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Monday, January 28, 2013

ACLU reaches agreement with city on Clean Zone lawsuit

Posted By on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 at 1:35 PM

Under a proposed agreement filed today, the city of New Orleans will not be enforcing limits or bans on unsanctioned content appearing on non-commercial signs and banners within the Super Bowl "Clean Zone."

The agreement comes after the ACLU filed suit last week, challenging the ban as a violation of the First Amendment. Federal Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on sign enforcement except in the area directly around the Superdome.

Today's proposed agreement will dissolve the TRO — restoring the old boundaries of the Clean Zone. In return, the signage ban "shall apply to commercial activity only, and shall in no way be applied or enforced to encumber or burden noncommercial expressive activity," according to court records. And temporary signage will not be required to "consist of at least 60% Super Bowl/NFL branding, look and feel, and no more than 40% third party commercial identification," as the original ordinance demanded.

“What this does is essentially eliminate the First Amendment violations that were in this overbroad ordinance that the city adopted," said Marjorie Esman, ACLU of Louisiana's executive director.

(Side note: Meanwhile, one sanctioned sign that doesn't violate the original or rewritten law is so far getting a mixed reception from residents.)

In addition, the the ban on commercial advertising will only apply to "off-site" signs, that is, ads for products or services not affixed to their business' premises, as well as mobile ads. This part of the agreement results from the addition of real estate agent Andrew Grafe of French Quarter Realty. Grafe was concerned that the "For Sale" signs on his properties would be deemed violations of the ordinance.

(More after the jump)

In a statement released last week, the city noted that it routinely passes Clean Zone legislation for big events, such as the French Quarter Festival. But Esman said those Clean Zone laws specifically targeted commercial activity and large-scale advertising, not all signs, as this one did.

“I am not aware that there have ever been any Clean Zones as restrictive as this," she said “This one covered, by its terms, real estate signs, flags including the American flag and all the Mardi Gras flags up right now.”

She said she believes the city did not intend to pass such broad prohibitions on First Amendment-protected activity.

“I think the city crafted language that went further than they intended," Esman said. "I think that’s why the city was so quick to reach a settlement.”

Esman and officials from the City Attorney's Office said they were confident the Engelhardt would sign the agreement today. Mayoral spokesman Ryan Berni said the city will issue a statement shortly. We will update when it goes out.

Update (4 p.m.): Engelhardt has vacated the TRO and signed today's consent judgment.

The city's statement:

Today, the City of New Orleans and the ACLU of Louisiana reached a settlement in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Tara Ciccarone and Pastor Troy Bohn. The settlement notes that the City may apply and enforce laws regarding specified commercial signage and advertising in the Clean Zone. It clarifies that the Clean Zone is not intended to affect non-commercial speech. Only minor changes will be made to the application and enforcement of the current Clean Zone ordinance for the Super Bowl, and the original boundaries will remain intact.

The Clean Zone addresses issues such as certain types of signage, outdoor vending and erecting structures and tents that the City already permits. It is an additional temporary designation that seeks to protect the quality of life for residents and assists businesses in thriving during the Super Bowl. The City and other cities nationwide have instituted “clean zones” for similar major events.

Enforcement of the Clean Zone ordinance will begin today by the City’s Finance Department and the New Orleans Police Department. In addition to signage and structures, enforcement agents will be focusing on illegal vending. Municipal summonses will be issued for vendors who do not adhere to the City vending ordinances, in which permits must be obtained and all sales or use taxes remitted back to the City.

The Clean Zone boundaries, during the time period beginning on Monday, January 28, 2013, and ending at six o’clock (6:00) P.M. on Tuesday, February 5, 2013, are as follows:

Earhart Boulevard to Calliope Street;

Calliope Street to Religious Street;

Religious Street to Orange Street proceeding across the Mississippi River along the West Bank Levee to the termination of Thayer Street;

Continuing across the Mississippi River to Congress Street;

Congress Street to Royal Street;

Royal Street to Franklin Avenue;

Franklin Avenue to St. Claude Avenue;

St. Claude Avenue to Elysian Fields Avenue;

Elysian Fields Avenue to North Claiborne Avenue;

North Claiborne Avenue to Tulane Avenue;

Tulane Avenue to North Broad; and

North Broad to Earhart Boulevard.

As a general principle, the Clean Zone boundaries are intended to include the entire street, sidewalk, or right-of-way of the indicated area. Additional info can be found at

Read the proposed agreement: CleanZoneJudgement.pdf

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