US Supreme Court rejects Redondo Beach appeal; day laborers allowed to solicit work on city streets

Day laborers sit in front of a Shell gas station in California.
Day laborers sit in front of a Shell gas station in California.

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The U.S. Supreme Court has turned down Redondo Beach’s appeal to reinstate an ordinance aimed at getting day laborers off the streets. The Court rejected the appeal without comment.

The “anti-solicitation” ordinance had been in the city’s books for more than 20 years. But in 2004, the city chose to enforce it. Police arrested 60 day laborers over the course of a month for crowding street corners while looking for work.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) filed a lawsuit over the arrests, saying that the ordinance violated their First Amendment rights.

Redondo Beach, meanwhile, defended the ordinance, arguing that the city had the right to stop laborers from using city sidewalks and street corners to hail drivers and solicit work.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. Last fall, by a 9-2 vote, it struck down the Redondo Beach ordinance, saying it violated free speech.

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote a strong dissent, saying the city was responding to crowds as large as 75 people, all trying to find work at a single intersection.

He said the First Amendment didn’t prevent cities from designating sidewalks for walking instead of loitering.

Redondo Beach City Attorney Michael Webb agreed, adding that he was "disappointed."

“We continue to get complaints from citizens regarding the traffic safety, quality of life concerns, relating to people soliciting employment from cars on busy roadways," said Webb.

He added that the day laborers still cause traffic problems, but now city police have their hands tied.

Meanwhile, Alex Castillo lives in Redondo Beach and is a legal immigrant day laborer from El Salvador. He says he’s looked for work on a Redondo street corner for years, and remembers clashes with police.

"It had gotten so bad that at one point I was arrested by an undercover police who looked like a contractor," Castillo recalls. "I spent the night in jail and I hadn’t done anything. All we did at that corner was look for work, in order to support our families.”

The Redondo Beach ruling is the topic of conversation at the day laborer convention in downtown L.A. Seven day laborers from Redondo Beach are attending the conference.