After months of delays because of complaints from merchants, the city is getting ready to lower the boom on sidewalk sandwich boards.
No citations have been issued yet, but the first phase of what Commissioner Charlie Hales has called 'an outreach blitz' on the new sign code is winding down, according to Josh Alpert, assistant to the commissioner.
Teams from the city's Office of Planning and Development Review are canvassing downtown, arterials and other main traffic areas and will be visiting the rest of the city next.
Alpert says he doesn't know when ticket writing might start Ñ 'My guess would be within the next two weeks' Ñ but adds that 'an owner would have to have two, three, four violations before we physically remove the sign.'
Ashley King, downtown retail manager for the Association for Portland Progress, says the people she is hearing from are as upset now about the sign code as they were late last summer.
'I don't get what they're trying to accomplish,' says Gregory Schillinger, owner of Paddy's Bar & Grill, who's not keen on paying the $35 a year now required to register the sign for the business, at Southwest First Avenue and Yamhill Street. He also doesn't want to pay the $100 fine that can be levied on a sign in violation of the code.
'Some of these stores are really hurting, really bad' because of the souring economy, King says. 'Is it worth it to drive them out of downtown?'
The city, which intended to start enforcing the new law Sept. 1, delayed the effort for several months after members of the business community complained the city hadn't publicized the new law sufficiently.
Alpert says the sign ordinance, which actually took effect March 1, 2001, 'was not a willy-nilly decision made by the commissioner or the bureau.' Rather, he says: 'We react to complaints. This was an issue that was brought to our attention by many citizens who felt strongly that we should be doing some sort of enforcement.'
He says the new ordinance was adopted after 'extensive public outreach É there was lots of opportunity for input.'
Still, finding someone in the downtown business community who views the new ordinance with equanimity is difficult.
Ted Gamble, owner of Southwest Alder Street's Good Dog Bad Dog, says an official dropped by a letter saying the 10-year-old sandwich shop's sign 'had not been approved and was the wrong size.'
'I'll probably bring mine in tonight and leave it in until this thing gets resolved,' he says. 'It's just so antithetical to what you need to have going on downtown.'
He called it 'heinous' that the City Council held its final hearings on the sign code on Dec. 20 and Dec. 27, 2000, a time when few business people would be able to attend.
'It's an enforcement issue that ends up targeting smaller businesses,' says Tim Greve, president of Carl Greve Jewelers and former president of the Downtown Retail Council. 'Nordstrom isn't going to have an A-board sign out there. It's the small guy who doesn't have $200,000 to spend on advertising and needs all the help he can get right now.'
Says Greve, 'I guess I just don't understand why there aren't other issues that aren't a little more important to deal with than this.'
David Adamshick, manager of the downtown Kitchen Kaboodle, says his business got a warning notice about the small A-board sign it had at the corner of Southwest Sixth Avenue and Salmon Street, directing people to the store a block away Ñ because the sign wasn't located in front of the business. The sign is registered, although Adamshick admits the registration decal is in a less obvious spot than city rules direct.
'I can truly say at this point in my life I don't have a felonious heart, but I may have a scofflaw mentality,' he jokes, adding, 'Kind of hard to believe this is where we're dedicating our time and energy, as a city that needs a strong downtown business core.'
Both Adamshick and Schillinger say the city officials who called on them were pleasant and polite, although Schillinger speculated they're having to listen to so much grumbling that they may seek jobs as parking-meter readers 'for stress reduction.'