Free Speech Upheld in Poway — For Now

The ACLU was able to protect, for the time being, the free speech rights of Poway residents and visitors.

Poway city officials, in an effort to rid the city of what they called “tacky” and “dangerous” signs, proposed a sweeping ordinance that would have swept in picketers, protests, marchers, or anyone carrying a sign of any kind.

After receiving a demand letter from the ACLU, council members agreed to reconsider just how wide a ban they might institute. They voted 3-2 to revise the anti-sign law yet again. The ACLU will be monitoring the council’s decisions on this issue.

Last year, a judge called an earlier version of the law unconstitutionally vague. The city rewrote the law, but the ACLU’s legal director, David Blair-Loy, told the city that the rewrite was no better. “The scope of these definitions is breathtaking,” he said. “As written, the ordinance prohibits anyone from moving around while holding any sign that speaks to any subject.” He said the open-ended definition of moving signs invited arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement, and would have a “profound chilling effect on the exercise of First Amendment Freedoms.”

The ACLU was satisfied that the city chose to reconsider the proposed ban, rather than inviting legal action.

San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Logan Jenkins wrote a column April 9, 2007, on the subject.