Impeach Obama Overpass Protests – Is it Legal in California?

Impeach Obama Overpass Demo in  Oceanside, Ca

Impeach Obama Overpass Demo in Oceanside, Ca

The codes below have been cited by California Highway Patrol and city police as laws that prohibit attaching protest signs to freeway overpasses in California. None of these laws appears to apply. The problems with police did not start to occur until these protests attracted public attention and many complaints from Obama followers.

This page at the link below reflects tips from our experience, so far, on how to deal with police, who are not always friendly:

How to deal with the police

In any case, a petty law does not overrule the Bill of Rights. Petty laws are not normally enforced during freedom of speech events unless it interferes with the rights of other citizens or creates an unsafe situation. Some police and highway patrol are using the laws that are not quite applicable as an excuse to harass, intimidate and bully protesters for Obama’s impeachment and removal from office. A city, county or state could always write laws in such a way that they prohibit any freedom of speech activity, if the Bill of Rights did not override lower laws.

In the case of California, at least, there does not seem to be a law that clearly prohibits protesting on overpasses, which have a public sidewalk, or attaching protest signs to the overpass fence. Since they have no enforceable law prohibiting signs, they claim that you are creating a dangerous situation or acting in a disorderly manner. It is a misdemeanor to fail to comply with a lawful order.

VEHICLE CODE SECTION 2800-2818

If there were a clear law against attaching protest signs to an overpass fence, you would expect the police to write a citation, which they have not done just for hanging signs. Caltrans just takes the signs down and later you will probably be able to have them returned. They do not cite you with any offense, probably because no law clearly applies to this situation that bans attended protest signs.

It is against Caltrans policy to attach any signs to fences, which is not law. Blue-collar Caltrans workers are unionized by SEIU, a red union which is a huge ally of Obama’s, one of his biggest contributors and sources of campaign workers. SEIU is the fastest growing unions in the US and is active in the departments of transportation of many other states, as well.

There is a legitimate issue with safety, though. Do not do anything that could cause a sign or anything else to drop into traffic or otherwise create an unsafe situation.

Section 21465 of the California Vehicle Code pertains to unofficial traffic signs and not to attended freedom-of-speech protest signs.

California Vehicle Code ยง 21465 – Unauthorized Traffic Devices

Posted in Article 3. Offenses Relating To Traffic Devices

No person shall place, maintain, or display upon, or in view of, any highway any unofficial sign, signal, device, or marking, or any sign, signal, device, or marking which purports to be or is an imitation of, or resembles, an official traffic control device or which attempts to direct the movement of traffic or which hides from view any official traffic control device.

CREDIT(S)

(Stats.1959, c. 3, p. 1678, ยง 21465. Amended by Stats.1967, c. 486, p. 1693, ยง 1.)

These sections of the California Street and Highways Code deals with encroachment. It seems that these sections are obsolete. If the encroachment is not abandoned or refuse (trash), it states that the Government must give a five-day legal notice before removing the material. For that reason do not deny ownership of your sign, if they ask, because that gives the police a justification for removing the material immediately. Tell them in no uncertain terms that the sign belongs to you and they do not have permission to remove it.

The police and Caltrans crews probably fear being sued over this matter. Especially, if a large and growing number of protesters are involved. Videograph these events and upload them to the Internet. Every time the police harass protesters or shutdown a freedom-of-speech event, it just generates more sympathy and publicity. That helps the impeach Obama movement grow.

California Streets and Highways Code Section 720

720. If any encroachment exists in, under or over any State highway, the department may require the removal of such encroachment in the manner provided in this article. Except as otherwise provided in sections 680 and 721, notice shall be given to the owner, occupant or person in possession of the encroachment, or to any other person causing or suffering the encroachment to exist, by serving upon any such person a notice containing a demand for the immediate removal of such encroachment from within such highway. Any such notice shall describe the encroachment complained of with reasonable certainty as to its character and location. In lieu of service upon such person, service of such notice may also be made by registered mail and by posting, for a period of five days, a copy of the notice on the encroachment described in the notice. In the case of an owner, occupant or person in possession, who is not present in the county, the notice may be given to his agent in lieu of service by mailing and posting.

721. The department may immediately remove from any State highway any encroachment which:
(a) Is not removed, or the removal of which is not commenced and thereafter diligently prosecuted, prior to the expiration of five days from and after the service of the notice.
(b) Obstructs or prevents the use of such highway by the public.
(c) Consists of refuse.
(d) Is an advertising sign of any description, unless excepted by
subdivision (c) of section 670.

722. The department may remove an encroachment on the failure of the owner to comply with a notice or demand of the department under the provisions of Section 673, Section 680, or Section 720, and shall have an action to recover the expense of the removal, costs, and expenses of suit and, in addition thereto, the sum of three hundred fifty dollars ($350) for each day the encroachment remains after the
expiration of five days from the service of the notice or the demand.

