Vendors selling T-shirts, flags, and apparel with political messages against President Biden, some containing expletives, have been the subject of controversy in Chino Hills over the past couple of weeks.

The pop-ups have appeared near the Albertsons shopping center on Grand Avenue and Peyton Drive and the 7-Eleven at Chino Hills Parkway and Pipeline Avenue.

Flags hoisted above the awnings and banners affixed to tables also contain expletives against the President.

The message on one of the T-shirts includes a vulgar reference to Vice President Kamala Harris in relation to the President.

Some apparel contains messages supporting Donald Trump.

Despite the language, the pop-up stores are legal, according to police and city officials.

Chino Hills building official Winston Ward said the owner has a business license under the name Brown & Associates of Los Angeles that was acquired in April. The owner is listed as David Brown.

The pop-ups are manned by employees who move around to various cities including Yorba Linda and Brea.

Political speech, even with expletives, is generally protected by the First Amendment, according to assistant city attorney Elizabeth Calciano.

“The First Amendment protects offensive speech, with very limited and narrow exceptions,” she said. “One of those exceptions, obscene speech, is not protected. But it is difficult to prove obscenity in court, even when the language is more sexually graphic than these T-shirts.”

Ms. Calciano said a United States Supreme Court case from 50 years ago, called Cohen v. California, held that a person wearing a similar T-shirt with political speech and with the same expletive, was protected under the First Amendment.

Sgt. Brian Lopez said the Chino Hills Police Department has received calls for service regarding the legality of such booths and concerns about the items being displayed.

“In response to the calls, the Chino Hills Police contacted vendors who presented a valid certificate and they were not found in violation of city ordinances or state law,” Sgt. Lopez said.

Proof of a business license is required by the city to receive a Chino Hills business license certificate, he said.

The sergeant said the city doesn’t have a sidewalk vendor permit requirement and street vendor sales are permitted under Senate Bill SB946.

Councilman Ray Marquez brought up the pop-ups during the April 27 council meeting, stating he was concerned they are reducing visibility at the intersections and possibly impeding the public’s ability to access the sidewalks.

Mr. Marquez said a solution to the problem would be a street vendor ordinance.

Ms. Calciano said city staff is working on such an ordinance in conjunction with the city attorney’s office that will be brought before the council shortly.

Chino Hills resident Candy Soares said even though the apparel contains a political theme, the messages are offensive “no matter which side people choose to align.”

She said common decency should be something over which all can agree.

Ms. Soares said Chino Hills is a peaceful, family-friendly city where “obscene trash” is not welcome. “People coming into our town trying to stir up hate don’t belong here,” she said. 

Sgt. Lopez said while the Chino Hills Police Department is sensitive to residents’ concerns, “we are also cognizant of the constitutionality of exercising free speech, especially regarding political opinions.”

An employee working one of the booths would not give her name and chose not to be interviewed but said she will remain in Chino Hills until directed by her boss to set up in another city.

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