Corrales’ rules regarding political campaign signs likely will not be enforced between now and the November elections. The Village’s sign ordinance is now considered unconstitutional, according to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Planning and Zoning Administrator Laurie Stout has determined. She issued a statement late last month that “I am hereby directing code enforcement staff to forego enforcement of certain provisions of the Village code related to temporary signs or signage.
“Effective immediately and until the Village’s sign regulations are property amended, or until November 3, 2020, whichever is sooner, code enforcement staff shall enforce only those provisions of the sign regulations related to temporary signs or signage that are content neutral and relate to public safety.” The policy came after former Corrales Planning and Zoning Commissioner Frank Wirtz brought attention to the matter of political signs.
In a news release August 26, Stout explained, “It has come to the Village Administration’s attention that our sign regulations are out-of-date. In a recent case (Reed v. Town of Gilbert), the U.S. Supreme Court determined that sign regulations that discriminate based on the content of the sign’s message are, in most cases unconstitutional. “Unfortunately, the Village’s sign regulations are very similar to the regulations struck down in the Reed case. Consequently, if challenged the Village’s sign regulations would also likely be struck down by a reviewing court.
“For the foregoing reasons, the Village needs to undertake a comprehensive rewrite of its sign regulations.” In an August 10 email to Mayor Roake, Wirtz argued that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that such political signs on private property are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. The mayor responded to him in an email that same day: “Our attorney is looking into this right now.” The Village’s sign ordinance clearly states that political campaign signs must be removed within three days after the election. The Code or Ordinances reads at Section 8-97 “Permitted Signs, Size Restrictions:”
“Signs related to political campaigns may be permitted prior to an election on any premises. No one political sign including all its sides shall exceed 16 square feet in sign area. Such signs shall not be placed more than sixty (60) days prior to the election date, and such signs shall be removed within three (3) days after the election date.”
These provisions were established in Corrales after lengthy, contentious and recurring debate. But Wirtz argues the Village’s ordinance is unconstitutional as an unacceptable limitation on free speech. In his August 10 email to Mayor Roake, he explained his position this way. “I’ve learned that the Village of Corrales has made some recent efforts in advising residents that their political signage is in violation of Village code restricting political signs being placed outside of the 60-day period preceding election date.
“The Village may create and enforce this ordinance for Village property, but the U.S. Supreme court has addressed this specific issue and has found that municipalities shall not restrict signage “content” on private property. I’ve attached some links below that will hopefully clarify.” Wirtz continued, writing “The summary of this is that if a municipality allows signage of any type (Keep Out, Welcome, Beware of Dog, etc), then that municipality shall not restrict the content of that sign. This includes political messaging and support signs. “Note that municipalities may restrict sign size, amounts of signs, placement such that motor traffic visibility is not compromised, etc. However, the content of the sign is considered an important expression of First Amendment protected practice.…
“On a somewhat related issue, our code for sign ordinances is poorly worded. In review of that code, I noted that all ‘portable’ signs are prohibited in the Village of Corrales. This would include the election signs that folks wave near polling places, as well as any other sort of ‘temporary’ signage such as signs at the farmers market, yard sale signs, etc. Due to the broad definitions of the signage ordinance, it could even be argued that bumper stickers or delivery trucks with advertising on the sides are prohibited.”
In a subsequent email, Wirtz added to his argument. “It is in the best interest of our Village to suspend the practice of issuing non-compliance notices to those posting political signage on private property immediately. “A good part of my frustration during my three years on our P&Z commission is that our older (and some newer) ordinances are horribly worded. Ordinances should contain some very important items …there should be a list of term definitions at the beginning, describing exactly what key words mean. There should also be a list of exceptions as there are almost always some to be included. In much of the Village Code associated with Planning and Zoning, the ordinances are nebulous, and entirely too much interpretation is required to apply the code.…
“All ordinances should be reviewed from time to time to ensure that they have not been found to be in conflict with our legal rights and liberties. Conditions change. Thirty years ago, we never anticipated needing cell phone hardware in the village, nor would we have assumed that cannabis farming would be an issue.…
“So… we have a mess on our hands, but one of the immediate ones which is threatening to our village is anything which steps directly on an amendment of the Constitution. In this instance, the court systems all the way up to the Supreme Court have ruled that municipalities may not restrict the content of signage, as long as signage in some form is allowed. This has been specifically applied to political signage.
“This is a very serious situation that our Village should address. I know several persons who have received a cease-and-desist tag for political signage, and there are some rumblings about it.
“As part of one of the most progressive communities in New Mexico, we need to apply that progressiveness to freshening our Village Code.” Few candidates running in the party primaries back in June have kept their campaign signs up. The most obvious of those were erected by, or for the Republican candidate for Sandoval County Clerk, Lawrence Griego of Rio Rancho, who ran unopposed.
He will face Algodones Democrat Anne Brady Romero in the November election. After defeating two other Democrats in the June primary, she took her campaign signs down pretty much right away. In contrast, Griego kept his signs up for at least two months, presumably to gain advantage over his Democratic opponent this fall.
The Griego signs were most prominently displayed on the fence and wall of the property where former Mayor Scott Kominiak lives. Other candidate signs reportedly remained up well past the three-day limit near Old Church and Mission Valley Roads and along Loma Larga.