What's Up with That? Basketball hoops in right of way are gray area

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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My pet peeve is neighbors who place basketball hoops on sidewalks in front of their homes. Is this legal? I have to be careful when waking my dog to maneuver around them so I don’t trip and fall. But I don’t want to knock on the offenders’ doors to ask them to remove them. Is there another option such as calling a certain number to report them and have someone else contact them and explain it to them?

— Ed Reed, Felida

It’s not exactly legal, Ed, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a widespread practice. Kevin Pridemore, the county’s code enforcement coordinator, said his office has counted as many as 30 basketball hoops in the public right of way — streets and sidewalks — in residential subdivisions.

There’s nothing specific in Clark County or city of Vancouver code about basketball hoops or other recreational equipment in the public right of way. But both jurisdictions’ nuisance codes do consider anything that “interferes with, obstructs, or tends to obstruct, or renders dangerous for passage” public streets and sidewalks an official nuisance. The city’s streets-and-sidewalks code also says the sidewalk must stay “unobstructed” and the county’s code mentions keeping sidewalks “reasonably safe.”

That’s the law. But, given today’s budget squeeze and the relative evil of the problem, basketball hoops blocking sidewalks is not the kind of thing officials are bending over backward to enforce.

“Where there are complaints about a hoop presenting a serious traffic-safety hazard, city staff will conduct a site visit, contact the property owner and request that the hoop be removed or pushed back after use,” said Vancouver public works spokeswoman Brooke Porter. But, she added: “Due to recent budget cuts and staff reductions, time available to address general basketball hoop issues is limited due to many other requests citywide. The city encourages residents to work together as individuals or as a neighborhood association to help resolve such issues and continue making the neighborhood a fun and safe place for everyone.”

Clark County’s practice is more or less the same, according to deputy prosecutor Chris Horne. Horne got a little more technical, explaining that the county has a clearer right to restrict recreational equipment left in roadways intended for motor vehicles; sidewalks are a slightly grayer area, he said, since the property owner usually owns the sidewalk itself but the county has an automatic easement for public use.

“It’s a balancing act,” he said. “We understand basketball hoops are popular. We also understand they can be a safety hazard. Sidewalks do need to be kept clear.” Equipment that’s moved into position temporarily isn’t a problem, he said; equipment that becomes permanent furniture, blocking passage even when nobody’s playing, definitely is.

Bill Barron, county administrator, said code enforcement usually responds to these complaints with a single form letter — “Dear Citizen, please move your junk” — and no follow-up. If the form letter doesn’t inspire the property owner to move the hoop, Barron said, you should keep complaining and the county will intervene more forcefully.

In Clark County, code enforcement is at 360-397-2408, ext. 4184. Or, to file an electronic complaint, visit http://www.clark.wa.gov/commdev/code-enforcement/complaints/complaintformN.asp.

In the city of Vancouver, code enforcement is at 360-487-7810. Or visit http://www.cityofvancouver.us/upload/images/DRS/filecomplaint.pdf. Porter also said residents can call the public works operations center at 360-696-8177.