Irvine Community News & Views Sues City


The Irvine Community News & Views, a publication that started as a slate mailer and resumed publishing as a non-profit organization, has sued the City of Irvine for alleged violations of the City’s Free Speech Ordinance.  The paper is not available in Irvine City Hall with other free distribution publications like OC Family, the Irvine World News and OC Weekly over what the city says is the paper’s political orientation.

Both the OC Register and OC Weekly have chimed in.

From the Register:

Frank Lunding, a Monterey resident and publisher and editor of Irvine Community News & Views, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Santa Ana on Feb. 8 alleging the city violated his rights to free speech and equal protection of the law.

Lunding is seeking an injunction against the city to stop it from refusing distribution of the paper at City Hall. He claims Irvine’s city manager, city attorney and director of communication are behind the year-old effort.

“The city has opened the news racks in the public lobby of City Hall to the distribution of news and informational content, and there is no reasonable, viewpoint-neutral basis on which to distinguish the content of ICNV from the content of the newspapers and other materials that are permitted to be distributed from the City Hall news racks,” the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, Todd Litfin, then Irvine city attorney, emailed Lunding in July to say the city did not allow distribution of “political related publications” at city facilities. Lunding said he has approached city staff multiple times asking for the paper to be allowed in the lobby’s news racks and has been refused each time.

Based on Litfin’s own argument, OC Weekly should be banned from city hall as well.  Then there is this key phrase overlooked by our friends at OC Weekly:

The 16-page January edition includes three articles, columns by residents, an events calendar and advertisements from local businesses.

In America, anyone with a printing press (or an Internet account) can publish a newspaper.  The Irvine Community News & Views has no slate to promote, it’s now a non-profit organization, and it’s coverage of city issues, scholastic sports, and community calendar make it more of a competitor to the Irvine World News than anything.  It’s hard to argue the newspaper is fake, especially given the partisan history of newspapers published in this country since the revolution.  The New York Post was founded by Alexander Hamilton as a way to publish harsh criticism of Hamilton’s political enemies; a tradition carried on by current publisher Rupert Murdoch.

Here’s OC Weekly’s take:

In a lawsuit filed this week inside Orange County’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, Lunding is demanding taxpayers pay him damages because he claims city officials are violating his free speech rights by labeling his Irvine Community News & Views (ICNV) a “political related publication” and banning it from news racks inside city hall.

The publication began as a partisan political slate mailer. Lobbyists and corporate executives hoping to keep Agran and his then-council majority in power beginning for the 2008 election spent more than $100,000 to create the impression with voters that the paper was an independent news outlet and not an elaborate campaign flier. Those Agran allies were eager to keep winning lucrative public contracts worth tens of millions of dollars annually—especially at the Great Park project. 

After Republican candidates took control of the city council with Agran’s historic 2014 defeat, the ICNV “terminated its slate mailer status” and became a real “community newspaper” printing 21,000 copies monthly in hopes of countering coverage by more traditional news publications, according to Fredrick D. Woocher, the Los Angeles-based lawyer who has represented Democratic candidates for decades and filed the lawsuit for Lunding,

Woocher argues that the city’s “discriminatory” acton violates his client’s “equal protection” rights under the U.S. Constitution and he wants a court order permitting the publication’s city hall distribution as well as “reasonable” financial damages to be determined later.  

The headline of R. Scott Moxley’s story screams in all caps: “Fake Larry Agran Newspaper Sues City Of Irvine Over Distribution.”  We’re not sure who writes the headlines at OC Weekly (tip for readers; reporters usually don’t write the headlines.  A copy editor does.), but what exactly about ICN&V is fake?  It publishes regularly.  It has news articles.  It has a community calendar.  Local businesses buy ads.  It’s online and printed.  If it’s fake because of slanted political articles, then should OC Weekly also be considered “fake?”

For background, Irvine’s Free Speech Ordinance allows free distribution publications in places where the community gathers, like city hall, grocery stores and shopping centers.  It was originally passed by Larry Agran and other members of the city council to actually help OC Weekly be distributed throughout the city back when the paper had a more liberal/progressive editorial policy.