Refugee Executive Order Faces Legal Challenges

Judges in New York and Boston, among other cities, have prevented parts of the executive order on refugees from going into effect temporarily, citing possible violations of the U.S. Constitution’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.

(Wikimedia Commons)

Protestors have gathered at airports across the country, such as the Metropolitan Airport in Detroit (above), to protest President Trump’s executive order barring refugees and other visitors from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. (Wikimedia Commons)

President Donald Trump’s refugee executive order has resulted in confusion and lawsuits which will continue to be resolved in the upcoming months. On Monday night, acting Attorney General Sally Yates directed Justice Department attorneys not to defend the executive order in court. President Trump quickly fired her. Dana Boente was promptly sworn in, and has instructed DOJ lawyers to “defend the lawful orders of our president.”

Cities preparing to receive Syrian refugees and others are having to change plans. Additionally, cities have been affected by protests, airports have been overrun, and 16 attorneys general have spoken out against the executive order.

While not all aspects of the executive order are entirely clear, it includes the following:

  1. People from the following countries may not enter the United States for the next 90 days: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen
  2. Syrian refugees are banned from the United States indefinitely
  3. No refugees will be allowed into the United States for the next 120 days
  4. Only 50,000 (versus 110,000 last year) refugees will be allowed in the United States in 2017
  5. Refugees with religious-based persecution claims will be prioritized where they are of a minority religion in their country of origin

Judges in New York, Boston, Virginia, and Seattle have issued temporary injunctions against various aspects of this executive order, citing a variety of legal grounds.

A wide swath of people will be affected by this executive order, including refugees, legal residents, and visa holders who may have different rights and legal claims based on their status. Adding to the complexity, the Immigration and Nationality Act appears contradictory. It gives the president of the United States broad power to ban classes of people for periods of time “as he shall deem necessary” – yet it also states that “no person shall receive any preference or priority or be discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.”

Numerous legal theories have been relied on and are being discussed as grounds for challenging this executive order.

Judges in New York and Boston prevented parts of the executive order from going into effect temporarily, citing possible violations of the U.S. Constitution’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. Due process generally requires that a person is afforded an opportunity to be heard (for example, at a hearing before an impartial decision-maker) before they are deprived of a right. Equal protection requires that the government not treat people differently on the basis of race, ancestry, or religion.

David Cole, Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), sees this executive order as essentially a Muslim-only ban on immigration which violates the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. While it doesn’t explicitly ban anyone on the basis of religion, the fact that it applies to seven Muslim-majority countries and creates, practically speaking, preferences for Christians, is enough to make it unconstitutional, Cole argues.

lisa_soronen_new_125x150About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

Meet Your City Transportation Advocate

“My ask of the new administration is that we start putting money directly in the hands of cities – that’s where the outcomes would be the greatest.” – NLC’s Matt Colvin

mattcolv

Matt Colvin is the principal associate for transportation advocacy. (Brian Egan/NLC)

With a new administration and a new Congress, the National League of Cities’ Federal Advocacy team will be busy elevating the voices of cities throughout 2017 and beyond. As part of our 2017 initiative we’re introducing our Federal Advocacy team members and sharing with you what’s on their minds for 2017. Every week leading up to the Congressional City Conference we will feature a “Meet Your City Advocate” spotlight. To kick the series off, I sat down with our transportation and infrastructure lobbyist, Matt Colvin, principal associate for transportation advocacy.

Name: Matt Colvin

Area of expertise: Transportation and Infrastructure

Federal Advocacy Committee: Transportation and Infrastructure Services

Hometown: Los Angeles

Follow on Twitter: @MatthewAColvin

Hey Matt, thanks again for sitting down with me today. To get started, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where you’ve been? What you’ve done? And most importantly, why you are passionate about cities?

Sure! I’m originally from Los Angeles, but lived with family in Barrington, Illinois after high school — it’s a suburb northwest of Chicago. I started community college out that way and then transferred to the University of San Diego where I earned a B.A. in political science and environmental studies. After moving around a bit, I wound up working on Capitol Hill for Senator Menendez and later for Congressman Sires — both represent New Jersey. I went on to serve as a federal policy manager for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership prior to joining NLC.

