LOS ANGELES - In a letter written to the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California on January 5, Deputy City Attorney Deborah Sanchez notified the organization that the City had revised Municipal Code �_ 41.59, which restricts individuals' rights to solicit in a variety of places and contexts. Two of the primary passages of the ordinance that the ACLU objected to, one dealing with a ban on solicitation near restaurants, and another dealing with a ban near bus stops, bans which, together would have effectively placed much of the City off limits as a forum for any kind of solicitation, have been deleted. The repeal comes after the ACLU won a series of legal victories in its challenge to the ordinance, most recently, when the 9th Circuit upheld a preliminary injunction issued by a lower court that prohibited the City from enforcing the ordinance.
"The most egregious portions of the solicitation ban are where they ought to be," said Peter Eliasberg, staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California, "in the dustbin of local history. This ordinance tried to turn Los Angeles into a place where only the privileged are free to speak, and where speaking the urgent truth about one's need would be a punishable crime."
Eliasberg noted that the ordinance would also have barred groups such as the Busriders' Union from soliciting for new members at the most logical place for such solicitation: near transit stops.
"It may have served the interests of some to stifle the political organizing and growth of grassroots organizations that seek to reach those who use public transportation," said Eliasberg, "but such activities are clearly protected by the First Amendment and are fundamental to our freedom."
Sanchez declared that the City would stand behind the revised ordinance.
"Please know," she wrote in the January 5 letter, "that the City is prepared to defend the ordinance, as amended, in the District Court."
The ACLU and its clients are reviewing the revisions.
"This is an extraordinary victory," said Carol Sobel, ACLU cooperating attorney. "And we're talking to our clients about whether this satisfies all of their concerns. But the revisions to the ordinance go to the heart of our claims and essentially protect free speech on public sidewalks, whether that speech comes from the Salvation Army, the Girl Scouts, or anyone else who uses public places to solicit the public for support."