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Temple City Retains Its Sign Law but Won't Enforce It

September 21, 1989|ELIZABETH LU | Times Staff Writer

Even though two civil rights law groups have criticized a Temple City ordinance that requires that half of any business sign use Roman characters, the City Council didn't blink on Tuesday night.

"I don't respond well to intimidation," said Councilman Ken Gillanders, who supported the ordinance when it was adopted in 1985.

The council agreed not to rescind the ordinance but instructed the city staff not to enforce it while modifications are being considered--a move that apparently mollified opponents of the sign law.

"As long as we can come to a compromise we can live with, no legal action would be taken," said Kathryn Imahara, attorney for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California.

Imahara said, however, that suspending enforcement wouldn't be enough. "As far as we're concerned, just lifting the enforcement still has a chilling effect because the city can always turn around again and enforce it," she said.

The Los Angeles-based legal center had joined forces with the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California to challenge the ordinance, which they said is discriminatory.

The law groups are willing to help Temple City "pull together an ordinance that meets the needs of the city and which withstands constitutional challenge," Imahara said.

Temple City's ordinance was adopted in part because law enforcement officials said they might have trouble finding addresses while responding to emergencies. Also, some residents hoped to prevent a proliferation of foreign-language signs.

Bob Pitts, a 25-year resident of Temple City, said after Tuesday's meeting that he supports the ordinance "because I want to be able to drive down the streets and be able to recognize what kind of commercial vendors are there. It's not my goal to learn the foreign languages."

The decision not to rescind the ordinance didn't dissuade attorneys for the two civil rights groups from planning to challenge similar ordinances in San Gabriel, Rosemead and Arcadia.

Letters asking those three cities to voluntarily rescind language requirements in their sign ordinances will be sent soon, Imahara said.

A similar ordinance in Pomona was struck down in July by U.S. District Judge Robert Takasugi, who said language requirements in that city violated residents' constitutional rights to free speech and commercial speech and discriminated on the basis of national origin. After that ruling, Temple City suspended enforcement of its own ordinance.

Pomona city officials have chosen not to appeal Takasugi's ruling, making the decision binding on Southern California communities that still have such ordinances on their books, Imahara said.

In a Sept. 6 letter to Temple City officials, attorneys for the two groups asked the council to voluntarily repeal its ordinance.

Mayor Patrick Froehle said the council is not saying it will never rescind the ordinance. "We really don't have facts to make that judgment," he said.

Froehle suggested that city officials meet with attorneys for the law groups to "at least see what a compromise ordinance would be."

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