FREE SPEECH — "Tucking a fitness club flier or a restaurant discount coupon
onto the windshield of a vacant vehicle in Carlsbad might net you a
$100 fine if police were enforcing the city's anti-handbill
distribution ordinance," notes Barbara Henry in the North County Times. "But that ordinance may soon be repealed, thanks to a recent
federal appeals court decision."
"Every city in California that has a similar ordinance is going
to have to change," Carlsbad City Attorney Ronald Ball said Monday
as he discussed the court case.
In early October, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned
a lower court's ruling in a San Clemente court case and declared
that the distribution of handbills on vehicles was a free speech
Because of that decision, Carlsbad's city attorney now is
recommending that the City Council lift its 15-year-old prohibition
against depositing handbills on vehicles in parking lots. The
proposal will go before the council at its 6 p.m. Tuesday meeting
at City Hall, 1200 Carlsbad Village Drive.
In the appeals court ruling, Judge Marsha Berzon wrote that
cities cannot establish a universal ban on "placing leaflets on the
windshields of empty vehicles parked on public streets," just as
they cannot ban all door-to-door solicitation.
The caseKlein v. the City of San Clementeinvolves
people who were distributing leaflets about the country's
immigration policy. Initially, lead distributor Steve Klein handed
fliers out to people walking along San Clemente streets; then he
and others began slipping their papers under the windshield wipers
of unoccupied vehicles, court records indicate.
That was against the law in San Clemente. Under an
anti-littering ordinance, the city had banned the throwing or
depositing of any commercial or noncommercial advertising in or
upon any vehicles.
Klein sued, a lower court found in favor of the city, then Klein
David Blair-Loy, legal director of the American Civil Liberties
Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties, said the case is a
classic free speech debate. People may not like getting fliers that
encourage them to vote for a political candidate or buy a specific
product, but their distributors have the right to give them out, he
"This country has an ancient and hallowed tradition of political
leafletting," he said.
And, in today's culture, the best way to distribute those
messages is to place them on vehicles, he said, commenting that
nobody walks to the town square any more.
Ball said Monday that he believes the appeals court decision is
likely to stand, so he has directed the City Council to repeal
Carlsbad's handbill ban. If approved, the change would probably
take effect in December.
City officials said Carlsbad's ban was probably enacted in
response to complaints from shoppers at the Westfield's mall on the
northern edge of the city.