Susannah Rosenblatt, Los Angeles Times, June 24, 2008
Caltrans has abruptly suspended its popular Adopt-A-Highway program several months after an anti-illegal immigration group sued the state agency for discrimination after it was forced to move its stretch of highway farther from a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint along Interstate 5 in San Diego County.
State transportation officials have decided to put pending Adopt-A-Highway permits on hold while they review guidelines for the program, which allows groups and individuals to clean litter from a designated stretch of state road in exchange for a highway sign featuring the name of the business or organization.
Existing permits will remain in effect as the state Office of Administrative Law reviews the program’s rules, said Edward Cartagena, Caltrans spokesman for District 11, which covers San Diego and Imperial counties. He could not estimate how long that process might take; state officials say they will seek public comment on the evaluation of the 19-year-old program.
Caltrans suspended applications June 17, Cartagena said. The decision comes more than four months after the San Diego Minutemen filed a federal lawsuit against the state agency, accusing it of discrimination and violation of free speech after Caltrans moved the group’s sign. Saying that the location south of San Clemente could draw protesters, Caltrans moved the Minutemen’s piece of road to a less-trafficked spot on California 52 in eastern San Diego County near Santee.
The founder of the San Diego Minutemen, Jeff Schwilk, said Monday that the agency’s decision follows his group’s failed attempt to adopt a different part of Interstate 5 last month. Schwilk says Caltrans officials allowed Jobing.com the piece of road 4 to 6 miles south of the checkpoint even though that business applied for the spot later. The agency then offered them a different freeway in the “middle of nowhere,” he said.
Caltrans estimates that more than 120,000 people have helped tidy state thoroughfares. According to the agency website, “the Adopt-A-Highway program is not a forum for advertising or public discourse.”
[Editor’s Note: The earlier story on this controvery can be read here.]