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Judge Stays Culver City's Ban on Signs

Civil rights: Removal of one poster but not others is ruled discriminatory.

April 04, 2002|LIZ F. KAY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A federal judge prohibited Culver City from removing signs a resident had posted on city property encouraging residents to vote in the upcoming municipal election.

U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess issued a temporary restraining order Wednesday, stating that Culver City unconstitutionally enforces its ordinance banning signs in the public right of way.

City workers and police twice pulled down nonpartisan signs paid for by Lynne Davidson, 48, instructing residents to "Vote for a Change" on April 9.

Culver City, like many others, has a sign ordinance prohibiting posters in the public right of way, regardless of their content. Davidson's signs urged residents to vote and did not advocate a candidate.

Davidson said she sued the city because its uneven enforcement of the code infringed on her free speech rights. More than 20 types of signs violating the ordinance can be found in Culver City at any time, including banners for city-sponsored events. Her attorney argued in court documents that the city singled out Davidson's signs and left many others untouched.

Feess said the city sometimes hangs banners over the public right of way advertising city-sponsored events. The judge ruled that the city cannot post such signs and ban others.

It is a violation of the 1st Amendment "to say the city can pick and choose content in violation of the ordinance ... particularly when talking of issues of core speech" such as political signs, he said. Davidson said low voter turnouts in the Culver City elections prompted her to spend $3,500 on the signs.

"The people elected are not representative of the whole community unless people get out and vote," she said.

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