Group co-founded by Amy Reichert of La Mesa cites several constitutional protections in suit against City of San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

San Diego’s vaccine mandate for city employees and COVID protocols bar a fifth of San Diego County residents from “meaningful participation in city government,” a new lawsuit says.

Reopen San Diego’s lawsuit against City of San Diego (PDF)

The complaint, filed in downtown federal court Tuesday by ReOpen San Diego, says the council-approved emergency Ordinance No. 2022-53 keeps would-be elected officials, board members, volunteers and anyone doing business with the city from attending city meetings or doing business inside any city building without vaccination.

“The Ordinance and Plan are also blatantly illegal, as they violate the U.S. Constitution and state and local law and offend the foundational principles of democracy,” says the 22-page suit calling on the court to issue a preliminary injunction pending trial on the issues.

Lee M. Andelin and Arie L. Spangler, Cardiff-based attorneys for ReOpen San Diego, say the city’s rules also violate the state’s Brown Act, which requires most government meetings to be open to anyone in the public.

The rules also violate state privacy rights “by imposing a requirement that all individuals share their private medical information as a condition that must be satisfied to gain access to city offices and meetings,” the suit says.

In a statement to Times of San Diego, the City Attorney’s Office said: “We will review the complaint and respond through the court.”

Enrique Morones, the longtime activist for immigrant rights, responded to the headline on this report by offering his own title: “Vaccine deniers robs citizens of lives.”

Citing county records, the suit says that as of Jan. 26, 79.5% of San Diego County residents were “fully vaccinated.”

That excludes the rest — 20.5% — “from meaningful participation in city government – whether by serving as an elected official, board member, volunteer or even (eventually) attending a city meeting or engaging in city business in a city building – due solely to a personal medical decision whether to be vaccinated for COVID-19 (or an individual’s refusal to disclose their COVID-19 vaccine status),” the suit says.

Not mentioned is the city’s policy that most, if not all, City Council members take part in meetings via a virtual teleconference platform.

“In lieu of in-person attendance, members of the public may participate and provide comment via telephone, ZOOM, using the City Clerk webform or via U.S. Mail of written materials,” says a notice posted above the city’s calendar of agendas.

“Members of the public can offer public comment on agendized items or during Non-Agenda Public Comment by accessing the meeting online using a desktop computer, laptop, tablet or Smartphone, or by calling into the meeting using a Smartphone, cellular phone, or land line.”

The suit delivers on a threat made in a Dec. 15 demand letter to Mayor Todd Gloria and City Council members.

That letter called for a special meeting to rescind the ordinance approved Nov. 29, 2021, as well as the City’s 3-Stage Reopening Plan approved Oct. 18, 2021, which “will ultimately bar members of the public who are not vaccinated for COVID-19 from access to government buildings and in-person attendance at city meetings.”

In late January, a first-responders lawsuit challenged the city of San Diego’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city employees.

One of the groups behind the suit called the mandate “coercion” and a “direct assault on (city employees’) freedoms” that would have a major impact on public safety if unvaccinated officers and firefighters were terminated.

Updated at 2:47 p.m. Feb. 16, 2022