The City of Hollister agreed to a settlement that would end a lawsuit challenging the local law on election signs.
The city council approved an agreement to pay $3,000 and change the local election law so it abides by state rules, City Manager Bill Avera confirmed.
The contracted city attorney at the most recent council meeting announced after closed session that the city had agreed to settlement terms with the plaintiff in the case, but no specifics were given at the time.
A resident represented by former San Benito County District Attorney John Sarsfield sued the City of Hollister last year claiming the local government’s restrictions of election signs on private property violates free speech rights.
Sarsfield’s Visalia-based law firm, the Law Offices of Melo & Sarsfield, is representing someone under the name of E.A. Von Urff who filed the lawsuit July 2 claiming the local municipal code violates free speech rights in the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit sought monetary damages, injunctive relief and declaratory relief while claiming the plaintiff, a local resident, has been restricted with regard to election signs due to the local law. More specifically, the civil rights lawsuit sought unlimited damages exceeding $25,000, along with an order for the city to remove its election-sign restrictions.
Sarsfield’s law firm has been involved in similar litigation against Tulare, according to the Visalia Times Delta, while other lawsuits have been filed against local communities throughout the nation on the matter, according to media reports.
The local lawsuit, meanwhile, has questioned the legality of language in the city code that largely mirrors wording in the state regulations regarding election signs on private property, according to Caltrans.
The lawsuit claims the code section violates the First Amendment in the Constitution “because it purports to impermissibly curtail Plaintiff’s free speech rights following an election.”
The lawsuit goes on: “The Sign Ordinance is content based on its face. It defines the categories of exempt (temporary) signs on the basis of their messages and then subjects each category to different restrictions.” The lawsuit alleges those restrictions depend entirely on the “sign’s communicative content”.
The plaintiff and others “have been chilled from displaying political signs because of their reasonable fear of enforcement of the sign ordinance,” the lawsuit rea
Sarsfield is the former, one-term DA in San Benito County who faced a tumultuous tenure. Current DA Candice Hooper succeeded Sarsfield after handily winning the election in 2006 over Sarsfield and Art Cantu.
Hollister election sign code section:
“Temporary noncommercial message signs, not exceeding thirty-two (32) square feet may be placed in any zoning district on private property. Such signs shall be removed within ten (10) days of an election except that signs posted in connection with a primary election may be maintained until ten (10) days following the final election. In the event of cancellation or postponement of an election, such signs shall be removed within ten (10) days following the official action declaring the election canceled or postponed.”