Earlier this year, the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters sued the City of Irvine in response to city officials' threats of legal action against the union's refusal to remove a curbside banner from a Lennar homes development in Irvine. The lawsuit alleged that the City of Irvine is violating the Carpenter's right to free speech.
According to the Carpenters, Lennar and City officials initially agreed to a discussion to hear the union's grievances, and the banner was taken down contingent upon this meeting; leaving the threats of legal action from the city as well as legal recourse on behalf of the carpenters stagnant. The meeting allegedly never came to pass. Now, months later, the banner has gone back up and is on display with the involved parties still at an impasse.
BDN spoke with Leo De La Rosa, a representative from the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters. "We took the banners down in March when Lennar and the City of Irvine agreed to a discussion about why Lennar refuses to pay area standards for workers and provide benefits. Over and over Lennar has stalled on meeting with us, so the banner went back up and will stay up until they meet with us like they said they would when this first started,"
The legality of banners in Irvine
The back and forth began when Irvine officials threatened fines and criminal prosecution for violating the city's zoning ordinance, which according to the lawsuit, stipulates that commercial speech signs can be no larger than 3 square feet. The union countered, alleging that the city was impinging 0n their free speech rights, "The city has now become the speech police — master planning what citizens can say to the public on a public sidewalk,” the Carpenters' suit alleges. “Not only has the city censored plaintiffs’ speech it does not like, but it has also likewise restricted speech based on content through its sign ordinance by expressly exempting other favored speech.” The Carpenters note that as a non-profit organization, the signs fall outside the definition of "commercial" and therefore are exempt from size limitations.
The content of the disputed sign mentions a labor dispute but also questions, "are you safe living here." A QR code displayed redirects to the Megan's Law website which provides information on the sex offenders in the vicinity.
As indelicate as the message is, it is rooted in factual information and as the protestors will readily admit, more tactical than anything. “The city would prefer the public not know about this information because it may slow the sale of homes in its master-planned city and may show that its city may not (be) as desirable a place to live,” says the lawsuit. “The only difference from the prior banners is that the message on the current banners has changed — a message the city disapproves."
Trade unions sometimes sponsor public awareness campaigns such as this to protest contractors/companies that engage in allegedly corrupt business practices. The banners are always on public property, careful to remain within legal bounds. And for years, banners of this size and larger have been displayed on sidewalks in Irvine without threats of censorship.
"Lennar and the City of Irvine told us that we would meet as a good faith tactic so that we'd take it down. They never followed through. Now, the banner is back up and they aren't doing anything because they know they never had the law on their side in the first place and that if they keep pushing, our lawsuit has merit." De La Rosa added.
Lennar has seven communities in Irvine making their developments arguably integral to the inner workings of the Orange County city. This leads to the question of whether city officials would have lodged these allegedly invalid threats of prosecution against the protestors if not for pressure from the mega-developer?
The sign is still there as of the time of writing.
Neither the City of Irvine nor Lennar have responded to requests for comment.