Thursday, November 14, 2002
Parade Permit Challenge Rejected as Moot; Plaintiffs Granted Leave to Amend
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
Santa Barbara protesters who were denied permission to march on a major street, then had their legal challenge dismissed as moot when they picked an alternative route, will have another chance to challenge the city’s permit processes under a ruling yesterday by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The court agreed with U.S. District Judge Manuel Real of the Central District of California that the Campus Labor Action Coalition’s civil rights suit became moot after the group went ahead with its May 12, 2001 March for Economic Justice using a different street. Since the group did not specifically note in its complaint that it was seeking relief for future years, the court wrote in its per curiam opinion, and since it didn’t ask for permission to pull together a quick “reactive” protest, there was little point in proceeding.
But the court seemed to acknowledge a flaw in its own reasoning, noting that the complaint and supporting affidavits “obliquely” suggested the plaintiffs intended to seek continuing relief for annual marches.
In fact, the group marched again this year, selecting a route that, like last year’s included the city’s primary thoroughfare—State Street.
Because there may still be a live controversy as to permits for future marches, Senior Judge J. Clifford Wallace and Judges Alex Kozinski and Richard Paez wrote, lead plaintiff Chrystine M. Lawson and the student-based coalition should be granted leave to amend so they could seek relief again in the district court.
Attorney Gilbert Gaynor, who argued the case for the plaintiffs, had mixed feelings about the result.
“It was a disappointment, of course” that the mootness ruling was upheld, Gaynor said. But he said he was pleased the decision will allow him to return to district court.
City Attorney Dan Wallace hailed the ruling, and noted that the plaintiffs “got their permit, had their parade.”
The question of whether the marchers got to State Street via Haley Street or the less-trafficked Cota Street was really beside the point, Wallace said.
“It’s an issue of traffic control and safety,” he said. Insisting on marching along Haley “is like saying we want to march on the freeway instead of Olympic Boulevard,” he said.
Santa Barbara’s denial of a parade permit for marchers wanting to spotlight challenges faced by the working poor is especially noteworthy in this well-heeled Central Coast city that generally leans Republican but often backs environmental and social justice movements.
Last month, the Santa Barbara City Council became one of the nation’s handful of local governments to go on record opposing a unilateral pre-emptive military strike against Iraq. Since then, several city officials who were at least tangentially responsible for the denial of the Campus Labor Action Coalition’s request to march along Haley Street have themselves taken part in antiwar marches in the city.
Lawson was in charge of obtaining all required permits for the 2001 march. She was at first told by Santa Barbara police and parks officials that the group would have to pay police costs and get liability insurance.
The group applied for permits to march on Haley, a major east-west artery, and to assemble in a park. A week later, the police told Lawson the march could not take place on Haley. The group then sued, alleging the permit scheme was unlawful on its face and as applied.
The city dropped the police costs and insurance requirements, and dropped the requirement for a park permit altogether, but held fast to its ban on marching along Haley Street.
The march took place as scheduled, but on nearby Cota Street, one block north.
In upholding Real’s mootness finding, the Ninth Circuit panel distinguished Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 case restricting abortion bans.
Unlike that case, the panel wrote, Lawson’s case did not present an issue in which time to act is so short as to evade judicial review since city laws allow groups to apply for parade permits up to a year in advance. City decisions are required within 18 days.
“This would give more than enough time to litigate the case through the state courts, given that California law provides for accelerated review of the city’s decision,” the court wrote.
There would even be enough time to review the state ruling in federal court, the panel wrote.
It could be argued that the city’s permit process limits a group’s ability to stage a spontaneous protest on short notice, the court said, but that is not what Lawson or the coalition were seeking.
“CLAC sets the date of its annual march far in advance, which gives the organization plenty of time to exhaust the appeals process and file suit, should the city deny its requested permits.”
Daniel P. Tokaji and Mark D. Rosenbaum of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California assisted Gaynor and the plaintiffs on the briefs.
Santa Barbara Assistant City Attorney Janet K. McGuinnis argued for the city.
The case is Lawson v. City of Santa Barbara, 01-56150.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company