County: Anti-NH 2020 signs must go
Now that the March election is over, “No on NH 2020” signs must come down, the county’s code enforcement director says.
The order was not well received by two organizations opposed to Natural Heritage 2020.
Steve Brown, the county’s code enforcement director, mailed letters March 26 to two organizations – Protect Your Property Rights and Citizens for Property Rights In Nevada County – formed to oppose NH 2020, the county’s embattled long-range planning program.
Both groups question the directive.
Drew Bedwell, the founder of PYPR who forced District 3 Supervisor Bruce Conklin into a November runoff election, received Brown’s letter March 29 and sent an e-mail to county supervisors stating that Brown “is walking in murky territory here, and I’m sure you’d all like to be aware of it.”
In his letter to Brown, Bedwell wrote that asking people to remove the signs violates their right to free speech and cited a court case, City of LaDue, Mo., v. Gilleo.
In 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a city ordinance against the visual clutter of signs violated Margaret Gilleo’s right to free speech when the city of LaDue prohibited her from displaying a sign reading “For Peace in the Gulf” from her home.
In January, Brown said the red, black and white “No on NH 2020” 4-foot-by-8-foot signs – the maximum size allowed – are campaign signs.
While NH 2020 was not on the March ballot, it is one of the central issues of the primary and subsequent elections, Brown explained in January. If the signs are not tied to a campaign or an election, “then every one of the signs is illegal,” he said.
But Bedwell stated in his reply to Brown that “Although NH 2020 was a defining issue during the (March) campaign, the protest signs were never a part of the politics.”
CPR-INC spokesman Bill Weismann said the group plans to ask Brown for clarification about the decision to classify the signs as election signs.
Now that the election is over, the organizations’ signs must come down within 15 days of the letter’s mailing, Brown said. His department will notify each property owner that the signs must be removed per the county’s sign ordinance. His department knows of 30 parcels with signs, Brown said.
A group of citizens has created a list of parcels with anti-NH 2020 signs and has offered to show him the list, he added.
Brown declined to name either the group or complainants who have called his office, saying that complainants’ names are confidential until a judge orders they be made public.
Brown said he is getting more calls from people opposed to those signs – “far more calls,” he said – than from people that want signs left up.
Brown said his department received five calls in one day. “This is turning into a war,” he said.
County Counsel Charles McKee declared that the signs are political, Brown said. McKee is out of the office and not expected back at work until April 15.
“Are we concerned? Sure,” Brown said about the threat of legal action. “There’s a possibility of litigation, but we feel confident we have a defensible position.”
The signs should have been removed 10 days after the March 5 election, Brown said.
If the two organizations don’t comply with Brown’s directive, he will then give property owners 30 days to remove the signs. If they don’t, the country will have the signs removed at the property owners’ expense.
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