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Mission Viejo to vendors of political gear: “Cover up the salty words.”

Street kiosks selling flags and T-shirts promoting former President Donald Trump and bearing political messages still pop up on busy street corners in Orange County, even though Trump’s electoral loss happened nearly three months ago.

Some of those items feature vulgar language, especially targeting President Joe Biden – as in “F …Biden.”

In Mission Viejo, city officials say they don’t want kids to see the saltier language in such messages. So they are telling sellers to either take down the questionable items or cover up the offensive words. Those who don’t soon could be slapped with citations of up to $500 for violating a law designed to protect minors from the public display of harmful material.

Mission Viejo might be the first in Orange County to try the cover-up approach, city attorney Bill Curley said Friday.

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Essentially, city officials are tapping a local law that’s been on the books for more than two decades. Known as the “blinder rack law,” it requires the bottom two-thirds of any vulgar or profane word, depiction, photo or graphic to be blocked from public view when sold in public places, like convenience store magazine racks.

“There was a growing concern in the community that community values were being harmed, the qualify of life for children was being harmed,” Curley said of the reason for Mission Viejo’s move.

But city officials also wanted to respect the rights of the vendors and find a middle ground, he added.  They considered rights afforded to vendors under both the First Amendment as well as a 2018 California law, SB-946, which decriminalized sidewalk vendors.

“We’re not chasing them off. We can’t stop them. They have a right to be there.”

But the vendors are not there to “express personal political ideas, which are fully protected,” Curley said. “Instead, they’re selling stuff with political ideas. They’re more vendors than political idealists.”

“It’s a commercial enterprise,” he added.

And at least 100 residents didn’t like some of the language on the merchandise, complaining to various city officials that they didn’t want their children to see the foul language on large flags, banners, T-shirts and bumper stickers, Curley said.

On Thursday, an employee with the city’s public works department stopped by a pop-up vendor’s site on Oso Parkway, near the 5 Freeway, and asked that an offensive word next to Biden’s name on a flag be covered up.  The vendor immediately complied, covering up most of the word with black tape. The vendor also took down and put away a second flag bearing the same insult.

Curley said he hopes the new enforcement will satisfy residents who have complained and vendors who still want to sell their wares.

“It’s as far as we can go and respect the rights of all parties,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ve found that middle ground where everybody feels some benefit.”

Staff photographer Paul Bersebach contributed to this report.


Source: Orange County Register

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