Uncle Sam Gets a Ticket

In New York, Lady Liberty gets her own isle. In San Marcos, she can’t even get a street corner.

Lady Liberty and her equally ubiquitous human advertisement male counterpart Uncle Sam belong to Liberty Tax Service—a tax preparation company. The company was recently received a $100 citation in San Marcos for allegedly violating a city sign ordinance, according to our media partner the North County Times.

The costumed employees that were cited were staked out on San Marcos Boulevard and Bent Avenue, waving at drivers and passersby. A city code enforcement officer cited them for allegedly violating the city’s policy barring all signs in public right-of-ways, a policy that city officials said they put in place to remove roadway distractions.

Liberty Tax is not unfamiliar to citations. Alan Geraci, owner of five of the North County franchises, said he had been cited at least a half dozen times by the city of Poway. He sued Poway in 2007 and a San Diego Superior Court judge ruled that the city’s sign policy was unclear. He had also been sued by San Marcos in 2007, but he appealed and the city dismissed them.

Geraci told the North County Times that the citations he received are a violation of his right to free speech.

“Cities sometimes don’t know where the boundaries are,” said Geraci. “In my case, I thought they crossed the line of reason by stopping us from even communicating to the public that we’re doing free tax preparation for teachers, firefighters, police officers and nonprofits.”

City Attorney Helen Holmes Peak told the paper that she does not believe there will be much of a legal challenge for San Marcos as the ordinance is nondiscriminatory and meets other U.S. Supreme Court requirements.

“We essentially ban all signs in the public right-of-way,” she told the paper. “Wearing an Uncle Sam costume doesn’t transform the sign he was holding into protected speech.”

Despite Friday’s citation, another Uncle Sam marched back out on the corner on Tuesday afternoon.

Contact Us