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Panel looks to solve art banner issue this month

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.”


1 comment

Concerned Citizen September 10, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Once again Mayor Jerome Stocks, at the August 22 Council Meeting, dominated and bullied. He thwarted Councilmember Teresa Barth’s motion to lift the moratorium on being able to apply for permits for signs in the public right of way. Stocks did not recognize Councilmember Mark Muir’s declaration in support of lifting the ban on banners as a second to Barth’s motion. Instead Stocks delayed by appointing a subcommittee of Muir and Councilmember Jim Bond to come back to Council after reviewing legal counsel’s report, which had already taken four months to come before Council.

On April 11, at a special meeting, originally designated as a closed session, Muir made a motion that the image in tribute to Maggie Houlihan, which had been covered, on the back of the Arts Alive Banners, could be displayed, and that Encinitas sign code should be reviewed and reevaluated. Stocks seconded that motion, making an ILLEGAL condition that current sign law would be effectively suspended pending revision of Encinitas Municipal Code with respect to signs in the public right of way. When law is being updated, current law should remain in effect. To suspend EMC mandates two readings, just as is required for any new or revised ordinance. Encinitas City Attorney Glenn Sabine didn’t address this impropriety at the April 11 meeting, nor did his partner, Randal Morrison, who was paid to give the August 22 sign law report.

Timing was vital on August 22, as the Leucaida Artwalk was scheduled four days later, on Sunday. Art supporters were unable to display banners for that event. Although a representative from DEMA and Danny Salzhandler, for the Artists Colony, spoke on behalf of lifting the ban, no one from Leucadia 101 Mainstreet Association, recent “sponsor” of Artwalk, spoke supporting installation of these distinctive Leucadia banners!

This lack of support by the Leucadia 101 Merchants Association has something to do with the fact that the association is heavily subsidized through the City, directly, and through funds received through the Sunday Farmers Markets, as arranged by Peder Norby. The Lecuadia 101 Merchants seem reluctant to “bite the hand that fees them.” Only about 7% of their income is derived through membership dues, according to their financials, which can be accessed, as they are a non-profit.

It’s a shame that the ban on banners could not be immediately lifted, and that the sponsor of the artwalk for the last couple of years, didn’t think it was important enough to come to the August 22 Council Meeting to advocate for the artists, and ALL of our freedom of speech.

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