Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A Little Home Town Good News

Pasadena is one of those communities that ring Los Angeles. In fact, most people just assume that the things Pasadena is famous for, the Rose Bowl and Parade, JPL and Cal Tech, are in Los Angeles and that Pasadena is just a name for an area of the real city. Not true. Pasadena is a real city with its own city council and mayor, a police department, a department of water and power, a public library system and everything else a real city has, including bureaucratic knuckleheads.

The most recent evidence of that last characteristic of cities was reported in the city newspaper, the Pasadena Star News.

City officials plan to rewrite an ordinance regulating the posting of political signs on residential property in response to a lawsuit filed earlier this month, alleging the city violated a Pasadena couple's right to free speech.

Additionally, City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris has recommended the city stop enforcing the regulations as they apply to "signs that express political, religious or other ideological sentiments' until new rules can be put into place.

The ACLU is representing Patrick Briggs and Mary Gavel- Briggs in their suit against the city. The couple said they were forced to remove a banner stating their opposition to President Bush and the war in Iraq because city officials deemed the sign too big.

The Briggses said the size limits in the ordinance are overly restrictive and prevent them from effectively communicating their political views to neighbors and passers-by.

The City Council last updated the sign ordinance in 2003. At the time, city officials said the ordinance needed to be revised to ensure the various rules and regulations were consolidated into "an easy to understand format.'

In a city report from that time, officials made clear that First Amendment issues needed to be taken into account when it came to setting standards for political speech. One section of the report dealing with election signs said the City Attorney recommended against any limitation on posting of election signs because they can be "construed as a political sign' which cannot be regulated.

When asked this week why the city required the Briggses to either remove their sign or obtain a permit, city officials said they treated the banner as a "temporary event sign."

"Imagine if somebody wanted to put up a sign about global warming. Is that an event?' asked Rosenbaum. "I think there has been arbitrary enforcement of this provision at the whim and will of officials.'

There does appear to be confusion among members of the City Council as to how the sign ordinance applies to different signs. For instance, council members were not clear whether the size limitations, which restrict residential signs to 1- foot-square, apply to election posters. And several council members said they were surprised the size limit was so small.
[Emphasis added]

Here's the skinny. The people involved are both anti-war activists and they hung a rather large banner stating their opinions on the war on their property. Apparently some neighbors complained, the city department in charge of signs-on-property came out, and cited the couple for not having a permit and for having an oversized sign. They were told to take the banner down. The couple refused and instead, after reading the city ordinance involved, filed suit. The city council conferred with the City Attorney and decided that, oops, the ordinance was probably unconstitutional and maybe the ordinance needed to be redrafted to conform to the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

I like it when citizens refuse to be cowed by inane and unconstitutional laws. I also like it when elected officials, when confronted with such an issue back off and do the right thing. I would like it even more if the bureaucratic knuckleheads got rapped upside the head, but I try not to be greedy.


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