[env-trinity] Article submission: Jerry Brown's War on the First Amendment: Caltrans confiscates anti-tunnels signs

Dan Bacher danielbacher at fishsniffer.com
Thu Jul 11 09:40:25 PDT 2013


  http://www.fishsniffer.com/blogs/details/jerry-browns-war-on-the- 
first-amendment-caltrans-confiscates-anti-tunnels-s/

Comic strip courtesy of River News-Herald, Rio Vista, by RWL.








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original image ( 936x656)

Jerry Brown's War on the First Amendment

Caltrans confiscates anti-tunnels signs

by Dan Bacher

In an alarming move against the First Amendment, Governor Jerry Brown  
is apparently using the California Department of Transportation  
(Caltrans) to silence critics of his proposed peripheral tunnels  
under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, according to Restore  
the Delta (RTD).

The Stockton-based group called on Brown to order Caltrans crews to  
cease confiscating “Save the Delta! Stop the Tunnels!” signs  
displayed by Delta land and business owners, even though these signs  
are posted on private property.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta,  
and Delta business and landowners who have had signs confiscated will  
hold a press conference on Friday, July 12, at 10 am in front of the  
Caltrans Headquarters, 1120 N Street, Sacramento to protest this  
abuse of power.

Delta advocates oppose the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to  
build the peripheral tunnels because the $54.1 billion project will  
hasten the extinction of Sacramento River Chinook salmon, Central  
Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other  
fish species. The project would also, under the guise of habitat  
restoration, take large areas of Delta farmland, some of the most  
fertile on the planet, out of production in order to deliver massive  
amounts of water to irrigate toxic, drainage-impaired land on the  
west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

"We are outraged that the Brown Administration is trampling the  
rights of business and land owners who have posted signs on their  
property opposing the Peripheral Tunnels," said Barrigan-Parrilla.  
“This is biased enforcement of little-used provisions to silence  
critics of the Governor's proposed Peripheral Tunnels.”

“Anyone driving on I-5, Highway 99, and other state highways in the  
San Joaquin Valley can see signs from Westlands Water District mega- 
growers and others blaring their views on water. Caltrans has happily  
left those signs in place. The people of California don't pay state  
taxes so Caltrans can trample property and free speech rights in  
service of Gov. Brown's doomed tunnels project,” said Barrigan  
Parrilla.”

Those Delta residents who had their signs confiscated include Warren  
Smith, whose family has farmed the North Delta for four generations.  
After Smith on Sunday put up two signs opposing the tunnels on his  
land where it crosses Highway 160, a Caltrans crew on Monday pulled  
the signs down and took them away.

Smith said the signs were placed 6 feet off the highway on his own  
property. "I never dreamed we couldn't do that," he told Alex  
Breitler of the Stockton Record. (http://www.recordnet.com/apps/ 
pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20130709/A_NEWS/307090312)

An action alert from Restore the Delta on July 8 stated, "According  
to Jeff Bennett, Supervisor at the Cal Trans Rio Vista office,  
display of such signs is in violation of Streets and Highways Code  
54053, because our message is supposedly a political campaign message  
and political messages cannot be displayed within 660 feet of a  
public right of way. According to Mr. Bennett, our signs have nothing  
to do with the operation of the businesses at which they are displayed."

“Never mind that there is no registered political campaign for or  
against the tunnels, as the State of California claims that the  
project can be built without a vote of the people. Never mind that  
the tunnels will have direct impacts on Delta businesses,” according  
to the group.

“And never mind that growers in the Central Valley can display  
their ‘Congress-Created Dustbowl' signs up and down the I-5 within  
660 feet of the freeway right of way. Jeff Bennett says that he  
cannot enforce the code in areas outside of his assigned area,” the  
alert continued.

“Its news to us that political campaign signs are illegal. But even  
if they are, the Natural Resources Agency and the Governor's office  
don't consider the Peripheral Tunnels a political campaign. They  
consider them the manifestation of state policy,” the group stated.

In a phone call that I made to Bennett regarding the sign  
confiscation, he referred to me to public information officer Matt  
Rocco, who issued this statement regarding the signs.

“Under state law that has been on the books since 1933, any private  
sign on state right-of-way—regardless of the content of the message 
—will be removed; therefore if signs are placed beyond the 14 foot  
limit from the pavement edge they will not be removed in this area of  
SR-160.”