Why cities? Well, with the exception of the small Jamaican fishing village that I lived in while serving in the Peace Corps, I’ve lived most of my life in large cities. On top of that, serving for members of Congress — both former mayors — representing New Jersey, a state with 7 of the 10 most densely populated cities in the country, ingrained in me an interest and deep respect for city leaders and the work that they do.

So, why transportation policy?

I’ve always been a rail and cars type of guy. I even once took a train from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles.

Oh wow!

But to be honest, I didn’t see myself going down this path when I moved to D.C. The interest in transportation and infrastructure has always been there, but I saw myself headed down a career path in environmental advocacy.

I started doing energy, environment, and transportation policy work for Senator Menendez, who chairs the Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over transit. Working on the passage of the MAP-21 transportation bill for him in 2012 really sparked my interest in the issue area. Later, when an opportunity came up to staff Congressman Sires on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I jumped on it.

Transportation lets you get at the cross section of energy and the environment. These policies that you work on get mobilized in a way that not many other areas do not in the current political climate. The best part is that this line of work leads to both economically and physically healthier and stronger communities.

As a side note, the transportation policy community is refreshingly non-partisan. It very much feels like an area of broad consensus in an increasingly partisan world. We all want better infrastructure in our communities. Of course there is still disagreement about how and when things get done, but it’s nice to see that we all want things to get done.

What do you see in store for transportation policy and cities in 2017 with a new administration and Congress?

I think it’s still a bit of an unknown. The Trump Administration is talking about a trillion-dollar infrastructure program that will use tax credits to spur public private partnerships. I think it’s early to tell exactly what  his final proposal will look like, but I think it’s exciting that we just came off of a campaign in which both parties passionately discussed transportation and infrastructure.

The American Society of Civil Engineers report card gave America a D+ across all areas of infrastructure. Our infrastructure used to be the envy of the world, but we’re at a place now where bridges collapse and congestion is costing our families thousands of dollars every year and we still don’t see more federal funding to bring our infrastructure truly into the 21st century.

Congress and the administration are talking about doing something here, and we need this investment. Elaine Chao, the nominee for Secretary of Transportation, has discussed this need in her confirmation hearing. She also indicated that whatever comes down the pipeline in the next few years will likely be a mix of funding and financing tools, so I think cities should see that as a sign of hope. I also see this as a positive message that cities can bring to the Capitol Hill when they come to advocate; we should look into public private partnerships as part of the solution, but we still need that revenue.

My ask of the administration is that we start putting money directly in the hands of cities, that’s where the outcomes would be the greatest.

Outside of Washington, the intersection of transportation and technology is only going to advance in 2017. We’re going to have more and more questions and answers as to how these new technologies interact with our existing infrastructure. Whether it’s autonomous vehicles or ridesharing, it’s all pretty exciting.

Finally, a fun question, what is your spirit city? With which city do you identify the most?

San Diego. I mean for the weather alone. I think San Diego has some of the most incredible public spaces — from all of the beaches to Balboa park. But seriously, that 75-degree weather year round is pretty great.

Join us at CCC and meet Matt Colvin as well as the rest of your City Advocates. Visit the CCC website to register now!

brian-headshot About the author: Brian Egan is the Public Affairs Associate for NLC. Follow him on Twitter @BeegleME 

McAllen Targets Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety with Run, Ride & Share Campaign

The city of McAllen’s awareness campaign is a story of local partnerships in action.

(Getty Images)

The Run, Ride & Share campaign aims to significantly reduce pedestrian and cyclist fatalities through community-wide education. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Veronica Whitacre.

After four tragic deaths across South Texas, leaders from the city of McAllen, Texas, partnered with community activists and concerned citizens to address safety on city streets and highways. Created in 2014, our Run, Ride & Share awareness campaign brought together runners, cyclists and motorists to establish a unified regional effort to educate the community on the importance of sharing the road in the Rio Grande Valley. The campaign has now branched out and partnered up with other surrounding cities such as Pharr, Edinburg, Weslaco and Mission.

The success of the campaign is a direct result of the partnerships built throughout the movement. As part of the campaign, we initiated Operation Clean Sweep to get local cities working together to clean the shoulders of the roads and highways for bike safety. This operation had the added benefit of bringing together city workers to communicate as a region. The broader campaign also educates youth in our local schools through their physical education classes, and Run, Ride & Share committee members host bike rodeos as well as bike safety and bike education classes for children at special events as well as the McAllen Boys and Girls Club. The city of McAllen and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley have also worked together to implement dedicated bike lanes.

