Officials of the Southern California city said they were notified by residents that street vendors were selling items against President Joe Biden and in favor of former President Donald Trump that contained offensive slogans inappropriate for children. The law requires the bottom two-thirds of any explicit or vulgar depiction on merchandise to be covered up when in public view.
Mission Viejo City Attorney Bill Curley told The Epoch Times the city “greatly respects the First Amendment” but that “half the community is outraged.”
“Some are saying, ‘This isn’t my community, this isn’t my city. My kids don’t have to see that,’” Curley said. “The other half of the town seems to be embracing it, they’re buying this stuff.
“If they weren’t buying it, these [vendors] would certainly probably go away. They’re not going to just sit there for no reason.”
Curley said vendors will be asked to cover up the graphic language or take down the items. The vendors will be given an “educational and collegial” warning before officials issue daily citations of up to $500 if they fail to comply.
He added that officials have created a handout to give to vendors before they’re cited, to explain what the order means and how they should cover up any merchandise.
“We understand the Constitution, but we also understand sometimes there’s harmful information that minors shouldn’t be exposed to,” he said. “Whether or not they’ll see it on the internet or here … regardless, minors shouldn’t be exposed to this.”
The city attorney said vendors have been selling their merchandise for a majority of the election cycle, and most residents understood the various political views that came during the campaign season. But when the election was over, some residents became irritated with the continued politically charged messaging.
He said the climate of the country shifted after the election, from more promotional activity to viewpoints about the outcome. “We really have not experienced that after presidential elections before,” he said.
Another issue that arose was the size of the merchandise. Selling T-shirts with graphic terms was difficult to see from far away, Curley said, but then vendors began selling 8-foot flag poles with explicit curse words in large, readable letters.
“Now it’s right in your face, and it caught people’s attention,” he said.
Unlike most cities in Orange County, Mission Viejo doesn’t require a business license for people to conduct operations. Almost anyone is allowed to become a street vendor in the city.