When Oxnard City Council members take the oath of office, they solemnly swear to support and defend the U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment.
They also swear to uphold the California Constitution – Article 1, Section 2 of which includes free speech protections like, “A law may not restrain or abridge liberty of speech or press.”
Well, looking at Thursday night’s Oxnard City Council agenda makes us wonder whether the folks at Oxnard City Hall flunked their American civics classes.
On that April 13, 2023 agenda (starting with item J2) city staff proposes a blatantly unconstitutional attempt to stifle speech Oxnard City Hall power brokers might disapprove of.
Read the fine print in the proposed development agreement to build electronic billboards along the 101 freeway – some important details of which are not revealed in the staff report! – and you’ll find unconstitutional restrictions on the public’s right of free speech …
… expressly prohibiting speech the City might dislike and granting the City censorship powers over billboard advertisements.
The proposed development agreement gives the City of Oxnard an entitlement to place 12.5% of the ads on the billboards, an express protection of their messaging. Yet, in paragraph 8 of the development agreement it says:
“Except for any advertising or messages displayed on the Billboard at the request of the City … all advertising to be displayed on the Billboard shall be strictly ‘commercial advertising.’ … In addition to the general limitation on Billboard advertising to strictly commercial advertising, [the vendor] may not display any message that … contains any ‘political advertising’ which means advertising that promotes or opposes any candidate for public office or promotes or opposes a ballot measure, referendum, bond issue, or any federal, state or local legislation, regulation, or other discretionary action…”
In other words, the City is entitled to use the billboards to share city management’s propaganda, but if you disagree with its orthodoxy the City wants to prohibit you from buying equivalent advertising to state a contrary view.
We have all seen how city management uses taxpayer funds to engage in their own political messaging to the public – we’ve all received those slick mailers.
Will City Hall abuse electronic billboards the same way? Of course, it will.
The development agreement also mandates that the vendor give special discounts for entities favored by the City. So, if you are on good terms with City Hall, you get a price break. If not, well, you pay full fare.
And City Hall believes that it should be the arbiter of truth concerning which ads might be “false” or “misleading” – and if the City disagrees with your ad, the agreement requires that:
“[The vendor] shall, within 48 hours after written demand from City, at [the vendor’s] risk and expense, remove any advertising criteria set forth in this Section, and which is not being disputed by [the vendor]. If [the vendor] fails to promptly cause the removal of such advertising, City may (but is not required to), without further process of law, cause the removal of the advertising.”
But who will compel the ad to be removed if the City puts out misleading information? We’ve seen plenty of that.
When political opponents tell the truth about what Oxnard City Hall is doing, city leadership claims it is “misleading.” Anyone who dares disagree with them is called a liar from the dais during council meetings.
It seems they have decided it will be easier to hide certain truthful information from you if they just pass laws to prohibit their critics from speaking!
This is nothing more than an illegal power grab at the expense of your rights.
There is plenty of U.S. Supreme Court case law establishing that it violates the First Amendment for governments to give preference to commercial speech over political speech, to censor political speech, etc.
If this proposal is approved – and the council already preliminarily green-lighted it on its first reading on March 21 – the City will once again be violating fundamental public rights in such a way that the only way to fight back is with attorneys.
Join us in letting the Oxnard City Council members know what you think of this before they vote Thursday night – April 13, 2023! Urge them to remove the speech restrictions from the development agreement and uphold their oath of office.
If they do not remedy this before approving it, when the inevitable lawsuits arise the Oxnard City Council ... and their allies ... will complain about having to spend money defending the lawsuit, but it will be their own fault for voting for it.
And once the lawsuits are over and the First Amendment is upheld, we look forward to using the billboards to help keep you informed!
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.