Change is good. For example, if it has been unusually smokey for a few days, we welcome a blue sky. But sometimes change isn’t possible, especially in how people are governed.
Recently, Lompoc City Councilman Victor Vega, who thinks he has the right stuff to become mayor, was trying to change the local Zoning Ordinance (ZO) to make exceptions for political signs and disparaged community members because they were commenting on public hearing items.
Both were contrary to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The ZO change referred to a sign ordinance that had been updated during the overhaul of the entire ZO to conform with both the 2030 General Plan and changes in the law that had occurred since it was last updated in 1987. One of these changes was how signs could be regulated by local governments.
In a faraway city, the local politicians didn’t like the content of some signs that had been placed in their community, so they enacted regulations severely limiting the offending signage.
The folks who put the signs up sued and eventually the case wound up in the U.S. Supreme Court because it included issues associated with the First Amendment, which states:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” And by extension, neither can local governments.
The Supreme Court agreed with the folks complaining about the local government officials who overstepped their authority and made some binding decisions concerning signs; Lompoc changed the ZO to reflect their decision.
Apparently, Councilman Vega either didn’t read or couldn’t understand the importance of this case or the constitutional right to free speech, and made a council request to discuss segregating political signs from other types of signs.
Vega had to be reminded by the mayor that political signs are not specifically mentioned in the ordinance because the content of signs cannot be regulated; of course, he had to belittle her by saying, “You’re no legal expert.”
But, the city attorney agreed with the mayor saying political signs by their nature cannot be regulated and he explained that the only thing that could be regulated was whether a sign was permanent or temporary, it’s size, and the materials used for construction (excludes text font and colors).
This didn’t deter Councilman Vega as he continued to press his point that he indeed wanted to regulate political signs. Even after the attorney clearly stated that the content of signs could not be regulated three times, he persisted and found it incredible that political signs couldn’t be regulated as a separate class in the ZO.
I guess Vega thinks he can ignore First Amendment rights and change U.S. Supreme Court rulings.
He has had other issues concerning the First Amendment. During the Lompoc City Council meeting on Sept. 15, he criticized a “former planning commissioner who is an expert at everything” because he was providing public comment on issues before the council.
Who he was pointing out is unclear because during this meeting two former planning commissioners, both of whom served the city for many years and care deeply about their community, researched the subject and provided public comment on multiple items, one by e-mail and the other over the phone.
When people are elected to public office or appointed to serve on any of the various commissions and committees of government, they should understand the public has a right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” And, when the Supreme Court issues an opinion that regulating signage by its content is illegal, they should respect and enforce that directive.
If Councilman Vega doesn’t like community members providing input and can’t accept the fact that he cannot regulate the content of signs, then he is unsuited for any elected or appointed post.
— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry. He has been following Lompoc politics since 1992, and after serving 23 years appointed to various Lompoc commissions retired from public service. The opinions expressed are his own.