723. If the owner, occupant, or person in possession of the encroachment, or person causing or suffering the encroachment to exist, or the agent of any of them, disputes or denies the existence of the encroachment, or refuses to remove or permit the removal of the encroachment, the department, in the name of the people of the State of California, may commence, in a court of competent jurisdiction, an action to abate the encroachment as a public nuisance. If judgment is recovered by the department, it may, in addition to having the encroachment adjudged a nuisance and abated, recover three hundred fifty dollars ($350) for each day the encroachment remains after the service of the notice in the manner provided in Section 720, and may also recover its costs and expenses incurred in the action.

Section 1480 prohibits advertising signs, but protest signs are not advertising signs.

It also states that traffic hazards can be removed immediately and the police are claiming our protest signs are a traffic hazard. That seems to be quite a stretch, but to challenge that in court would be difficult and costly. The traffic safety issue seems to be the best argument that that have, though it is not at all a clear argument for illegality in this bloggers admittedly layman opinion.

STREETS AND HIGHWAYS CODE SECTION 1480-1496

1480. As used in this chapter:
(a) The term “highway” includes all or any part of the entire width of right of way of a county highway, whether or not such entire area is actually used for highway purposes.
(b) The term “encroachment” includes any structure or object of any kind or character placed, without the authority of law, eitherin, under or over any county highway.

1480.5. The road commissioner may immediately remove, or by notice may require the removal of, any of the following encroachments:
(a) An encroachment which obstructs or prevents the use of a county highway by the public.
(b) An encroachment which consists of refuse.
(c) An encroachment which is a traffic hazard.
(d) An encroachment which is an advertising sign or device of any description, unless excepted by subdivision (c) of Section 1460. The road commissioner may return such sign or device to its owner, or otherwise dispose of it in his discretion, except that if the commissioner determines in good faith that the sign or other device is of more than nominal value he shall not effect such other
disposition until he has made a reasonable attempt to identify and notify the owner of the sign or device and provided a reasonable time for the owner to retrieve it under provisions of this section. The return of such sign or device to its owner may be conditioned upon payment of an amount sufficient to reimburse the road commissioner for the expense of removal.
The road commissioner may recover from the person causing any of the above encroachments, in an action brought in the name of the county for that purpose, the court costs of the road commissioner, the expense of such removal, and any other damages caused by the encroachment.

1481. The road commissioner may, by notice, require the removal of any other encroachment not specified in Section 1480.5 from any county highway.

1482. The notice referred to in Sections 1480.5 and 1481 shall be served upon the occupant or owner of the land, or the person causing, controlling or owning the encroachment, or shall be left at the place of residence of such occupant, owner or person if he resides in the county and is known to the person giving such notice. If the person upon whom notice is to be served does not reside in the county, the notice shall be posted on the encroachment. The notice shall specify the breadth of the highway, the place and extent of the encroachment, and shall require the removal of such encroachment
within 10 days.

1483. If the encroachment is not removed, or its removal not commenced and diligently prosecuted, prior to the expiration of 10 days from and after the service or posting of the notice, the person causing, owning, or controlling the encroachment forfeits three hundred fifty dollars ($350) for each day the encroachment continues unremoved. The road commissioner shall immediately remove an encroachment that effectually obstructs and prevents the use of the highway by vehicles.

1484. If the encroachment is denied, and the owner or occupant of the land, or the person causing, owning or controlling the alleged encroachment refuses either to remove it or permit its removal, the road commissioner shall commence, in a court of competent jurisdiction, an action in the name of the county to abate the encroachment as a nuisance. If the commissioner recovers judgment he or she may, in addition to having the nuisance abated, recover a penalty of three hundred fifty dollars ($350) for each day the nuisance remains after service or posting of notice, and also the costs in the action, as provided in Section 1496.

1485. If the encroachment is not denied, but is not removed within five days from and after service or posting of the notice, the road commissioner may remove the encroachment at the expense of the owner or occupant of the land, or the person causing, owning or controlling the encroachment. The commissioner may recover from the owner, occupant, or person, in an action brought in the name of the county for that purpose, the commissioner’s court costs and the expense of removal and also a penalty of three hundred fifty dollars ($350) for each day the encroachment remained after service or posting of the notice, as provided in Section 1496.

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California Penal Code Section 556, which prohibits commercial signs. This law does apply to freedom of speech protest signs. The protesters are not selling or giving away anything.

PC 556. It is a misdemeanor for any person to place or maintain, or cause to be placed or maintained without lawful permission upon any property of the State, or of a city or of a county, any sign, picture, transparency, advertisement, or mechanical device which is used for the purpose of advertising or which advertises or brings to notice any person, article of merchandise, business or profession, or anything that is to be or has been sold, bartered, or given away.

STREETS AND HIGHWAYS CODE SECTION 670-695

670. (a) The department may issue written permits, as provided in
this chapter, authorizing the permittee to do any of the following
acts:
(1) Make an opening or excavation for any purpose in any state
highway.
(2) Place, change, or renew an encroachment.
(3) Place or display in, under, or over any state highway any
advertising sign or device. Any advertising sign or device placed or
displayed in violation of this section is a public nuisance and the
department may immediately remove it. This section does not prohibit
the posting of any notice in the manner required by law or by the
order of any court.

OTHER LINKS

BROWN v. CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

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