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May 5, 2015

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Threatened with lawsuits, Boulder City puts hold on law limiting political signs

Dave Olsen

Dave Olsen

The Boulder City Council voted on Tuesday to put a moratorium on enforcement of an ordinance limiting residents to placing no more than two political signs in their yards during election seasons.

The moratorium is aimed at avoiding any potential litigation from the Nevada American Civil Liberties Union, which contacted City Attorney Dave Olsen to tell him the group believes the ordinance is unconstitutional.

During a council meeting on March 8, Olsen had suggested the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague and asked for the moratorium.

The council’s vote then was split, as members did not agree on how long the moratorium should remain in effect. Olsen then drafted a new resolution for the council to consider at Tuesday’s meeting, which limits the moratorium to the current election cycle.

Adding to the urgency, Olsen received a phone call from Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the Nevada ACLU, earlier on Tuesday, he said.

Lichtenstein agreed with Olsen’s opinion on the ordinance and advised himnthat, if the city attempted to enforce it, the organization would be forced to consider filing a lawsuit against the city for infringing on the First Amendment right to free speech.

City Manager Vicki Mayes said she has also been told by two property owners that they would sue the city if told to take down their signs.

It is “an unenforceable law,” Olsen said. “This places the city on much firmer ground with regard to civil rights and free speech.”

The council passed the moratorium unanimously. Olsen said he plans to bring an amended ordinance back to the council by the end of the election cycle in June.

At least 80 properties in Boulder City are in violation of the ordinance, Mayes said. If the moratorium had not been passed, Olsen said, violators would have been subject to fines up to $1,000, as they would be charged with a misdemeanor in municipal court.

Pursuing those charges, Olsen said, would “give those property owners standing to file a lawsuit.”

Under the moratorium, residents are allowed to place an unlimited number of signs under 6 square feet on their property. They are also allowed one sign of up to 14 square feet.

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  1. The ACLU is right on with this one -- Boulder City made it a crime to express one's self on one's own property and is dire need of a smackdown. Just another gimmick to balance their budget which will backfire in legal fees.

    "The struggle for liberty has been a struggle against Government. The essential scheme of our Constitution and Bill of Rights was to take Government off the backs of people." -- Justice Douglas concurring in Columbia Broadcasting Sys., Inc. v. Democratic Nat'l Comm., 412 U.S. 94 (1973)

  2. Boulder's new plan: "You can have as many signs as you want as long as they support liberals".

  3. Well this could open the door to some of those HOA'S that don't allow signs of any kind.

  4. Another reason the ACLU is actually anti-American. BC didn't restrict the ability to express your views on your own property, just the amount of signs you use to do that. I'm surprised the ACLU got involved since most of the candidates in BC are conservative Republicans...

  5. "BC didn't restrict the ability to express your views on your own property, just the amount of signs you use to do that."

    dave202 -- so what part of "Every citizen may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects being responsible for the abuse of that right; and no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech" do you not understand?

    The high courts addressed the "signs as speech" issue and their Constitutional protections long ago -- in this state our supreme court last addressed this point in 2001's S.O.C., Inc. v. Mirage Casino-Hotel where the above bit from Nevada's Declaration of Rights was compared to the federal First Amendment. The court concluded "nothing indicates that Article 1, Section 9 was intended to restrain private conduct."

    It's not much of a stretch to conclude Boulder City has made free speech a crime.

    "The fact that society may find speech offensive is not a sufficient reason for suppressing it. Indeed, if it is the speaker's opinion that gives offense, that consequence is a reason for according it constitutional protection. For it is a central tenet of the First Amendment that the government must remain neutral in the marketplace of ideas." -- HUSTLER MAGAZINE AND LARRY C. FLYNT v. JERRY FALWELL, 485 U.S. 46, 55-6 (1988)