Costa Mesa Freezes Anti-Solicitation Ordinance

Thomas-Saenz.jpg
Photo by Matt Coker
Speaking in front of Costa Mesa City Hall on Feb. 2, Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the way the city enforced its anti-solicitation ordinance violated the First and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the city of Costa Mesa has stopped enforcing its controversial anti-solicitation ordinance pending a decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeal on a challenge to a similar law in Redondo Beach.

As about 50 supporters, some toting signs stating "Working is Not a Crime," "Stop Police Harassment" and "Trabajo Dignidad Respeto," joined ACLU, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and National Day Laborer Organizing Network representatives in front of Costa Mesa City Hall Feb. 2 to announce a lawsuit against the city ordinance.

The law, created in 2005, prohibits any person standing on a sidewalk or in any public area from actively soliciting employment, business or contributions "accompanied by action intended to attract the attention of a person in a vehicle traveling in the street such as waving arms, making hand signals, shouting to someone in a traveling vehicle, jumping up and down, waving signs pointed so as to be readable by persons in traveling vehicles, quickly approaching nearer to vehicles which are not lawfully parked, and entering the roadway portion of a street."

Violators are subject to $1,000 fines and six-month jail sentences.

But, according to the court complaint, the ordinance was only being applied to day laborers seeking employment and not, say, real estate sign spinners. Singling out one group of people over others under a city law violates the U.S. Constitution, according to the complaint.

Costa Mesa resident, junior high teacher and Colectivo Tonantzin member Gabriela Trujillo related at the Feb. 2 City Hall press conference the incident that sparked most of the anger that led to the lawsuit: the Sept. 25, 2009, rounding up of 12 men at five locations around the city by undercover Costa Mesa police officers posing as employers of day laborers. The men entered a van after being promised $8 an hour to work, but most of them were instead deported, said a tearful Trujillo.

But Costa Mesa Police Chief Christopher Shawkey later told the Weekly the operation was launched after his department received 114 complaints from merchants and residents about the supposedly unsafe behavior of day laborers.

Shawkey also defended the ordinance, saying the city is trying to prevent "aggressive solicitation" by those who, say, step into roadways or otherwise create safety hazards.

"Anyone is free to solicit work in Costa Mesa," Shawkey said at the time. "They just have to follow the guidelines of the city ordinance."

But at the City Hall press conference, lawyers who were poised to fight the ordinance on behalf of Colectivo Tonantzin and Asociacion de Jornaleros de Costa Mesa members were confident Costa Mesa would abandon it just like all the other cities MALDEF and the ACLU have dragged to court over their similar ordinances, including Lake Forest.


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