Friday, July 20, 2007

DA OKs ripping signs from utility poles

A week ago I wrote Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schrunk an open letter asking whether I would be in violation of the law for my dogged, civic-minded tearing down of commercial signs ("1-800-Got Junk," "College House Painters," "Jobdango" etc.) posted on utility poles in the public right of way. An Oregonian story had reported that Schrunk's office questioned the constitutionality of a city ordinance prohibiting posting such signs in the public right of way.

Today I got a interesting response from Schrunk. Bottom line: I'm free to rip these little blighters off the poles. Unanswered: What exactly are the constitutional concerns that the DA's office and the Portland City Commissioners have?

Here's what Schrunk wrote:

Dear Mr. Seifert:

I have reviewed the questions you posed in your email regarding
signs on utility poles. I understand and appreciate your concern for the
blight caused by numerous signs being posted or attached to utility
poles in your neighborhood and others. Pursuant to Oregon law, my office
has been given responsibility for prosecution of Portland City criminal
ordinances. However, in this case, the Portland City Council has
expressed concerns about this ordinance and a desire to rework its
applicability from a constitutional perspective. The ordinance you cite
in your email, Advertising on the Streets, was enacted by the Portland
City Council many years ago. However, in 2002 both City Council and the
Portland City Attorney's office expressed concern about the
constitutionality of the language in this ordinance. At that time, the
City Council stated that they would be discussing this "controversial
item" with the intent to propose new language that they believed was
constitutionally supportable. However, as of this date, that apparently
has never been done.

In regards to your specific questions regarding whether you are
guilty of theft if you remove signs placed on utility poles, which are
indeed private property. My office would not prosecute a person for
taking signs off a utility pole that were not placed there by the owner
of the pole or placed there with the owner's permission. It would be
necessary for any person intending to remove anything from the private
property of another to ensure that the removal was with the permission
of the property owner.

The same reasoning applies to removing graffiti found on public
property. My office would not prosecute a person for removing graffiti
that was placed on public property as long as the owner of the public
property-i.e. the City, the County, or other governmental agencies-had
not granted permission for that graffiti to be placed on that public
property. Again, however, given some of the precarious places that
graffiti can be found, a person seeking to remove graffiti from the
property of another should first check with the property owner for

Again, I do appreciate your concern for what you describe as
"massive signage blight," and I hope this response addresses your

Very truly yours,

Michael D. Schrunk

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Mr. Schrunk's letter he says that the "Portland City Attorney" and the City Council expressed concerns about the language of the ordinance. So it's not Schrunk's office (which is the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office) that had the original concern, but the City's own lawyers. Schrunk's office prosecutes criminal violations of Portland City Ordinances but they don't write them.
Apparently expressing concern was as far as Portland City Council got -- they never actually changed the ordinance. "Expressing concern" often means that they don't think they'd win if somebody challenged the constitutionality of that law. Fixing it may still be on their list of things to do ;-)

So unless you're taking down signs put there or authorized by the property owner, it seems like you can go ahead.

8:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You honestly need to find a hobby! It seems like they are just trying to drum up business.

6:43 AM  
Blogger Rick Seifert said...

I think we have two "anonymouses" here.

Regarding the city attorney: The issue got my attention when The Oregonian reported that the DA wouldn't prosecute. I have been telling those who post signs in the public right of way that they could be prosecuted. The "constitutional concerns" are important, but more important to me is that the DA has decided not to prosecute and that what I am telling violators doesn't seem to be true.

I strongly suspect that anonymous #2 is one of those doing the posting. The tone is similar to a that of a response I received when I wrote on this subject some months back. It also reflects the tone I encountered in a phone conversation with an executive with one of the companies that routinely posts on utility poles and in other places in the public right-of-way.

In any case, anonymous #2 doesn't see the consequences of massive sign posting in the public right of way. Apparently it is inconceivable that such posting might result in blight. Be he seems to believe that the "benefit" to his company trumps any of my (your?) concerns. His conclusion is that anyone like me (you?) should "get a job," I suspect through Jobdango.

7:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although the comments here are most likely from a year ago, the issue still stands. My thoughts are: are not the ones removing the signs just as guilty if not more so than the ones putting them up. Destruction of private property seems to come into play, where's the ones putting them up may or may not be violating a city ordinance, but it is definitely not unlawful according to the police department. The question arises that if the ones who are removing the signs are also removing lost kitten, lost puppy, lost child signs, for what difference does it make what the wording is a sign is a sign according to their blight scale. Or are they only against free enterprise, and people making money from the signs, if so then they should be removing garage sale signs, and have been for bid they should ever put up a sign, and they would have to immediately remove it. Take it or leave it that's my thoughts.

4:04 PM  

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