The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld Santa Monica’s community events and food distribution ordinances against a constitutional challenge.
The plaintiffs — an organization known as Food Not Bombs, another organization and several individuals — claimed that the ordinances violated their First Amendment rights in various ways.
The plaintiffs also claimed that the permit requirement for group usage of parks by groups larger than 150 people constitutes an unlawful prior restraint on speech, and asked the court to invalidate the ordinance, a Santa Monica city attorney spokesman said.
The Ninth Circuit rejected that claim, holding that the community events ordinance is a permissible content-neutral time, place and manner regulation and is not a form of illegal government censorship.
In reaching this conclusion, the court stressed that the ordinance protects First Amendment rights because the city processes event permit applications “very quickly” and because the City Hall lawn is available for spontaneous expression without a permit, the city attorney spokesman said.
The appellate court also upheld the city’s right to require that permit holders obtain insurance or hold the city harmless for damage resulting from their events. The court upheld this requirement because it is a “neutral, common-sense protection against municipal liability,” which serves to protect public resources, the spokesman said.
The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ challenge to the city ordinance relating to food distribution in parks because the ordinance does not purport to address expressive conduct.
The court concluded that the food distribution ordinance is not preempted by state law.
The court’s decision addresses 14 different constitutional claims made by plaintiffs. The court ruled in the city’s favor on all except two claims.
This ruling will protect the city’s ability to assure shared and safe use of the city’s parks and streets, preserve public spaces for all city residents and visitors and ensure accountability for damage caused by events, the city attorney spokesman said.