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ACLU takes issue with Encinitas’ campaign sign ordinance

The American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties believes the Encinitas sign ordinance violates the right to free speech and should be changed.

Under new city rules, residents can have an unlimited number of campaign signs on their properties 30 days before and three days after an election. Outside this time frame, people can place up to two political signs on their lots.

“Courts have regularly struck down such limitations on core political speech,” said David Loy, an ACLU attorney.

Last spring, the council updated the sign ordinance in response to an attorney, who said the old rules of restricting all political signs to 30 days before an election (and three days after) probably wouldn’t hold up under legal scrutiny. Although the city’s reworked ordinance is less restrictive, the ACLU believes it is still unconstitutional.

Loy has requested that the city amend the ordinance to drop the time limit and sign cap. In the meantime, the city should refrain from enforcing the ordinance, says a letter Loy sent to the council and city attorney last month.

“The failure to do so would expose the city to needless risk of litigation and payment of substantial attorney fees,” the letter states. “As in every case, I hope to resolve this matter without litigation, but I am prepared to litigate whenever necessary to defend the First Amendment.”

This week, Loy said he has yet to receive a formal response to his letter. City Attorney Glenn Sabine did not reply to requests from the Encinitas Advocate to comment on the matter.

The letter also says the two-sign cap infringes on First Amendment rights, particularly in light of the high number of federal, state and local candidates whom residents might wish to support in the upcoming election.

“In these circumstances, which are common to elections in Encinitas, the two-sign cap clearly infringes the First Amendment right to engage in core political speech without sufficient justification,” the letter says.

Similarly, the letter says the city’s goal of reducing visual clutter is narrowly defined and doesn’t trump the First Amendment. It points to a 1982 legal case, Antioch v. Candidates’ Outdoor Graphic Service.

The case states there shouldn’t be a time restriction on campaign signs because their purpose is “to place a name or an issue before the public. In a campaign for political office, political posters can be effectively utilized to build up the candidate’s name recognition and to establish him as a serious contender.”

According to city rules, signs can’t be posted in the public right of way. A month before the election, the city’s Code Enforcement Department conducts a weekly sweep for illegal signs.


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