ACLU sues Encinitas over campaign sign ordinance

ENCINITAS — The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the city of Encinitas over its recently revised campaign ordinance, which it says infringes on the constitutional right of free speech.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit in federal court on July 30, about a year after it formally demanded the city change the campaign sign ordinance.

Encinitas officials changed the sign policy to specifically avoid this type of accusation. The City Council in March 2014 amended its policy regarding signs to allow homeowners to have up to two signs on their properties prior to the election season. Previously, the city’s rules did not allow for any signs to be erected before 30 days prior to and three days after an election.

The ACLU wrote the city in September 2014 demanding it be changed to allow people to post an unlimited amount of signs, saying that anything less would infringe upon a person’s constitutional right to free speech.

The ACLU, in a recent news release, said that the restrictions still limited a homeowner’s constitutional right to unlimited political speech.

“The right of individuals to participate in civic life is critical to the political process,” said David Loy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. “Political signs are one of the few means of speech guaranteed to reach people in the community. They can change the channel or close the website, but they can’t turn off a sign in someone’s yard.”

The Encinitas City Council has discussed the case behind closed doors for the past few months, but has emerged from the closed sessions with nothing to report.

City Councilman Tony Kranz, reached Thursday, declined comment on the case, citing the pending litigation.

Peter Stern, a longtime resident and activist, is listed as the plaintiff on the lawsuit. In the news release, it said that Stern has complied with the rules under concern he could be cited for the violation under the city’s code.

The lawsuit asks the district court to prohibit Encinitas from enforcing the two-sign cap, to declare the two-sign cap unconstitutional, and to award attorneys’                                           fees and costs.

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