Letter: Let’s ban campaign signs on public right of ways in Edmonds

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Editor:

We have recently started a dialogue on whether or not or not campaign signs should be regulated in Edmonds. I believe they should be, and that they should be restricted only to property with the property owners’ consent. The 50 or so signs that clutter up every public right of way is visual pollution as far as I am concerned.

This property belongs to us the public. We can regulate what we want to allow on our property. I say let’s pass an ordinance that keeps campaign signs off of our property. For those of you who think we cannot constitutionally do this I have a copy
of the ordinance passed by the  city of Pismo Beach Ca. coming for our review.

I have broached the issue with A.C.E. and we will be continuing discussion at future meetings. Several of the regular commentators of topics that appear in this publication have their own opinions about this topic. I would like to get as many views as possible
on the table before approaching the City Council, or not. Lets hear your thoughts.

Dave Page
Edmonds

24 COMMENTS

  1. I agree with you Mr. Page, the signs are out of control, unsightly, and in many cases are placed in positons blocking views for motorists entering streets and are also dangerous.

  2. Dave:
    I doubt that campaign signs can be restricted in the manner that you wish. Nevertheless I oppose your proposal because candidates challenging incumbents would be disadvantaged. Incumbents have name recognition, well placed campaign signs help opponents overcome that handicap.

  3. I agree with Ron. I find this idea to be contrary to a good democracy. Elections need to be a little annoying to wake some people out of their stupor.

    Also, you’re going to need a better example than Pismo Beach. The “Collier v. City of Tacoma” decision that Priya linked to applies to the State of Washington. California cities are not subject to this ruling.

  4. In a Pre-Hearing Brief to the former Edmonds’ Hearing Examiner dated October 1, 2009, the former Edmonds’ City Attorney represented the following:

    Holders of easements in favor of the public have a duty to remove obstructions and encroachments into the public rights of way. RCW 7.48.140(4) declares it to be a public nuisance to “. . . obstruct or encroach upon a public highway, private ways, streets, alleys . . .”

    Municipalities have a duty to remove obstructions in the public ways and liability if they fail to do so. Lund v. City of Seattle, 99 Wash. 300, 169 P. 820 (1918); Turner v. City of Tacoma, 72 Wn.2d 1029, 435 P. 2d 927 (1967).

    In the two paragraphs above: There is no differentiation between opened or unopened public rights of way. There is no differentiation between the improved or unimproved portions of public rights of way. There is no consideration given to constitutional rights to employ portions of the right of way, even the rights of citizens owning fee title to the property underlying the right-of-way.

    This adds another element to this dialogue. As Edmonds is on the record that it has a duty to remove obstructions in the public ways and liability if they fail to do so, how does the City reconcile this duty with federal and state free speech protections provided by both constitutions?

  5. Joe, as Mr. Murdock states in post 1 above, in many cases signs are placed in positons blocking views for motorists entering streets and are also dangerous.

    Furthermore, the former City Attorney made his October 1, 2009 argument related to an unopened 7 1/2 foot wide right-of-way inadequate for any vehicle travel. If the law only related to obstructing vehicles, what would have motivated him to make this argument?

  6. If signs are blocking views and making it dangerous for vehicles to enter roadways, they should be moved. We don’t need a new law for that. I doubt that very many signs would be affected by enforcing that existing law. I would have no problem with enforcing it.

    I’m not going to try to figure out what Mr. Snyder meant about that specific right-of-way. I don’t think that case has anything to do with temporary signs. I’m just reading the actual text of the law. Anyway, after some of the extraordinary bad advice Snyder gave the city, I give his statements little credence.

  7. Here’s my understanding on signs:

    1) State Supreme Court ruled that right-of-ways are traditional public forums
    and therefore sign cannot be banned there. The city cannot even limit the time when signs go up.
    2) If the city takes the “dare to sue us” approach, and bans or limits sign anyway,
    the person who sues us to undo the ordinance gets his attorney’s fees paid.
    Banning signs just create an easy profitable case for the ACLU.

    However…

    3) The supreme court does make exceptions, like parks.
    If the city would expand the boundary of yost park to the other side of main street,
    the city could legally ban signs in that major clutter zone.
    4) Another exception is landscaped areas. If city did some landscaping in clutter zones,
    the city effectively bans signs there. This costs money, but I would rather spend money
    on landscaping than lawyers

  8. I think there is a compromise- only one sign per candidate within a certain area. I have counted up to seven for one candidate in a bunch. I’d be happy to volunteer to remove any extra signs…….

  9. What if the right of way is maintained by the adjecent landowner? What if that land owner was required by the city to maintain that right of way as part of a development agreement? Does that land owner have the right to remove political signs? What about other comercial signs like “tree service”? “Student Painters?” “Football signup”, “pancake breakfast” “house for sale” I am all for free speech, and political speech but when it is one my property or property I am obligated to maintain I would like to protect that property and remove the clutter placed their by others.

