#City & Town Planning
Taget:
San Anselmo Town Council
Region:
United States of America

The Town of San Anselmo is proposing to adopt an ordinance that will make the across-the-street banners on Drake and Tunstead and the Hub sign available only to those who have political "pull." The banners and Hub sign are valuable, precious community resources, and they should be made available on a fair and equitable basis to qualified organizations.

There is a Town Council meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 28, at 110 Shaw Drive, behind Safeway. Please sign this petition, and appear at the Town Council meeting to voice your opposition to this unfair ordinance.

Background

For many years, the Town of San Anselmo allowed organizations to advertise “charitable and civic events” on two street banners across Sir Francis Drake Blvd. and Tunstead Ave., and on a sign at the Hub. The street banners and Hub sign were used by most organizations in Town, including the Stapleton Ballet Nutcracker, the Ross Valley School District Yes! Foundation, the Drake Pirate Pancake Breakfast, the Sleepy Hollow Kitchen Tour, the San Anselmo Baseball Association, Lower Brookside Octoberfest, Manor School Winter Faire, the Chamber of Commerce Art and Design Festival and many, many others.

In October 2005, the Town administration approved the display of a street banner for a political campaign (“Yes on Measure B”). Since the Town’s ordinance permitted banners only for “events”, this political campaign sign clearly violated the ordinance. The Town administration allowed it anyway, presumably because the Yes on Measure B Committee was composed of Town Councilmembers. The Yes on Measure B banner was followed by another political banner (“Yes on 73”).

Adoption and Administration of the Emergency Ordinance

In response to many public complaints about these political banners, in November 2005, the Town Council adopted an emergency ordinance prohibiting all parties, other than the Town government itself, from erecting street banners and Hub signs.

In short order, the Town administration violated this ordinance as well. Over the course of the last year, street banners have been displayed by several organizations that are not part of the Town government. These included banners for an organic Farm Stand (a commercial enterprise), Girls on the Run (an event in Tiburon), the San Anselmo Baseball Association (an independent association that is not affiliated with the Town government), and a Fairfax Haunted House (produced by the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce). Each of these banners, displayed with the express approval of the Town administration, violated the emergency ordinance, which limits banners to Town government messages only.

In the meantime, other community organizations saw that the Town was allowing numerous non-Town street banners and signs. When these organizations asked for banner space, their requests were denied, for no valid reason. In addition to violating the Town’s own emergency ordinance, it is patently unfair, not to mention unconstitutional, that the Town administration is able to pick and choose which banners to display.

The Proposed New Ordinance

The Town administration has now proposed a new permanent ordinance, which is similar to the failed emergency ordinance. In the new ordinance, banners are permitted “to promote special events of which the Town is either the sponsor or a co-sponsor.”

The terms “sponsor” and “co-sponsor” are not defined. Is it sufficient for the Town administration to simply say that the Town is a sponsor or co-sponsor? Or does the Town have to contribute any funds or staff time in order for an event to count as a sponsorship or co-sponsorship? Does the Town have to be named as a sponsor or co-sponsor in any publicity materials, or can the Town administration simply agree to be a “silent” co-sponsor?

In addition, there is no indication of who would decide on behalf of the Town whether or not to sponsor or co-sponsor an event. Would it be the Town Council? A Town Commission? Any Town staff member?

And what is the criteria for determining whether to sponsor or co-sponsor an event? Will the Town look at the content of the proposed banner to see whether it is acceptable to the Town? Will the Town look at the organization, and make some determination as to whether that organization’s views and policies fit with the Town government’s view of politics?

The proposed ordinance is flawed in the same way as the emergency ordinance. There are no objective standards as to who can display a banner and who cannot. If a group has “pull” within the Town government, it can request that the Town be a “co-sponsor” of the event. If the Town administration agrees, then the group can use the banner space. If, however, the Town administration decides for whatever reason not to “co-sponsor” the event, then the banner space is not available.

Because the banner space is a public forum created by the government, any right by the government to control access to that forum based on the content of the banner or the organization is clearly an unconstitutional violation of freedom of speech. Under the proposed ordinance, the Town government is allowed to grant or deny access to a valuable public resource, street banner space, based on the content of the banner’s message or the group displaying the street banner. If the proposed ordinance is adopted, the Town would be opened up to fair criticism by any group that did not receive “co-sponsorship” and therefore was denied banner space by the Town administration.

In addition, it is unfair to the community to allow some groups with political pull to get to use this extremely valuable community resource, but then deny its use by others.

The Town administration believes the proposed banner ordinance is legal and constitutional based on a recent court of appeals case. However, the ordinance at issue in that case is dramatically different from the one proposed by the Town. The Town cannot rely on that court case to claim that the proposed banner ordinance is legal and constitutional.

The Citizen’s Sign Committee Recommendation

In January 2006, the Town Council convened a Citizen’s Sign Committee, a group of 21 residents and business owners, to study signage issues. The Sign Committee debated the street banner issues for hours. After several months of weekly meetings, the Sign Committee recommended to the Town Council that street banners and the Hub sign be permitted for the following purposes:

Town-sponsored events, Ross Valley accredited schools, Ross Valley youth organized sporting and cultural events, and 501(c)(6) [chamber of commerce] status for Ross Valley businesses.

What we are seeking

We are simply asking that the Town Council adopt the recommendations of the Citizen’s Sign Committee. Banner space should be allocated on a fair and equal basis to all organizations that meet objective criteria. The banner space is an extremely valuable and precious community resource that should be made generally available to the community, not just to a select few who have political pull.

WHEREAS, the Town’s current policies on street banners and the Hub sign have operated unfairly, arbitrarily allowing only a select few organizations to use the banner space, and denying all others the use of banner space, and

WHEREAS, the Town’s proposed banner ordinance perpetuates these inequities, in that only Town “sponsored or co-sponsored events” are permitted to use the banner space, but no objective criteria is established as to what events would receive Town sponsorship or co-sponsorship, and what events would not, and

WHEREAS, situated on a major traffic artery, the Town’s street banners and the Hub sign are a highly valuable, precious public resource that should be made available by the Town to the community on a fair and equal basis, and

WHEREAS, street banners have many benefits to the community, including wide notice to the public of events, dramatically increased attendance at events, broad visibility and fundraising support for charitable and civic groups, and schools and youth programs, and promoting civic pride and a sense of community, and

WHEREAS, street banners can also aid in bringing visitors and tourists to Town, which will increase sales revenue and therefore sales tax revenue for the Town government, at a time when the Town government is in fiscal distress,

WHEREAS, many other communities across Marin County (such as Fairfax, San Rafael, Novato and Mill Valley) and across our nation have street banner ordinances that allow street banners of the type proposed by the Citizen’s Sign Committee, and the Town leadership should be able to craft a banner ordinance that accomplishes the objective of the Citizen’s Sign Committee in a legal and constitutional way.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the San Anselmo Town Council adopt the recommendation of the Citizen’s Sign Committee, and enact an ordinance which would allow street banners across Drake and Tunstead and a sign at the Hub in support of the following events:

Town-sponsored events, Ross Valley accredited schools, Ross Valley youth organized sporting and cultural events, and 501(c)(6) status [chamber of commerce] for Ross Valley businesses.

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The Fair and Equal Access to San Anselmo Street Banners petition to San Anselmo Town Council was written by Fair and Equal Access to San Anselmo Street Banners and is in the category City & Town Planning at GoPetition.