Other byproducts of the Run, Ride & Share campaign that have resulted from partnerships are emergency call boxes on our hiking and bike trails, promotional materials such as lighted arm bands and bumper stickers, and educational brochures. The campaign also leads an annual event hosted in cities worldwide called the “Ride of Silence,” which brings together residents, local shops, cycling teams and city staff to honor those who have been killed or injured while bicycling and inform motorists, police and city officials that cyclists have a legal right to use public roadways.

The campaign has received attention in local newspapers and on social media, and awareness of the campaign has increased to such an extent that, once a copyright has been approved for the Run, Ride & Share logo, the Texas Department of Public Safety has offered to guide and assist the project as well as design and print additional educational materials.

As a driver, cyclist, runner and pedestrian, I believe there’s always more to do to make our streets safe – and everyone has to do their part. We believe city-wide educational campaigns like this can significantly reduce pedestrian and cyclist fatalities, and we will continue to build relationships with other cities to get the Run, Ride & Share campaign implemented in as many communities as possible. Please join us.

About the author: Veronica Whitacre is a City Commissioner for the City of McAllen, Texas. McAllen is the first city to achieve All-Star Status in first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Cities, Towns, and Counties initiative.

A Crash Course in Urban Development

The Urban Land Institute has recently developed a day-long training geared specifically towards elected officials to help them better understand the nuts and bolts of municipal real estate projects and how they’re financed.

How can city leaders know if they are getting the wool pulled over their eyes or if they are negotiating a mutually beneficial deal that will leverage private dollars towards a community renaissance? (Getty Images)

How can city leaders know if they are getting the wool pulled over their eyes or if they are negotiating a mutually beneficial deal that will leverage private dollars towards a community renaissance? (Getty Images)

Community activists sometimes decry market-based urban development projects (and their managers) using words like monstrosity, Satan, and scumbucket. But any public official will tell you that it is impossible for a city to accomplish its development or redevelopment goals without private sector investment in the community.

To that end, the nonprofit Urban Land Institute (ULI), an NLC partner, has recently developed a day-long training geared specifically towards elected officials to help them better understand the nuts and bolts of municipal real estate projects. The training is called UrbanPlan, and it will be offered next month at the 2016 NLC City Summit in Pittsburgh.

UrbanPlan is a realistic, engaging, and demanding curriculum in which elected officials learn about the fundamental forces that affect development in the United States. Participating officials will experience the challenges, private and public sector roles, trade-offs, and fundamental economics of complex urban development projects.

The workshop was originally designed for university-level economics courses, and is now taught at colleges and high schools across the country. In 2015, ULI redesigned the curriculum specifically for city officials. The Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use (an NLC program in partnership with ULI) acted as an adviser in the curriculum overhaul. The revamped workshop is offered in a single day as one of NLC University’s pre-conference seminars in Pittsburgh.

Participants in the seminar will develop proposals for a hypothetical urban neighborhood. Each attendee will take on a real-life role, such as site planner, financial analyst, or marketing director.

During the process, team members will learn firsthand the intricacies of urban renewal projects – and because profit is often a primary goal, the seminar will also include some down-to-earth lessons in financial reality. Accordingly, the proposed developments created in the seminar will need to address diverse issues such as affordable housing, transit needs, open-space beautification, historical preservation, and the district’s retail requirements. Once a project plan is hammered out, the teams will construct a preliminary model of their design – using Legos – and then go before a “city council” of volunteer land-use professionals to pitch their project. After a detailed analysis, participants will tweak their product for a final presentation.

ULI, NLC University, and the Rose Center recently held a pilot session of this seminar. Two of the participants described their experience:

“Land use decisions are among the most difficult that elected officials face. The Urban Plan Workshop illustrates that a development project can be a financial success for the developer and locality as well as meet the community’s goals for sustainability, inclusion and aesthetics. The Urban Plan Workshop is fast paced and hands-on, and elected officials will gain and retain insight into their role in finding the balance between the needs of the developer, locality and community.”

– Sandy Spang, councilmember, Toledo, Ohio

“Elected officials often hold biases, even if unintentional. But today, achieving great projects requires creativity and compromise. UrbanPlan lets you participate in that process. As someone that both serves on an elected body and has gone through the UrbanPlan workshop, I would encourage my peers to do the same.”

