Marin IJ

Article Last Updated: 12/15/2005 07:09 AM

Lawyer gets ultimatum on disputed sign

Joe Wolfcale
Marin Independent Journal

Tempers hit the boiling point this week as the San Anselmo Town Council gave lawyer Ford Greene until Dec. 27 to bring his controversial "freedom" sign into compliance with town code - or face court action.

Greene, who failed to win a seat on the Town Council Nov. 8, said he is putting off vacation plans to deal with the issue.

"I'm not going to Mexico, I'm going to war!" Greene exclaimed outside the Town Council chambers Tuesday.

The sign discussion heated up as the exchange of commentary became emotional. At one point, Councilman Peter Breen said, "Let's stop all this insanity."

Greene said he had worked with town officials to reach a compromise and was frustrated with the inability to carve out an agreement.

"I asked you what you wanted," Greene said. "I offered to dismiss my federal lawsuit. It was you people who violated my rights. I've tried to cooperate but I haven't gotten squat backÉ ."

On Wednesday, Greene said: "In their arrogance, blindness and vindictiveness, not to mention stupidity, they've rejected itÉ . They want to make me a scapegoat. É Let's go down to the mat and see whether one of us walks away standing.

"I've had it."

Greene, Town Administrator Debbie Stutsman and attorney Hadden Roth met three times in the past several weeks to reach a settlement about Greene's sign on the western side of his Hub law offices at 711 Sir Francis Drake Blvd.

Greene offered to reduce the size of his sign from about 72 square feet to the size allowed by ordinance - 56 square feet - and indemnify the town from any damages if the sign were to fall. He wanted to avoid paying permit fees and asked for immediate administrative processing and reimbursement of the $840 it cost him to file a previous variance application.

In a Nov. 23 letter, Stutsman said the town was in agreement in some issues but was rejecting Greene's out-of-pocket expenses, which totaled $944.

Besides dropping a lawsuit he filed in San Francisco federal court, the town asked Greene to waive entitlement to any attorney fees. A deadline of Dec. 7 was given to Greene. Stutsman said there has been no response.

Councilman Ian Roth said everyone in town must be held accountable to meet regulations. "Everyone needs to play by the same rules," Roth said.

As it is written, the sign ordinance entitles any commercial business on roads other than four lanes to one square foot of signage for each lineal foot of street frontage. Greene's building is on four-lane Sir Francis Drake, which allows him 1.5 square feet for every lineal foot of street frontage.

The primary face of Greene's building is a little more than 37 feet long, which means his sign should be no more than about 56 square feet. His existing 72-square-foot sign is composed of three panels.

Greene sued the town in 2003, saying his free speech rights were violated when police pulled down a political banner that supported a friend running for Fairfax Town Council.

The town eventually passed an ordinance that said residents couldn't have signs bigger than 6 square feet or use several small signs to make a single larger sign. A judge ruled the town could limit the size of the signs, but not the number.

In its earlier creation, Greene assembled 16, 6-square-foot panels in which he used changing copy to make political statements, sometimes attacking the Bush administration, but lately town bureaucrats.

In related action, the council approved the selection of 20 residents, merchants and business owners to join the town's sign committee.


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