With all the problems in our country (and the world) right now, I understand why some people feel it is wrong to get upset about the many illegal signs littering the public right of way in Salem.
OK, I understand. But I heartily disagree that this isn't important. It is!
Salem's quality of life -- along with our ability to project a positive image to visitors and people/businesses who might want to move here -- is diminished when illegal signs proliferate along our streets, making this town look like a perpetual garage sale.
Lots of the signs are placed by businesses such as Kelly's Home Furnishings. Kelly's periodically puts dozens on signs on the public right of way, getting free advertising at the public's expense. See: "Take down those illegal signs, Kelly's (and other Salem sign scofflaws)."
The current City of Salem sign ordinance requires that someone wanting to put a temporary sign in the public right of way get approval from City officials if the sign is within the city limits.
But revisions to the sign ordinance up for review at tomorrow's City Council meeting do away with the need for this approval, since the proposed revised ordinance eliminates SRC 900.100. The prohibition on temporary signs in the public right of way remains, though.
Well, this doesn't seem like progress.
As several neighborhood associations and individuals concerned about illegal signs noted in comments on the revised ordinance, doing away with the need to get approval for temporary signs in the public right of way sends the message, "Hey, go ahead and place your illegal signs. No permit required now!"
Here's some of the comments:
Northeast Neighbors neighborhood association
South Central Association of Neighbors
Thus rather than enforcing the prohibition of signs in the public right of way, the City of Salem wants to make it easier to place these signs by doing away with the current requirement to get approval for such signs. Apparently the rationale is that few people are doing the right thing and requesting approval, so why not allow anyone to easily put up illegal signs?
I can think of several reasons.
(1) Requiring approval for temporary signs opens the door to charging a fee for such a permit. Why should Kelly's and other businesses be allowed to use the public right of way for free advertising? If Kelly's wants to put up dozens of signs advertising a sale, then Kelly's should have to pay for this privilege.
(2) Having a fee schedule for permits to place temporary signs in the right of way would generate income that could be used to pay for a Code Enforcement person to manage the proliferation of such signs. Currently the City of Salem says it doesn't have the money to fund this position. Yet the City isn't taking any steps to generate fees from temporary sign permits -- and now is going further backwards by doing away with the requirement to get approval to put temporary signs in the public right of way,
(3) Eliminating the possibility of getting approval for a temporary sign in the public right of way via the current 900.100 means that there is no way -- none, nada, zilch -- any such sign should be in the public right of way at any time. But there is no indication that the City of Salem intends to enforce this absolute prohibition should the revised sign ordinance be approved.
Meaning, it would be one thing if the City of Salem was eliminating the possibility of getting approval for signs in the public right of way because it intends to crack down hard on sign scofflaws. However, if this is the case, City officials need to make that explicit at tomorrow's City Council meeting, explaining how they are now going to enforce an ordinance that prohibits signs in the public right of way -- now without any way to get approval to go around this prohibition.
The staff report on the proposed sign ordinance changes is confusing in this regard. It says that most illegal signs in the public right of way don't require a permit.
Both the current and proposed sign ordinances say "no temporary sign should be installed in or project over public right of way." There is no exemption for certain types of signs, such of those mentioned above (lawn signs, rigid signs, A-Frame signs). So along with the neighborhood associations, I'm perplexed by the staff report's contention that those sorts of temporary signs don't require approval under the current sign ordinance.
It sure looks like the intent of the proposed change is to make it easier for people and businesses to place temporary signs in the public right of way without having to worry about getting a permit or paying a fine. Like I said, this would be a big step backward for Salem -- which should be working to eliminate the plethora of illegal signs rather than encouraging them.
I'll end by noting that when I visit a town that doesn't allow temporary signs in the public right of way, I'm always impressed by what a difference this makes.
For example, my wife and I frequently visit Sisters, Oregon. The town has strict zoning/appearance rules, obviously, because the commercial area looks classy, tasteful, attractive, and temporary sign-free. Ditto with where my daughter lives, Laguna Niguel, California.
Somehow both towns get along fine without temporary signs in the public right of way. In fact, both towns appear to be prospering without them.
Our City officials need to grasp that both quality of life and economic development flow from making a town a desirable place to live and work in. It is short-sighted to believe that allowing tacky visual sign pollution is a good thing for Salem.