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ACLU Targets Wyckoff Political Sign Ordinance

Attorney: Township should "repeal or amend" the "unconstitutional" law

The American Civil Liberties Union has flexed its legal muscle in Wyckoff over a township ordinance it believes is unconstitutional.

A representative from the ACLU of New Jersey has been in communication with Township Attorney Robert Landel, both over the phone and in writing, to tell the township is unconstitutional.

ACLU-NJ has challenged and won similar cases in Hawthorne and Shrewsbury in 2008 and Franklin Lakes in 2001

Wyckoff limits the display of temporary political signs to 30 days. They are also limited to four square feet and must be set back 25 feet from the curb.

The non-profit organization got involved after SAVE Wyckoff leader Stanley Goodman reached out to ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero over concerns with the ordinance's impact on residents' first amendment rights.

SAVE Wyckoff is a group started by Goodman in November 2010, which opposes the 's Vista project and has hundreds of signs on lawns across the township.

"I feel that it's important for the town to allow people to express themselves, and clearly I'm not the only one in the United States who feels that political expression is important," Goodman said, adding that he hopes the Township Committee would allow residents to keep their lawn signs up indefinitely.

LoCicero sent Goodman a copy of the letter before sending it to the township, according to Goodman, who gave Mayor Chris DePhillips a heads up.

"[DePhillips] had reached out to us in a reasonable, non-confrontational way, and I wanted to reciprocate and not have him be blindsided by the letter," Goodman said.

Goodman said he hasn't heard from the Township Committee since the letter went out.

According to DePhillips, the ACLU contacted Landel shortly after and raised "legal and constitutional concerns" with the township's sign ordinance.

Because of ongoing discussions between the LoCicero and Landel, DePhillips doesn't expect the Township Committee to take any immediate action on the law.

But, DePhillips wouldn't go as far as to say the township was considering striking the ordinance or fighting the ACLU's legal challenge.

"All options were still on the table," DePhillips said. "Rob [Landel's] job is to give us advice on how the ordinance can be improved or tweaked or changed, and it's fair to say that those discussions are happening between him and [the Township Committee]."

In her letter to Landel dated March 1, LoCicero writes that the township should "immediately cease enforcement of durational limits on political signs and publicly announce such action and repeal or amend the ordinance to cure the constitutional defects as soon as possible."

A copy of both LoCicero's letter and the township's ordinance are attached to this story.

Landel did not return a call for comment on Monday.  

"Ordinances like this one are cropping up all over New Jersey — this isn't by any means isolated," LoCicero said in 2008. "Even if the restrictions aren't being enforced, the ordinances will have a chilling effect. Until they are taken off the books, we will continue fighting them."

Gary Rabinowitz March 27, 2012 at 02:13 PM
I strongly oppose Vista and support SAVE Wyckoff, but enlisting the help of this disgusting organization? No way. Keep the debate local and on topic, SAVE Wyckoff. Go away ACLU, we don't need your treasonous kind in our community. GXR
Michael K March 27, 2012 at 02:46 PM
I agree - this is a township issue - not something for the ACLU - keep out of our town. MMK
Les Fox March 27, 2012 at 08:41 PM
While I disagree with some ACLU positions, SaveWyckoff is entirely justified in enlisting the aid of a high profile organization to defend what is clearly an important First Amendment issue. The Township of Wyckoff has violated its citizens' free speech rights by trying to limit their stand against a potentially damaging and irreversible decision by the Wyckoff Zoning Board if they allow the CHCC to build 258 apartments on 19 acres zoned for 40 single family homes. If the ACLU is willing to bring this matter to public attention, while many apathetic Wyckoff residents do little to protest this enormous intrusion into small town life in Wyckoff, I say let the ACLU help. When you're right, you're right. The Township of Wyckoff should immediately admit it's wrong, and change its unconstitutional stand against reasonable political protest. By the way, if you want to see what the 19 acres of pristine woods currently looks like, watch my YouTube videos as "Stop The Vista Wyckoff." These videos also include a view of the lawn signs on Birchwood Drive, the size of the YMCA, and excerpts from the March 12th Zoning Board hearing.
Stilts April 10, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Why in the world would you oppose an organization that sticks up for the Constitution? You may oppose some things the Constitution provides for, but don't slay the messenger...
Gary Rabinowitz April 11, 2012 at 02:48 PM
@ Stilts - I strongly suggest you research what cases and causes the ACLU actually pursues. Your contention that the ACLU "sticks up for the Constitution" is so vague as to be useless. I could argue I am for "peace, love and freedom" but really, what does that mean? Look at the cases they pursue. To be sure, I'm certain there's a minority of cases (10-20%?) with which I agree with the ACLU. But to look at their body of work in its entirety, I conclude the ACLU is a cancer to our nation and thus I hope they butt out of our affairs. @ Les Fox: if you merely disagree with "some ACLU positions," well, we disagree on most major issues. There are "free speech" issues here, but posting lawn signs won't make too much difference when push comes to shove. Demanding transparency in the zoning and political process, questioning public officials conflicts, reasoning, testimony, casting light on the exorbitant # of variances, the traffic impact, all those things are what will and should matter. SAVE Wyckoff has and continues to do this -- keep up the great work! On a related note, thanks for your youtube postings -- it lends great perspective to one of the many valid reasons why CHC's Vista is a terrible idea. Cheers. GXR

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