By Susan Hale Thomas (File photo)
It is now safe for Alexandria residents to advertise a car for sale along city streets without fear of being ticketed or towed.
City councilors unanimously voted earlier this month to repeal an ordinance banning the use of “For Sale” signs in the windows of cars parked public streets.
Why the change?
In 2012, resident Scott Roy McLean placed a “For Sale” sign in his parked car and was surprised to find a ticket on his windshield the next morning. McLean was unaware there was a 1963 law on the books banning such signs in parked cars in Alexandria.
McLean, also an attorney, saw the law as a violation of the First Amendment, and decided to contact a nonprofit national legal watchdog group, the Pacific Legal Foundation, and announced his intentions to file a lawsuit publicly in an opinion piece published by the Alexandria Times in October 2014.
“Laws like this are a symptom of a broader philosophical error that has crept into the mindset of American bureaucrats,” McLean wrote at the time. “They believe that certain kinds of speech — particularly advertising — are less important, and deserve less constitutional protection, than other kinds of speech.
“Thus, elected officials who would never dream of trying to censor a political ad or a magazine don’t think twice about forbidding people from advertising products or services.”
Shortly after McLean’s announcement, city officials temporarily halted enforcement of the statute until staff attorneys could review it. Their analysis led to this month’s repeal.
City Councilor Justin Wilson has been a longtime proponent of getting rid of outdated city laws. In January 2014 he guided through a series of repeals of such ordinances, from guidelines calling for some new city streets to be named after Confederate Civil War leaders to laws banning cohabitation and sidewalk bootblacks, or shoeshines.
“One consequence of being an old and historic city is that we have many laws that have been on the books for a while,” Wilson said. “This repeal is a continuation of our process to modernize our laws to match the needs of our community in 2015. We rely on residents to help us flag areas to look at, and we have more revisions under consideration.”
The latest repeal doesn’t mean the effort to clean up city code is finished. Remember restaurant hostesses asked if diners wanted smoking or non-smoking seating? The designated smoking section is still on our books, even though former Gov. Tim Kaine signed legislation in 2009 prohibiting smoking in public restaurants.
Wilson said the process takes time.
“We got rid of all of the comical ones last year,” Wilson said. “The ones that are left are the harder ones. You just can’t repeal them. You have to replace them. That makes it a little more time consuming.”
But getting back to the laws governing cars parked on public streets. Be careful out there: there are still plenty of things you can’t do on the side of the road.
For example, as the giddiness of warmer weather overtakes you and you’re thinking of washing and waxing your ride on a public street, don’t let temptation get the best of you. Low on windshield wiper fluid? Think twice before popping the hood and filling your tank with the blue stuff. You might just end up with a ticket of up to $100.