Los Angeles activists recently filed a civil rights lawsuit against companies owned by Rick Caruso that manage the Grove shopping mall. Caruso, a billionaire real estate developer running for Mayor of Los Angeles, has his campaign headquartered at the Grove, which has also been the site of numerous public events promoting his candidacy. 

The Grove is silencing efforts to criticize Caruso’s policies and political platform. For decades, California law has been clear that shopping malls are public spaces that must allow avenues for free expression, without discriminating against a speaker’s viewpoint. Shopping malls are today’s public squares. Caruso himself has described the Grove as “a Main Street for a city that doesn’t have one.”

Activists believe Caruso is leveraging his ownership of the Grove to suppress speech critical of his mayoral campaign, while also using the mall’s public spaces to promote his agenda and host large events supporting the campaign. 

“It’s becoming a familiar story,” said attorney Matthew Strugar. “A billionaire developer enters politics and celebrates people who praise him while trying to shut down those who criticize him.”

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs Gina Viola, Sim Bilal, and Youth Climate Strike Los Angeles asked the Grove for permission to plan small-scale marches through the Grove’s public thoroughfares this month. The Grove denied the applications at the same time that it facilitates similar speech boosting Caruso’s political agenda.  

Viola is an organizer with the LAPC Fails Coalition, a group that educates the public about the failures of the Los Angeles Police Commission (which Caruso has been president of) to address police violence in Los Angeles. 

Viola ran against Caruso in the mayoral primary, focused on the homelessness crisis and policing. She won nearly 7% of the citywide vote despite her campaign spending just around $50,000, while Caruso spent over $40 million (at least four times as much as all 11 other candidates combined) to place second in the primary, with under 36% of the vote. 

“Los Angeles is not for sale!” Viola said. “If Rick Caruso was sincere in his call to end homelessness, he could have done that decades ago many times over.”

Bilal is an organizer with Youth Climate Strike Los Angeles, a group that confronts climate change, environmental racism, and systemic inequality. 

“Los Angeles is on the frontlines of the climate crisis,” Bilal said. “We witness the devastation of climate inaction every day: pollution is worsening, our kids are developing lifelong health conditions, and wildfires are burning down our neighborhoods. Caruso refuses to even acknowledge the climate crisis in his platform, so of course he won’t allow us to raise this urgent concern. We must not reward his resistance to reality,” he added.

“The Grove is part of Rick Caruso’s plan to purchase plutocratic rule of Los Angeles,” said attorney Shakeer Rahman. “In an election where policing and displacement are among the lead issues, this billionaire is illegally using his control over a massive public space to muzzle his critics.”

According to the suit, just about all the Grove’s restrictions on speech violate the legal requirements for freedom of expression in malls and similar public spaces. Anyone wishing to exercise their freedom of expression at the Grove must submit a paper application to an office that has been behind a locked door for years; political expression must be limited to seven people and a 100 square foot corner of the mall , away from nearly all foot traffic; and any fliers or petitions must be individually approved by Caruso’s employees.

Our Weekly coverage of local news in Los Angeles County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support minority-owned-and-operated community newspapers across California.

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