—Michael Wojcik, councilmember, Rochester, Minnesota

We are pleased to offer a special discounted registration rate to CitiesSpeak readers for the upcoming UrbanPlan seminar in Pittsburgh. Register here using the discount code NLCUL13 and save $100 off the registration price.

About the author: Jess Zimbabwe is Executive Director of the Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use, a program of the National League of Cities, in partnership with the Urban Land Institute. She’s an architect, city planner and politics junkie. Follow Jess on twitter at @jzimbabwe and @theRoseCenter.

LED Street Lights: Energy Savings Likely to Outweigh Initial Costs for These Three Cities

LED streetlights on the Lowry Avenue Bridge in MinnesotaLED streetlights, such as those found on the Lowry Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, Minn., can provide better visibility while reducing emissions and cutting cities’ energy bills by more than 60%. (Joe Ferrer/Getty Images)

Nearly every boulevard, avenue, road or side street in America is lined with opportunities to reduce energy consumption and save important municipal dollars. Street lights in the United States are estimated to use as much energy as six million households, and the energy bills cost local governments more than $10 billion per year.

Due to recent advances of LED and other solid state lighting options, modern streetlights have the potential to cut those figures by 50% or more.

This is why the Obama Administration has challenged mayors around the country to retrofit their lights and install modern, high efficiency lighting. The Presidential Challenge for Advanced Outdoor Lighting sets a goal of upgrading at least 1.5 million poles by May 2016, tripling the previous goal to upgrade 500,000.

The challenge is backed by extensive resources in the Better Buildings Outdoor Lighting Accelerator, which contains financial calculators, case studies, and more. The Solid State Street Lighting Consortium, a DOE-managed peer group of cities pursuing lighting upgrades, also has technical specifications and market reports to help cities through the procurement process.

Thanks to early adopters like Raleigh, Los Angeles and Seattle, many of the concerns surrounding technical issues and public acceptance have been debunked in the last few years, illuminating the path for others to follow. Costs for both energy use and maintenance have proven lower under the new systems. In surveys conducted for the city of Seattle, more than 85% of respondents approved of the new lights.

For many city leaders, though, the decision isn’t quite that clear. As with any major retrofit, the upfront capital cost can be daunting. Los Angeles, for example, has replaced more than 140,000 lights in four years, yielding an annual savings of more than 60%. Even with a payback period estimated at just seven years, the initial cost has been reported to be $57 million. Given the constraints on local budgets, it can be difficult to justify a costly upgrade for a system that is already functioning.

Additionally, some city officials may be waiting to see if those installation costs continue to drop before they convert. Between 2011 and 2013, the cost of new LED streetlights fell an estimated 50%. Even then, the price was four times that of high-pressure sodium lights. In the short term, waiting may result in further savings and an even more efficient LED product.

Nonetheless, the takeaway is overwhelmingly positive. A tipping point seems to have been reached as the rate of adoption accelerates. If the President’s challenge is met, and the 1.5 million poles achieve the same efficiency and CO2 reductions as Los Angeles, it will create a reduction of more than 369,000 tons of emissions each year.

Headshot1-CMartinAbout the Author: Cooper Martin is the Program Director for the Sustainable Cities Institute at the NLC. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.

Mayors’ Challenge Seeks to Create Safer Walking and Bicycling Networks

Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx issued the Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People, Safer Streets to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists over the next year.

Bike lanesMayors who commit to creating safer, more connected walking and bicycling networks in their cities will be invited to attend the Mayors’ Summit for Safer People, Safer Streets on March 12 in Washington, D.C. (Getty Images)

For the first time in human history, the majority of the world’s population lives in urban areas, including 80 percent of Americans. The increase in the number of city dwellers in the U.S. correlates with an increase in the number of people using non-motorized forms of transportation, such as walking and bicycling, to move around their communities. However, this increase in healthy and environmentally friendly travel modes has a significant downside – pedestrian and bicycle injuries and fatalities have steadily increased since 2009.

Elected officials at the local, state and federal level recognize the need to create safer, more connected walking and bicycling networks. As part of the Safer People, Safer Streets initiative, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx issued a challenge to mayors and other local elected officials to create safer walking and bicycling options for their residents. He challenged city leaders to undertake seven activities over the next year to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists of all ages and abilities. Over 90 cities have already joined the challenge.

