Sunday, August 29, 2010

Incumbency Trumps Free Speech in Simi Valley

The City of Bell, CA, gets caught dolling out megabucks to its top political leaders and suddenly the media eye is scrutinizing the expenditures of cities in their own neighborhoods. You can bet that city fathers all over the country are squirming at the exposure. But, the awarding of full time employment benefits to part-time city council personnel is every day fare. But, how about writing a city ordinance which benefits the city council incumbents to the detriment of aspiring city council candidates? Simi Valley did it. It gives me a warm feeling to know that my city fathers have only the public’s interest at heart.

I submitted a letter to the editor on the subject to the Simi Valley Acorn, which published an edited version under the title of, “Sign ordinance is bad for democracy.”

Below is the unedited piece that I submitted.

City of Simi Valley Prohibits Political Signs In Favor of Incumbency

In 2006, the City of Simi Valley enacted a city ordinance prohibiting the placing of temporary signs, including pre-election political signs, on the public right-of-way.

The ordinance asserts, “The placement and accumulation of temporary signs in the public right-of-way, on traffic and utility devices, upon public sidewalks or on public easements presents dangerous conditions to the free and safe flow of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Such areas must be preserved for official traffic signs and official utility notices in order to assure the safe flow of traffic.” The ordinance justification offered no proof of hazard existing in the City.

The only proof of justification stated within the ordinance concerned aesthetics. The 0rdinance states, “Prior to the adoption of the ordinance, the City of Simi Valley has permitted temporary signs in the public right-of-way, which has resulted in substantial unsightly conditions, as illustrated in evidence presented to the City Council during its consideration of this ordinance.”

The ordinance further states, “A limitation on temporary sign display is directly related to the objective of aesthetics.”

It goes without saying that a sitting member of the city council enjoys a considerable political incumbent advantage over an election challenger. That advantage is the result of name recognition and opportunities to interact with the residents and business community in the course of conducting city business.

One of the main mechanisms to gain name recognition is the time honored tradition of posting temporary political signs in advance of an election. There is no greater venue for political signs than the public right-of-way.

By improving the “aesthetics” of the city and forbidding the posting of political signs on the public right-of-way, the council voted a political advantage for themselves.

Limiting candidate free speech robs the public of the opportunity to learn about their prospective city leaders.

City Council challenger Keith Mashburn wants to amend the city sign ordinance to correct the political injustice. Vote for Keith Mashburn, a man of integrity.

Link in this Blog
Sign ordinance is bad for democracy