I'm confident that most people in Salem consider illegal signs in the public right of way to be the abomination that they are. Ugly. Irritating. Trashy. Disrespectful of public property.
But after Salem Community Vision -- a group dedicated to improving the livability and vitality of our town -- praised the City Council for making a stronger commitment to remove illegally placed temporary signs, and warned that Kelly's Home Center once again may be visually polluting Salem with lots of illegal signs this Labor Day weekend, some lovers of those signs popped up on Facebook.
Notably, Ashlee Bell Wright, who posted a curious event: "Stop Salem Community Vision from Targeting Small Businesses." Here's the gist of what Wright is bothered about. She said:
They [Salem Community Vision] have shown up to every city council meeting to voice their complaints, mind you, there are only THREE Salem citizens on this board, and they're trying to represent the community's majority opinion. They're trying to get the city to start enforcing a stricter sign code: every quarter, city workers will canvas the city and force ANY small business found in "violation" can be ticketed and their signs will be confiscated. They've started to target Kelly's Furniture store, local downtown food businesses who use sand which boards, and medical marijuana sites.
This affects all of us. Our local small businesses need to put signs out to get their business. Many small businesses are not known by tourists, have just opened and are trying to gather regular customers, or are simply trying to promote business. In addition, our tax dollars will be put to fruitless use. Would you rather this money go to pay for new infrastructure or city parks, or to enforce a sign code violation that will clog up council meetings and enrage a large part of our community. SCV's page has been flooded by our Salem community with voices of disagreement, and a page that preaches about sharing the "vision of our community" has NOT been listening.
Wow. There's so much wrong here. As a member of the Salem Community Vision (SCV) steering committee, let me count some of the ways:
(1) Small thing, but actually four out of six SCV committee members live in Salem. I have a Salem address outside the city limits. Another member lives in Silverton. And about a thousand people have "liked" the SCV Facebook page, so we have many supporters.
(2) Geting rid of ugly illegal signs has been a long-term commitment of Salem Community Vision, not a recent cause. Several years ago we publicized our project, "End the blight of temporary signs in the public right-of way."
Hundreds of signs in the public rights-of-way in Salem are a form of visual pollution that degrades our city and sends a message to visitors and people who might like to relocate here that we don't care about our streetscapes. These illegal signs (along with an overabundance of legal signs allowed by Salem's too-permissive sign ordinances) make streets like Lancaster, Liberty, Commercial and Market Street look tacky and trashy. Since these are major arterials, these streets leave a terrible impression that scenic parts of our city, like our historic downtown or the Capitol Mall area, cannot erase.
(3) The fact that Salem has an longstanding ordinance that bans temporary signs in the public right of way is a pretty good, um, sign that this reflects a majority citizen view. So does the fact that, as mentioned above, the City Council has recently called on City staff to enforce that ordinance more strongly.
(4) So it isn't Salem Community Vision that is targeting businesses who use public property for a private advertising purpose. Rather, SCV is simply asking the City of Salem to enforce the ordinance that bans temporary signs in the public right-of-way. We're not anti-business. We're anti-illegal signs. Businesses like Kelly's are just a major offender of the sign ordinance.
Here's what I told Wright in a comment on one of her Facebook postings where she said, in part:
Hey y'all, Salem Community vision is back at it again, this time targeting local businesses like Kelly's Furniture Store. Our local business have made our city thrive, and SCV has recently managed to convince the City Council to fine and confiscate businesses that have signs that "violate sign code". This will affect our small businesses, as well as fruitlessly use our tax dollars.
I replied with:
Why do you have "violate sign code" in quotation marks? Kelly's really is violating the Salem sign code. If you don't like what I and others in Salem Community Vision are doing -- getting people to comply with the City of Salem sign ordinance -- you should focus on getting the ordinance changed to allow signs in the public right of way, Good luck with that, by the way, because this would be very unpopular among both citizens and a clear majority of the City Council.
Wright is asking people to come to the September 11 City Council meeting and urge that illegal signs in the public right of way be allowed to stay up.
Like I said, good luck with that.
I'm confident that most Salemians don't want our town to become Trashy Sign City USA. As Kathleen Hill cogently testified at a recent City Council meeting, these days there are many better ways for businesses to advertise and make their existence known to prospective customers.
Such as, Facebook and other social media. Providing excellent services at a reasonable cost. Word of mouth spread by satisfied customers. Have a look and listen.
Lastly, I wonder what other undesirable activities currently banned by a city ordinance might attract boosters. Here's one that comes to mind.
"Stop the City of Salem from targeting litterbugs! Everybody has a right to dispose of trash wherever they want, like the sidewalk!"