The latest fight for independent gubernatorial candidate Joe Trillo is against the Town of Narragansett, which has been trying to get him to remove a giant political sign from a family-owned beach-front property that his sister currently occupies. The story has a number of angles that might pull a political theorist in conflicting directions. On one hand, doesn’t a town have a right to set some restrictions on signs in residential zones?
Even if the Trillo property on Ocean Road wasn’t in a “public” zoning district, Manni said, the sign would be too large. In residential districts the maximum size for a yard sign is 6 square feet, he said.
On the other hand, how could a town (or state) possibly have the Constitutional ability to ban specific kinds of speech?
… since political signs are banned anywhere in town until 60 days before voters head to the polls, Trillo would have to wait September before he could advertise for the November general election.
On this count, the law will surely fall the very first time anybody challenges it, and it would be interesting for that anybody to be Joe Trillo. Of course, that doesn’t mean the sign should stay. It’s difficult to have sympathy for the property owners on small-government grounds after reading this:
Trillo acknowledged that the private residential property, occupied by his sister, sits in a zoning district designed for public land that does not allow the use of any private signs. But he says the town should be working with him to remedy the situation, a result of his family decades ago having sold the state the beachfront land.
Without digging into the details, one can infer that the Trillos availed themselves of one of those schemes that allows a property owner to sell property (or development rights) to the government while maintaining ownership of the structure, or some similar arrangement, thus getting out from under taxes and, in some circumstances, blocking others from developing land that might otherwise be sold in subdivisions.
So, yeah, when you manipulate the law to get special treatment for your property, demanding to be able to use that property for your own political advertising takes a bit of chutzpa.