While committee reviews issue, code isnt enforced, leading to excessive campaign signs

With the May primary election a month away, campaign signs have continued to sprout up throughout Newberg and Yamhill County. But with the Temporary and Portable Sign Ad Hoc Committee currently reviewing the code, City Attorney Truman Stone said there’s been an unusual twist to the story.

“We have direction from the council not to enforce the temporary sign ordinance until that committee completes its work,” Stone said. “The probably unintended consequence is we’ve come into this campaign season with the directive to not enforce temporary sign provisions.”by: GARY ALLEN - Signs of the election season - While these campaign signs appear to legally be placed on private land, many of the signs are being posted in the public right-of-way. In years past, as well, signs have been left up well beyond the limit allowed for by the state.

This has led to numerous signs, of all sizes, being placed in areas they aren’t usually allowed, more signs than permitted, or signs larger than permissible.

“I think there’s some concern from candidates that if they comply with the sign regulation or sign code, but their opponent doesn’t, that they’re being penalized for being a good citizen and following the code,” Stone said. “I think that is part of what raises these issues come campaign time.”

But even when the rules are enforced, they are limited.

“In general we have this thing called the 1st Amendment which constrains the government’s ability to infringe on individual citizens rights, so the government can regulate temporary signs, but not on content,” Stone said. “So we don’t have the ability to distinguish between a political sign and a non-political sign because that’s based on content. So political signs are treated as all other temporary signs.”

The exception to that rule is during campaign season — currently defined by state law as 90 days before an election and 14 days after — when more signs are permitted.

“During this event a lot may contain up to two additional temporary signs not to exceed 12 square feet total area for both signs,” according to the code.

Even this basic regulation brings issues.

“One of the issues the ad hoc committee is looking at is (the code talks) about a ‘lot’ but doesn’t distinguish between a small lot and a large lot,” Stone said. “One of the concerns is a place like Loren Berg or (Newberg) Ford, someplace with large street frontage is allowed the same number of signs as someone with 40 feet of frontage in downtown.”

Stone said the city has been receiving calls from residents concerned with the sign code and the amount of campaign signs displayed in town. Enough so that he said the city decided to draft a statement.

“Under Council’s direction, during the tenure of the Temporary and Portable Sign Ad-Hoc Committee, the City has suspended enforcement of the temporary sign provisions, with some important exceptions. Signs which create traffic hazards, block sight distances, which are on City property or right-of-way without a permit, will be removed,” according to the statement. “The City has also received complaints by citizens concerning door-to-door campaigning. As with signs, political campaigning is a form of free speech. Newberg does have a requirement that persons hanging material on someone’s door or leaving material at a private residence need to securely fasten the material so that it does not become litter due to wind or other weather. If a residence indicates that material is unwanted, such as through a “no solicitation” sign, no materials may be left.”

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