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[whitespace] Brown and Courtney
Suing Circle: Flanked by their attorneys, Brown and Courtney take CalTrans to federal court.


Winter of Discontent

Locals Cassandra Brown and Amy Courtney marked the winter solstice (Dec. 21) in appropriately dark style, by suing CalTrans and the Scotts Valley Police Department for an alleged civil rights violation.

Readers may recall that SVPD officers removed Brown and Courtney's "At What Cost?!" banner Nov. 27 (Nüz, Dec. 5) from a Highway 17 overpass, citing "safety concerns" and a CalTrans policy of allowing American flags only. However, an "SC Heart N.Y." sign was left untouched, triggering Brown and Courtney to hang an identical sign at the same site Dec. 4 and another sign reading "Are You Buying This?" at the Mt. Hermon Road overpass. This time both signs were removed but the SVPD said not by them.

So, Dec. 21, Brown and Courtney took their fight a step further, filing suit in a San Jose federal court. Said Brown and Courtney at a press conference afterward, "Today our purpose is (1) to expose the inequitable treatment of those who do not support a violent war; (2) to defend the very constitutional rights we purport to be defending in this war; and (3) to reiterate our initial question by asking our community, 'At what cost are you buying this war?'"

Nathan Benjamin, attorney for both women, said if people can hang flags from overpasses, they should also be allowed to hang signs.

"By allowing flags to be hung, CalTrans has created a public forum," Benjamin said, adding that with government property, you can have traditional public forums such as the park, nontraditional forums such as airports, and nonpublic forums such as army bases.

"In the case of overpasses, by allowing flags and some other signs to hang, CalTrans has created nontraditional public forums. As such these are subject to strict legal scrutiny," Benjamin explained.

Meanwhile, CalTrans spokesperson Mike Galizio said he'd have to contact CalTrans HQ , when asked if his department has a formal written policy that allows flags, and only flags, to be hung on overpasses.

Thirty minutes later, Galizio called to say that, "two separate laws--the federal and the state Outdoor Advertising Acts--prohibit any type of banner or sign within the state right of way."

As for the flags-only policy, Galizio cited section 670.5 of the California Streets and Highway Code, which, he said, allows the display of U.S. and state flags within the state highway right of way.

"Anything else has to go through an encroachment permit process," he said.

Benjamin remained unimpressed.

"Caltrans appears to have an evolving policy that's after the facts and in response to pressure from a lawsuit. But to the extent that CalTrans evolves a policy that's uniformly applicable, that's great," he said.

As for the California Streets and Highway Code, which was written in 1953, Benjamin said that that concerns sidewalks not overpasses, and focuses on the manner in which flags are displayed.

"If there is a policy saying that flags installed in a certain way are allowed, let's hear it, but clearly CalTrans is not currently exercising any such policy formally--and hasn't even begun to enunciate the rules for display," Benjamin said, adding that, "even if they do have a policy or code provision, by allowing certain speech in deference to Sept. 11, their position is still constitutionally unfirm."

Noting that as he was driving back from federal court he'd noticed several banners, including one saying "God Bless our Troops," hanging loosely on the outside of a I-280 overpass (the very situation that purportedly triggered the removal of his clients' first sign), Benjamin said, "They're not enforcing their own policy, because we're still seeing written signage on overpasses."

Benjamin had been hoping to get an immediate injunction. Instead a hearing was set for Jan. 18--a decision that had fellow attorney G. Dana Scruggs III, Esq., announcing "This is the real deal!"

"First we had the City of Scotts Valley and the State of California, and now a federal judge, allowing the state to selectively enforce restraint of public speech in a public forum that CalTrans has allowed to exist," said Scruggs.

Said Benjamin, "It's not our purpose to have all flags taken down, but to have all voices heard. We're taking the most American of actions--we're going to court and demanding the right to speak. The First Amendment is the number one amendment for a reason: Free speech is central to democracy."

Pack It Out

Ray Conti is not your mother, but his message is similar--in a hard-core kind of way. As executive director of Pack Your Trash, a nonprofit with a mission to keep the great outdoors clean, Conti wants you to pick up after yourself--especially on beaches, rivers, parks and streets. Pack Your Trash volunteers regularly clean up those areas, says Conti, but there's still always more to be done.

"It's a never-ending saga," Conti says. "We clean up a stretch and within the hour people are littering again."

Anticipating a big mess in the wake of New Year's Eve, Pack Your Trash is cleaning up beaches and streets between 7th and 41st avenues as part of its Jan. 5 After New Year's Beach Cleanup (8am-1pm).

"We're looking for street captains to organize and rally each area, as well as volunteers. And anyone who needs community service hours is welcome," says Conti, who expects to find the usual run-of-the-mill trash, "bottles, plastics, beer cans, and the wax packet wrappers left behind by surfers who think guys like us are going to clean up after them." Meet at Pleasure Point Market at East Cliff and 32nd Avenue. Call 465.8645.

Paradise Frost

Camp Paradise residents spent Christmas Day in limbo. Flooded out of their riverbank campsite at the beginning of December, they stayed at the Sea Breeze Inn until Dec. 26--at a cost to the city of $6,000--since there was no city-sanctioned spot to set up camp. But motel vouchers ran out Dec. 26 and Paradise refugees were worried.

"It's hard to enjoy Christmas when you don't know where you're going to be the next day," said camp founder Larry Templeton as campers and supporters shared a turkey dinner at the newly opened Santa Cruz Service Corps.

The next day, Templeton visited City Hall, but with no council meetings until Jan. 8, a decision about alternative campsites was not forthcoming.

So, Templeton and crew headed for New Brighton State Park where they'll be camping for the next two weeks. California State Parks recently introduced a policy whereby campers may only camp for 30 days in any given calendar year, and only two weeks at any one campsite.

Homeless advocate Paul Lee says this policy wasn't simply to move along the homeless, "but to make certain everyone, including the retired couple in their RV--euphemistically the better-off homeless folk--could make use of the parks."

20/20 Vision

In the first bubbly-infused hours of 2002, Nüz had an insight: write the number 20 on a piece of paper, hold it perpendicular to a mirror, and you'll see reflected the number 2002 with the second 2 reversed. In other words, 2002 is a numeric palindrome--with inverted 20/20 vision.

Students of Roman mythology will recall that January is a month for both hindsight and foresight, being as it's named for Janus, the god of exits and entrances. Statues of Janus typically feature a gray-haired dude with a two-faced head: one face looks back at the year passed, the other looks toward the future.

Looking back, Janus will see three main events in the year 2001: the energy crisis, Gary Condit and, of course, Sept. 11. Anyone familiar with Stanley Kubrick's 2001 suspected that year would have apocalyptic overtones, but who knew it would be forever branded by a date that matches the nationwide emergency number? In case you've forgotten, here are some things we used to do that now seem so 9/10:

  • Questioning President Bush's IQ in public

  • Giving your favorite Middle Eastern man flying lessons

  • Naming your band Burning Airlines

  • Worrying that rolling blackouts will melt your Cherry Garcia

  • Returning borrowed laundry detergent by mail

  • Assuming that Tora Bora is a place in a Dr. Seuss book

  • Smuggling drugs onto airplanes in your shoes

  • Complaining about rude New Yorkers

  • Bragging about your brand-new SUV

  • Giving a damn about Gary Condit's sex life.

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  • From the January 2-9, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

    Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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