The City of Tulare will consider changes to its sign ordinance after a lawsuit threat, officials stated in a letter.
Josh McDonnell, Community and Economic Development Director for the City of Tulare, responded to a potential lawsuit facing the city over their outdated sign ordinance.
In a letter sent today to the Law Firm of Melo and Sarsfield, McDonnell says, “Thank you for your correspondence dated Feb 26, 2018 regarding City Political Signage regulations. We have reviewed your concerns and agree that Section 10.188.050 requires revision.”
As currently written, displaying yard signs can be interpreted as violating the City of Tulare Municipal Code. Tulare residents want to put political signs in their front yard but were apprehensive given Tulare’s leadership.
The draft lawsuit states, “Plaintiffs have been chilled from displaying their political signs because of their reasonable fear of arrest and/or prosecution.”
The residents were prepared to file a lawsuit if Tulare refused to change its ordinance.
Maggie Melo, a partner at the law firm, stressed that time was of the essence because the election for Tulare County District Attorney (TCDA) is in June. The potential plaintiffs in the suit are supporters of TCDA candidate Matt Darby who did not want to take the chance of a confrontation with the Tulare Police Department.
Melo said that the ordinance prohibits lighting of any sign and puts limits on when residents can display political signs.
The ordinance also encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement, a draft of the lawsuit claimed, which is considered a major problem for law abiding residents living in Tulare.
Tulare’s lawyers agreed.
McDonnell stated, “City staff will immediately begin preparing an amendment to Sign Ordinance (Municipal Code Chapter 10.188) to clearly incorporate the ‘content neutral’ provisions of Reed V Town of gilbert (2015). Given that the revised language must be prepared, vetted, and considered by Planning Commission and City Council the amendment will more likely require more than 60 days before it can be formally adopted. In the interim period, City enforcement staff has been instructed not to enforce Municipal Code section 10.188.050 (J) “Temporary Political Signs.”
Darby told the Visalia Times-Delta earlier today that “he doesn’t know the residents but supports them.”
“I won’t make any apologies for supporting the First Amendment,” he said. “The First Amendment trumps any city ordinance. I took an oath to uphold the Constitution, not a city ordinance,” Darby said.
District Attorney Tim Ward told the Visalia Times-Delta that the residents’ threat of a lawsuit was purely political and took advantage of taxpayers, who would foot the bill for city lawyers to draft a new ordinance or fight the lawsuit.
“‘My campaign has always maintained a philosophy of respecting the rules set forth by individual cities regarding signs…..I know my supporters in Tulare are ready to display signs, and April is right around the corner. As your district attorney, I know patience and cooperation will prevail,” Ward told the Visalia Times-Delta.
Melo was shocked that Ward came down on the side of the city.
Shestated that Ward’s statements mirror the same arguments used to suppress the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement when Rosa Parks conducted her non violent protest when she refused to sit at the back of the bus.
“Ward’s support for Tulare’s unconstitutional sign ordinance is justification not to return him to office,” said Melo.
Whether a voter supports Darby or Ward, Melo said that when an attorney sees something that is unconstitutional they should not sit idly by.
“When you hold the top legal office of the county you definitely do not support an unconstitutional ordinance. It shows contempt for the constitution,” said Melo.