Scott McLean’s Chevy Malibu was legally parked on Old Dominion Boulevard in Alexandria on a fall day two years ago. But a ticket was tucked under his windshield wiper anyway.
He’d been assessed a $40 fine for violating the city’s ban on displaying “For Sale” signs on vehicles parked on the street.
McLean paid the ticket — reluctantly. And he didn’t forget.
Now he wants to sell his 2007 Dodge Ram truck, again by placing a price sticker and phone number in the window.
Rather than risking another citation, he called the Pacific Legal Foundation, a Sacramento-based libertarian organization that can’t stand it when government seems to encroach on individual liberties.
“I can put a bumper sticker on my vehicle about my religious views and moral views,” said McLean, 35 and a lawyer. “Those pocketbook issues are just as important. For me, free speech doesn’t have any qualifiers.”
Last week, McLean and the foundation filed a lawsuit against the Alexandria government, calling the city’s decades-old no-sale-sign statute an arbitrary ban on commercial speech that violates the First Amendment.
“We need the court to formally recognize the importance of the right to advertise and the ability to earn a living,” attorney Christina Martin said. “Free speech is essential to free enterprise.”
Why, the lawsuit asks, should John Doe’s or Jane Doe’s personal automobile be treated differently? Alexandria City Attorney James Banks says he doesn’t really have an answer.
Section 10-4-3(a) of the Alexandria City Code, which bans parking a vehicle on city streets with the intent to sell it, was written in 1963, he said. There are similar statutes across the country, both the city and the foundation agree.
Files in Alexandria City Hall are unclear on how and why the law came into existence.
The last time that a ticket for violating Section 10-4-3(a) of the city code was issued was in May, Banks said. The vehicle’s owner, Robert “Chug” Roberts, appealed the citation, and the city dropped it two weeks ago.
Banks said Friday that he will review the law in light of McLean’s lawsuit and make a recommendation to the city council on whether it should be removed from the books. If it is, the city would likely move to have the lawsuit dismissed.
Late Tuesday, the city announced that it will suspend enforcement of the law while it is under review. Spokesman Craig Fifer first said that the lawsuit was not the cause of the suspension, then added: “Certainly, we’re mindful of the pending lawsuit . . . but it was under consideration before the lawsuit was filed.”
The city council has been methodically working to eliminate outdated laws over the past year, including a ban on shoeshine stands, known as the “boot-black statute,” and provisions that barred unmarried people from “lewd and lascivious” cohabitation.
“We have no practice of standing upon laws we think are invalid or unconstitutional,” Banks said. “We are cleaning up, but we have to do it within our existing resources.”
Two years ago, after McLean was ticketed, he moved his Malibu and its “For Sale” sign to a street just outside Alexandria city limits. The car sold six months later.
As for the truck, McLean is holding off on selling it, awaiting the resolution of the lawsuit. His “For Sale” sign is tucked away at home.
“I can’t put it up,” he said Monday. “It’s against the law.”