Many mayors, city councilmembers and other local elected officials are already making changes to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety. In Columbus, Ohio, Mayor Michael B. Coleman and the city council adopted the Safe Streets Ordinance, which includes provisions that clarify that bicyclists are protected under the law from being “doored” by motorists, and specify that motor vehicles must allow a minimum of three feet when passing bicycles.

Cyclobia Brownsville 1

City streets are closed to vehicles during CycloBia Brownsville. (photo credit: City of Brownsville, Texas)

In Brownsville, Texas, City Commissioner Rose Gowen and other city leaders have adopted an Open Streets approach; through CycloBia Brownsville the city closes some public streets during designated times so residents can safely use city streets for walking, bicycling and other recreational activities.

Mick Cornett, mayor of Oklahoma City, Okla., is leading an effort to consciously redesign and rebuild the city’s streetscapes with millennials in mind, many of whom are less likely to have a driver’s license and more likely to walk, bike and use public transportation.

NLC, through Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties has helped cities implement strategies such as Complete Streets, Safe Routes to School and Open Streets to improve the design and use of streets for pedestrians and cyclists. To date, more than 200 cities and counties are using such strategies to enhance opportunities for residents who walk and bike to school, to work and just for fun.

To make your city safer and easier to navigate for pedestrians and bicyclists, sign up for the Safer People, Safer Streets Mayors’ Challenge today! When you sign up, let us know on Twitter by using the hashtag #mayors4safety.

About the Author: Tracy Wiedt is the Program Manager for Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties at the National League of Cities.

Smile for the (Red Light) Camera!

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Madison.

red light camera 2 fullsizeDo you think red light enforcement cameras reduce traffic accidents? Or do they exist simply to provide revenue? In either case, their successful implementation depends on the ability of local law enforcement to accurately and reliably measure changes in traffic accidents that occur where the cameras are used. (Getty Images)

Cities and states across the country are engaged in an ongoing debate regarding the use of photo red light cameras at traffic intersections. At the root of this conversation is the fundamental question: Do photo red light cameras promote public safety or are they primarily a source of local revenue?

Solid evidence exists to prove the safety benefits of photo-enforcement. The New York City Department of Transportation, for example, reported a 56% decrease in serious injuries, a 44% decrease in pedestrian injuries, and a 16% decrease in all injuries at New York City intersections with photo red light cameras. NYCDOT also reports that these intersections have experienced a 40-60% decrease in red-light violations. In these instances, red light cameras change driver behavior and reduce the chance of an accident at those intersections.

Denver also has reported improved safety statistics since the implementation of photo red light cameras. City officials reported a 27% decrease in accidents at intersections since installing the technology in 2008. These statistics influenced the outcome of an effort in the state legislature to ban photo-enforcement systems. A bill demanding their removal on the grounds that they do not improve safety and are used only to make a profit (the city made nearly $34 million from photo red light and radar cameras in the last five years alone) was not enacted.

Where Does Your State Stand?

As of January 2015, 21 states and the District of Columbia had passed laws permitting the use of photo red light cameras at traffic lights. Alternatively, 10 states had passed laws prohibiting their use, leaving 19 states with no specific policy regarding their use. The breakdown is as follows:

States allowing photo red light cameras: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Washington D.C., Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington.
States prohibiting photo red light cameras: Arkansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, South Carolina, West Virginia, Wisconsin.
States with no specific policy regarding photo red light cameras: Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Wyoming.

Not every city has voted in favor of using photo red light cameras. Los Angeles, for instance, removed all 32 of the city’s photo red light cameras in 2011. The removal of the cameras was the result of an angry citizenry tired of paying high fines for traffic infractions as well as a fiscally tight local government. Dennis Zine, former Los Angeles City Councilman, explained that the program was costing the city more money to monitor and operate than they were making in infraction fines. Additionally, he claimed the photo red light cameras were “more about revenue than public safety.”

New Jersey instituted a five year pilot program in 2009 to determine the effectiveness of photo red light cameras in increasing public safety. As of December 2014 the pilot program had ended, and there are no plans to continue the program or install cameras anywhere in the state. Multiple system flaws were reported during the pilot program, including inaccurate yellow-light timing, unsuccessful notification methods, and a law suit the result of which reimbursed hundreds of thousands of motorists who were wrongly ticketed.

