There was a lot of discussion about illegal temporary signs in the public right-of-way at last night's City Council meeting. Here's some great testimony by Kathleen Hill on changes to the City of Salem sign ordinance that go in the wrong direction when it comes to illegal signs.
(See my previous post, "City Council needs to enforce ban against temporary signs in public right of way.")
As Hill said, signs left on utility poles or stuck in the ground on the public right of way between sidewalk and street are indeed trash. And they make Salem look trashy, unappealing to visitors and people thinking of moving here.
Councilor Cara Kaser picked up on Hill's comment, wondering why, if it would be legal to throw away a Big Gulp container left in the public right of way, it isn't OK to throw away an illegal sign left in the right of way.
City Attorney Dan Atchison responded to Kaser, saying that state law treats these signs as abandoned property, so if an illegal sign is removed, some effort must be made to find the owner.
This seems ridiculous to me.
But laws often don't make sense, so I'll bow to the City Attorney's legal knowledge (even though I've happily thrown away some illegal signs placed on utility poles and felt good doing so). City staff have said that it is perfectly fine to take down illegal signs and lay them on the ground, so everybody in Salem who dislikes illegal signs should do this when you come across one.
City staff admitted that no fines are being levied against individuals and businesses who shamelessly litter Salem with their illegal signs. Amazingly, supposedly someone placing an illegal sign has to be caught in the act -- even though it sure seems like a Kelly's sign advertising a sale is a pretty damn good clue as to who put it in the public right of way.
Fortunately, action on the proposed revisions to the sign ordinance was put off for two weeks, until the August 28 City Council meeting. Between now and then, city councilors who are concerned about the lack of enforcement against illegal temporary signs will be able to consult with staff on ways to deal with the problem.
I didn't attend last night's City Council meeting, watching parts of it being streamed on CCTV. I did watch most of the sign ordinance discussion. It was encouraging that quite a few people, some representing neighborhood associations, testified about how something needs to be done about temporary illegal signs.
Googling this issue, I learned a few things about how some other Oregon cities handle the problem. Sherwood only allows signs in the public right of way during weekend hours.
Between 6:00 AM on Friday to 6:00 PM on Sunday, ONLY portable signs 18 inches X 24 inches or smaller or A-Frame signs no taller than 4 feet and no greater than 7 square feet are permitted in the right of way.
This seems like a good idea. Someone having a garage sale, for example, can put out a sign from Friday evening to Sunday evening. Any signs in the public right of way at other times are illegal.
And Tualatin has a Temporary Signs web page. Here's what it says about a citizen's ability to remove illegal signs.
Can I remove signs at intersection or on utility poles?
Yes a resident can remove stake signs from the major intersections and signs attached to poles and street signs. Removed signs can be placed face down in the nearby landscaping and will be picked up during regular maintenance.
Tualatin also has a brochure on this subject. Here's a screenshot of what is legal and illegal.
Clearly the City of Salem should be doing a lot more to enforce its ban on temporary signs in the public right of way. I recall that City staff said that their not-good-enough idea is to have city employees run around quarterly in a pickup, collecting illegal signs.
Well, this is better than nothing, but not much better.
There needs to be a continuous ongoing effort to remove illegal signs. This shouldn't rely solely on volunteers. Individuals and businesses who leave sign trash in the right of way need to know that almost as soon as a sign is put up, it will be taken down. Fines also need to be imposed on repeat lawbreakers such as Kelly's.
Hopefully the City Council will come up with ways to strengthen the current ban on temporary signs in the public right of way, which isn't being enforced.
The public outcry against these signs at last night's meeting was a pleasing sign (and a legal one) that people in Salem are mad as hell about the proliferation of illegal signs and don't want to take it anymore.