Sacramento arena challenge apparently hindered by Safeway suit

Published: Wednesday, Jul. 3, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014 - 1:52 pm

Activists trying to force a public vote on the proposed downtown Sacramento Kings arena have run into a lawsuit from Safeway Inc., which bans solicitors from circulating petitions in front of its stores.

Safeway filed suit last week to prevent solicitors from gathering signatures in front of the 19th Street midtown store and other locations. The grocer's complaint in Sacramento Superior Court says unknown solicitors "entered the premises without permission and refused to leave when asked to do so by store personnel and representatives."

Safeway is one of several retailers that in recent years have sought to ban all solicitors – signature gatherers, Girl Scout cookie sellers, etc. – from in front of their stores.

The grocer declined to comment on the suit, which names unknown "John Does" and "Alpha Companies" as defendants. But it appears that activists working on the arena petition drive are among the targets of the suit.

Leaders of two groups working in tandem on the arena petition – which demands a public vote on the city's proposed $258 million subsidy – told The Bee on Tuesday that Safeway's lawyers told them not to collect signatures on company property.

Julian Camacho of STOP – for Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork – said he told his group to stop soliciting at the 19th Street store after he was contacted by Safeway's lawyers.

The second group, Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods, also decided to stay off Safeway property for the time being while the issue is sorted out by lawyers, said the group's adviser, Sacramento political consultant Tab Berg.

Berg said the Safer Neighborhoods group, which is paying independent contractors to gather signatures, believes it can stand up to Safeway.

"We think we have the right to be there" as long as petition gatherers don't impede shoppers, Berg said.

Free-speech advocates point to a landmark 1980 U.S. Supreme Court case, involving the Pruneyard Shopping Center in Campbell, that gives groups the right to circulate petitions at malls. But many retailers cite subsequent cases that limit that right to the malls' common areas, giving individual retailers the authority to ban solicitors from in front of their shops.

With the Safeway situation in limbo, Berg said the Safer Neighborhoods group is collecting signatures outside other retail outlets, and is doing some door-to-door work.

Two signature gatherers outside the Alhambra Boulevard Safeway told The Bee last week they are being paid $1.75 per valid signature.

Camacho said STOP has been hampered by the heat wave but plans to approach citizens at Fourth of July picnics.

So far the group has obtained "thousands of signatures," he said, but he said he doesn't have a more precise count.

The activists must collect 33,000 valid signatures, representing 15 percent of the city's registered voters, to put the arena subsidy on the ballot. STOP has been seeking a special election on the matter, rather than to have the question placed on the general election ballot, but Camacho said, "We're flexible."

Call The Bee's Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.

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