The penalties associated with a red light violation, when identified by a photo red light system, vary between states. The average price of a red light traffic violation is $50-$100. Both New York and Colorado have ticket fines in this range, with tickets in New York priced at $50 and Colorado at $75. California on the other hand issues a $490 fine, as well as 1 point on the offender’s driving record, for a red light violation.

The level of difference between state fines begs the question, where is the line between fines that are appropriate and fines that are excessive? This distinction may influence perceptions of the purpose of photo red light cameras. For example, perceptions that Los Angeles installed photo red light cameras in order to boost city revenue rather than improve public safety may be in response to the high fines issued in California.

Based on current research, the bottom line for many localities is that use of photo red light cameras does in fact decrease traffic accidents. While these systems may generate revenue for cities, the amount of revenue is specifically dependent on a variety of factors including the level of the fine issued to motorists. There is little current evidence that supports the claim that photo red light cameras are used solely to increase revenue.

For cities considering implementing a photo-enforcement program or for those who wish to demonstrate its effectiveness, local law enforcement must be able to accurately and reliably measure the changes in traffic accidents. Cities need public safety assessments and cost-benefit analysis in order to make an informed decision regarding the use of photo red cameras.

Elizabeth Madison bio photo thumbAbout the Author: Elizabeth Madison is a earning her Master’s Degree in Urban and Environmental Planning at the University of Virginia. She is assisting the NLC Center for City Solutions and Applied Research with the expansion of its City Solutions Database.

Must All Signs Be Treated the Same?

Update: the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for this case on Monday, January 12, 2015.

yard sale signMunicipal codes treat signs differently, meaning that spray-painted signs like this might not be allowed to remain in your neighbor’s yard for longer than necessary. (Getty Images)

The Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona could upset sign codes nationally. Most sign codes, like Gilbert’s, include different categories of temporary signs. It makes sense, for example, to give people more time to remove thousands of election signs and less time to remove a few yard sale signs. In this case, the Court will decide whether local governments may regulate temporary directional signs differently than other temporary signs.

Practically speaking, the Court could rule that all temporary signs must have the same time, place and manner requirements. NLC joined the State and Local Legal Center’s (SLLC) amicus brief asking the Court not to go that far.

Gilbert’s Sign Code includes temporary directional signs, political signs and ideological signs. After being notified that its temporary directional signs announcing the time and location of church services were displayed longer than allowed, the Good News church sued Gilbert. The church claimed Gilbert’s Sign Code violates the First Amendment because temporary directional signs receive the less favorable treatment (in terms of size, location, duration, etc.) than political signs and ideological signs.

The Ninth Circuit ruled that Gilbert’s Sign Code does not violate the First Amendment because the distinctions between the three sign categories are “content-neutral”; all signs in each category are treated the same regardless of their content even if the three categories of signs are treated differently. Because the lower court concluded that the sign categories are “content-neutral,” it applied intermediate scrutiny rather than strict scrutiny. The different treatment of temporary signs would not serve a “compelling” government interest as strict scrutiny requires, but does serve a “significant” government interest as intermediate scrutiny requires.

The SLLC’s amicus brief argues that Gilbert’s Sign Code does not violate the First Amendment. Sign codes with multiple categories of temporary signs are common; they are usually classified by function, with their own time, place and manner requirements. And the fact that a temporary sign must be read to determine what kind of temporary sign it is does not render a sign code “content-based.” Finally, even when the three categories of temporary signs at issue in this case are compared with each other, they are regulated by purpose, rather than by content, meaning strict scrutiny should not apply.

Bill Brinton of the law firm Rogers Towers wrote the SLLC’s brief, which was also joined by the National Association of Counties, the International City/County Management Association, the United States Conference of Mayors, the International Municipal Lawyers Association, the American Planning Association and Scenic America.

Lisa Soronen bio photoAbout the Author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

Time to Re-write Outdated Traffic Ordinances?

By Ildar Sagdejev, via Wikimedia Commons

By Ildar Sagdejev, via Wikimedia Commons

In Heien v. North Carolina, a police officer pulled over a car because he thought North Carolina law required that motor vehicles have two working brake lights.  It turns out the officer was wrong.  The North Carolina Court of Appeals concluded that state law requires motor vehicles to only have one working brake light.

So how did the court come to the novel conclusion? The relevant statute—which were more than a half a century old—referred “a” and “the” “stop lamp,” all singular.

