Marin IJ

Article Last Updated: 11/05/2005 05:05 AM

San Anselmo sign flap is a risky business

Marin Independent Journal

FREE SPEECH is the mortar that binds our nation, but the sad truth is that people are far less tolerant of speech they don't agree with or that offends them.

Anti-war protesters are not officially welcomed in Mill Valley's traditional Memorial Day Parade. San Anselmo attorney Ford Greene's anti-President Bush signs elicit grumbles from some passersby.

On Wednesday, San Anselmo lawyer John Newell's pro-Proposition 73 banner strung across a busy downtown San Anselmo street generated a flood of angry calls to Town Hall.

Newell, however, followed the town's process, paid the $250 fee and found a gaping loophole that doesn't forbid political campaign signs.

San Anselmo is not the only town that allows local groups and organizations to string banners across their busy streets.

But it may become the first to ban such statements if the town cannot tiptoe through the legal minefield that divides politics and public announcements.

Unfortunately, the door to allowing political signs was opened by leaders of the Measure B campaign, the town's municipal tax measure. Their banner hung before Proposition 73 supporters got their turn.

They should have known better. The Measure B banner, although well-intentioned, set a precedent that may not be able to be reversed without depriving local non-political community events, programs and announcements of the promotion the banner affords.

In San Anselmo, the matter is even more complicated because it turns Newell and Greene - adversaries in the fight over Greene's sign - into somewhat uncomfortable allies in the debate over signs and exercising free speech.

Greene's sign is on private property. The town banner is on public property and being used to tout a one-sided campaign message.

Maybe we are being too harsh. The town could generate some much-needed revenue by renting space on the face of the Town Hall tower or the side of the deer statue to political campaigns that pay for the space.

However, if you believe those are inappropriate places for a "Schwarzenegger for Governor" banner, you're absolutely right.


Hub Law Offices 711 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, San Anselmo, California 94960-1949 415-258-0360