Friday, July 13, 2007

Letter to the District Attorney

Following up on yesterday's post regarding the constitutionality of "illegal" signs on utility poles, I sent the following e-mail to DA Michael Schrunk's office today.

One question is whether it is worth the taxpayers' money for Schunk's office to respond. We'll find out. My money is on no response. How about yours?

Here's what I wrote:

I read the C1 Metro story in yesterday's Oregonian with particular interest as I regularly remove signs placed illegally on utility poles in our neighborhood of Hillsdale. In my car, I carry a long pipe, which I use to swat down signs placed beyond normal reach. As a courtesy, I often phone the numbers on the signs to inform sign owners that their signs are illegally placed on the poles and that I have taken them down. I also ask that they cease putting them up in our neighborhood, adding pointedly that because of the ordinance forbidding the signs, there could be a penalty associated with the postings. In other words, I may report repeated postings to the authorities. Then appealing to sweet reason and civic pride, I further note that if every business posted signs on our utility poles, the entire city would be a blighted maze of signs. Hence the anti-posting ordinance. I "personalize" the issue with this question: How would you like every pole in your neighborhood were covered with signs? Now, if I read The Oregonian story correctly, your office questions the constitutionality of the ordinance and has decided not to prosecute violations of it. Obviously that undercuts my argument to violators. Indeed, it may serve as an open invitation for hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses, to post all shapes and sizes of signs on Portland's utility poles, which, if I am correct, are actually owned by the utilities (Does that make them private property?) So here are some questions? If I remove these signs, which you seem to deem constitutionally legal, am I guilty of theft? Or are they considered "abandoned property" like litter in the public right-of-way, which I can legally remove? Why did the City Attorney not alert the council to the constitutionality issue when the council passed this measure? Certainly someone must have raised "First Amendment" questions. Is graffiti written on public property also protected? Are those of us who remove it guilty of some crime? If graffiti were written on a placard and placed in the public right of way, would it be legal? Would obscenity make a difference? Portland may be weird, but is it THAT weird? And what about the small stand-alone signs on wire frames which are often put up at important intersections by 1-800-Got-Junk and JobDango? (I remove those as well, using the arguments mentioned above.) If the ordinance is indeed unconstitutional, what is to prohibit the kind of massive signage blight I am describing? I do not want to get into the content of the (anti-police) message in question in the Oregonian story, but it is easy to see that a back and forth between contentious groups would add immensely to the signage problem. Finally, and as an aside, I voluntarily remove these signs to protect the neighborhood from blight. I have often thought that the city should fine and bill the owners of the signs for removal with the money being contributed to the neighborhood association affected and whose volunteers have removed the signs. I look forward to a response from your office regarding this matter.

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Blogger PDX Papa said...

You bring up a lot of valid points... I particularly like the image of grafitti being done on placards then hung on telephone poles :) I'm interested in seeing a response! The less distractions the better in my mind. The other "wire-type" sign I've noticed a lot lately is the (your city here)

3:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

2 things.

My bet is that you will get a response from the city, that's what they're paid to do. They'll respond to anything and everything, these mundane tasks fulfil their existence in gov't.

Secondly, it's because there are laws against putting signs up that rewards outweigh the risks and justify the "cost of doing business". If everyone put up signs and there was a blight of signage as you suggest, then theirs wouldn't stand out.

The cost to remove the sign (either by you or by a city employee and the subsequent fine) is substantially less than paying a large bill board company to put up an advertisement.

By illustration and with some simple math, say the fine per sign is $100 (I doubt it's that high, you're welcome to find out), and say that it would cost $10,000 per month to have a legal billboard erected (as well you're weclome to find out, I don't know who the big players are in your community), then they would need 100 signs pulled down per month and every month, as well as the fines for it to balance out. Obviously they'd need to average more than 100 signs fined for it to no longer make good business sense.

Don't let me get in your way, but if you keep pulling those signs down, you're strengthening their argument to put them up. And by writing about it, they're $8 coroplast sign, has gotten them international attention through the world of blogging. Surely that doesn't help the cause either.

There's some food for thought for you.

Thomas Goodall
Fresh Start Recycling & Disposal (Vancouver, BC)

8:45 AM  

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