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Activist’s sidewalk-chalk appeal rejected

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Activist’s sidewalk-chalk appeal rejected

<www.santacruzsentinel.com/archive/2003/March/15/local/stories/05local.htm>

March 15, 2003
By DAN WHITE
Sentinel staff writer

Becky Johnson accuses the city of erasing her civil rights.
But in a Thursday court hearing, Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judges Art Danner, Tom Kelly and Robert Atack rejected Johnson’s appeal of a June citation for scribbling chalk messages all over a downtown sidewalk.
They said the city’s sidewalk-defacing ordinance is clearly written and fair. They called chalking “visual clutter” that is often ugly, too. When Johnson said the city was stifling her freedom of expression, the judges said she had an array of other options: e-mails, speech making, fliers and a homeless newspaper, for starters.
Johnson has been arrested once and cited twice for writing with chalk on city sidewalks. The messages are often political.
On Thursday she disputed the citation for a June incident. She said activist Tim Rinker drew a hopscotch board, and that the two then scribbled messages such as “Vandals don’t use chalk” and “Sleeping is not a crime.” The sleeping message refers to the city’s so-called camping ban, which activists say unfairly targets the homeless.
Johnson, who already served community service for the June incident, said police never warned her before citing her.
It’s unclear if Johnson’s days of calcium carbonate crime are over. She said she’s wary of future arrests, “but I’m fairly unrepentant on this point.”
The judges reaffirmed a previous ruling. In September a Superior Court officer stated that chalking is not protected by the U.S. Constitution.
Johnson and her supporters seized on chalking citations as evidence of silly government paranoia and disdain for free expression. She accused the city of trying to “ban hopscotch” for children, and said it made no sense to prosecute her because “chalk art” is part of First Night celebrations.
The city holds that chalk markings encourage gawkers to block pedestrians on sidewalks. Police say chalk writing has cost the city hundreds of dollars in clean-up costs.
Ed Frey, Johnson’s lawyer, said if judges argued chalk messages on the ground obstruct pedestrian traffic, they could make the same argument about merchant window displays.
The defacing law has been on books since 1964 but, according to Johnson, was not enforced until very recently and mostly against political activists. She also complains that the ordinance, while citywide, “is enforced only downtown.”
The rule reads: “No person shall paint, write or otherwise place or affix upon any public curb or sidewalk in the city any advertisements of any kind or character whatsoever, or any signs, marks or paint” other than official traffic signs and markings.
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Contact Dan White at dwhite (at) santa-cruz.com
 
 


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