The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation of Southern California has filed a court injunction against the City of Los Angeles to block enforcement of recent ordinances regulating Venice Boardwalk artists, performers and vendors.
ACLU attorney Carol Sobel filed the federal lawsuit Friday, July 8th, on behalf of plaintiffs Venice Food Not Bombs, Woody Mulligan and Robert “Jingles” Newman.
Sobel said Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC) Section 42.15 “Peddling, Hawking and Vending in Beach Areas” and parts of Section 63.44 “Regulations Affecting Park and Recreation Areas” violates the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
“The Venice community has a long and storied tradition of embracing artistic, religious, philosophical and political expression,” the lawsuit states.
“Section 42.15 and the challenged sections of 63.44 of the LAMC unduly restrict constitutionally protected expressive speech and threaten to change the character of Venice Beach forever.”
The ordinances were amended in December last year and took effect in March.
Venice Boardwalk artists, performers and vendors are required to purchase a $25 permit and enter a lottery to get Boardwalk space.
The city Department of Recreation and Parks administers the permit program and lottery system.
The Los Angeles Police Department has been issuing a number of misdemeanor citations for ordinance violations.
“Now there is more commercial vending than ever before while excessive rules have choked free speech and artistic freedom on the Venice Beach Boardwalk,” Sobel said.
“The system is definitely un-Venice.”
Venice Food Not Bombs is a nonprofit organization that helps the homeless and low-income people.
The organization was denied a Boardwalk permit because the ordinance states only individuals can get permits and the permit holder must be present at all times, the lawsuit states.
Organization members are volunteers and no volunteer is in charge of the organization.
Organization activities such as providing information about the plight of the poor and receiving donations are held entirely on the Boardwalk.
Sobel said denial of a Boardwalk permit means Venice Food Not Bombs has “no alternative to communicate its message.”
Woody Mulligan is an artist who makes and sells religious, mythological and pop culture sculptures.
He has been warned by city officials to stop selling some artwork because the city thinks the artwork is offensive, Sobel said.
He was also told not to display devotional candles because city officials said the candles are commercial.
Section 42.15 states, “No person shall hawk, peddle, vend or sell, or request or solicit donationsÖupon any public beach lands or beach properties.”
City officials told Mulligan that he could display and sell religious figures but not the pop culture figures, Sobel said.
The lawsuit contends that Mulligan wants to follow Boardwalk rules but he cannot because the city’s definitions of “art” and “commercial” are vague.
Robert “Jingles” Newman is an animal rights activist who has been on the Boardwalk since 1974.
He protests the mistreatment of animals, promotes a vegan lifestyle and also speaks out against police brutality.
Sobel said Newman was prosecuted for soliciting donations, but the charges were reduced to an infraction then dropped.
He was cited because a girl gave him some money in exchange for flyers he wrote that carried political messages.
The location of his table was permitted by Section 42.15, but Newman was not permitted to accept donations, Sobel said.
He returned to the Boardwalk weeks later, but changed the ways in which he protests.
“Newman continues to be threatened with enforcement of LAMC 42.15 and has been effectively deterred from engaging in Constitutionally protected activities as a result of the enforcement of the unconstitutional ordinances,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit contends that the ordinances and permit-lottery system amounts to prior restraints on the freedom of speech and expression.
Sobel, in her lawsuit, has asked for:
n a permanent injunction against the challenged ordinances;
n judgments that declare the ordinances violate the U.S. and California Constitutions;
n monetary damages paid for by the city;
n the city to expunge all notices of violations or citations given to any performer or vendor;
n reimbursement for costs of the lawsuit and reasonable attorneys’ fees; and
n “other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper.”
The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court, Central District of California, Western Division.