Barely two weeks after the Santa Monica Council stated it would review a Big Blue Bus (BBB) advertising policy prohibiting non-commercial advertisements, the founder of a recognizable nonprofit filed a lawsuit against City Hall challenging that very advertising policy.
According to news reports, AIDS Walk Los Angeles founder and producer Craig Miller has sued Santa Monica, filing a lawsuit Sept. 24 that claims the BBB policy is in violation of the First Amendment’s free speech protections.
Two other Santa Monica residents reportedly joined Miller in the lawsuit: Lisa Brisse and Paloma Bennett.
The suit seeks to have the BBB policy disallowing non-commercial advertising as unconstitutional. Also sought is an injunction that, if granted, would prohibit City Hall from prohibiting an AIDS Walk Los Angeles advertisement for the BBB.
The legal matter directly follows a discussion council members held Sept. 11 when Mayor Richard Bloom introduced a motion to review the public transportation entity’s long-standing but only recently enforced policy of not allowing non-commercial advertisements on its buses. That motion was made after AIDS Project Los Angeles – which annually seeks advertisements to promote its AIDS Walk Los Angeles event – protested the aforementioned BBB practice.
According to AIDS Project Los Angeles, it had previously been allowed to purchase from BBB advertisement space to promote its annual AIDS Walk Los Angeles event.
Bloom pointed out at the Sept. 11 council meeting that the BBB had a long-standing practice to allow only commercial advertising on its buses yet the public transportation entity’s management “had been allowing both commercial and non-commercial advertising.”
City Manager Rod Gould pointed out the allowance of non-commercial advertising on the BBB in recent years was a failure of administration.
Separately, City Attorney Marsha Jones Moutrie said the city could certainly adopt a policy allowing any non-profit to advertise on Santa Monica buses.
“The current policy of the Big Blue Bus was not adopted to harm AIDS Walk LA. But it was adopted out of the recognition the court decisions on the First Amendment do not allow us, once we open a forum, to distinguish based on message content,” Moutrie said at the Sept. 11 council meeting.
The city attorney added there is an unfortunate legal distinction that does allow for discrimination between non-profits as a class and commercial entities.
Launched in 1985, the AIDS Walk Los Angeles event has reportedly raised an estimated $72 million to benefit HIV patients and programs throughout Los Angeles County.
AIDS Walk LA had hoped to advertise on the BBB in time for its signature event, which is scheduled to take place Oct. 14. About 30,000 people volunteers participated in AIDS Walk Los Angeles last year, according to the organization’s estimates.