By Ian Thompson
The City of Encinitas recently stated that it was a violation of the municipal code to have a picture of a political figure on any banner hung on city property. This decision was prompted by the Artists Colony’s desire to honor the late mayor of Encinitas, Maggie Houlihan, a strong supporter of the arts, by printing her image on the reverse side of every banner featured in their “Arts Alive” event.These banners are currently hanging from lamp posts throughout the city. The language in the code that is being used by the city to validate their position reads as follows:
“Said banners are for civic and non-profit city-wide recognized special events.”
The Arts Alive event complies with the civic, non-profit and city-wide recognized special events language.
It is a masterful interpretation of this item by the city to conjure up the requirement that the exclusion of images of political figures is also contained herein.
This means that should a civic group wish to honor the likes of George Washington, Martin Luther King, or Cesar Chavez by displaying their images on banners on city property their request for a permit will be summarily denied.
As a result of this determination, the ACLU has now entered the picture and has sent the City of Encinitas a “letter of concern” quoting a number of legal precedents relating to the first amendment and stating that:
“Standing alone, section 30.60.110(D) says only that “banners are for civic and nonprofit City-wide recognized special events.” That definition does not rule out using a deceased political figure’s likeness to advertise a special event.”
In a letter demanding that the city remove the masking from the banners, the Coast Law Group states:
“The City’s reliance on unwritten standards afforded through the unfettered discretion found in the City’s municipal code cannot provide justification for the City’s viewpoint discrimination.”
It is commonly known that the council majority under the leadership of current Mayor Jerome Stocks has, for years, been at odds with Ms. Houlihan’s platform of quality of life, controlled growth, and respectful stewardship of the environment.
Mr. Stock’s was recently quoted in the press as saying, “This is not me versus anybody. The banners were simply against the city’s municipal code.”
This attempt to suppress Ms. Houlihan’s legacy, even in death, should be an embarrassment to every resident of Encinitas. It should be of additional concern that the city believes that it alone will be the sole arbiter of who the residents of Encinitas can honor as their heroes and citizens of merit if the tributes are to be hung from public property.
While the “masked”Arts Alive banners hang in the City of Encinitas through April we are all witnessing a violation of our collective first amendment right to free speech and therefore of the constitution of the United States.
It is time the Encinitas City Council did the right thing and facilitates the uncovering of Ms. Houlihan’s image so that the banners can be shown in full and without the oppression of unconstitutional, city enforced, censorship.
Ian Thompson is an Encinitas resident