About the Colony

Political signs should be restricted

I’m disappointed that the California Supreme Court has said politicians can litter the landscape as much as they want in the name of free speech. I read a newspaper account of a report to the Atascadero City Council from City Clerk Marcia McClure Torgerson regarding a conflict between our own city ordinance and what the state’s highest court has ruled.

I was just thinking about how the political signs clutter up neighborhoods and even downtown vacant lots and wishing there was something we could do about them. Fortunately, Atascadero’s municipal ordinance has limited how long campaign signs can be displayed.

The court has said it all has to do with the First Amendment, which allows free speech. The court added that campaign signs are an inexpensive and effective way for candidates to get their name out there.

So now candidates for any office can put up signs whenever they want and leave them up for as long as they want, even though our present code says they can’t put the signs up sooner than 60 days before the election, and the signs must be taken down 10 days following our march to the polls.

That restriction remains part of the city’s ordinance, but the city clerk says the provision will not be enforced.

That is a shame, especially with the obscene amounts of money being spent by candidates for public office.

It disgusts me to think of the money spent by the two leading Republican candidates for governor when I read of teacher layoffs or reductions or outright elimination of programs for the poor and the elderly.

Which brings me to another growing trend in the volume of mailers my household has received for the various candidates for public office. I still have a post office box where I pick up my mail every day.

Before the candidates spend more money on mailers, they should take a look in the trash bins at the post office and see where those pieces end up. I’m sure the same thing happens at home, too, where you pull out the junk mail (which includes the candidate mailers) and drop them in the trash on your way into the house.

Even with free speech, you shouldn’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater. Of course, the Constitution protects your right to do so, unless people are killed or injured because of that irresponsible action.

Campaign signs could be allowed, but municipalities are permitted to make restrictions on them in size and placement. That isn’t infringing on anyone’s right of free speech as long as the law is applied consistently.

Many of you may remember that ugly 50-foot-by-50-foot sign mounted on a trailer that popped up in Atascadero several years ago. We were able to get it removed quickly.

But now I can see it slipping back into a downtown street and allowed to stay there with no limits.

Lon Allan’s column appears on the Local page every Tuesday. He can be reached at 466-8529 orleallan@tcsn.net.