When the driver and the passenger offered different stories as to where they were going, the officer asked to search the vehicle.  Consent was granted and cocaine was found.

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether a traffic stop is permissible under the Fourth Amendment when it is based on an officer’s misunderstanding of the law.  The North Carolina Supreme Court reasoned that reasonableness is the “primary command” of the Fourth Amendment, “[a]ccordingly, requiring an officer to be more than reasonable, mandating that he be perfect, would impose a greater burden than that required under the Fourth Amendment.”

The court also pointed out that reasonable suspicion does not require an officer to actually view a violation of the law before making a stop.  And the court did not want to discourage police officers from stopping cars where they believe the law has been violated.

Three judges dissented criticizing the majority’s reasoning above and pointing out that “[b]y adopting the majority’s rule, we are not only potentially excusing mistakes of law in the exceedingly rare case when the Court of Appeals divines a novel interpretation of a statute, but also those mistakes of law that arise from simple misreadings of statutes, improper trainings or ignorance of recent legislative changes.”

Police officers misunderstanding traffic laws appears to be common.  In an Eleventh Circuit case (United States v. Chanthasouxat), an officer was trained to believe a city ordinance required an inside rear-view mirror and wrote more than 100 tickets for a lack of such a mirror.  But it turns out it wasn’t.

Police would obviously benefit from being given the benefit of the doubt regarding understanding and interpreting traffic laws.  If the Court reverses the North Carolina Supreme Court (and even if it doesn’t), cities should consider revising outdated traffic ordinances so that misunderstandings of law are less common.

Soronen_Pic (2)

About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

Ride Sharing: The Big Opportunity for Cities

By Pkg203, via Wikimedia Commons

By Pkg203, via Wikimedia Commons

Uber, Lyft and Sidecar present cities with the opportunity to radically transform transportation in their communities. If cities make use of the lessons they are learning from work with car share firms like Zip Car and with bike share programs, they are likely to achieve remarkable success in the newest iteration of the sharing economy.

However, if current trends are any indication, city taxi commissions see these companies primarily as threats to the established order and are seeking regulatory solutions where a little entrepreneurship might be more properly applied.

The outlook is not at all rosy for the car share firms. A dozen cities are either writing citations to Lyft and Uber drivers, issuing cease and desist orders to the companies, or banning operations outright. To be fair, many cities are also seeking to catch up with the application of technology to this otherwise static public service, so I remain optimistic.

It matters little whether companies such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are called Transportation Network Companies or traditional taxi and limousine services. The simple fact remains that existing regulatory frameworks for taxis in cities became outmoded with the advent of the smartphone and the app. The sooner taxi commissioners embrace this reality the sooner they will find the path out of the regulatory maze.

Of course cities have some obligation to regulate services to the general public within their jurisdictions. But where is it written that the basis of such regulation must be the existing formula for traditional dispatch taxicabs? What is it that cities need to actually regulate that is not presently required as part of qualifying for a driving license? Enhanced driver training? Premium vehicle liability insurance? Universal service? Car specifications (color, model, age)? Competition? Price? A case probably can be made for the first two or three but not so much for the latter three.

In 2013, the California Public Utilities Commission issued a ruling that allowed Lyft and Uber to operate under less rigid rules than locally regulated taxis. As recently as this week, a federal judge in Houston declined to temporarily restrain Lyft and Uber from operating in Houston and San Antonio. A further hearing is set for July 15, perhaps providing time for the cities and the companies to hammer out an agreement.

The sharing economy offers opportunities for cities to increase the options available for those in need of transportation, lodging (see Airbnb and its similar challenges) and a range of other services not yet envisioned. The sharing economy represents the highest form of individual entrepreneurship and as such deserves the chance to grow and contribute to the daily life and economic prosperity of city residents.

When a company called Flex Car (later bought by Zip Car) arrived in cities more than a decade ago, the transformation was revolutionary. Cities did the unthinkable – they gave up precious curbside parking spaces to a private company to place universally accessible cars in proximity to people in need of wheels for a short-term errand.

Cities created a new regulatory paradigm for this new and much sought after service. I own a car and still signed up in the first month the company offered services in my city (I’m still a member all these years later.) That same spirit of innovation needs to be applied to the likes of Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, and to their successors.

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement.  Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.