Goldman Sachs is majority owner of property management firm headed by Senator Feinstein’s husband
Story by Miriam Raftery, photos by Ron Logan
November 30, 2011 (San Diego) –Startling ironies came to light today in the case of Ray Lutz, an East County political activist and former Democratic Congressional candidate arrested yesterday for refusing to move a voter registration table out of the Civic Center Plaza.
Police have said they responded to a citizens’ arrest initiated by the operators of a privately owned building at 1200 Third Avenue. That building is owned by CB Richard Ellis (CBRE).
“Its majority owner is Goldman Sachs. Its other owners are hedge fund managers, banks,” Lutz said at a press conference tonight,where he announced that he is filing a lawsuit against CBRE alleging false imprisonment to suppress his efforts to register voters near the Occupy San Diego protest, inspired by Occupy Wall Street. “These are the Wall Street entities that have screwed up our country over and over," Lutz declared.
He added, "They knew that I was registering voters here n this area—and they decided to do what was unspeakable in this country. And that is to deny people their right to register to vote.”
Former city attorney Michael Aguirre, who last night told ECM that he believed the arrest was illegal, is representing Lutz, the activist said.
Lt. Anda Brown with San Diego Police told ECM that Lutz was arrested “based upon his refusal to remove his property from the private property, not his act of registering voters.” During the Occupy protests, police have maintained that anyone who sets down tables or other objects in the publicly owned portion of the plaza will be subject to arrest.
Brown said the arrest was “not ordered within the SDPD” and added that she was not aware of any consultation with city officials prior to the arrest. “Once made, the arrest was approved according to standard SDPD protocol,” she added.
“I knew if I moved in the City area they would arrest me right away,” said Lutz, noting that another case challenging that is already in federal court. So he set up in the private are directly behind the public section. After registering five voters and with a line of other people waiting to register, Lutz was arrested.
Lutz notes that 91 percent of the CBRE building is leased the the City and that the plaza functions as the center city square of San Diego. He cites the landmark California Supreme Court Case, Robins v. Pruneyard, which held that people have a right to register voters even on private property, such as inside a shopping mall, if that property is open to the public and thus functions as a public square.
Police note that even Pruneyard gives property owners the right to control the time and manner of registration activities. But is it reasonable to deny a table and chairs for voter registration efforts as a “manner” of registration activities? Would forcing people registering voters, and the voters themselves, to stand be a violation also of the Americans with Disabilities Act? Is it reasonable to expect those registering voters to carry all belongings for a full day, such as boxes full of registration forms, signage and more, never touching the ground? That is what a judge must now decide.
Another bizarre irony is that the Chairman of the Board at BCRE, the company that arrested a Democratic activist involved in voter registration, is none other than Richard C. Blum, husband of California’s Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein. (It is not known whether Chairman Blum knew or approved of the citizens’ arrest of Lutz).
“A couple of Democratic ladies were so angry when they found out that they marched down to Feinstein’s office,” attorney Rachel Scoma with Canvass for a Cause told ECM. She did not know the outcome .
This morning, a group of activists decided to register voters first on public property at the plaza, and then on private property at the same place where Lutz was hauled off by police. This time, the outcome was far different. “They’re still there tonight, registering voters,” Scoma told ECM.
Why the change of heart?
Mike Garcia, a La Mesa resident, said activists were met by Assistant Chief Boyd Long this morning before unfolding their table. “There were about 20 occupiers,” he recalled. After the Chief went inside to talk to building management, the group waiting about 20-25 minutes before patience wore thin and they set up the table. The Chief had given him a cell phone number, so Garcia called.
“He said we are not going to arrest you, but it will be up to the management,” he recalled. Outside, police were met with a “mic check” human microphone repeating the news. View a video of the clash: http://www.kpbs.org/news/2011/nov/30/occupy-san-diego-protestors-clash-police-over-vote/
“So we sat there all day and registered voters,” Garcia told ECM late this afternoon. “I would say we registered somewhere around 30.”
Lutz said he has registered voters many times at other public locations without the restrictions imposed by the city of San Diego.
Scoma, too, says no permit should be needed and tables should be allowed. Her organization has engaged in voter outreach on numerous occasions.
“We would never get a permit to register voters in a public area or in an area in accordance with Pruneyard,” she maintained. “When Target, a private corporation, didn’t want us there, we didn’t get handcuffed and arrested, we took it to a civil level. They lost, but it didn’t go to a criminal level,” she reflected. “This just shows how police treat people associated with the Occupy movement.”
The group has vowed to return every day to register voters at the busy Civic Center Plaza. They are there independently of Lutz, they say—and they are willing to risk arrest for the sake of their principles.
Lutz justifies filing a lawsuit against the building’s management company “because these people have hurt me and these voters who are trying to register to vote,” he concludes, “which is sacrosanct in our democracy.”