San Diego's New Lease With Boy Scouts to Come Under Court Scrutiny in Discrimination Lawsuit

May 23, 2002 12:00 am

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SAN DIEGO–The American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties today applauded a federal judge’s decision to review the legitimacy of a controversial lease between the City of San Diego and the local chapter of Boy Scouts of America for 18 acres of land in Balboa Park.

The new lease becomes part of an ongoing lawsuit against the city by the ACLU on behalf of a lesbian couple and an agnostic couple whose sons are barred from participation in scouting activities on the public park land because of the Scouts’ policy of discrimination against gays and persons who do not adhere to Judeo-Christian ideals.

“Last December, the San Diego City Council affirmatively endorsed the Scouts’ discrimination when it voted to offer the Boy Scouts yet another sweetheart deal for the use of public park land,” says ACLU cooperating attorney Mark Danis, a partner at the law firm of Morrison & Foerster. “Now the Council will have to answer to the court for once again abdicating their constitutional responsibility not to discriminate.”

Under a preferential 50-year lease due to expire in 2007, the Scouts have had exclusive use of 18 acres of prime park property in city-owned Balboa Park for $1 per year. They also receive free use of an aquatic facility on city-owned Fiesta Island in Mission Bay under a separate lease. In 2000, the Desert Pacific Council of the Boy Scouts asked for an early renewal.

In December 2001, following 10 hours of heated public testimony, the City Council renewed the lease for a 25-year term and imposed a $2,500 per year administrative fee on the Scouts. The new lease continues to permit the Scouts to engage in discrimination based on sexual orientation and religious belief in regulating access to public park land. Voting against the new lease were Council members Toni Atkins, Ralph Inzunza, and Donna Frye.

“This new lease embodies the same discriminatory policies as the old one signed by a prior City Council in 1957,” said ACLU cooperating attorney M.E. Stephens of the law firm Lynn, Stock, and Stephens. “Since the 1950’s, our nation has experienced the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the gay rights movement, and many other breakthroughs in the area of equal treatment for all. It is profoundly disappointing that San Diego has chosen to ignore 50 years of progress in the arena of equal rights.”

The case is Barnes-Wallace v. City of San Diego, civil case number 00-1726 J (AJB). In granting the ACLU’s motion to amend the lawsuit, Magistrate Judge Anthony Battaglia also made the national Boy Scouts of America a party to the lawsuit. The case is expected to go to trial in Spring 2003.

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