  10. Dave, before we talk about passing new ordinances,we should look at how we are going to enforce them and how much it costs. My opinion is no ordinance without how we inforce and how to fund if appropriate

  11. I guess I was lucky since none of the signs blocked my view when I came to an intersection. Perhaps candidates put up lots of signs to make up for the ones that are taken. Democracy is a little messy. I am not in favor of a new ordinance.

  12. There would be a number of ways to enforce any ordinance without any “real” added costs. Here are but 3.
    1. Have the code enforcement officer drive to work and from work using a different route for the few days that are beyond the allowed sign posting period, picking up signs as they go.
    2. We have city employees from all depts driving all over town every day. For a couple of days after the allowed period ask them to pitch in and pick up.
    3. Allow citizens the right to pick up and dispose of the signs for the days immediately following the posting period.

    Carol in 10 above and maybe Dave, and I know I would help, all seem to be willing to help. Removing them could be easy if only we had the right.

  13. It may not be possible legally to follow Mr. Pages suggestion. However, it appears a couple candidates did follow it somewhat on their own. One candidate put up very few signs and seemed to do well against the incumbent as did others. It seems folks found a better way to get the message across without littering the nice Edmonds landscape with the most signs.

  14. It is ridiculous that those signs are still up! How would you like it if I kept my real estate for sale signs up well after a house had sold?

  15. Good point Ms. Krull, most agents are very conscientous about their signs. I picked up 6 election signs alone on my morning walk this morning to get them in plain sight so they get picked up. None of them were Edmonds races by the way. I have done this before as well as move ones obstructing views of our neighborhood motorists. I noticed the sign that was moved had another one put in it’s place soon by another candidate and another neighbor took it down.We can all do this but why should we have to? Don’t we all have better things to do?

  16. This month’s election resulted in two strong messages from the voters – they want a new mayor and no increase in taxes. It’s reasonable to assume that voters also do not want any decrease in city services. The result of all of this is that our new mayor and city council have a major objective to achieve – finding more revenue; not sometime in the far future, but in 2012.

    This campaign sign issue can be lumped together with controlling cats, allowing chickens, and banning plastic bags, as issues of very little relative importance. Let’s not give our elected officials one more reason to “fiddle while Rome burns”. Their focus needs to be on formulating legislation that will facilitate the development of more revenue – now!

  17. During the Proposition 1 TBD campaign a year ago, approximately 75% of the signs were stolen. At $5 per sign that was a theft of about $ 1,500 . That does not include the time and travel expenses to order the signs, pick up the signs, assemble the signs and install the signs. I think this is an issue that the City Council and Police Department should address.

  18. The city should give the candidates one week after elections and for every sign found after that week, they will be fined $125 for each sign the police gather – payable immediately from the name on the sign to the city where it was found. For every day delayed beyond the one week period the city will add an additional $250 per day fine. That way make each candidate responsible for gathering up their signs or pay the consequences.

  19. This is an excellent, timely and civilized discussion. Thank you to all who have offered thoughtful suggestions and to Teresa for facilitating idea exchanges of this type on her blog.

    I strongly support our First Amendment rights to express ourselves publicly. That said, I would support some restrictions: 1) Require a “return to” ID — name, address and phone number–on each sign posted in public rights of way, regardless of the nature (including garage sale or special event signs!)

    2) Not more than one sign by the same candidate or other entity could be posted at any intersection or within a minimal distance (maybe 300 yards) between. Signs posted more densely, that create a hazard to drivers or pedestrians, block other candidates’ signs, or lack the ID information could be removed by any citizen provided they notify the poster whose ID is on the sign or drop the sign at the “return to” address posted. Citizens removing signs without notifying the posting entity could be charged with theft of the sign, should the posting entity wish to file a complaint.

    3) Signs left up more than two days after the election, sale or other event are fair game to be removed and destroyed by any citizen, regardless of the ID on the sign.

    I hope this adds something to the discussion. Thanks!

  20. None of us want to ad to the cities cost of doing business. I like # 22 the best so far.
    Most folks putting up these signs would honor the city ordinance, put it on the honor system. It’s the 10 signs compacted into a tight area that is a problem and or the signs
    posted 10ft. apart for a hundred yards bearing the same persons name. Their is a solution.
    Disregard Ron Wambolts comments, he is a communist sympathizer. I think I saw him down at the occupy Seattle movement holding a sign that said down with yard signs.
    LOL.
    Dave

  21. By the way:
    I now have a copy of the sign ordinance from Arroyo Grande California.
    I talked to public works there and they told me that they have never had a challenge
    or complaint and have had many citizens express what a relief it is to get campaign signs off of the public right of ways.

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