‘Arts Alive’ censorship attracts the attention of the ACLU

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

 

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  1. Lynn Marr says:

    At last night’s Council Meeting Kristin Gaspar stated no vote was taken by Council re not allowing Maggie Houlihan’s image to be displayed. Surely, those in the audience were well-informed enough to realize that staff, including the City Manager, would NOT have made an unilateral determination that the banners were “political,” with Maggie’s image printed on the back. I had objected, initially, that a beloved ex mayor and council member’s image is NOT political. However, I before had not realized that Encinitas Municipal Code does NOT make any specific reference to “political” representations or images. To interpret the code in this manner, without any public hearing or open Council discussion is disingenuous, deceitful, and a violation of our First Amendment Rights.

    In addition to Coast Law Group and the ACLU, I would recommend that Ian Thompson might contact the First Amendment Coalition of California. I feel certain they also would be supportive of the fact that Maggie Houlihan’s image on the back of the banners does not violate Encinitas Code or any specific policy. On the contrary, banning Maggie’s printed image absolutely does violate the First Amendment, as any citizen, or first year law student can clearly understand. More and more voters in Encinitas are becoming aware of the petty politics being played by Jerome Stocks and his seeming puppet, Kristin Gaspar.

    Obviously, the City Manager did not make his decision, in a vacuum, determining that the banners could not be permitted to be displayed with Maggie’s likeness on the back, as a tribute. Apparently, he got his direction from Jerome Stocks, our current mayor.

    However, we continue to hope that our new city manager will learn to be more thoughtful and to think independently, to be so bold as to suggest, WITHOUT OUR HAVING TO RESORT TO THREATS OF LAWSUITS, that our city code does NOT refer, anywhere, to banning images on “political grounds,” and that our city’s doing so would serve to further alienate the public by denying us our freedom of expression, when that expression clearly causes no harm. This is another example of Jerome’s arrogant, insulting behavior. From our perspective, he dishonors himself, and cannot touch Maggie Houlihan, who is beyond his self-interested small mindedness.

  2. No honor says:

    This whole issue began when four community organizations, who have benifited our city for many years, merely wished to dedicate this years Arts Alive Banners to a fallen comrade that had served our community for over a decade, served as mayor twice when her established mayoral rotation came about,(http://www.theleucadiablog.com/2010/12/jim-says-dont-leave-barth-in-cornrows.html), received more votes when she ran for council, fought for openness and fairness and died while serving her community. This was a very natural and appropriate gesture.
    There is no doubt that Mr. Stocks was the one that used his power to have the banner permit, with Mrs Houlihan’s image, rejected, as he had the citizen’s memorial event park permit for Mrs Houlihan rejected. Citizens held the memorial in spite of the city rejecting the park permit.
    There never was any political reason to honor Mrs Houlihan. It was appropriate.
    Mr. Stocks has shown no honor in his dispicable actions in this issue.

  3. markscoular says:

    This reminds me of the Karl Rove quote that “Our administration (W) represents those that voted for us”.

    I guess the rest of the voters not voting for Stocks, Bond, Gaspar and their recently appointed lock-stepper don’t count.

    Incredible Tea-Party tactics in action.

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