FREE SPEECH -- The Pasadena City Council wants to ban handbills left on residential property where a "No Handbills" or "No Solicitors" sign is posted, the resident's permission has not been obtained and the handbill is not weighted to prevent wind-littering.

According to Pasadena Weekly, the council's main concern seems to be enforceability or priority for city attention rather than the fact that a similar Pasadena ordinance ten years ago prompted a lawsuit that produced a court order barring enforcement on First Amendment grounds.  The only suggestion that the Bill of Rights might still be an issue came from civil liberties watchdogs.

“Once again, [American revolutionary] Thomas Paine is turning at
about 78 rpm in his grave,” wrote David Fertig, the lawyer who
represented the ACLU in the 1998 lawsuit, in an email. “This proposal
for an ‘anti-handbill’ ordinance, ostensibly predicated upon deterrence
of littering and burglary, is baffling. Who knew we had no more
pressing and important issues in Pasadena than those occasional
leaflets on our front steps? Or that Pasadena wants to be in the
vanguard of stifling free speech?”

To one of the activists
joining the ACLU of Southern California as a plaintiff back in 1998,
learning that the matter had come up again in amended form for possible
action by the council came as a shock. Marvin Schachter, a former
president of the ACLU of Southern California’s board of directors, said
it’s “reprehensible that the council is restricting a fundamental right
— the right of people to communicate with one another without
permission,” said Schachter. “Especially now,” when financial resources
are so scarce, “an independent candidate could find themselves in
violation of the law.”

*****
“Why
is the city doing this when it is a matter — according to testimony at
the City Council — of absolutely no concern to any citizen, except for
once a month, when a person doesn’t want a piece of information
delivered to them?” Schachter asked.

“What we don’t need in Pasadena are yet more silly laws and more litigation,” said Fertig. “Actually … we just need some ‘Common
Sense’ in City Hall,” he said, referring to Paine’s most famous
work
. “Maybe I'll leave a copy on the front steps — while it’s still
legal.”

As long ago as 1971 the California Supreme Court struck down, on free speech grounds, a city ordinance banning such distribution without the resident's prior consent.

The city contends . . . that while these precedents may determine that it cannot constitutionally prohibit all house-to-house distribution of protected literature, the cases do not invalidate the instant ordinance, which does not ban all distribution, but "merely" conditions distribution on the prior consent of the occupant of the property where distribution is to take place. In the context of private residences, however, a requirement that a distributor obtain consent prior to the delivery of written material will, as a practical matter, frequently operate to curtail completely this means of communication. The present enactment does not restrict itself to persons who distribute matter on a regular basis, but applies also to those, such as local political candidates or neighborhood groups, who may distribute literature on only a single occasion. As to these distributors, section 4's "prior consent" requirement may well make canvassing prohibitively time-consuming and expensive, since successful communication will often require repeated visits until the distributors find someone at the residence. In this day of rapidly increasing political campaign expenses, attributable to the great cost of television and other mass media advertising, house-to-house distribution of campaign literature remains one of the few available channels of communication open to the less-than-wealthy political candidate; in practical terms, the instant ordinance would go far to eliminate such communication. This consequence, of course, inescapably collides with constitutionally enshrined rights.

-- Van Nuys Publishing Co. v. City of Thousand Oaks, 5 Cal. 3d 817, 824 (emphasis added)