You responded and your actions made a difference!
Together we pressured City officials to begrudgingly propose changes at the council meeting to remove SOME of the First Amendment violations in their proposed development agreements for electronic billboards along the 101 freeway.
Defensively, the City’s chief assistant city attorney proclaimed that everything in the agreement that he wrote was 100% legal, but then proceeded to propose – and the Council then adopted – changes to the language.
The amendments were orally described during the meeting, so we have not seen the updated language in writing yet.
But PRESUMING that we correctly transcribed the described changes, the City agreed to remove its prohibition against political advertising.
Unfortunately, they only did part of the job … the following serious constitutional issues remain:
- Section 8 of the development agreement grants the City – without due process – the right to remove any advertisement that in its sole discretion it alleges to be false, misleading, or libelous. This is government censorship that does violence to the First Amendment and to the California Constitution.
(Existing law already subjects advertisers to civil action by a harmed party, and those actions proceed with fair rules for presenting and evaluating evidence with a neutral arbiter in court.)
- We also see elements of the contract that unconstitutionally give government-mandated favorable treatment to certain speakers or subjects.
(Certain potential advertisers are listed in the contract to receive government-mandated discounts on their advertisements. The City also would mandate that it receive a certain percentage of the ad space for its own use.)
- Rather than relying on existing law about commercial speech, the City’s development agreement creates its own list of what products and services would be prohibited in billboard advertisements, and we believe this likely goes beyond the bounds of what the City may prohibit.
Those are profound concerns. Imagine if the City were to lease one of its parcels to a newspaper publisher under the same terms – exercising control over what that newspaper could print.
The reason we raise these issues publicly in advance is so that the City can correct course, and thus AVOID potential lawsuits.
But sadly, the deliverance (from lawsuit risk) we offered the council was met with belligerence by some of its members.
Councilmember Gabe Teran critiqued members of the public for not raising their concerns sooner.
Ordinary citizens shouldn’t HAVE to be on the lookout for such egregiousness! Staff should not have proposed it and council members ought to have objected to it.
Some of these violations were not even disclosed in the staff summaries of the agenda item – we had to dig through 1,452 pages to find them in the contract language!
Councilmember Bert Perello was seemingly unhappy that they had to actually make changes and delay adoption of the ordinance because some lowly member of the public dared to complain about illegalities in it.
Further, in retribution for daring to raise the issue, Mr. Perello (though it wasn’t germane to the agenda item) demanded a report be presented at a future council meeting to give him opportunity to smear us for how much money the City has spent in legal fees in other litigation with us.
Ironically, we were speaking to give them a chance to AVOID more litigation. Other litigation has only happened because in the past they chose to ignore our similar warnings about their other illegal actions.
In other words, it’s their own fault.
Regardless of their juvenile and reckless behavior, we will continue to insist that the Oxnard City Council not bargain away your rights guaranteed by the First Amendment and the California Constitution.
It takes two readings and approvals of an ordinance in its final form for it to be adopted. Because the City Council agreed to some changes at the meeting, the now-amended agreement still requires at least one more reading at a future date.
And that’s a good thing because it means there is still an opportunity to advocate for other changes the City Council needs to enact to avoid infringing upon constitutional rights.
Thank you very much for all your support. We have some tough battles ahead, and I just want you to know how much your support has been greatly appreciated.
P.S. If you would like to see what happened for yourself at the council meeting, click here for the YouTube video and go to timestamp 1:32:00.