WESTFIELD, NJ — A sign reading “love trumps hate” posted by homeowners Valerie Latona and David Contract on their fence on Rahway Avenue have been ripped down, spray-painted, slashed and shot with what appears to be an Airsoft gun. Now it's in its third iteration since November after damaged signs were replaced, it's accompanied by a “wall of love” sign and dozens of Valentine’s Day hearts created by others.
Latona said that Westfield’s zoning official told her last week that it all has to go.
The couple served coffee, hot chocolate and doughnuts on Valentine’s Day to dozens of people, inviting them to add hearts with messages of love to the fence. The next day, Latona said, she got a call from zoning official Kathleen Neville.
Neville has not responded to requests for comments.
“She said, ‘You need to take down your signage,’” Latona said. “She said she’s sending us a letter that we’re in violation.”
Latona said that Neville cited Westfield's land use ordinance (section 16.04) that dictates that single-family homes may only have one sign, which can only be used to display the home’s street address.
“Meanwhile, we’ve got merry Christmas signs, Westfield Swimming, Westfield Football signs — I’m not criticizing, but let’s talk about this,” Latona said. “You have new baby signs, graduation signs. It’s discriminatory.”
For help, Latona turned to attorney Mitch Beinhaker, a Westfield resident who specializes in trusts and estates, small businesses representation and real estate. Beinhaker said he hasn’t reviewed the municipal statute yet, but he believes that this enforcement is arbitrary and capricious.
He noted that political signs were posted all around town.
“Are you enforcing the law arbitrarily or are you doing it consistently?” he asked. “It doesn’t sound like there’s anything consistent about it.”
Beinhaker added that Westfield's law prohibiting signs might violate First Amendment rights. He said that he and a few other lawyers in town are looking into the matter.
“It’s sad that they would selectively enforce a law for a wall about love,” said Latona, who has stated in the past that the “love trumps hate” message is about values, not political parties.
Latona said she watched parents putting up hearts with their children.
“It’s amazing how much this wall means to people,” Latona said. “We’re not backing down.”