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Sign goes back up near I-5 immigration checkpoint

July 26, 2008|Molly Hennessy-Fiske | Times Staff Writer

An anti-illegal-immigration group's Adopt-a-Highway sign was re-posted this week on Interstate 5 near the Border Patrol checkpoint in San Clemente after a federal judge ruled that it did not pose a danger to the public.

State transit officials had moved the San Diego Minutemen's sign to a less-busy highway in eastern San Diego County, saying they were concerned that it would become a gathering place for protesters and clog the busy interstate.

The Adopt-a-Highway program "is not a forum for advertising or public discourse," Caltrans officials said on the agency's website.

The Minutemen sued in federal court, saying that the sign's removal violated the organization's right to free speech. A judge ruled last month that the sign did not pose a danger to the public and should be re-posted. It had been moved to a stretch of California 52.

"We are all thrilled to see our Adopt-a-Highway recognition sign back up, standing more proudly than ever," the group's founder, Jeff Schwilk, said in a statement posted on its website. "The U.S. Constitution has thankfully trumped the lies and coercion of the illegal alien activists. . . . Thank you to Americans nationwide who helped us win this critical legal fight for our rights and to have our message heard by all America!"

Attorneys representing the San Diego Minutemen and Caltrans met Friday but did not reach a settlement, said Howard Kaloogian, attorney for the Minutemen. Caltrans does "not believe that there is a 1st Amendment issue," Kaloogian said. "They believe that the court is wrong."

A spokesman for Caltrans' District 11, which covers San Diego and Imperial counties, confirmed that the suit was ongoing but declined to elaborate. The agency "is not permitted to comment further on the judge's order due to ongoing litigation with the Minutemen," according to a Caltrans statement.

Most state roads in San Diego and Imperial counties have been adopted by individuals, groups or businesses, with the exception of a few stretches of Interstate 8, Caltrans officials said.

Groups typically adopt a two-mile piece of road in one direction, agreeing to keep the area clean and litter-free. In exchange, a road sign bearing their name is installed. The waiting list for popular areas can be years.

The Minutemen are seeking approval for a second sign on southbound Interstate 5 in San Diego County. The group filed an application with Caltrans in May that was denied, Schwilk said.

The Minuteman Project, a different anti-illegal-immigration group, recently adopted a portion of northbound California 133 in Irvine.

Caltrans officials suspended pending Adopt-a-Highway permits last month to review the 19-year-old program's rules.

State officials have said they will seek public comment during the evaluation and hope to release new regulations later this year.

An estimated 120,000 people or groups have participated in the program since its inception.

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Susannah Rosenblatt contributed to this report.

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