said, " We are pleased with this settlement because it helps remedy the harm that Valley Vote suffered in its effort to gather petition signatures. But this lawsuit also resulted in the City Attorney's making clear to all City employees that First Amendment rights must be protected. From now on, all city employees should be completely aware that they must be careful before they take any steps that infringe on these precious rights. We are hopeful that this lawsuit and Mr. Hahn's actions will ensure that in the future the First Amendment rights of Valley Vote and ALL citizens of Los Angeles will not be subject to the kind of action that occurred at the Van Nuys Air Show."

On August 17, the ACLU of Southern California filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles and the manager of the city-owned Van Nuys airport for discrimination against a San Fernando Valley group seeking signatures for a petition to initiate a study on the creation of an independent city in the San Fernando Valley.

As part of the settlement, City Attorney James Hahn will issue written directives to all city employees specifying that the rights inherent in the First Amendment may not be violated and clarifying the rights of citizens to seek signatures and carry and distribute petitions as part of the political process.

On August 26 Governor Wilson signed legislation clarifying that Valley VOTE would be granted 180 days in which to collect signatures required to initiate a study on Valley independence. The group has now until November 27 to gather the needed signatures although VOTE members anticipate gathering the necessary signatures by mid-October. Plaintiffs, Valley Voters Organized Toward Empowerment (VOTE) charge that city employees impeded group efforts to collect signatures at several locations including a well-attended air show. The ACLU claimed that by excluding Valley VOTE petitioners from the Van Nuys Air Show, city workers violated both United States and California constitutional guarantees of free political speech in public places and also demonstrated a pattern of discrimination against Valley VOTE.

The ACLU emphasizes it takes no position on the issue of San Fernando Valley cityhood. Representation of Valley VOTE is based solely on the ACLU's continuing commitment to defend the free speech provisions of both United States and California constitutions, which ensure the right of individuals to engage in all speech, including political speech, in a public area.

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