What's Up With That? Political sign rules tend to differ by jurisdiction

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

What can you do about unsafe political signs? Isn’t there a law about where people can put them and how big then can be? And isn’t there a law about how long they can stay up after election day?

— Various questioners

It’s over now — but, of course, it also feels like it’s just beginning. Election season, that is. State and county and local questions and campaigns are done. National ones are revving up. So this question is as much about the year ahead as it is about this past second Tuesday in November.

You betcha, there are rules governing political signs — how big they can be, where they can go, how many you can have and how long they can stay there. Different jurisdictions have different rules, though they tend to agree on the basics.

Political signs should never be placed on public property — sidewalk, intersection, open land, light pole, utility box, you name it. That goes for county property, city property and state property — including county crossroads, freeway interchanges and overpasses. That’s right: never, ever on public land. (We can hear you chuckling now).

Clark County and Vancouver even ask candidates to sign a pledge that they’ll stay out of the right-of-way and keep scenery and traffic safety in mind as they scatter signs. (OK, knock off that chuckling).

Private people, on the other hand, have the right to erect political signs on their own property. For the most part, these are considered temporary and don’t need permits — unless they happen to be gigantic. If so, standard sign codes sometimes kick in. For example, a freestanding sign in Camas must be no larger than six square feet in a residential zone, or 10 percent of total wall space in a commercial or industrial zone, or 96 square feet in a vacant lot.

Surprisingly, the city of Vancouver is more lax. Unless it’s dangerous because it blocks traffic views or because the wind will pick it up and make a sail of it, your political sign “enjoys an extra layer of free speech protection,” said planning review manager Chad Eiken. Vancouver has never regulated the size of political signs, he said.

Because this is always a hot topic, and because of the patchwork of rules, somebody at Clark County took the trouble to compile most local political sign regulations. Got to http://co.clark.wa.us/elections and scroll down to “2011 Political Sign Information.” The packet includes town-by-town information regarding sign placement and removal, an application requiring the name and contact information of the person responsible for removal and street diagrams illustrating how close is too close.

Now that the 2011 election is over, here’s the most relevant regulation still in force: How quickly must political signs come down? It’s easy to check. Camas requires removal within 14 days. Washougal gives only 10 days. In Battle Ground, it’s one week. La Center code seems a little vague.

In Vancouver, unincorporated Clark County and Ridgefield, the limit is 15 days. Fifteen days from Election Day is Nov. 23.

— Scott Hewitt