LOS ANGELES - The ACLU of Southern California and a Pasadena couple who was forced to remove a sign questioning the war in Iraq from the exterior of their home, filed a lawsuit Wednesday in federal district court seeking a permanent injunction blocking the city from enforcing a municipal code that is counter to the First Amendment.
Mary Gavel-Briggs and Patrick Briggs, who are long time Pasadena homeowners, filed the suit after they were forced to remove two political signs that read "Support Cindy Sheehan" and "War starts with 'W.' Bush Lied. People Died." from the front of their home or face a fine of up to $500.
"The signs have allowed us to have many conversations and debates with our neighbors and passers by," said Mary Briggs. "I think that kind of communication is very important to the health of our country. I can't believe we're the first people to challenge this rule, but I hope we help other people express their views too."
Pasadena residents are prohibited from posting most signs on their own property - no matter the content - if they do not obtain a permit and comply with a host of city requirements. Pasadena Municipal Code states that for single-family and duplex homes the maximum number of signs what may be posted is "four signs per parcel" and that maximum sign area is "one square foot per sign" - about the size of a sheet of paper.
"Limiting maximum signage area to one square foot offends another core constitutional principle - that as to the First Amendment, size matters," said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director for the ACLU/SC. "Political signs placed on residential property that express views on controversial issues uniquely fulfill a core function of our democracy to reflect and animate change in the life of a community."
The Briggs first called the ACLU/SC after a long exchange of phone conversations, letters and emails with the Zoning Department attempting to clarify the rules and obtain a permit, if necessary, to place a sign on their home. In mid-August the Zoning Department said after consulting the city attorney the Briggs' signs were "prohibited," but provided no rationale why.
The Briggs are active in community groups and their church. Mary Briggs is a third generation Pasadena resident and has owned the home in the North Pasadena Heights section of Pasadena for nearly ten years. The couple bypassed the rule last month to post a sign notifying neighbors they could leave donations for Hurricane Katrina victims at their house.
"We just think this regulation is counter to the spirit of our city," said Patrick Briggs. "At first it seemed like a minor issue, but changing the code is worthwhile for the sake of discussion and democracy in our community."