A carpenters union has filed a lawsuit alleging the city of Irvine threatened prosecution and fines for displaying banners asking whether local neighborhoods are safe from sex offenders.
The Los Angeles-based Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, with more than 55,000 members, alleges in a US District Court lawsuit filed last month that Irvine’s Marking Ordinance violates its first adaptation rights, which guarantee freedom of speech.
“The city has now become a language police – master planning what citizens can say to the public on a public sidewalk,” the suit claims. “The city has not only censored plaintiffs speech, which it doesn’t like, but has restricted content-based speech through its signing ordinance by specifically excluding other preferred speeches.”
The union is seeking unspecified damages and a court order banning Irvine officials from making further threats regarding the banners on the corners of Cadence and Merit and Irvine Boulevard and Modjeska.
Irvine officials and SWRCC staff declined to comment on the lawsuit on Wednesday.
The union has been protesting labor disputes for years by displaying banners on public sidewalks in Irvine without the threat of censorship, according to the lawsuit.
Last fall and early winter, the SWRCC displayed a sign on sidewalks shaming Rivian, an Irvine-based automaker, during a labor dispute with the company. SWRCC officials did not provide details of the nature of the dispute, and Rivian officials did not respond to a request for comment.
The two signs currently displayed by the union mention the dispute, but also raise questions about whether the neighborhoods of Irvine are safe and include a barcode that links to Meghan’s Law’s website and contains information about registered sex offenders.
“The city would prefer the public not to be aware of this information as it could slow down sales of homes in their proposed master city and show that their city may not be as sought after as a place to live,” it says the lawsuit. “The only difference from the previous banners is that the message on the current banners has changed – a message that the city disapproves of. Freedom of speech is not free when the censor can jump from reason to reason to suppress unfavorable speech. “
SWRCC officials did not explain the union’s reasons for putting the sex offender message on the banners.
In 2020, for the 15th consecutive year, city officials named Irvine the safest community of its size in the nation for violent crime based on FBI crime data.
There are 74 registered sex offenders living in Irvine, according to a city spokesman, which is considered low for a city of 273,000 people.
Irvine officials claim the SWRCC banners are in violation of the Zoning Ordinance, which requires commercial language signs to be no larger than 3 square feet, the lawsuit said.
“It (the regulation) applies only to trade marks, not to labor disputes or protest signs against sexual predators. The plaintiffs’ banners – on their faces – do not fit these definitions. The SWRCC is a non-profit work organization. “
The complaint also alleges that there are numerous banners in Irvine that are larger than the carpenters’ union.
“It only takes an hour to drive around town to see the hundreds, if not thousands, of signs – larger, smaller, multiple together, multiple on the same roadblock – that undermine any justification, non-commercial banners in general, or restrict banners the plaintiff expressly forbid “, it says in the lawsuit.