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Signs Reflect Sour Taste Left When Citrus Festival Pulled Plug on Beer

August 04, 1988|AMY HIELSBERG

The angry signs are a fixture in downtown Santa Paula, and angry residents want them to go.

About 50 residents crammed into City Hall this week to vent their frustration before a City Council that says pending litigation prevents the removal of pickup trucks bearing placards aimed at the City Council and the local Kiwanis Club, and accusing them of prejudice.

"This is like a disease; it will not go away if you don't treat it," said Bill Lindsay, who urged residents to park their recreational vehicles and boats on the streets if the trucks are not forced to move. His comments were greeted by a standing ovation.

On the other side of the brouhaha is Ray Gonzales, the president of the 20/30 Club, a local service group that was denied a beer concession at the annual Citrus Festival in 1984, after a dispute with the Kiwanis Club.

Takes Dispute to Streets

That's when he took his dispute to the streets. He advertised his argument on signs placed in the back of pickup trucks, which he has parked at various downtown spots ever since.

"Welcome to Santa Paula, population 22,300," one of them reads. "10 percent elite, 10 percent clique, 17 percent middle class, 63 percent second-class."

Sixty-three percent of the city's population is Latino.

Residents want the trucks towed. At Tuesday's meeting, they protested what they view as the city's failure to enforce its ordinance banning parking in one spot for more than 72 hours.

"If there was a simple solution, the trucks would be gone," said council member Kay Wilson. "It's a very emotional issue for us, because if we could get rid of them tomorrow, believe me, we would."

Other council members echoed Wilson's frustration, but said the issue is clouded by a lawsuit Gonzales recently filed against the city. He maintains in the suit that the city is in fact enforcing the 72-hour parking rule against him, but not against other residents.

Gonzales, who lives in Santa Paula but works in Oxnard, could not be reached for comment.

The parking flare-up is only the latest round in the longstanding dispute.

The council became involved after the 20/30 Club lost its beer concession at the annual Citrus Festival, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club and held on city property.

All service groups are required to donate profits made at the festival to community-related groups or services, according to Stephen Stuart, president of the Kiwanis Club. The 20/30 Club, he said, did not provide accurate statements proving the money was spent for the community and thus was not invited back to the festival.

The 20/30 Club then moved the beer booth across from the festival to city property, in violation of city zoning laws, according to Mayor Carl Barringer. Gonzales was arrested in the incident, and shortly afterward the signs appeared.

In November, 1985, the city approved an ordinance prohibiting temporary signs in public places. Gonzales sued the city, claiming the ordinance violated his constitutional rights of free speech. He lost in January, 1986, at Superior Court but won in June, 1986, on appeal. The city did not pursue the case to the state Supreme Court.

"I think a lot of people don't understand that Mr. Gonzales of the 20/30 Club is just as disgusted with those signs as everyone else," said Victor Salas, a former officer in the Mexican American Chamber of Commerce. "But there's a principle behind it."

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