ENCINITAS — The City Council is moving forward to create a policy that addresses the flaws in the way permits are approved for banners to hang on the city’s light posts.
Under threat of litigation, the City Council voted 4-1 in April to permit organizers of the Arts Alive program to submit a new application that would allow for the image of late Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan to be unmasked from the back of the 101 banners currently hanging from city light posts.
Organizers had sought to have the banners created by local artists, a decades-old tradition, display a likeness of Houlihan on the back only to be denied during the permitting process.
As a result the Arts Alive program put vinyl stickers to cover the image.
In letters to the council from the Coast Law Group and the ACLU, attorneys argued that the decision amounts to “viewpoint” decision-making and is a violation of the first amendment. Both letters cited numerous legal precedence.
The city code referenced in the decision to cover the image reads, “Said banners are for civic and non-profit, city wide recognized special events.”
Vina has said in the meeting that the image of a political figure would not fit within that language.
The City Council voted on Aug. 22 to create a subcommittee to revise the rules regarding the use of the poles and appointed Council members James Bond and Mark Muir to the panel.
The newly created council subcommittee met for the first time on Sept. 5 to discuss the issues surrounding the banner permitting process.
“They are working on the third option that was presented in the council meeting previously,” Assistant City Manager Richard Phillips said. That option gives less discretion to city staff to make decisions on permitting banners.
“There’s really no conclusion that’s happened other than they may invite representatives from other groups to give input once those rules are in place,” Phillips said. City Attorney Glenn Sabine was assigned to develop language for the proposed rules.
Danny Salzhandler of the 101 Artists’ Colony said he was more than willing to serve on the sub committee when asked by Bond at the Aug. 22 meeting. “I think we can get this (banner permit rules) done easily,” he said in a recent interview. The group is responsible for the Arts Alive Banner program. “I’m ready to get the whole thing going,” Salzhandler said.
“We had a preliminary meeting to spell out the issues and the options,” Muir said. “We’re all in agreement that we have the same goal,” he said. “And that goal is to allow the program to continue with minimal risk to the city.”
Muir said Salzhandler and Dody Crawford, executive director of the Downtown Encinitas MainStreet Association would be included in subsequent meetings. “We want to allow the people who are involved in the banner program an opportunity to flush out what the policy should look like,” he said.
The subcommittee will also meet with community groups to get input on the proposed rules. “We’re trying to find a middle ground between allowing anything and everything and having no (banner) program at all,” Muir said.
The city will continue to bar nonprofit groups from using the light posts for their advertising banners until a policy is in place. “We hope to have this done by the end of the month,” Muir said. “But we also want to be respectful of peoples’ time and not rush into anything at the exclusion of getting crucial community input.”