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Day laborers wait near a Home Depot home improvement store in hope of finding work for the day on August 15, 2008 in Los Angeles, California.
A Federal Appeals court ruled Friday that Redondo Beach's anti-solicitation ordinance aimed at day laborers is unconstitutional and violates free speech.
Opponents say the law unfairly targets day laborers and is so broad that it limits everything from Girl Scouts publicly selling cookies to children's lemonade stands. Supporters say the ordinance is a simple and necessary way to tackle what has become a public nuisance and traffic safety issue.
Speaking to KPCC's Patt Morrison, Rebecca Smith, a coordinator at the National Employment Law Project, called the ruling a constitutional victory from an unlikely source.
"We think this is a huge victory for the First Amendment," she said, "and the folks we have to thank for that are some of the most disenfranchised people in our community."
The 1987 city ordinance, attempted to disband the gathering of day laborers at two major intersections and those approaching motor vehicles for "employment, business or contributions," first garnered widespread attention with the 2004 arrests of over 50 day laborers from the streets of Redondo Beach. The arrests put the constitutionality of the law on front pages across the nation and resulted in the National Day Labor Organizing Network, among others, suing the city for violating the First Amendment.
More recent opposition has hinged on claims that the bill is a targeted assault on day laborers and jeopardizes the right to free speech guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Michael Webb is a city attorney for Redondo Beach. He says the law has been the most effective way to deal with people obstructing streets and traffic in search of work. He told KPCC's Patt Morrison on Tuesday that the Girl Scouts would not be affected by the law.
"You don't have Girl Scouts stopping cars in traffic to sell to the driers of a moving vehicle," he said.
"There's nothing in this law that would stop someone from holding up a plan that says park legally and hire me."
One of two dissenting judges, Chief Judge Kozinski, called the courts decision "demonstrably, egregiously [and] recklessly wrong." The city, Kozinski said, was rightfully attempting to alleviate the problem of groups of men that "litter, vandalize, urinate, block the sidewalk, harass females and damage property."
Webb says the long-standing ordinance was driven solely by public complaints. "This isn't an anti-day labor ordinance, it's primarily a traffic and public safety issue," he said. Smith says cities have other ordinances, not focused on day laborers, that can accomplish those goals.
In light of the ruling, Redondo Beach may be looking to other cities for alternative ways to deal with congregating workers.
Frank Mier is a management analyst at the Los Angeles Community Development Department where he oversees L.A.'s day laborer program, what some see as a possible option to reduce traffic violations in Redondo Beach. He says there are already 8 day labor centers in L.A. Which "offer a dignified location where workers can congregate away from traffic." One issue he said is the limited number of locations, and the fact that workers are sometimes reticent to use the centers to find work.
Other cities with similar programs are bound to pay equal attention to the ruling, including the Phoenix, Arizona, who authored the bill that inspired much of the Redondo Beach ordinance.
Webb says the next reasonable step is for the Redondo Beach to look to the Supreme Court for an appeal.
Michael Webb, city attorney for Redondo Beach
Rebecca Smith, coordinator, Immigrant Worker Justice Project at National Employment Law Center
Frank Mier, management analyst, Community Development Department; he oversees L.A.’s day laborer program