Signs of wisdom
The City of Cleveland recently warned of a pending clampdown on illegally placed signs. They have authorized Code Enforcement officers attached to the Cleveland Police Department and the city building inspectors office to ticket violators if they ignore a warning to permanently remove an illegally placed sign. They say no mercy will be given to clean up the town of unsightly or dangerous signage and they have enacted a broad and lengthy ordinance to ensure compliance.
To prove they mean business, Cleveland officials have published a list of recent violators on the city website, www.codesenforcementtn.com/?p=58, that include prominent businesses like Wal-Mart and the YMCA. Some businesses have been cited multiple times but these seem to involve portable roadside signs belonging to small businesses or individuals trying to make a living. Times are tough so people do what they can to survive. They can't always afford expensive advertising on legally sanctioned billboards, even though it could be argued billboards are far more unsightly than a small roadside sign.
Residents cannot be proud of a community that is messy and unsightly so almost all municipalities try to enact ordinances to address the appropriateness of signs. All go after temporary signs like garage and yard sale signs but few if any, have authored an ordinance that really works at solving the problem long term. Many a sign ordinance has only succeeded in annoying people for the occasional yard sale while ignoring perpetual violators like real estate companies and churches which tend to expose the limitations of enforcement. Some cities try to word sign control to exempt owners of signs that they don't wish to target, like churches, but have problems creating loopholes for abuse. Governments can also be accused of arbitrarily targeting classes of sign like garage sale and small business signs that are the main reason for regulation. People get annoyed when it is apparent they are being victimized unfairly and the enforcers get a bad rap for appearing to be overbearing and biased. Everyone loses when select groups of people are unnecessarily victimized.
To highlight the thankless task of creating a sign ordinance that is fair and workable, consider reasons why they are ineffective.
A sign placed safely in a public right of way showing the location of a church may be acceptable. Likewise, a realtor sign identifying a house for sale may also be okay. What about a sign showing the location of a private yard sale. Is it so different from the others that a citation is warranted?
What about the banners attached to downtown light poles advertising area businesses - is that so different from a home computer repair business advertising their services? They may not be officially sanctioned but should they be punished for doing the same.
The ineffectiveness of sign ordinances is that they don't address the real reason for having them, which is not to prevent visual clutter or protect public safety, but to ban signs not liked by those in charge. I would wager that if a person was to drive around any city with a sign ordinance they could identify multiple violators that never receive a ticket and still see yard sale signs pinned to utility poles.
Because the tough approach has proven not to work at restricting unsightly signs, it could prove more productive to encourage people to be more considerate and safety conscious in placing them. Most people that hold garage sales care just as much about the appearance of their community as officials in the city, so it is shortsighted to target them with heavy fines.
Some people will always abuse the system but most people do care and will make an effort to do the right thing. Come on city officials, show some faith in your fellow man and quit victimizing people unnecessarily.
That's what I think. What do you think?
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