Signs and the first amendment | February 8, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Perspective - February 8, 2008

Signs and the first amendment

by byVlado Bevc

Signs always have been of interest to the solons who run Danville as they are the media for town hall telling us how things should be. Election signs have always been very much on the mind of town hall. If everything could be put up at will, opposition candidates might run successfully against the incumbents. No way. As content still cannot be overtly regulated in America, the town hall banned any signs whatever.

Political candidates brash enough as to put up a sign promoting his name (and little else), or opposing those annual parcel taxes, special measure taxes and taxes on taxes, get their signs removed by the town's "maintenance" (demolition?). Signs promoting various prom queens just happen to be overlooked in this process.

Then there are signs of "general community interest" such as notices of garage sales and "Happy Birthday Joe" placards. We all wish a very happy birthday to Joe and hope that it is not Joe Stalin whom the well-wishers have in mind.

Years ago town officials, including the then city attorney and then town manager, took out a sign on private property promoting a museum. The courts let them go with a gentle slap on the wrists "for destruction of property." The gross violation of a citizen's right of free speech and use of her property was not noticed. Officials explained that no one wanted to abridge that lady's civil rights, they just had some good clean fun taking a chainsaw to the sign on their own free time! Does the desire for such clean fun still linger?

Signs of "general community interest" are rather destructive when attached with duct tape or other adhesives to traffic signal poles wreaking havoc with the paint job. The town would not use a repellant coating for poles that would prevent postings because such chemicals would damage the environment. Those signs show the address of the culprits and town could send a bill for repainting to them. Cops could look into that but they have much higher priorities. Like sending three police cars out if someone is handing out educational materials (a no-no!) to parents in front of a school.

There are taxpayer-provided bulletin boards and kiosks in parks and the library. These are "rented" to favored groups such as Little League, never-heard-of dramatic clubs, etc. Not everyone can obtain place to set up a bulletin board from the town much less a place on those existing. The town must first be satisfied that the material is politically correct. The decision is made by a clerk who does not read her e-mail, does not return phone calls and is seldom in her office. The library's bulletin board is controlled by the county librarian. Did the Founding Fathers envision such practices when writing the First Amendment?

The question is: Are the town's services only available to some and not to others and should the pipsqueak towns in the valley really be in the position to control free speech?

Vlado Bevc, Ph.D., a Danville resident since 1970, was one of the residents who resisted its incorporation. He was on the staff of the California Public Utilities Commission for 25 years, is the author of "Liberal Forces in 20th Century Yugoslavia," and is working on a book, "All about Energy."


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