plaints regarding sandwich boards, temporary signage, and other storefront objects blocking portions of the sidewalk in downtown Prineville are on an upswing.
We understand that businesses depend on signage to help drive business. We also understand that economic times are hard, and many businesses are fighting to stay open.
With that said, the City of Prineville has a clear code when it comes to signage and other objects placed on city sidewalks. A short walk through the core part of town will quickly make it clear why there is a sign code. Clutter on downtown streets makes the city look less attractive, and provide real obstacles for handicapped and disabled city residents to attempt to navigate.
The city sign code is intended to ensure public safety while keeping the city livable and attractive. Lax enforcement and ignorance of the code has led to a dramatic increase in signage that is not always in compliance.
Currently, the City has been enforcing the sign code on a complaint-driven basis only. That clearly is not working. Not only are signboards and other sidewalk obstructions becoming more prevalent, businesses do not seem to know whether or not they are complying with the current City code.
This is not a problem that is isolated to Prineville. Other cities in Central Oregon have recently been wrestling with similar issues. However, the fact that other cities have the same problem is no reason for Prineville to ignore the problem.
We believe that the solution is simple. The City of Prineville should follow through with its plans to educate businesses regarding what the law currently states. Hopefully, at that point in time, businesses will make an honest effort to comply with the current code.
One option the City has considered is relaxing the code to help businesses who rely on advertising to stay afloat. We feel that such a decision is poor policy. Even though businesses are struggling because of the recession, relaxing the rules would only open the door to the problems the code was written to prevent.
Finally, if neither of the first two steps resolves the problem, then the City has an enforcement mechanism that they can use to address the problem. Current code allows for a fine of up to $500 daily for businesses that are out of compliance with the code. Fining businesses should be a last resort, however, until offending businesses know that the City is serious about enforcement, there will likely continue to be more violations.
Ideally, once informed, businesses will willingly clean up the clutter on city streets. If not, it is about time for the City to use the enforcement tools the code provides.