Judge hears evidence in TURF lawsuit against City of San Antonio
City denied TURF permits to hang banners
San Antonio, TX, January 6, 2009 – Monday, United States District Judge Xavier Rodriguez heard TURF’s motion for a temporary restraining order and motion for a preliminary injunction against the City of San Antonio for denying TURF permits to hang two banners in the public right of way, which TURF believes is a blatant violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
After hearing more than 3 hours of evidence and testimony, Judge Rodriguez did not rule but said he intends to rule by the end of this week. Rodriguez repeatedly and openly struggled with the fact that the City at one point approved the banners only to later deny them with no legal basis other than the arbitrary interpretation of City employees. He also stated he’s wrestling with the City’s discrimination based on viewpoint and other key legal arguments noted by TURF attorney David Van Os.
One City employee, Arturo Elizondo, who initially granted permission for the banners only to later deny them, contradicted the testimony of his supervisor, David Simpson, which, by his own admission, baffled the Judge. The explanation for their denial changed stories several times and morphed into what amounts to legislating on the fly in order divine some excuse to deny approval of the banners.
“First the City denied our banners saying we didn’t meet the ‘definition,’ now they’re saying they denied the banners because the content or message of the banners was ‘controversial.’ They’re making this stuff up on the fly, demonstrating for all of us that this is a politically-motivated gag order of citizens who dare oppose the politics of those in power. The City’s reasons for denial are NOT in the ordinance, plain and simple. The Judge even said so on several occasions,” states TURF Founder, Terri Hall.
“It’s no secret that Mayor Hardberger and many Councilmembers as well as City staff who sit on the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) have cast votes for and advocated toll roads. Based on the City’s actions, one can conclude that the City will not tolerate differing viewpoints or give fair and equal access to citizens’ groups wishing to utilize temporary banners to communicate important community information to its fellow citizens in the public’s right of way,” Hall added.
The City claims the speech/message of the banners is “controversial” and therefore the legal basis for its denial; however, the statute gives the City no such authority to deny permits based on content, which violates of the citizens’ First Amendment rights in the U.S. Constitution.
Through TURF’s efforts to inform the public about the gas tax original plan for 281 and the recall of pro-toll, flip-flopper District 8 Councilwoman Diane Cibrian, it applied for permits from the City of San Antonio to place banners above the roadways at key locations. TURF was originally granted permission only to have that permission later rescinded once the higher-ups at the City caught wind of TURF’s banner messages: one directing people to the www.281OverpassesNow.com web site and the other to the www.RecallDiane.com web site. One of the banners had already been made at a cost of nearly $700!