The Encinitas City Council Wednesday night voted to establish a subcommittee to revise the rules regarding the use of light poles for the city’s downtown banner program, which is currently suspended.
The banner permit process was suspended in April after the city was threatened with legal action from several parties, including the American Civil Liberties Union, for blocking banners with the . After the city deemed the image violated banner rules, the Artists’ 101 Colony, which produces the , covered Houlihan’s picture with vinyl stickers.
“We were threatened and everybody knows it,” Mayor Jerome Stocks said Wednesday night. “We can’t go forward, in my opinion, with the same rules we had because we now know that we are not going to be able to control content.”
Danny Salzhandler, president of the 101 Artists' Colony, urged councilmembers to keep the program’s rules in place.
“We hope the Arts Alive exhibit can continue as is,” Salzhandler said. “We’ve done this for 12 years and we’re just getting warmed up.”
All of the councilmembers agreed that the banner program should continue, but said the permit rules need to be revised to reduce the risk of legal action against the city.
“I think the banner is part of our character, so I, for one, wouldn’t want to eliminate the banner program at all,” Councilman Mark Muir said. “But I do know there may be a need to modify some of the rules just so we protect ourselves and protect the banner program itself.”
Randy Morrison, an attorney hired by the city to review existing rules, advised the City Council to end the banner program, allow the use of banners for city events and messages only, or allow the use of banners for city-sponsored events.
Councilmembers agreed that banners should be used for city-sponsored events, and voted unanimously to set up a subcommittee, which will include Councilmen James Bond and Mark Muir, to revise banner guidelines.
“There will still be jerks in the world that will litigate or sue on some of the most frivolous, left-handed items,” said Councilman James Bond, who added it would be “tragic” to discontinue the banner program. “But until that time, I think we should beef up option three to the extent that we can follow the law and maintain some control over the banners.”
Councilwoman Teresa Barth suggested the current ban be lifted until the new rules are in place. She noted that the Leucadia 101 Main Street Association was unable to put up banners for its annual LeucadiART Walk, which takes place Sunday, even though the group has done so in the past.
Although Muir agreed that the ban should be lifted, other councilmembers disagreed.
“It seems reckless and a poor idea to get rid of the moratorium when we don’t have new rules yet,” Stocks said.