Sign Removal Causes Conflict, First Amendment Debate

The owner said signs like these were taken off his property. (Photo courtesy Daniel Kessel)

  BERKELEY – When signs advocating for the legalization of marijuana were removed by an official, it brought up questions about the first amendment and the role of senior community bylaws and their enforcement.

  Daniel Kessel, who lives with his father in Holiday City West, said that his signs were up for a few days before the president of the homeowner’s association took them down. The signs urge people to vote for adult use marijuana legalization.

  However, when his signs were taken down, but not other political signs, he said they are applying the bylaws unevenly.

  The community should allow all signs or none of them, he said. “So they broke their own law.”

  His father had caught the association president “with her hand in the cookie jar” taking the sign and he called police.

  A video published by Kessel on social media showed a Berkeley police officer responding to the call about the stolen signs. The officer said the sign was promoting illegal activity.

  The association president had also told him it was advocating drug use. But the signs are specifically about the referendum question that’s on the November ballot, he said.

  It’s a political statement, he said. Criticism that he’s trying to promote illegal activity is ridiculous.

  Kessel has been a medical marijuana patient for six years; it helps him deal with ulcerative colitis.

  Berkeley Police were contacted about this issue for this story but they did not respond by press time.

  Kessel has since contacted an attorney to advocate on his behalf.

  “I’m going to take it as far as I can because if I don’t” they’ll keep infringing on other people’s rights, he said.

  The sign was among other signs for political candidates. If the association allows the Trump and Richter signs to stay up, but not his, then he accuses them of being one-sided. In that case, he says the association just doesn’t want signs that they don’t agree with.

  “If they’re going to allow one sign up, they have to let them all up,” he said.

Photo courtesy Daniel Kessel

  The conflict brings up several issues. Free speech being one. Another is the relationship between homeowners associations and the town they are in. In this case, does a homeowners association have say in what signs are on a public street? Does the township police enforce the association’s bylaws?

  Marietta Kobus, the president of the Holiday City West homeowners association said that the bylaws support her action.

  “People just have to realize he’s breaking all kinds of bylaws,” she said.

  For it to be a political sign, it has to have a candidate’s name on it. So, for example, if there was a sign advocating how to vote on an open space tax, that sign would also be against the rules and would be taken down.

  The common land is actually owned by the township, but the bylaws would apply to them, she said.

  “Even though it’s township land, the bylaws still apply,” Kobus said.

  She’s received complaints about Kessel’s signs, she said.

  “People don’t want to see drug promotion in their neighborhood,” she said. “People are aghast over it.”