Warning Signs

Paul Kjorlie hates vinyl banners in Soulard, so he hangs 'em from his house

"I have to agree that they're not historic, but at the same time, I think they're necessary for businesses to advertise," seconds Joanie Thomas, owner of Joanie's Pizzeria. "There's a difference between residents and businesses. I own a home here also, and I wouldn't put a banner on it."

If matters end up in court, VonderHaar and Thomas would be well served to trot out a unanimous 1994 U.S. Supreme Court ruling involving a local Persian Gulf War protestor and the city of Ladue. The genesis of the case was, of course, a sign, this one belonging to Margaret Gilleo, who, on December 8, 1990, affixed a placard in her front yard that read, "Say No to War in The Persian Gulf, Call Congress Now." The city ruled that the sign violated a sweeping city ordinance banning virtually all signage (on the premise that they intrinsically compromised the tony west-county hamlet's visual character). Gilleo opted not to take her municipal medicine sitting down, and after scoring several lower-court victories, she notched the ultimate legal triumph.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court was careful to preface that "while signs are a form of expression protected by the First Amendment, they are subject to municipalities' police powers since they take up space and may obstruct view, distract motorists and pose other problems which legitimately may be regulated."

Still, the justices found Ladue's ordinance to be unacceptably overreaching. "An ordinance which forecloses an entire medium poses a readily apparent danger to freedom of speech and such measures can suppress too much speech."

Perhaps not surprisingly, if Paul Kjorlie falls short in his effort to do away with vinyl signs in Soulard, he's got a potentially lucrative contingency plan. "I'm thinking about selling the naming rights for my home," he says. "To Suzuki."

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