Pasadena to Residents: Watch What You Say

September 14, 2005 12:00 am

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Local Homeowners File Lawsuit Against City’s Anti-Free Speech Ordinance

LOS ANGELES — The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and a Pasadena couple that was forced to remove a sign on their home questioning the war in Iraq filed a federal lawsuit today in seeking a court order blocking the city from enforcing a municipal code that is counter to the First Amendment.

“”The signs have allowed us to have many conversations and debates with our neighbors and passers-by,”” said homeowner Mary Gavel-Briggs. “”I think that kind of communication is very important to the health of our country. I can’t believe we’re the first people to challenge this rule, but I hope we help other people express their views too.””

Mary Gavel-Briggs and Patrick Briggs are long time Pasadena homeowners who filed the lawsuit after they were forced to remove two political signs that read “”Support Cindy Sheehan”” and “”War starts with ‘W.’ Bush Lied. People Died.”” from the front of their home or face a fine of up to $500.

Pasadena residents are prohibited from posting most signs on their own property — no matter the content — if they do not obtain a permit and comply with a host of city requirements. The Pasadena Municipal Code states that for single-family and duplex homes the maximum number of signs that may be posted is “”four signs per parcel”” and that maximum sign area is “”one square foot per sign”” – about the size of a sheet of paper.

“”Limiting maximum signage area to one square foot offends another core constitutional principle — that as to the First Amendment, size matters,”” said Mark Rosenbaum, the ACLU of Southern California’s legal director. “”Political signs placed on residential property that express views on controversial issues uniquely fulfill a core function of our democracy to reflect and animate change in the life of a community.””

The Briggses called the ACLU of Southern California after a long exchange of phone conversations, letters and e-mails with the Zoning Department attempting to clarify the rules and obtain a permit, if necessary, to place signs on their home. In mid-August the Zoning Department said that after consulting the city attorney, the Briggs’ signs were “”prohibited,”” but provided no rationale as to why.

The Briggs family is active in community groups and their church. Mary Gavel-Briggs is a third-generation Pasadena resident and has owned her home in the North Pasadena Heights section of Pasadena for nearly 10 years. The couple bypassed the rule last month to post a sign notifying neighbors that they could leave donations for Hurricane Katrina victims at their house.

“”We just think this regulation is counter to the spirit of our city,”” said Patrick Briggs. “”At first it seemed like a minor issue, but changing the code is worthwhile for the sake of discussion and democracy in our community.””

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