Restore the Delta said Monday that the group would be making a trip  
to the Rio Vista Caltrans office to retrieve the signs.

Since RTD put out the alert, it's been learned that Caltrans cited  
the wrong section of law. "It's actually Business and Professions  
Codes sections 5403, 5405 and 5405.3 that may have some relevance  
here," according to Jerry Cadagan, lawyer and environmental activist.

Meanwhile, the group urged people to call Jeff Bennett, Rio Vista Cal  
Trans Supervisor, at (707) 689-3480, to let him know what they think  
of the decision to confiscate the anti-tunnel signs. Please ask Mr.  
Bennett why his crew simply didn't send notes asking people to move  
the signs before confiscating them from private property.

They also urged people to send an email to Steve Takigawa, Deputy  
Director of Maintenance and Operations for Caltrans, at  
Steve.Takigawa [at] dot.gov, letting him know what they think of the  
uneven enforcement of this law. "Let him know how you feel about your  
right to express a message that is not part of a political campaign  
but rather a response to state policy," the group said.

You can also send a similar message to Tamie.McGowen [at] dot.ca.gov,  
Assistant Director of Public Affairs.

The larger context: increasing attacks against freedom of speech

The confiscation of the signs in an obvious attempt to censor Freedom  
of Speech by tunnel opponents occurs in the larger context of the war  
on the First Amendment, Freedom of Speech and the Constitution by the  
federal and state governments.

The draconian provisions of the Patriot Act, NDAA and other  
repressive laws, the widespread NSA surveillance of personal emails,  
the IRS targeting of NGOs that disagree with the Obama  
administration, and other measures by the federal and state  
governments serve to criminalize dissent and repress our First  
Amendment rights.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states,  
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,  
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of  
speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to  
assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments  
that comprise the Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, neither the Brown or  
Obama administrations appear to have much respect for the First  
Amendment or other Constitutional Rights.

Background: Brown continues and expands Schwarzenegger's war on the  
environment

The rush to build the peripheral tunnels, in spite of widespread  
opposition, is not the only abysmal Schwarzenegger administration  
environmental policy that the Brown administration has continued and  
expanded. Brown continued and expanded the massive water exports and  
fish kills at the Delta pumps that the Schwarzenegger regime became  
notorious for.

The Brown administration authorized the export of record water  
amounts of water from the Delta in 2011 – 6,520,000 acre-feet,  
217,000 acre feet more than the previous record of 6,303,000 acre  
feet set in 2005 under the Schwarzenegger administration.

Brown also presided over the "salvage" of a record 9 million  
Sacramento splittail and over 2 million other fish including Central  
Valley salmon, steelhead, striped bass, largemouth bass, threadfin  
shad, white catfish and sturgeon in 2011. (http:// 
www.counterpunch.org/2012/05/07/carnage-in-the-pumps/)

In addition, Brown and Natural Resources Secretary John Laird  
continued the privately-funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA)  
Initiative started by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2004. The conflicts  
of interest, failure to comprehensively protect the ocean, shadowy  
private funding, incomplete and terminally flawed science and  
violation of the Yurok Tribe's traditional harvesting rights have  
made the MLPA Initiative to create so-called "marine protected areas  
into one of the worst examples of corporate greenwashing in  
California history.

In a huge conflict of interest, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of  
the Western States Petroleum Association, chaired the Marine Life  
Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so- 
called "marine protected areas" in Southern California. Reheis-Boyd,  
the oil industry's lead lobbyist for fracking, offshore oil drilling,  
the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the evisceration of  
environmental laws, also served on the MLPA task forces for the North  
Coast, North Central Coast and Central Coast.

Other environmental policies of the Schwarzenegger administration  
that Brown and Laird have continued include engineering the collapse  
of six Delta fish populations by pumping massive quantities of water  
out of the Delta; presiding over the annual stranding of endangered  
coho salmon on the Scott and Shasta rivers; clear cutting forests in  
the Sierra Nevada; supporting legislation weakening the California  
Environmental Water Quality Act (CEQA); and embracing the corruption  
and conflicts of interests that infest California environmental  
processes and government bodies ranging from the Bay Delta  
Conservation Plan to the regional water boards.

Now Brown has apparently expanded his war on fish, rivers, the ocean  
and the environment to the First Amendment as he confiscates signs of  
those who oppose the peripheral tunnels. What will Caltrans do next -  
start pulling bumper stickers off the vehicles of peripheral tunnel  
opponents?
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