September 21, 2011 | Source: Associated Press
A divided federal appeals court Friday struck down Redondo Beach’s ban on day laborers who stand on public sidewalks soliciting work from motorists.
Judge Milan D. Smith Jr., writing for the nine-judge majority of the special 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said Redondo Beach’s ordinance violated the workers’ free speech rights and was so broad that it also made it illegal for children to shout “car wash” to passing drivers.
Smith said the ordinance “regulates significantly more speech than is necessary to achieve the city’s purpose of improving traffic safety and traffic flow at two major Redondo Beach intersections, and the city could have achieved these goals through less restrictive measures, such as the enforcement of existing traffic laws.”
City Councilman Matt Kilroy, who represents the council district where day laborers congregate on Manhattan Beach Boulevard, called the court’s ruling “amazing.”
“This is not a day laborer law,” Kilroy said. “This is a public safety law that has to do with soliciting vehicles from the sidewalk from public areas and the traffic hazards it causes.”
Redondo Beach City Attorney Michael Webb said he would consult with the City Council and mayor to decide whether to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case.
A three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based appeals court originally upheld the ban, but the specially convened panel of 11 judges voted 9-2 to overturn the earlier decision.
Judges Alex Kozinski and Carlos Bea dissented.
“This is folly,” wrote Kozinski, who noted that as many as 75 workers often would congregate at a busy intersection.
“As might be expected when large groups of men gather at a single location, they litter, vandalize, urinate, block the sidewalk, harass females and damage property,” Kozinski wrote. “Cars and trucks stop to negotiate employment and load up laborers, disrupting traffic.”
Kozinski said it was the city’s duty to protect its residents from such nuisances.
“Nothing in the First Amendment prevents government from ensuring that sidewalks are reserved for walking rather than loitering, streets are used as thoroughfares rather than open air hiring halls and bushes serve as adornment rather than latrines,” Kozinski said. “The majority is demonstrably, egregiously, recklessly wrong. If I could dissent twice, I would.”
Redondo Beach officials enacted the ban because they said the workers were interfering with traffic and pedestrians.
Kilroy said residents continue to question, “Why aren’t you doing something about this?”
“It’s something we get a lot of concern about from the citizens of Redondo Beach,” he said. “It still remains a safety concern. It’s not safe to solicit cars that come to a screeching halt in the public right-of-way. That’s really what this ordinance is all about.”
Redondo Beach officials were ordered to suspend enforcing the law in 2004 until a workers’ lawsuit against it was resolved.
Thomas Saenz, a Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund lawyer who represented the workers, said the court’s ruling against Redondo Beach most likely will put an end to similar bans in other western cities, including about 50 in California.
“It calls them all into very serious question,” Saenz said. “Each municipality with such an ordinance should immediately suspend and repeal its law.”
Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said the Redondo Beach ban and the dozens that followed were intended to “to render day laborers invisible.”
“For the past two decades, the ordinances have stigmatized day laborers as criminals — now they are civil rights leaders,” Alvarado said.
The ruling also struck down a Phoenix law prohibiting the political action group ACORN from soliciting donations from motorists stopped at red lights. Redondo Beach based its ban on the Phoenix law.
Kilroy said the city’s ordinance did nothing to stop a motorist from pulling into a private parking lot and entering into a transaction with a day laborer. It addressed only the public street.
Larry Altman contributed to this article.