Lady Liberty gets day in court

DOWNEY - Hiral Kapadia and her husband Dhaval Oza are seeking liberty in court April 1 as they claim injustice over a City of Downey Code Enforcement ticket received Jan. 22.Kapadia, owner of Liberty Tax Service, received the citation for sitting two buckets of flags on the sidewalk and allowing an employee dressed as Lady Liberty to stand outside her business. The ticket cites "Unlawful display of signs and subject on street attracting attention to business" as a violation of Downey Municipal Code 9614-02. The day before being issued the ticket, Kapadia had received a violation notice in the mail for displaying a portable directional parking sign without a permit. "I brought the sign in and stopped sitting out our A-frame signs because the city adopted a new ordinance in October prohibiting use of A-frame signs on the sidewalk," Kapadia said. "When they tell me I can't do something, I immediately comply. But I still see portable A-frame signs on sidewalks all over Downey in front of other businesses. Why doesn't code enforcement say something to them and keep coming to my business?" "Code Enforcement just showed up the day after I received the notice in the mail and wrote me a ticket because an employee was standing outside wearing the Liberty costume in front of our business. I really feel harassed - why couldn't they just give me a warning? For three years they have come to my business looking for violations, yet the code isn't clear and code enforcement isn't treating all the businesses fairly." Kapadia and co-owner Oza claim the city's municipal code does not clearly address the use of costumes to advertise a business and that equal enforcement is not being used. "Every morning I see protestors using their free speech in front of the abortion clinic. They are using portable signs which businesses aren't allowed to use and aren't they distracting traffic? They even block other businesses," Oza said. "Non-profits can demonstrate and advertise on the sidewalks. I can have my employees stand outside advertising 'Cell Phones for Soldiers' but I can't have them stand in front of my business advertising my business even though we belong to the Chamber of Commerce and contribute to the city?" "We create eight or nine jobs every year for the costume wearers during a time when there are no jobs. Now we can't offer jobs because the costume isn't allowed. I don't understand because we are a non-hostile business and don't bother other businesses because we stay in front of our own." An investigation by The Downey Patriot this week revealed multiple businesses displaying A-frame signs and mannequins on the Firestone Boulevard sidewalk - just blocks from Liberty Tax Service. Someone wearing a chicken costume advertising a Cuban bakery was also found on Florence Avenue waving at traffic across the street from the business. "We have a finite number of officers out there looking at the businesses so we respond according to complaints," said Downey Police Department Cpt. Jim McCullough. "We are taking a look at the whole ordinance since it is new, and what we're looking for is what's currently in place and what's fair to the community." Code Enforcement Officer Robert Weinrich, who wrote the Liberty Tax Service citation, was unavailable for comment. "It is not equal enforcement," Oza said. "They come by three or four times during the tax season so we feel singled out. They need to make wearing costumes clear in the code and fairly enforce the code across the board." ********** Published: January 30, 2009 - Volume 7 - Issue 41