Confrontation Intensifies Over Soliciting At Hall Of Records

San Bernardino County’s efforts to crack down on those who some county officials claim are soliciting business on county property escalated this and last week, with the county employing its code enforcement division to enforce its recently enacted anti-solicitation ordinance.
Traditionally, in Southern California, the halls of records and recorder’s offices for the various counties have been magnets for businesses which offer registration, licensing, filing, notary or legal noticing or advertising services to businesses, banks, real estate companies or those purchasing property who must record documents or apply for permits and licenses.
San Bernardino County is no exception.
Well after some other jurisdictions took up and failed in their actions to restrict public activities around their government facilities, the county of San Bernardino has embarked on its own effort to regulate or ban entirely such businesses from approaching those who have come to its central Hall of Records, currently located at 222 Hunts Lane, off Hospitality Lane in San Bernardino. More than two decades ago, such an effort in Los Angeles County was challenged, resulting in a court decision by the California Fourth Court of Appeal, in the case of People vs. Tisbert, which declared the enforcement of anti-solicitation restrictions on county property is “unconstitutionally overbroad.”
Nevertheless, San Bernardino County this summer, having never before sought to restrict the activity of the public at its facilities, had its board of supervisors take up a new ordinance, Ordinance 4282, at its July 28 meeting, giving the ordinance a second reading and final vote of passage on August 11. Ordinance 4282 prohibits soliciting at any county facilities. Though the language in the ordinance does not limit the prohibition to any single county building or department, Terry Thompson, the county’s director of real estate services, submitted a report that accompanied the item on the board agenda on July 28 which stated “There have been some issues at county facilities, including aggressive solicitation of county patrons at the Hall of Records. The adoption of this ordinance will add Chapter 30 to Division 1 of Title 4 of the San Bernardino County Code to prohibit solicitation to market or advertise products, services, or property by any person, association, body politic, group or other entity on county property. The chapter would apply whether in the unincorporated or incorporated area of the county.”
Many of those who market services to patrons at the Hall of Records took exception to the county’s action, and have stated that making contact with those in need of their services at the county facility where large numbers of registrants and applicants are congregated is both logical and in the mutual interest of the patrons and those rendering the services.
Last week, the day after Ordinance 4282 went into effect, county code enforcement officers came to the Hall of Records and cited at least four people in front of the building with soliciting.
Rather than desist or back down, however, many of the private sector service providers who work the area around the Hall of Records remained in place, in some cases carrying placards or signs protesting the county’s action, asserting their rights of assembly, speech, and free trade were being violated.
This week, in an apparent effort to ratchet up the pressure on solicitors, county officials brought in the San Bernardino Police Department and then the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. Officers with both of those agencies, however, declined to engage in any enforcement activity.
Christian Hughes is an employee of one of companies offering services near and around the Hall of Records. Hughes works for the California New Business Bureau, which has offices in Norwalk in Los Angeles County, Santa Ana in Orange County and San Bernardino in San Bernardino County, offering a full line of services to start-up and existing businesses with regard to filing for corporation or partnership status, permits, licenses, establishing trademarks, registering and other applications with regard to operating a business. A major line of service at the company’s San Bernardino location, which is located across the parking lot from the county’s Hall of Records, is assisting those applying for fictitious business names in the county recorder’s office.
The California New Business Bureau’s proximity to the Hall of Records and its practice of stationing its employees near the county facility and approaching those going into or coming out of the recorder’s office, which is located on the ground floor of Hall of Records, has put it at the forefront of the controversy and confrontation over Ordinance 4282 and its enforcement.
“They are not letting us do what we have always done, which is offer our services to people who are going through the county’s application and filing processes,” Hughes said. “Many of the people who go into the county building to take out papers to start a business, or make applications for various licensing have never been through the process before. We help them with that. I can’t tell you how many people our company, the California New Business Bureau, has helped in starting a business, but it is a lot, in the thousands. Now the county is saying we can’t do that anymore.”
Hughes said “They are saying we can’t peaceably assemble and pass out business cards or show people how they can make the legal notice the county is requiring them to do in newspaper. We hand out newspapers and show people where the legal notice and classified ad sections are. The county is telling us we can’t do that.”
On Tuesday, September 22, Hughes said, a county code enforcement officer came to the Hall of Records premises and order him to take down a protest sign he had erected on public property in the area leading from the parking lot to the entrance at 222 Hunts Lane. Hughes refused. The code enforcement officer then instructed one of the county’s paid security guards remove the sign. The security guard refused to do so. Hughes pointed out that though the code enforcement officer called upon others to take the sign down, he did not do so himself. “He knew that would be against the law,” Hughes said.
Hughes said he would remain on the scene, despite the pressure he was being subjected to.
“We have the right to free speech and the right to assemble in public,” Hughes said. “With all the problems in the county, real code violations and illegal activity like drug dealing and property destruction going on, I have to hope that eventually they will leave honest people who are trying to work and help people and make an honest dollar alone, and go enforce codes that will do some good.”
Yesterday, on September 24, district attorney’s investigators came into the California New Business Bureau’s San Bernardino office and questioned employees there about their business practices. The investigators did not have a warrant. The investigators then travelled to Los Angeles County, where, again without a warrant, they questioned employees at the California New Business Bureau’s Norwalk office.
A district attorney’s office spokesman declined to field questions about the matter.

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