Caltrans to let all highway banners stay
SAN FRANCISCO – The California Department of Transportation, which was sued by free-speech advocates whose banners were ripped off highway overpasses while U.S. flags were allowed to remain, now says it will leave up all banners that do not pose a safety hazard.
That pleased Alta Sierra resident Dave Miles. Miles attached an American flag to the Brunswick Basin overpass over the Golden Center Freeway in Grass Valley shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. Many other Californians also began hanging flags, peace banners and other comments on overpasses after the terrorists attacks on New York City and the Pentagon. Late in the year, Caltrans ruled that only the American flags could remain hanging, to limit motorist distractions. But a lawsuit from Santa Cruz peace protesters threw that ruling into a quandary when a judge said the banners couldn’t be allowed or banned on a content basis.
In mid-February Caltrans began taking banners down, including that of Miles, who had planned to remove it at a ceremony with the local Veterans of Foreign Wars.
But Caltrans beat him to it, “and I was really unhappy,” Miles said Thursday. “I guess I’ll be talking to Caltrans to see if I can get my flag back out there without being arrested, and they’ll probably let the tree-hugging peaceniks put their trash next to it.”
The local Caltrans office was closed Thursday before The Union could get comment.
Caltrans’ move Thursday brings the department into compliance with the January order by Judge Ronald Whyte of U.S. District Court in San Jose. He ordered Caltrans to enforce its rules on a content- and viewpoint-neutral basis, saying the agency could not grant permit exemptions for American flags.
Severn Williams, a spokesman for the two Santa Cruz women who brought suit, said they were pleased with the decision. The women were expected to put up banners along overpasses in San Francisco and Santa Cruz.
Dennis Trujillo, a Caltrans spokesman, said the department’s policy has not changed and that it simply decided to comply with the judge’s order while hoping to have it overturned on appeal. The appeal is scheduled to be heard in October in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Amy Courtney and Cassandra Brown sued Caltrans last year after they said their anti-war banners were taken down because of their content, while the American flag was left up.
Courtney and Brown put up a banner in November reading ”At What Cost?” next to an American flag on an overpass. The sign was taken down by a police officer, and a second sign put up in December also was removed.
– City Editor Dave Moller
contributed to this report.
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