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Phoenix sign-clutter law upheld

By The Associated Press
05.08.06

PHOENIX — Cities have a stake in reducing visual clutter, a state court said in  rejecting a doughnut shop owner's constitutional challenge to a municipal law that restricts how much of a business' windows can be covered by signs.

A Court of Appeals panel on May 4 upheld a trial judge's ruling in favor of Mesa in a lawsuit filed by Edward Salib after a city code-enforcement officer ordered Salib's business to remove window signs. The case is Salib vs. City of Mesa.

The 1999 law prohibited advertising from covering more than a third of individual window panes in the downtown area, and city officials said it served the government purpose of keeping the area attractive.

Salib contended in his January 2003 lawsuit that the law violated his free-speech rights under the U.S. and Arizona constitutions, but the Court of Appeals ruled that the law met criteria previously set by the U.S. Supreme Court for allowing restraints on speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

"We conclude the sign code directly advances a substantial interest and is narrowly tailored to directly advance the goal of improved aesthetics," Judge Patrick Irvine wrote for a three-judge panel.

Salib also argued that the law violated the Arizona Constitution's free-speech protections by not being written as narrowly as possible. But the appellate court said that issue didn't amount to a question of constitutional law.

"The Arizona Constitution may require a tighter fit in some contexts, but for limits on window coverage the fit is already close and direct - the more restrictive the regulation, the more the aesthetic benefit," Irvine wrote. "Salib may disagree with Mesa as to whether the aesthetic benefits justify the restrictions, but as with many measures related to aesthetics, the wisdom of such restrictions are not a constitutional question appropriate for a court to decide."

Salib's attorneys expressed disappointment with the ruling and said he might appeal.

"We filed this lawsuit to vindicate Mr. Salib's right to freely communicate with his customers, and also to reinvigorate the constitutional protections for every Arizonan who engages in commercial speech," said Tim Keller, executive director of a public advocacy law firm, the Institute for Justice.


Related

Ark. city can regulate flashing signs, 8th Circuit rules

John LaTour says he'll appeal, claims city of Fayetteville opposed his sign because he posted political, religious messages. 04.10.06

6th Circuit looking at battle over 'for sale' sign

Citing ordinance, Ohio town forced man to remove sign from car parked in front of his home. 12.06.06

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