Ruling lets Redondo Beach restrict where day laborers solicit work

Redondo Beach city officials can prohibit day laborers from soliciting work from motorists, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday in a case that has been eyed by other cities that have sought similar restrictions.

A lower court four years ago had ruled that the city’s ordinance banning solicitation from the street infringed on laborers’ free speech rights. Wednesday’s 2-to-1 decision from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling.

The city has been engaged in a legal tug-of-war with day laborers for more than 40 years, said Michael Webb of the Redondo Beach city attorney’s office. Officials have tried to balance public complaints about traffic snarls and sanitation with laborers’ rights to pursue employment.

The ruling was “a big victory for the rule of law” in affirming cities’ rights to restrict solicitation that can pose safety hazards, Webb said. Other cities have followed the case with an eye to enacting similar bans on street solicitors, he said.

Costa Mesa has a similar ban but agreed in February to suspend enforcement until the Redondo Beach case was decided. Lake Forest officials voted to impose the same restrictions in 2006 but withdrew the law after the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California sued, said Hector Villagra, the rights group’s legal director.

Civil rights attorneys criticized the ruling, saying it was out of step with other court decisions. They signaled that they would seek further court review.

“This is definitely a departure from every other federal court decision in the 9th Circuit that has examined similar ordinances and found them unconstitutional,” said Chris Newman, general counsel for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, which sued Redondo Beach after a 2004 crackdown. “We feel it is likely not the last word.”

The majority opinion by Judge Sandra S. Ikuta, an appointee of President George W. Bush, said cities have the right to regulate the time, place and manner of protected speech as long as the restrictions aren’t aimed at suppressing the message. In this case, the judges said, Redondo Beach’s restrictions were aimed at protecting public safety.

Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, wrote in her dissent that the majority “trampled upon the right of free speech in the most traditional of public fora,” referring to the streets and sidewalks where laborers market their skills to potential employers.