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AIDS Walk L.A. founder sues Santa Monica over ban on bus ads

September 25, 2012 |  9:51 am

AIDS Walk Los Angeles 2011
The founder of AIDS Walk Los Angeles has sued the city of Santa Monica over its decision to prohibit the organization's paid ads on its Big Blue Bus system.

Craig Miller alleges the city's barring of promotional ads for the group's October fundraiser was a violation of free speech. Joining him in the suit were Santa Monica residents Lisa Brisse and Paloma Bennett.

The suit contends the Big Blue Bus system last year said it could no longer display the ads because it was allowed to run only commercial advertising. It had, however, run the nonprofit group's ads for several years before that.

Joe Stitcher, the bus system's chief administrative officer, explained earlier this month that the prohibition had long been on the books but that officials had mistakenly violated it when in the past they allowed ads for AIDS Walk Los Angeles and other nonprofit groups.

The ban was intended to shield the bus system from becoming a "public forum," a legal designation that would mean that city officials had little control over the content of ads.

According to the suit, the plaintiffs "believe that without their advertising on defendant's buses, [AIDS Walk Los Angeles] and those who benefit from it will be negatively impacted in terms of funds raised and distributed, numbers of participants and communication of the message...."

AIDS Walk Los Angeles, begun in 1985, has raised more than $72 million for HIV programs and services in Los Angeles County. In 2011, 30,000 volunteers participated.


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Photo: Members of the Asaba Progressive Union, a Nigerian philanthropic organization based in Los Angeles, dance while participating in the 27th Annual AIDS Walk Los Angeles last October. Credit: Christina House / For The Times.