The Encinitas City Council Wednesday night unanimously approved a new banner display policy, which lifted the ban in time for this year’s Arts Alive program.
The council also directed city staff to expedite the banner permit process for the 101 Artists' Colony, which produces the program, so the organization can print its banners later this month.
"We've got some sponsors ready to go and maybe you could do us a favor," said 101 Artists' Colony President Danny Salzhandler before the vote.
The banner permit process was suspended in April after the city was threatened with legal action for blocking banners with the image of late Encinitas Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan. The Artists’ 101 Colony covered Houlihan’s picture with vinyl stickers after the city deemed the image violated banner rules.
The council established a subcommittee during its Aug. 22 meeting to revise the rules regarding the use of light poles for the city’s downtown banner program and appointed Councilman James Bond and Councilman Mark Muir to the committee. The council was unable to reach a consensus on the wording of the ordinance during its Sept. 26 meeting.
Bond said Wednesday night that the issue had turned into an “attorney slugfest.”
“I’d like to think that the citizens of Encinitas could follow common sense and the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law, because we’re never going to be able to make that letter perfect,” he said.
The new law clarifies the intended purpose of the banners, specifies that banners not related to specific events not be displayed for more than 90 days and gives the council the right to terminate the banner program at any time.
The policy permits banners that promote or depict civic events such as art festivals, athletic events and car shows, as well as city points of interest, attractions and milestones. The policy prohibits the promotion or depiction of living political figures, however.
Council candidate Lisa Shaffer pointed out that the new policy would have permitted banners with Houlihan’s image.
“If this proposed ordinance had been in effect, Maggie’s image would have been allowed,” she said. “So, what’s the point?”
Shaffer also questioned the reasoning behind a sentence in the proposed ordinance that stated, "The purpose of this section is to avoid public controversy regarding the perception of any such figures, either positive or negative."
“Why is that a legitimate goal for the city?” Shaffer asked. “Why are we censoring art in order to control what people perceive about public officials?”
Councilwoman Teresa Barth suggested the council remove the sentence. The rest of the council agreed prior to the vote, including Muir, who said he didn’t want the process to become paralyzed by overanalysis.
“I want to go forward with this thing,” he said.